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A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

The Last Time Over The Top

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The hail of bullets grew even worse. They whistled and cracked and squealed, and I began to wonder why on earth I didn't get mine. Men were falling on all sides and the shrieks of those hit were the worst I had heard. The darkness made it worse, and although I had been over the top before by daylight this was the last limit of hellishness. And nothing but plain, unmixed machine-gun fire. As yet there was no artillery action to amount to anything.

Once again I put my hand inside my tunic and stroked Dinky and said to him, "For God's sake, Dink, see me through this time." I meant it too. I was actually praying,--to my mascot. I realize that this was plain, unadulterated, heathenish fetish worship, but it shows what a man reverts to in the barbaric stress of war.

By this time we were within about thirty yards of the Boche parapet and could see them standing shoulder to shoulder on the fire step, swarms of them, packed in, with the bayonets gleaming. Machine guns were emplaced and vomiting death at incredibly short intervals along the parapet. Flares were going up continuously, and it was almost as light as day.

We were terribly outnumbered, and the casualties had already been so great that I saw we were in for the worst thing we had ever known. Moreover, the next waves hadn't appeared behind us.

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I was in command, as all the officers and non-coms so far as I could make out had snuffed. I signalled to halt and take cover, my idea being to wait for the other waves to catch up. The men needed no second invitation to lie low. They rolled into the shell holes and burrowed where there was no cover.

I drew a pretty decent hole myself, and a man came pitching in on top of me, screaming horribly. It was Corporal Hoskins, a close friend of mine. He had it in the stomach and clicked in a minute or two.

During the few minutes that I lay in that hole, I suffered the worst mental anguish I ever knew. Seeing so many of my closest chums go west so horribly had nearly broken me, shaky as I was when the attack started. I was dripping with sweat and frightfully nauseated. A sudden overpowering impulse seized me to get out in the open and have it over with. I was ready to die.

Sooner than I ought, for the second wave had not yet shown up, I shrilled the whistle and lifted them out. It was a hopeless charge, but I was done. I would have gone at them alone. Anything to close the act. To blazes with everything!

As I scrambled out of the shell hole, there was a blinding, ear-splitting explosion slightly to my left, and I went down. I did not lose consciousness entirely. A red-hot iron was through my right arm, and some one had hit me on the left shoulder with a sledge hammer. I felt crushed,--shattered.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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