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0105_001E Over The Top Arthur Guy Empey


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Then the Professor would take another handful of mud and fin the tin, after which he would punch a hole in the lid of the tin and put it over the top of the bomb, the fuse sticking out. Then perhaps he would tightly wrap wire around the outside of the tin and the bomb was ready to send over to Fritz with Tommy's compliments.

A piece of wood about four inches long and two inches wide had been issued. This was to be strapped on the left forearm by means of two leather straps and was like the side of a match box; it was called a "striker." There was a tip like the head of a match on the fuse of the bomb. To ignite the fuse, you had to rub it on the "striker," just the same as striking a match. The fuse was timed to five seconds or longer. Some of the fuses issued in those days would burn down in a second or two, while others would "sizz" for a week before exploding. Back in Blighty the munition workers weren't quite up to snuff, the way they are now. If the fuse took a notion to burn too quickly, they generally buried the bombmaker next day. So making bombs could not be called a "cushy" or safe job.

After making several bombs, the Professor instructs the platoon in throwing them. He takes a "jam tin" from the fire step, trembling a little, because it is nervous work, especially when new at it, lights the fuse on his striker. The fuse begins to "sizz" and sputter and a spiral of smoke, like that from a smouldering fag, rises from it. The platoon splits in two and ducks around the traverse nearest to them. They don't like the looks and sound of the burning fuse. When that fuse begins to smoke and "sizz" you want to say good-bye to it as soon as possible, so Tommy with all his might chucks it over the top and crouches against the parapet, waiting for the explosion.

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Lots of times in bombing, the "Jam tin" would be picked up by the Germans, before it exploded and thrown back at Tommy with dire results.

After a lot of men went West in this manner, an order was issued, reading something like this:

"To all ranks in the British Army--after igniting the fuse and before throwing the jam tin bomb, count slowly one! two! three!"

This in order to give the fuse time enough to burn down, so that the bomb would explode before the Germans could throw it back.

Tommy read the order--he reads them all, but after he ignited the fuse and it began to smoke, orders were forgotten, and away she went in record time and back she came to the further discomfort of the thrower.

Then another order was issued to count, "one hundred! two hundred! three hundred!" but Tommy didn't care if the order read to count up to a thousand by quarters he was going to get rid of that "jam tin," because from experience he had learned not to trust it.

When the powers that be realized that they could not change Tommy, they decided to change the type of bomb and did so--substituting the "hair brush," the "cricket-ball," and later the Mills bomb.

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Over The Top
Arthur Guy Empey

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