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The Glory of the Trenches Coningsby Dawson

God As We See Him

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"Doing their bit!" That covers everything. Here's an example of how God walks among us. In one of our attacks on the Somme, all the observers up forward were uncertain as to what had happened. We didn't know whether our infantry had captured their objective, failed, or gone beyond it. The battlefield, as far as eye could reach, was a bath of mud. It is extremely easy in the excitement of an offensive, when all landmarks are blotted out, for our storming parties to lose their direction. If this happens, a number of dangers may result. A battalion may find itself "up in the air," which means that it has failed to connect with the battalions on its right and left; its flanks are then exposed to the enemy. It may advance too far, and start digging itself in at a point where it was previously arranged that our artillery should place their protective wall of fire. We, being up forward as artillery observers, are the eyes of the army. It is our business to watch for such contingencies, to keep in touch with the situation as it progresses and to send our information back as quickly as possible. We were peering through our glasses from our point of vantage when, far away in the thickest of the battle-smoke, we saw a white flag wagging, sending back messages. The flag-wagging was repeated desperately; it was evident that no one had replied, and probable that no one had picked up the messages. A signaller who was with us, read the language for us. A company of infantry had advanced too far; they were most of them wounded, very many of them dead, and they were in danger of being surrounded. They asked for our artillery to place a curtain of fire in front of them, and for reinforcements to be sent up.

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We at once 'phoned the orders through to our artillery and notified the infantry headquarters of the division that was holding that front. But it was necessary to let those chaps know that we were aware of their predicament. They'd hang on if they knew that; otherwise----.

Without orders our signaller was getting his flags ready. If he hopped out of the trench onto the parapet, he didn't stand a fifty-fifty chance. The Hun was familiar with our observation station and strafed it with persistent regularity.

The signaller turned to the senior officer present, "What will I send them, sir?"

"Tell them their messages have been received and that help is coming."

Out the chap scrambled, a flag in either hand--he was nothing but a boy. He ran crouching like a rabbit to a hump of mud where his figure would show up against the sky. His flags commenced wagging, "Messages received. Help coming." They didn't see him at first. He had to repeat the words. We watched him breathlessly. We knew what would happen; at last it happened. A Hun observer had spotted him and flashed the target back to his guns. All about him the mud commenced to leap and bubble. He went on signalling the good word to those stranded men up front, "Messages received. Help coming." At last they'd seen him. They were signaling, "O. K." It was at that moment that a whizz-bang lifted him off his feet and landed him all of a huddle. His "bit!" It was what he'd volunteered to do, when he came from Canada. The signalled "O. K." in the battlesmoke was like a testimony to his character.

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The Glory of the Trenches
Coningsby Dawson

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