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  Over The Top Arthur Guy Empey

The Little Wooden Cross

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After remaining in rest billets for eight days, we received the unwelcome tidings that the next morning we would "go in" to "take over." At six in the morning our march started and, after a long march down the dusty road, we again arrived at reserve billets.

I was No. I in the leading set of 4's. The man on my left was named "Pete Walling," a cheery sort of fellow. He laughed and joked all the way on the march, buoyed up my drooping spirits. I could not figure out anything attractive in again occupying the front line, but Pete did not seem to mind, said it was all in a lifetime. My left heel was blistered from the rubbing of my heavy marching boot. Pete noticed that I was limping and offered to carry my rifle, but by this time I had learned the ethics of the march in the British Army and courteously refused his offer.

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We had gotten half-way through the communication trench, Pete in my immediate rear. He had his hand on my shoulder, as men in a communication trench have to keep in touch with each Other. We had just climbed over a bashed-in part of the trench when in our rear a man tripped over a loose signal wire, and let out an oath. As usual, Pete rushed to his help. To reach the fallen man, he had to cross this bashed-in part. A bullet cracked in the air and I ducked. Then a moan from the rear. My heart stood still. I went back and Pete was lying on the ground; by the aid of my flashlight, I saw that he had his hand pressed to his right breast. The fingers were covered with blood. I flashed the light on his face, and in its glow a grayish-blue color was stealing over his countenance. Pete looked up at me and said:

"Well, Yank, they've done me in. I can feel myself going West." His voice was getting fainter and I had to kneel down to get the words. Then he gave me a message to write home to his mother and his sweetheart, and I, like a great big boob, cried like a baby. I was losing my first friend of the trenches.

Word was passed to the rear for a stretcher. He died before it arrived. Two of us put the body on the stretcher and carried it to the nearest first-aid post, where the doctor took an official record of Pete's name, number, rank, and regiment from his identity disk, this to be used in the Casualty Lists and notification to his family.

We left Pete there, but it broke our hearts to do so. The doctor informed us that we could bury him the next morning. That afternoon, five of the boys of our section, myself included, went to the little ruined village in the rear and from the deserted gardens of the French chateaux gathered grass and flowers. From these we made a wreath.

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Over The Top
Arthur Guy Empey

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