ARRIVAL OF THE “JOHNSONS”—“WHERE
DID THAT ONE GO?”—THE FIRST FRAGMENT
Shortly after these events we experienced rather a nasty time in the village. It had been decided, way back somewhere at headquarters, that it was essential to hold the village in a stronger way than we had been doing. More men were to be kept there, and a series of trenches dug in and around it, thus forming means for an adequate defence should disaster befall our front line trenches, which lay out on a radius of about five hundred yards from the centre of the village. This meant working parties at night, and a pretty considerable collection of soldiers lurking in cavities in various ruined buildings by day.
Anyone will know that when a lot of soldiers congregate in a place it is almost impossible to prevent someone or other being seen, or smoke from some fire showing, or, even worse, a light visible at night from some imperfectly shuttered house.
At all events, something or other gave the Boches the tip, and we soon knew they had got their attention on our village.
Each morning as we clustered round our little green table and had our breakfast, we invariably had about half a dozen rounds of 18-pounders crash around us with varying results, but one day, as we’d finished our meal and all sat staring into the future, we suddenly caught the sound of something on more corpulent lines arriving. That ponderous, slow rotating whistle of a “Johnson” caught our well-trained ears; a pause! then a reverberating, hollow-sounding “crumph!” We looked at each other.
“Heavies!” we all exclaimed.
“Look out! here comes another!” and sure enough there it was, that gargling crescendo of a whistle followed by a mighty crash, considerably nearer.
We soon decided that our best plan was to get out of the house, and stay in the ditch twenty yards away until it was over.
A house is an unwholesome spot to be in when there’s shelling about. Our funk hole was all right for whizz-bangs and other fireworks of that sort, but no use against these portmanteaux they were now sending along.
Well, to resume; they put thirteen heavies into that village in pretty quick time. One old ruin was set on fire, and I felt the consequent results would be worse than just losing the building; as all the men in it had to rush outside and keep darting in and out through the flames and smoke, trying to save their rifles and equipment.