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  Over The Top Arthur Guy Empey

"Into The Trench"

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The next morning the draft was inspected by our General, and we were assigned to different companies. The boys in the Brigade had nicknamed this general Old Pepper, and he certainly earned the sobriquet. I was assigned to B Company with another American named Stewart.

For the next ten days we "rested," repairing roads for the Frenchies, drilling, and digging bombing trenches.

One morning we were informed that we were going up the line, and our march began.

It took us three days to reach reserve billets--each day's march bringing the sound of the guns nearer and nearer. At night, way off in the distance we could see their flashes, which lighted up the sky with a red glare.

Against the horizon we could see numerous observation balloons or "sausages" as they are called.

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On the afternoon of the third day's march I witnessed my first aeroplane being shelled. A thrill ran through me and I gazed in awe. The aeroplane was making wide circles in the air, while little puffs of white smoke were bursting all around it. These puffs appeared like tiny balls of cotton while after each burst could be heard a dull "plop." The Sergeant of my platoon informed us that it was a German aeroplane and I wondered how he could tell from such a distance because the plane deemed like a little black speck in the sky. I expressed my doubt as to whether it was English, French, or German. With a look of contempt he further informed us that the allied anti-aircraft shells when exploding emitted white smoke while the German shells gave forth black smoke, and, as he expressed it, "It must be an Allemand because our pom-poms are shelling, and I know our batteries are not off their bally nappers and are certainly not strafeing our own planes, and another piece of advice--don't chuck your weight about until you've been up the line and learnt something."

I immediately quit "chucking my weight about" from that time on.

Just before reaching reserve billets we were marching along, laughing, and singing one of Tommy's trench ditties--

    "I want to go home,
    I want to go home,
    I don't want to go to the trenches no more
    Where sausages and whizz-bangs are galore.
    Take me over the sea, where the Allemand can't get at me,
    Oh, my, I don't want to die,
    I want to go home"--

when overhead came a "swish" through the air, rapidly followed by three others. Then about two hundred yards to our left in a large field, four columns of black earth and smoke rose into the air, and the ground trembled from the report,--the explosion of four German five-nine's, or "coal-boxes." A sharp whistle blast, immediately followed by two short ones, rang out from the head of our column. This was to take up "artillery formation." We divided into small squads and went into the fields on the right and left of the road, and crouched on the ground. No other shells followed this salvo. It was our first baptism by shell fire. From the waist up I was all enthusiasm, but from there down, everything was missing. I thought I should die with fright.

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Over The Top
Arthur Guy Empey

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