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A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

Back On The Somme Again

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We had watched this battle from the rear from the slight elevation of High Wood, and it had been a wonderful sight to see other men go out over the top without having ourselves to think about. They had poured out, wave after wave, a large part of them Scotch with their kilted rumps swinging in perfect time, a smashing barrage going on ahead, and the tanks lumbering along with a kind of clumsy majesty. When they hit the objective, the tanks crawled in and made short work of it.

The infantry had hard work of it after the positions were taken, as there were numerous underground caverns and passages which had to be mopped out. This was done by dropping smoke bombs in the entrances and smoking the Boches out like bees.

When we came up, we inherited these underground shelters, and they were mighty comfortable after the kipping in the muck. There were a lot of souvenirs to be picked up, and almost everybody annexed helmets and other truck that had been left behind by the Germans.

Sometimes it was dangerous to go after souvenirs too greedily. The inventive Hun had a habit of fixing up a body with a bomb under it and a tempting wrist watch on the hand. If you started to take the watch, the bomb went off, and after that you didn't care what time it was.

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I accumulated a number of very fine razors, and one of the saw-tooth bayonets the Boche pioneers use. This is a perfectly hellish weapon that slips in easily and mangles terribly when it is withdrawn. I had thought that I would have a nice collection of souvenirs to take to Blighty if I ever got leave. I got the leave all right, and shortly, but the collection stayed behind.

The dug-out that Number 10 drew was built of concrete and was big enough to accommodate the entire platoon. We were well within the Boche range and early in the day had several casualties, one of them a chap named Stransfield, a young Yorkshireman who was a very good friend of mine. Stransie was sitting on the top step cleaning his rifle and was blown to pieces by a falling shell. After that we kept to cover all day and slept all the time. We needed it after the exhausting work of the past eight days.

It was along about dark when I was awakened by a runner from headquarters, which was in a dug-out a little way up the line, with word that the platoon commanders were wanted. I happened to be in command of the platoon, as Mr. Blofeld was acting second in command of the company, Sergeant Page was away in Havre as instructor for a month, and I was next senior.

I thought that probably this was merely another detail for some fatigue, so I asked Wells if he would go. He did and in about half an hour came back with a face as long as my arm. I was sitting on the fire step cleaning my rifle and Wellsie sank dejectedly down beside me.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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