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A General Action
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"At some points our lines have been slightly advanced and their position improved."--EXTRACT FROM DESPATCH
It has to be admitted by all who know him that the average British soldier has a deep-rooted and emphatic objection to "fatigues," all trench-digging and pick-and-shovel work being included under that title. This applies to the New Armies as well as the Old, and when one remembers the safety conferred by a good deep trench and the fact that few men are anxious to be killed sooner than is strictly necessary, the objection is regrettable and very surprising. Still there it is, and any officer will tell you that his men look on trench-digging with distaste, have to be constantly persuaded and chivvied into doing anything like their best at it, and on the whole would apparently much rather take their chance in a shallow or poorly-constructed trench than be at the labor of making it deep and safe.
But one piece of trench-digging performed by the Tearaway Rifles must come pretty near a record for speed.
When the Rifles moved in for their regular spell in the forward line, their O.C. was instructed that his battalion had to construct a section of new trench in ground in front of the forward trench.
It was particularly unfortunate that just about this time the winter issue of a regular rum ration had ceased, and that, immediately before they moved in, a number of the Tearaways had been put under stoppages of pay for an escapade with which this story need have no concern.
Without pay the men, of course, were cut off from even the sour and watery delights of the beer sold in the local estaminets, which abound in the villages where the troops are billeted in reserve some miles behind the firing line. As Sergeant Clancy feelingly remarked:
"They stopped the pay, and that stops the beer; and then they stopped the rum. It's no pleasure in life they leave us at all, at all. They'll be afther stopping the fighting next."
Of that last, however, there was comparatively little fear at the moment. A brisk action had opened some days before the Tearaways were brought up from the reserve, and the forward line which they were now sent in to occupy had been a German trench less than a week before.
The main fighting had died down, but because the British were suspicious of counter-attacks, and the Germans afraid of a continued British movement, the opposing lines were very fully on the alert; the artillery on both sides were indulging in constant dueling, and the infantry were doing everything possible to prevent any sudden advantage being snatched by the other side.
As soon as the Tearaways were established in the new position, the O.C. and the adjutant made a tour of their lines, carefully reconnoitering through their periscopes the open ground which had been pointed out to them on the map as the line of the new trench which they were to commence digging. At this point the forward trench was curved sharply inward, and the new trench was designed to run across and outwards from the ends of the curve, meeting in a wide angle at a point where a hole had been dug and a listening-post established.
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