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Over The Top Arthur Guy Empey


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Soaked with perspiration I would awake with a cry, and the night nurse would come over and hold my hand. This awakening got to be a habit with me, until that particular nurse was transferred to another ward.

In three weeks' time, owing to the careful treatment received, I was able to sit up and get my bearings. Our ward contained seventy-five patients, ninety per cent of which were surgical cases. At the head of each bed hung a temperature chart and diagnosis sheet. Across this sheet would be written "G.S.W." or "S.W." the former meaning Gun Shot Wound and the latter Shell Wound. The "S.W." predominated, especially among the Royal Field Artillery and Royal Engineers.

About forty different regiments were represented and many arguments ensued as to the respective fighting ability of each regiment. The rivalry was wonderful. A Jock arguing with an Irishman, then a strong Cockney accent would butt in in favor of a London Regiment. Before long a Welshman, followed by a member of a Yorkshire regiment, and, perhaps, a Canadian intrude themselves and the argument waxes loud and furious. The patients in the beds start howling for them to settle their dispute outside and the ward is in an uproar. The head sister comes along and with a wave of the hand completely routs the doughty warriors and again silence reigns supreme.

Wednesday and Sunday of each week were visiting days and were looked forward to by the men, because they meant parcels containing fruit, sweets, or fags. When a patient had a regular visitor, he was generally kept well supplied with these delicacies. Great jealousy is shown among the men as to their visitors and many word wars ensue after the visitors leave.

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When a man is sent to a convalescent home, he generally turns over his steady visitor to the man in the next bed.

Most visitors have autograph albums and bore Tommy to death by asking him to write the particulars of his wounding in same. Several Tommies try to duck this unpleasant job by telling the visitor that he cannot write, but this never phases the owner of the album; he or she, generally she, offers to write it for him and Tommy is stung into telling his experiences.

The questions asked Tommy by visitors would make a clever joke book to a military man.

Some kindly looking old lady will stop at your bed and in a sympathetic voice address you; "You poor boy, wounded by those terrible Germans. You must be suffering frightful pain. A bullet did you say? Well, tell me, I have always wanted to know, did it hurt worse going in or coming out?"

Tommy generally replies that he did not stop to figure it out when he was hit.

One very nice-looking, over-enthusiastic young thing, stopped at my bed and asked, "What wounded you in the face?"

In a polite but bored tone I answered, "A rifle bullet."

With a look of disdain she passed to the next bed, first ejaculating, "Oh! only a bullet? I thought it was a shell." Why she should think a shell wound was more of a distinction beats me. I don't see a whole tot of difference myself.

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Over The Top
Arthur Guy Empey

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