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0105_001E A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

Back On The Somme Again

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When the pioneers came up, they would remove the rifle and substitute a little wooden cross with the name painted on it. The indifference with which the men soon came to regard this burial fatigue was amazing. I remember one incident of that first morning, a thing that didn't seem at all shocking at the time, but which, looking back upon it, illustrates the matter-of-factness of the soldier's viewpoint on death.

"Hi sye, Darby," sang out one fellow. "Hi got a blighter 'ere wif only one leg. Wot'll Hi do wif 'im?"

"Put him under with only one, you blinking idiot," said I.

Presently he called out again, this time with a little note of satisfaction and triumph in his voice.

"Darby, Hi sye. I got a leg for that bleeder. Fits 'im perfect."

Well, I went over and took a look and to my horror found that the fool had stuck a German leg on the body, high boot and all. I wouldn't stand for that and had it out again. I wasn't going to send a poor fellow on his last pilgrimage with any Boche leg, and said so. Later I heard this undertaking genius of a Tommy grousing and muttering to himself.

"Cawn't please Darby," says he, "no matter wot. Fawncy the blighter'd feel better wif two legs, if one was Boche. It's a fair crime sendin' 'im hover the river wif only one."

I was sure thankful when that burial fatigue was over, and early in the forenoon we started back to rest.

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Rest, did I say? Not that trip. We were hardly back to Mametz and down to breakfast when along came an order to fall in for a carrying party. All that day we carried boxes of Millses up to the dump that was by High Wood, three long miles over hard going. Being a corporal had its compensations at this game, as I had no carrying to do; but inasmuch as the bombs were moved two boxes to a man, I got my share of the hard work helping men out of holes and lending a hand when they were mired.

Millses are packed with the bombs and detonators separate in the box, and the men are very careful in the handling of them. So the moving of material of this kind is wearing.

Another line of man-killers that we had to move were "toffy apples." This quaint toy is a huge bomb, perfectly round and weighing sixty pounds, with a long rod or pipe which inserts into the mortar. Toffy apples are about the awkwardest thing imaginable to carry.

This carrying stunt went on for eight long days and nights. We worked on an average sixteen hours a day. It rained nearly all the time, and we never got dried out. The food was awful, as the advance had been so fast that it was almost impossible to get up the supplies, and the men in the front trenches had the first pick of the grub. It was also up to us to get the water up to the front. The method on this was to use the five-gallon gasoline cans. Sometimes they were washed out, oftener they weren't. Always the water tasted of gas. We got the same thing, and several times I became sick drinking the stuff.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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