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A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

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When we finally hit the town where our billets were, we found our company quartered in an old barn. It was dirty, and there was a pigpen at one end,--very smelly in the August heat. We flopped in the ancient filth. The cooties were very active, as we were drenched with sweat and hadn't had a bath since heavens knew when. We had had about ten minutes' rest and were thinking about getting out of the harness when up came Mad Harry, one of our "leftenants", and ordered us out for foot inspection.

I don't want to say anything unfair about this man. He is dead now. I saw him die. He was brave. He knew his job all right, but he was a fine example of what an officer ought not to be. The only reason I speak of him is because I want to say something about officers in general.

This Mad Harry,--I do not give his surname for obvious reasons,--was the son of one of the richest-new-rich-merchant families in England. He was very highly educated, had, I take it, spent the most of his life with the classics. He was long and thin and sallow and fish-eyed. He spoke in a low colorless monotone, absolutely without any inflection whatever. The men thought he was balmy. Hence the nickname Mad Harry.

Mad Harry was a fiend for walking. And at the end of a twenty-mile hike in heavy marching order he would casually stroll alongside some sweating soldier and drone out,

"I say, Private Stetson. Don't you just love to hike?"

Then and there he made a lifelong personal enemy of Private Stetson. In the same or similar ways he made personal enemies of every private soldier he came in contact with.

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It may do no harm to tell how Mad Harry died. He came very near being shot by one of his own men.

It was on the Somme. We were in the middle of a bit of a show, and we were all hands down in shell holes with a heavy machine-gun fire crackling overhead. I was in one hole, and in the next, which merged with mine, were two chaps who were cousins.

Mad Harry came along, walking perfectly upright, regardless of danger, with his left arm shattered. He dropped into the next shell hole and with his expressionless drawl unshaken, said, "Private X. Dress my arm."

Private X got out his own emergency bandage and fixed the arm. When it was done Mad Harry, still speaking in his monotonous drone, said:

"Now, Private X, get up out of this hole. Don't be hiding."

Private X obeyed orders without a question. He climbed out and fell with a bullet through his head. His cousin, who was a very dear friend of the boy, evidently went more or less crazy at this. I saw him leap at Mad Harry and snatch his pistol from the holster. He was, I think, about to shoot his officer when a shell burst overhead and killed them both.

Well, on this first day of the hike Mad Harry ordered us out for foot inspection, as I have said. I found that I simply couldn't get them out. They were in no condition for foot inspection,--hadn't washed for days. Harry came round and gave me a royal dressing down and ordered the whole bunch out for parade and helmet inspection. We were kept standing for an hour. You couldn't blame the men for hating an officer of that kind.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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