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Live Rounds Ian Hay

The Front Of The Front

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"I do not think, sir," replied the literal Waddell, "that an English shilling would fit a German meter. Probably a mark would be required, and I have only a franc. Besides, sir, do you think that--"

"Surgical operation at seven-thirty, sharp!" intimated the major to the medical officer, who entered the dug-out at that moment. "For our friend here"--indicating the bewildered Waddell. "Sydney Smith's prescription! Now, what about breakfast?"

* * * * *

About nine o'clock the enemy indulges in what is usually described, most disrespectfully, as "a little morning hate"--in other words, a bombardment. Beginning with a hors d'oeuvre of shrapnel along the reserve trench--much to the discomfort of Headquarters, who are shaving--he proceeds to "search" a tract of woodland in our immediate rear, his quarry being a battery of motor machine-guns, which has wisely decamped some hours previously. Then, after scientifically "traversing" our second line, which has rashly advertised its position and range by cooking its breakfast over a smoky fire, he brings the display to a superfluous conclusion by dropping six "Black Marias" into the deserted ruins of a village not far behind us. After that comes silence; and we are able, in our hot, baking trenches, assisted by clouds of bluebottles, to get on with the day's work.

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This consists almost entirely in digging. As already stated, these are bad trenches. The parapet is none too strong--at one point it has been knocked down for three days running--the communication trenches are few and narrow, and there are not nearly enough dug-outs. Yesterday three men were wounded; and owing to the impossibility of carrying a stretcher along certain parts of the trench, they had to be conveyed to the rear in their ground-sheets--bumped against projections, bent round sharp corners, and sometimes lifted, perforce, bodily into view of the enemy. So every man toils with a will, knowing full well that in a few hours' time he may prove to have been his own benefactor. Only the sentries remain at the parapets. They no longer expose themselves, as at night, but take advantage of the laws of optical reflection, as exemplified by the trench periscope. (This, in spite of its grand title, is nothing but a tiny mirror clipped on to a bayonet.)

At half-past twelve comes dinner--bully-beef, with biscuit and jam--after which each tired man, coiling himself up in the trench, or crawling underground, according to the accommodation at his disposal, drops off into instant and heavy slumber. The hours from two till five in the afternoon are usually the most uneventful of the twenty-four, and are therefore devoted to hardly-earned repose.

But there is to be little peace this afternoon. About half-past three, Bobby Little, immersed in pleasant dreams--dreams of cool shades and dainty companionship--is brought suddenly to the surface of things by--


--followed by a heavy thud upon the roof of his dug-out. Earth and small stones descend in a shower upon him.

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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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