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Over The Top Arthur Guy Empey

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Rifles and equipment were scattered about, and occasionally a steel helmet could be seen sticking out of the mud.

At one point, just in the entrance to a communication trench, was a stretcher. On this stretcher a German was lying with a white bandage around his knee, near to him lay one of the stretcher-bearers, the red cross on his arm covered with mud and his helmet filled with blood and brains. Close by, sitting up against the wall of the trench, with head resting on his chest, was the other stretcher-bearer. He seemed to be alive, the posture was so natural and easy, but when I got closer, I could see a large, jagged hole in, his temple. The three must have been killed by the same shell-burst. The dugouts were all smashed in and knocked about, big square-cut timbers splintered into bits, walls caved in, and entrances choked.

Tommy, after taking a trench, learns to his sorrow, that the hardest part of the work is to hold it.

In our case this proved to be so.

The German artillery and machine guns had us taped (ranged) for fair; it was worth your life to expose yourself an instant.

Don't think for a minute that the Germans were the only sufferers, we were clicking casualties so fast that you needed an adding machine to keep track of them.

Did you ever see one of the steam shovels at work on the Panama Canal, well, it would look like a hen scratching alongside of a Tommy "digging in" while under fire, you couldn't see daylight through the clouds of dirt from his shovel.

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After losing three out of six men of our crew, we managed to set up our machine gun. One of the legs of the tripod was resting on the chest of a half-buried body. When the gun was firing, it gave the impression that the body was breathing, this was caused by the excessive vibration.

Three or four feet down the trench, about three feet from the ground, a foot was protruding from the earth; we knew it was a German by the black leather boot. One of our crew used that foot to hang extra bandoliers of ammunition on. This man always was a handy fellow; made use of little points that the ordinary person would overlook.

The Germans made three counter attacks, which we repulsed, but not without heavy loss on our side. They also suffered severely from our shell- and machine-gun fire. The ground was spotted with their dead and dying.

The next day things were somewhat quieter, but not quiet enough to bury the dead.

We lived, ate, and slept in that trench with the unburied dead for six days. It was awful to watch their faces become swollen and discolored. Towards the last the stench was fierce.

What got on my nerves the most was that foot sticking out of the dirt. It seemed to me, at night, in the moonlight, to be trying to twist around. Several times this impression was so strong that I went to it and grasped it in both hands, to see if I could feel a movement.

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Over The Top
Arthur Guy Empey

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