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0105_001E A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

First Sight Of The Tanks

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One of the closest calls I had in all my war experience was at Mills Street. And Fritz was not to blame.

Several of the men, including myself, were squatted around a brazier cooking char and getting warm, for the nights were cold, when there was a terrific explosion. Investigation proved that an unexploded bomb had been buried under the brazier, and that it had gone off as the heat penetrated the ground. It is a wonder there weren't more of these accidents, as Tommy was forever throwing away his Millses.

The Mills bomb fires by pulling out a pin which releases a lever which explodes the bomb after four seconds. Lots of men never really trust a bomb. If you have one in your pocket, you feel that the pin may somehow get out, and if it does you know that you'll go to glory in small bits. I always had that feeling myself and used to throw away my Millses and scoop a hatful of dirt over them with my foot.

This particular bomb killed one man, wounded several, and shocked all of us. Two of the men managed to "swing" a "blighty" case out of it. I could have done the same if I had been wise enough.

I think I ought to say a word right here about the psychology of the Tommy in swinging a "blighty" case.

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It is the one first, last, and always ambition of the Tommy to get back to Blighty. Usually he isn't "out there" because he wants to be but because he has to be. He is a patriot all right. His love of Blighty shows that. He will fight like a bag of wildcats when he gets where the fighting is, but he isn't going around looking for trouble. He knows that his officers will find that for him a-plenty.

When he gets letters from home and knows that the wife or the "nippers" or the old mother is sick, he wants to go home. And so he puts in his time hoping for a wound that will be "cushy" enough not to discommode him much and that will be bad enough to swing Blighty on. Sometimes when he wants very much to get back he stretches his conscience to the limit--and it is pretty elastic anyhow--and he fakes all sorts of illness. The M.O. is usually a bit too clever for Tommy, however, and out and out fakes seldom get by. Sometimes they do, and in the most unexpected cases.

I had a man named Isadore Epstein in my section who was instrumental in getting Blighty for himself and one other. Issy was a tailor by trade. He was no fighting man and didn't pretend to be, and he didn't care who knew it. He was wild to get a "blighty one" or shell shock, or anything that would take him home.

One morning as we were preparing to go over the top, and the men were a little jumpy and nervous, I heard a shot behind me, and a bullet chugged into the sandbags beside my head. I whirled around, my first thought being that some one of our own men was trying to do me in. This is a thing that sometimes happens to unpopular officers and less frequently to the men. But not in this case.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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