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  Over The Top Arthur Guy Empey

The Firing Squad

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A few days later I had orders to report back to Divisional Headquarters, about thirty kilos behind the line. I reported to the A. P. M. (Assistant Provost Marshal). He told me to report to billet No. 78 for quarters and rations.

It was about eight o'clock at night and I was tired and soon fell asleep in the straw of the billet. It was a miserable night outside, cold, and a drizzly rain was falling.

About two in the morning I was awakened by someone shaking me by the shoulder. Opening my eyes I saw a Regimental Sergeant-Major bending over me. He had a lighted lantern in his right hand. I started to ask him what was the matter, when he put his finger to his lips for silence and whispered:

"Get on your equipment, and, without any noise, come with me."

This greatly mystified me but I obeyed his order.

Outside of the billet, I asked him what was up, but he shut me up with:

"Don't ask any questions, it's against orders. I don't know myself."

It was raining like the mischief.

We splashed along a muddy road for about fifteen minutes, finally stopping at the entrance of what must have been an old barn. In the darkness, I could hear pigs grunting, as if they had just been disturbed. In front of the door stood an officer in a mack (mackintosh). The R. S. M. went up to him, whispered something, and then left. This officer called to me, asked my name, number and regiment, at the same time, in the light of a lantern he was holding, making a notation in a little book.

When he had finished writing, he whispered:

"Go into that billet and wait orders, and no talking. Understand?"

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I stumbled into the barn and sat on the floor in the darkness. I could see no one but could hear men breathing and moving; they seemed nervous and restless. I know I was.

During my wait, three other men entered. Then the officer poked his head in the door and ordered:

"Fall in, outside the billet, in single rank."

We fell in, standing at ease. Then he commanded.

"Squad-'Shun! Number!"

There were twelve of us.

"Right--Turn! Left--Wheel! Quick--March!" And away we went. The rain was trickling down my back and I was shivering from the cold.

With the officer leading, we must have marched over an hour, plowing through the mud and occasionally stumbling into a shell hole in the road, when suddenly the officer made a left wheel and we found ourselves in a sort of enclosed courtyard.

The dawn was breaking and the rain had ceased.

In front of us were four stacks of rifles, three to a stack.

The officer brought us to attention and gave the order to unpile arms. We each took a rifle. Giving us "Stand at ease," in a nervous and shaky voice, he informed:

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Over The Top
Arthur Guy Empey

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