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A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

Fascination Of Patrol Work

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"What the dickens can this be?" stuttered the corporal. "There's been no barrage. There's no orders for a charge. What is it? What is it?"

Well, there they were, going over, as many as two hundred of them--growling. The corporal and I climbed out of the trench at the rear, over the parados, and ran across lots down to a point opposite where the Canadians had gone over, and watched.

They swept across No Man's Land and into the Boche trench. There was the deuce of a ruckus over there for maybe two minutes, and then back they came--carrying something. Strangely enough there had been no machine-gun fire turned on them as they crossed, nor was there as they returned. They had cleaned that German trench! And they brought back the body of a man--nailed to a rude crucifix. The thing was more like a T than a cross. It was made of planks, perhaps two by five, and the man was spiked on by his hands and feet. Across the abdomen he was riddled with bullets and again with another row a little higher up near his chest. The man was the sergeant I had talked to earlier in the night. What had happened was this. He had, no doubt, been taken by a German patrol. Probably he had refused to answer questions. Perhaps he had insulted an officer. They had crucified him and held him up above the parapet. With the first light his own comrades had naturally opened on the thing with the Lewises, not knowing what it was. When it got lighter, and they recognized the hellish thing that had been done to one of their men, they went over. Nothing in this world could have stopped them.

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The M.O. who viewed the body said that without question the man had been crucified alive. Also it was said that the same thing had happened before.

I told Captain Green of the occurrence when I got back to our own trenches, and he ordered me to keep silent, which I did. It was feared that if the affair got about the men would be "windy" on patrol. However, the thing did get about and was pretty well talked over. Too many saw it.

The Canadians were reprimanded for going over without orders. But they were not punished. For their officers went with them--led them.

Occasionally the temptation is too great. Once I was out on patrol alone, having sent my man back with a message, when I encountered a Heinie. I was lying down at the time. A flock of lights went up and showed this fellow standing about ten feet from me. He had frozen and stayed that way till the flares died, but I was close enough to see that he was a German. Also--marvel of marvels--he was alone.

When the darkness settled again, I got to my feet and jumped at him. He jumped at me--another marvel. Going into the clinch I missed him with the persuader and lost my grip on it, leaving the weapon dangling by the leather loop on my wrist. He had struck at me with his automatic, which I think he must have dropped, though I'm not sure of that. Anyway we fell into each other's arms and went at it barehanded. He was bigger than I. I got under the ribs and tried to squeeze the breath out of him, but he was too rugged.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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