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Action Front Boyd Cable

An Open Town

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As the noises of the explosion died away, figures crowded out anxiously into the doorways again, and stood there and about the pavements, looking round, pointing and gesticulating, and plainly prepared to run back under cover at the first sign of warning. The half-dozen men who had cheered the race across the square emerged from the archway, looked around, and then set off running, keeping close under the shelter of the houses, and disappearing into the thick smoke and dust that still hung a thick and writhing curtain about the street-end in the corner of the square.

The two officers who had sat at the cafe window looked at one another.

"You heard that squeal?" said one.

"Yes," said the other; "I think we might trot over. You knowing a little bit about surgery might be useful."

"Oh, I dunno," said the first. "But, anyhow, let's go."

They paid their bill and went out, and as they crossed the square they met a couple of the soldiers who had disappeared into the smoke. They were moving at the double, but at a word from the officers they halted. Both wore the Red Cross badge of the Army Medical Corps on their arms, and one explained hurriedly that they were going for an ambulance, that there was a woman killed, one man and a woman and two children badly wounded. They ran on, and the two officers moved hastily towards the shell-struck house. The smoke was clearing now, and it was possible to see something of the damage that had been done.

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The shell apparently had struck the roof, had ripped and torn it off, burst downwards and outwards, blowing out the whole face of the upper story, the connecting-wall and corner of the houses next to it, part of the top-floor, and a jagged gap in the face of the lower story. The street was piled with broken bricks and tiles, with splinters of stone, with uprooted cobbles, with fragments and beams, bits of furniture, ragged-edged planks, fragments of smoldering cloth. As the two walked, their feet crunched on a layer of splintered glass and broken crockery. The air they breathed reeked with a sharp chemical odor and the stench of burning rags.

The R.A.M.C. men had collected the casualties, and were doing what they could for them, and the officer who was "a bit of a surgeon" gave them what help he could. The casualties were mangled cruelly, and one of them, a child, died before the ambulance came.

The shells began to come fast now. One after another they poured in, the last noise of their approach before they struck sounding like the rush and roar of an express train passing through a tunnel. No more fell near the square; but the two officers, returning across it, with the terrifying rush of its projectiles in their ears, moved hastily and puffed sighs of relief as they reached the door of the cafe again.

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Action Front
Boyd Cable

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