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Over The Top Arthur Guy Empey

Gas Attacks And Spies

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Atwell was a good companion and very entertaining. He had an utter contempt for danger but was not foolhardy. At swearing he was a wonder. A cavalry regiment would have been proud of him. Though born in England, he had spent several years in New York. He was about six feet one, and as strong as an ox. I am five feet five in height, so we looked like "Bud" Fisher's "Mutt and Jeff" when together.

We took up our quarters in a large dugout of the Royal Engineers, and mapped out our future actions. This dugout was on the edge of a large cemetery, and several times at night in returning to it, we got many a fall stumbling over the graves of English, French, and Germans. Atwell on these occasions never indulged in swearing, though at any other time, at the least stumble, he would turn the air blue.

A certain section of our trenches was held by the Royal Irish Rifles. For several days a very strong rumor went the rounds that a German spy was in our midst. This spy was supposed to be dressed in the uniform of a British Staff Officer. Several stories had been told about an officer wearing a red band around his cap, who patrolled the front-line and communication trenches asking suspicious questions as to location of batteries, machine-gun emplacements, and trench mortars. If a shell dropped in a battery, on a machine gun, or even near a dugout, this spy was blamed.

The rumor gained such strength that an order was issued for all troops to immediately place under arrest anyone answering to the description of the spy.

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Atwell and I were on the QUI VIVE. We constantly patrolled the trenches at night, and even in the day, but the spy always eluded us.

One day, while in a communication trench, we were horrified to see our Brigadier-General, Old Pepper, being brought down it by a big private of the Royal Irish Rifles. The General was walking in front, and the private with fixed bayonet was following him in the rear.

We saluted as the General passed us. The Irishman had a broad grin on his face and we could scarcely believe our eyes--the General was under arrest. After passing a few feet beyond us, the General turned, and said in a wrathful voice to Atwell:

"Tell this d--n fool who I am. He's arrested me as a spy."

Atwell was speechless. The sentry butted in with:

"None o' that gassin' out o' you. Back to Headquarters you goes, Mr. Fritz. Open that face o' yours again, an' I'll dent in your napper with the butt o' me rifle."

The General's face was a sight to behold. He was fairly boiling over with rage, but he shut up.

Atwell tried to get in front of the sentry to explain to him that it really was the General he had under arrest, but the sentry threatened to run his bayonet through him, and would have done it, too. So Atwell stepped aside, and remained silent. I was nearly bursting with suppressed laughter. One word, and I would have exploded. It is not exactly diplomatic to laugh at your General in such a predicament.

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Over The Top
Arthur Guy Empey

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