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0100_005E A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

Fascination Of Patrol Work

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Approaching a corpse, the patrol lies quiet and watches it for several minutes, unless it is one he has seen before and is acquainted with. Because sometimes the man isn't dead, but a perfectly live Boche patrol lying "doggo." You can't be too careful.

If you happen to be pussyfooting forward erect and encounter a German patrol, it is policy to scuttle back unless you are near enough to get in one good lick with the persuader. He will retreat slowly himself, and you mustn't follow him. Because: The British patrol usually goes out singly or at the most in pairs or threes.

The Germans, on the other hand, hunt in parties. One man leads. Two others follow to the rear, one to each side. And then two more, and two more, so that they form a V, like a flock of geese. Now if you follow up the lead man when he retreats, you are baited into a trap and find yourself surrounded, smothered by superior numbers, and taken prisoner. Then back to the Boche trench, where exceedingly unpleasant things are apt to happen.

It is, in fact, most unwholesome for a British patrol to be captured. I recall a case in point which I witnessed and which is far enough in the past so that it can be told. It occurred, not at Vimy Ridge, but further down the line, nearer the Somme.

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I was out one night with another man, prowling in the dark, when I encountered a Canadian sergeant who was alone. There was a Canadian battalion holding the next trench to us, and another farther down. He was from the farther one. We lay in the mud and compared notes. Once, when a light floated down near us, I saw his face, and he was a man I knew, though not by name.

After a while we separated, and he went back, as he was considerably off his patrol. An hour or so later the mist began to get gray, and it was evident that dawn was near. I was a couple of hundred yards down from our battalion, and my man and I made for the trenches opposite where we were. As we climbed into a sap head, I was greeted by a Canadian corporal. He invited me to a tin of "char", and I sent my man up the line to our own position.

We sat on the fire step drinking, and I told the corporal about meeting the sergeant out in front. While we were at the "char" it kept getting lighter, and presently a pair of Lewises started to rattle a hundred yards or so away down the line. Then came a sudden commotion and a kind of low, growling shout. That is the best way I can describe it. We stood up, and below we saw men going over the top.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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