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A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

First Sight Of The Tanks

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Late in the summer I accumulated a nice little case of trench fever.

This disease is due to remaining for long periods in the wet and mud, to racked nerves, and, I am inclined to think, to sleeping in the foul air of the dug-outs. The chief symptom is high temperature, and the patient aches a good deal. I was sent back to a place in the neighborhood of Arras and was there a week recuperating.

While I was there a woman spy whom I had known in Abalaine was brought to the village and shot. The frequency with which the duck walk at Abalaine had been shelled, especially when ration parties or troops were going over it, had attracted a good deal of attention.

There was a single house not far from the end of that duck walk west of Abalaine, occupied by a woman and two or three children. She had lived there for years and was, so far as anybody knew, a Frenchwoman in breeding and sympathies. She was in the habit of selling coffee to the soldiers, and, of course, gossiped with them and thus gained a good deal of information about troop movements.

She was not suspected for a long time. Then a gunner of a battery which was stationed near by noticed that certain children's garments, a red shirt and a blue one and several white garments, were on the clothesline in certain arrangement on the days when troops were to be moved along the duck walk the following night. This soldier notified his officers, and evidence was accumulated that the woman was signalling to the Boche airplanes.

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She was arrested, taken to the rear, and shot. I don't like to think that this woman was really French. She was, no doubt, one of the myriad of spies who were planted in France by the Germans long before the war.

After getting over the fever, I rejoined my battalion in the early part of September in the Somme district at a place called Mill Street. This was in reality a series of dug-outs along a road some little distance behind our second lines, but in the range of the German guns, which persistently tried for our artillery just beside us.

Within an hour of my arrival I was treated to a taste of one of the forms of German kultur which was new at the time. At least it was new to me--tear gas. This delectable vapor came over in shells, comparatively harmless in themselves, but which loosed a gas, smelling at first a little like pineapple. When you got a good inhale you choked, and the eyes began to run. There was no controlling the tears, and the victim would fairly drip for a long time, leaving him wholly incapacitated.

Goggles provided for this gas were nearly useless, and we all resorted to the regular gas helmet. In this way we were able to stand the stuff.

The gas mask, by the way, was the bane of my existence in the trenches--one of the banes. I found that almost invariably after I had had mine on for a few minutes I got faint. Very often I would keel over entirely. A good many of the men were affected the same way, either from the lack of air inside the mask or by the influence of the chemicals with which the protector is impregnated.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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