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A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

Fascination Of Patrol Work

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At the same time I felt that he didn't relish the clinch. I slipped my elbow up and got under his chin, forcing his head back. His breath smelled of beer and onions. I was choking him when he brought his knee up and got me in the stomach and again on the instep when he brought his heel down.

It broke my hold, and I staggered back groping for the persuader. He jumped back as far as I did. I felt somehow that he was glad. So was I. We stood for a minute, and I heard him gutter out something that sounded like "Verdamder swinehunt." Then we both backed away.

It seemed to me to be the nicest way out of the situation. No doubt he felt the same.

I seem to have wandered far from the Quarries and the Grouse Spots. Let's go back.

We were two days in the Grouse Spots and were then relieved, going back to the Quarries and taking the place of Number 9 in support. While lying there, I drew a patrol that was interesting because it was different.

The Souchez River flowed down from Abalaine and Souchez villages and through our lines to those of the Germans, and on to Lens. Spies, either in the army itself or in the villages, had been placing messages in bottles and floating them down the river to the Germans.

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Somebody found this out, and a net of chicken wire had been placed across the river in No Man's Land. Some one had to go down there and fish for bottles twice nightly. I took this patrol alone. The lines were rather far apart along the river, owing to the swampy nature of the ground, which made livable trenches impossible.

I slipped out and down the slight incline, and presently found myself in a little valley. The grass was rank and high, sometimes nearly up to my chin, and the ground was slimy and treacherous. I slipped into several shell holes and was almost over my head in the stagnant, smelly water.

I made the river all right, but there was no bridge or net in sight. The river was not over ten feet wide and there was supposed to be a footbridge of two planks where the net was.

I got back into the grass and made my way downstream. Sliding gently through the grass, I kept catching my feet in something hard that felt like roots; but there were no trees in the neighborhood. I reached down and groped in the grass and brought up a human rib. The place was full of them, and skulls. Stooping, I could see them, grinning up out of the dusk, hundreds of them. I learned afterwards that this was called the Valley of Death. Early in the war several thousand Zouaves had perished there, and no attempt had been made to bury them.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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