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A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

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On our first march out of the Cabaret Rouge communication trench we covered a matter of ten miles to a place called Villiers du Bois. Before that I had never fully realized just what it meant to go it in full heavy equipment.

Often on the march I compared my lot with that of the medieval soldier who had done his fighting over these same fields of Northern France.

The knight of the Middle Ages was all dressed up like a hardware store with, I should judge, about a hundred pounds of armor. But he rode a horse and had a squire or some such striker trailing along in the rear with the things to make him comfortable, when the fighting was over.

The modern soldier gets very little help in his war making. He is, in fact, more likely to be helping somebody else than asking for assistance for himself. The soldier has two basic functions: first, to keep himself whole and healthy; second, to kill the other fellow. To the end that he may do these two perfectly simple things, he has to carry about eighty pounds of weight all the time.

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He has a blanket, a waterproof sheet, a greatcoat, extra boots, extra underwear, a haversack with iron rations, entrenching tools, a bayonet, a water bottle, a mess kit, a rifle, two hundred fifty rounds of ammo, a tin hat, two gas helmets, and a lot of miscellaneous small junk. All this is draped, hung, and otherwise disposed over his figure by means of a web harness having more hooks than a hatrack. He parallels the old-time knight only in the matter of the steel helmet and the rifle, which, with the bayonet, corresponds to the lance, sword, and battle-ax, three in one.

The modern soldier carries all his worldly goods with him all the time. He hates to hike. But he has to.

I remember very vividly that first day. The temperature was around 90 deg., and some fool officers had arranged that we start at one,--the very worst time of the day. The roads so near the front were pulverized, and the dust rose in dense clouds. The long straight lines of poplars beside the road were gray with it, and the heat waves shimmered up from the fields.

Before we had gone five miles the men began to wilt. Right away I had some more of the joys of being a corporal brought home to me. I was already touched with trench fever and was away under par. That didn't make any difference.

On the march, when the men begin to weaken, an officer is sure to trot up and say:

"Corporal Holmes, just carry this man's rifle," or "Corporal Collins, take that man's pack. He's jolly well done."

Seemingly the corporal never is supposed to be jolly well done. If one complained, his officer would look at him with astounded reproach and say:

"Why, Corporal. We cawn't have this, you know! You are a Non-commissioned Officer, and you must set an example. You must, rahly."

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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