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A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

First Sight Of The Tanks

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It was Issy Epstein. He had been monkeying with his rifle and had shot himself in the hand. Of course, Issy was at once under suspicion of a self-inflicted wound, which is one of the worst crimes in the calendar. But the suspicion was removed instantly. Issy was hopping around, raising a terrific row.

"Oi, oi," he wailed. "I'm ruint. I'm ruint. My thimble finger is gone. My thimble finger! I'm ruint. Oi, oi, oi, oi."

The poor fellow was so sincerely desolated over the loss of his necessary finger that I couldn't accuse him of shooting himself intentionally. I detailed a man named Bealer to take Issy back to a dressing station. Well, Bealer never came back.

Months later in England I met up with Epstein and asked about Bealer. It seems that after Issy had been fixed up, the surgeon turned to Bealer and said:

"What's the matter with you?"

Bealer happened to be dreaming of something else and didn't answer.

"I say," barked the doctor, "speak up. What's wrong?"

Bealer was startled and jumped and begun to stutter.

"Oh, I see," said the surgeon. "Shell shock."

Bealer was bright enough and quick enough after that to play it up and was tagged for Blighty. He had it thrust upon him. And you can bet he grabbed it and thanked his lucky stars.

We had been on Mill Street a day and a night when an order came for our company to move up to the second line and to be ready to go over the top the next day. At first there was the usual grousing, as there seemed to be no reason why our company should be picked from the whole battalion. We soon learned that all hands were going over, and after that we felt better.

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We got our equipment on and started up to the second line. It was right here that I got my first dose of real honest-to-goodness modern war. The big push had been on all summer, and the whole of the Somme district was battered and smashed.

Going up from Mill Street there were no communication trenches. We were right out in the open, exposed to rifle and machine-gun fire and to shrapnel, and the Boches were fairly raining it in on the territory they had been pushed back from and of which they had the range to an inch. We went up under that steady fire for a full hour. The casualties were heavy, and the galling part of it was that we couldn't hurry, it was so dark. Every time a shell burst overhead and the shrapnel pattered in the dirt all about, I kissed myself good-by and thought of the baked beans at home. Men kept falling, and I wished I hadn't enlisted.

When we finally got up to the trench, believe me, we didn't need any orders to get in. We relieved the Black Watch, and they encouraged us by telling us they had lost over half their men in that trench, and that Fritz kept a constant fire on it. They didn't need to tell us. The big boys were coming over all the time.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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