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Action Front Boyd Cable

The Signalers

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The signalers at the instruments, the sergeants who gathered them in and sent them forth, gave little or no thought to the orderlies. These men were hardly more than shadows, things which brought them long screeds to be translated to the tapping keys, hands which would stretch into the candle-light and lift the messages that had just "buzzed" in over their wires. The sergeant thought of them mostly as a list of names to be ticked off one by one in a careful roster as each man did his turn of duty, went out, or came back and reported in. And the man who sent messages these men bore may never have given a thought to the hands that would carry them, unless perhaps to wonder vaguely whether the message could get through from so and so to such and such, from this map square to that, and if the chance of the messages getting through--the message you will note, not the messenger--seemed extra doubtful, orders might be given to send it in duplicate or triplicate, to double or treble the chances of its arriving.

The night wore on, the orderlies slept and woke, stumbled in and out; the telephonists droned out in monotonous voices to the telephone, or "buzzed" even more monotonous strings of longs and shorts on the "buzzer." And in the open about them, and all unheeded by them, men fought, and suffered wounds and died, or fought on in the scarce lesser suffering of cold and wet and hunger.

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In the signalers' room all the fluctuations of the fight were translated from the pulsing fever, the human living tragedies and heroisms, the violent hopes and fears and anxieties of the battle line, to curt cold words, to scribbled letters on a message form. At times these messages were almost meaningless to them, or at least their red tragedy was unheeded. Their first thought when a message was handed in for transmission, usually their first question when the signaler at the other end called to take a message, was whether the message was a long one or a short one. One telephonist was handed an urgent message to send off, saying that bombs were running short in the forward line and that further supplies were required at the earliest possible moment, that the line was being severely bombed and unless they had the means to reply must be driven out or destroyed. The signaler took that message and sent it through; but his instrument was not working very clearly, and he was a good deal more concerned and his mind was much more fully taken up with the exasperating difficulty of making the signaler at the other end catch word or letter correctly, than it was with all the close packed volume of meaning it contained. It was not that he did not understand the meaning; he himself had known a line bombed out before now, the trenches rent and torn apart, the shattered limbs and broken bodies of the defenders, the horrible ripping crash of the bombs, the blinding flame, the numbing shock, the smoke and reek and noise of the explosions; but though all these things were known to him, the words "bombed out" meant no more now than nine letters of the alphabet and the maddening stupidity of the man at the other end, who would misunderstand the sound and meaning of "bombed" and had to have it in time-consuming letter-by-letter spelling.

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Action Front
Boyd Cable

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