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|Live Rounds||Ian Hay|
The Battle Of The Slag-Heaps
|Page 5 of 13||
Presently Wagstaffe completed his culinary arrangements, and poured out the cocoa into some aluminium cups. He touched Major Kemp on the shoulder.
"Have some of this, Major," he said.
The burly Kemp roused himself and took the proffered cup gratefully. Then, looking round, he said--
"Hallo, Ayling! You arrived? Whereabouts in the line were you?"
"I got cut off from the Battalion in the advance up Central Boyau, sir," said Ayling. "Everybody had disappeared by the time I got the machine-guns over the parapet. However, knowing the objective, I pushed on towards the Church Tower."
"How did you enjoy yourself passing Fosse Eight?" inquired Captain Wagstaffe.
"Thank you, we got a dose of our own medicine--machine-gun fire, in enfilade. It was beastly."
"We also noticed it," Wagstaffe intimated. "That was where poor Sinclair got knocked out. What did you do?"
"I signalled to the men to lie flat for a bit, and I did the same. I did not know that it was possible for a human being to lie as flat as I lay during that quarter of an hour. But it was no good. The guns must have been high up on the Fosse: they had excellent command. The bullets simply greased all round us. I could feel them combing out my hair, and digging into the ground underneath me."
"What were your sensations, exactly?" asked Kemp.
"I felt just as if an invisible person were tickling me," replied Ayling, with feeling.
"So did I," said Kemp. "Go on."
"I heard one of my men cry out that he was hit," continued Ayling, "and I came to the conclusion that we would have a better chance as moving targets than as fixed; so I passed the word to get up and move forward steadily, in single file. Ultimately we struck a stray communication-trench, into which we descended with as much dignity as possible. It led us into some quarries."
"Off our line altogether."
"So I learned from two Companies of an English regiment which were there, acting as reserve to a Brigade which was scrapping somewhere in the direction of Hulluch; so I realised that we had worked too far to the right. We moved out of the quarries and struck over half-left, and ultimately found the Battalion, a very long way ahead, in what I took to be a Bosche third-line trench, facing east."
"Right! Fosse Alley," said Kemp. "You remember it on the map?"
"Yes, I do now," said Ayling. "Well, I planted myself on the right flank of the Battalion with-two guns, and sent Sergeant Killick along with the other two to the left. You know the rest."
"I'm not sure that I do," said the Major. "We were packed so tight in that blooming trench that it was quite impossible to move about, and I only saw what was going on close around me. Did you get much machine-gun practice?"
"A fair amount, sir," replied Ayling, with professional satisfaction. "There was a lot of firing from our right front, so I combed out all the bushes and house-fronts I could see; and presently the firing died down, but not before I had had one gun put out of action with a bullet through the barrel-casing. After dark things were fairly quiet, except for constant alarms, until the order came to move back to the next trench."
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