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Over The Top Arthur Guy Empey

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Two days we spent on that train, bumping, stopping, jerking ahead, and sometimes sliding back. At three stations we stopped long enough to make some tea, but were unable to wash, so when we arrived at B--, where we were to embark for Blighty, we were as black as Turcos and, with our unshaven faces, we looked like a lot of tramps. Though tired out, we were happy.

We had packed up, preparatory to detraining, when a R.T.O. held up his hand for us to stop where we were and came over. This is what he said:

"Boys, I'm sorry, but orders have just been received cancelling all leave. If you had been three hours earlier you would have gotten away. Just stay in that train, as it is going back. Rations will be issued to you for your return journey to your respective stations. Beastly rotten, I know." Then he left.

A dead silence resulted. Then men started to curse, threw their rifles on the floor of the car, others said nothing, seemed to be stupefied, while some had the tears running down their cheeks. It was a bitter disappointment to all.

How we blinded at the engineer of that train, it was all his fault (so we reasoned), why hadn't he speeded up a little or been on time, then we would have gotten off before the order arrived? Now it was no Blighty for us.

That return journey was misery to us; I just can't describe it.

When we got back to rest billets, we found that our Brigade was in the trenches (another agreeable surprise), and that an attack was contemplated.

Seventeen of the forty-one will never get another chance to go on leave; they were killed in the attack. Just think if that train had been on time, those seventeen would still be alive.

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I hate to tell you how I was kidded by the boys when I got back, but it was good and plenty.

Our Machine Gun Company took over their part of the line at seven o'clock, the night after I returned from my near leave.

At 3.30 the following morning three waves went over and captured the first and second German trenches. The machine gunners went over with the fourth wave to consolidate the captured line or "dig in" as Tommy calls it.

Crossing No Man's Land without clicking any casualties, we came to the German trench and mounted our guns on the parados of same.

I never saw such a mess in my life-bunches of twisted barbed wire lying about, shell holes everywhere, trench all bashed in, parapets gone, and dead bodies, why that ditch was full of them, theirs and ours. It was a regular morgue. Some were mangled horribly from our shell fire, while others were wholly or partly buried in the mud, the result of shell explosions caving in the walls of the trench. One dead German was lying on his back, with a rifle sticking straight up in the air, the bayonet of which was buried to the hilt in his chest. Across his feet lay a dead English soldier with a bullet hole in his forehead. This Tommy must have been killed just as he ran his bayonet through the German.

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Over The Top
Arthur Guy Empey

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