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0105_001E Over The Top Arthur Guy Empey

"Into The Trench"

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After awhile, we re-formed into columns of fours, and proceeded on our way.

About five that night, we reached the ruined village of H--, and I got my first sight of the awful destruction caused by German Kultur.

Marching down the main street we came to the heart of the village, and took up quarters in shell-proof cellars (shell proof until hit by a shell). Shells were constantly whistling over the village and bursting in our rear, searching for our artillery.

These cellars were cold, damp, and smelly, and overrun with large rats --big black fellows. Most of the Tommies slept with their overcoats over their faces. I did not. In the middle of the night I woke up in terror. The cold, clammy feet of a rat had passed over my face. I immediately smothered myself in my overcoat, but could not sleep for the rest of that night.

Next evening, we took over our sector of the line. In single file we wended our way through a zigzag communication trench, six inches deep with mud. This trench was called "Whiskey Street." On our way up to the front line an occasional flare of bursting shrapnel would light up the sky and we could hear the fragments slapping the ground above us on our right and left. Then a Fritz would traverse back and forth with his "typewriter" or machine gun. The bullets made a sharp cracking noise overhead.

The boy in front of me named Prentice crumpled up without a word. A piece of shell had gone through his shrapnel-proof helmet. I felt sick and weak.

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In about thirty minutes we reached the front Hue. It was dark as pitch. Every now and then a German star shell would pierce the blackness out in front with its silvery light. I was trembling all over, and felt very lonely and afraid. All orders were given in whispers. The company we relieved filed past us and disappeared into the blackness of the communication trench leading to the rear. As they passed us, they whispered, "The best o' luck mates."

I sat on the fire step of the trench with the rest of the men. In each traverse two of the older men had been put on guard with their heads sticking over the top, and with their eyes trying to pierce the blackness in "No Man's Land." In this trench there were only two dugouts, and these were used by Lewis and Vickers, machine gunners, so it was the fire step for ours. Pretty soon it started to rain. We put on our "macks," but they were not much protection. The rain trickled down our backs, and it was not long before we were wet and cold. How I passed that night I will never know, but without any unusual occurrence, dawn arrived.

The word "stand down" was passed along the line, and the sentries got down off the fire step. Pretty soon the rum issue came along, and it was a Godsend. It warmed our chilled bodies and put new life into us. Then from the communication trenches came dixies or iron pots, filled with steaming tea, which had two wooden stakes through their handles, and were carried by two men. I filled my canteen and drank the hot tea without taking it from my lips. It was not long before I was asleep in the mud on the fire step.

My ambition had been attained! I was in a front-line trench on the Western Front, and oh, how I wished I were back in Jersey City.

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Over The Top
Arthur Guy Empey

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