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A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

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A general cleaning of rifles started, although it was dark. Mine was already in good shape, and I leaned it against the side of the trench and went below for the rest of my equipment. While I was gone, a shell fragment undid all my work by smashing the breech.

I had seen a new short German rifle in the dug-out with a bayonet and ammo, and decided to use that. I hid all my souvenirs, planning to get them when I came out if I ever came out. I hadn't much nerve left after the bashing I had taken a fortnight before and didn't hold much hope.

Our instructions were of the briefest. It was the old story that there would probably be little resistance, if any. There would be a few machine guns to stop us, but nothing more. The situation we had to handle was this: A certain small sector had held on the attacks of the few previous days, and the line had bent back around it. All we had to do was to straighten the line. We had heard this old ghost story too often to believe a word of it.

Our place had been designated where we were to get into extended formation, and our general direction was clear. We filed out of the trench at eight-thirty, and as we passed the other platoons,--we had been to the rear,--they tossed us the familiar farewell hail, "The best o' luck, mytie."

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We soon found ourselves in the old sunken road that ran in front of Eaucort Abbaye. At this point we were not under observation, as a rise in the ground would have protected us even though it had been daylight. The moon was shining brilliantly, and we knew that it would not be anything in the nature of a surprise attack. We got into extended formation and waited for the order to advance. I thought I should go crazy during that short wait. Shells had begun to burst over and around us, and I was sure the next would be mine.

Presently one burst a little behind me, and down went Captain Green and the Sergeant Major with whom he had been talking. Captain Green died a few days later at Rouen, and the Sergeant Major lost an arm. This was a hard blow right at the start, and it spelled disaster. Everything started to go wrong. Mr. Blofeld was in command, and another officer thought that he was in charge. We got conflicting orders, and there was one grand mix-up. Eventually we advanced and went straight up over the ridge. We walked slap-bang into perfectly directed fire. Torrents of machine-gun bullets crackled about us, and we went forward with our heads down, like men facing into a storm. It was a living marvel that any one could come through it.

A lot of them didn't. Mr. Blofeld, who was near me, leaped in the air, letting go a hideous yell. I ran to him, disregarding the instruction not to stop to help any one. He was struck in the abdomen with an explosive bullet and was done for. I felt terribly about Mr. Blofeld, as he had been a good friend to me. He was the finest type of officer of the new English army, the rare sort who can be democratic and yet command respect. He had talked with me often, and I knew of his family and home life. He was more like an elder brother to me than a superior officer. I left Mr. Blofeld and went on.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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