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The Glory of the Trenches Coningsby Dawson

God As We See Him

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They leave off whistling and humming to shout the last line. A shell falls near them--then another, then another. They crouch for a minute against the sticky walls to escape the flying spray of death. Then they plod onward again through the mud whistling and humming, "But for Gawd's sake don't send me." They're probably a carrying party, taking up the rations to their pals. It's quite likely they'll have a bad time to-night--there's the smell of gas in the air. Good luck to them. They disappear round the next traverse.

Our men sing many mad burlesques on their own splendour--parodies on their daily fineness. Here's a last example--a take-off on "A Little Bit of Heaven:"

"Oh a little bit of shrapnel fell from out the sky one day
    And it landed on a soldier in a field not far away;
    But when they went to find him he was bust beyond repair,
    So they pulled his legs and arms off and they left him lying there.
    Then they buried him in Flanders just to make the new crops grow.
    He'll make the best manure, they say, and sure they ought to know.
    And they put a little cross up which bore his name so grand,
    On the day he took his farewell for a better Promised Land."

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One learns to laugh--one has to--just as he has to learn to believe in immortality. The Front affords plenty of occasions for humour if a man has only learnt to laugh at himself. I had been sent forward to report at a battalion headquarters as liaison officer for an attack. The headquarters were in a captured dug-out somewhere under a ruined house. Just as I got there and was searching among the fallen walls for an entrance, the Hun barrage came down. It was like the Yellowstone Park when all the geysers are angry at the same time. Roofs, beams, chips of stone commenced to fly in every direction. In the middle of the hubbub a small dump of bombs was struck by a shell and started to explode behind me. The blast of the explosion caught me up and hurled me down fifteen stairs of the dug-out I had been trying to discover. I landed on all fours in a place full of darkness; a door banged behind me. I don't know how long I lay there. Something was squirming under me. A voice said plaintively, "I don't know who you are, but I wish you'd get off. I'm the adjutant."

It's a queer country, that place we call "out there." You approach our front-line, as it is to-day, across anywhere from five to twenty miles of battlefields. Nothing in the way of habitation is left. Everything has been beaten into pulp by hurricanes of shell-fire. First you come to a metropolis of horse-lines, which makes you think that a mammoth circus has arrived. Then you come to plank roads and little light railways, running out like veins across the mud. Far away there's a ridge and a row of charred trees, which stand out gloomily etched against the sky. The sky is grey and damp and sickly; fleecy balls of smoke burst against it--shrapnel. You wonder whether they've caught anybody. Overhead you hear the purr of engines--a flight of aeroplanes breasting the clouds. Behind you observation balloons hang stationary, like gigantic tethered sausages.

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The Glory of the Trenches
Coningsby Dawson

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