You don’t seem able to get the angles, somehow, nor to grasp how the whole situation faces, or how you get from one part to another, and all that sort of thing. I know that by the time I had been along the whole lot, round several hundred traverses, and up dozens of communication trenches and saps, all my mariner-like ability for finding my way back to Neuve Eglise had deserted me. Those guides were absolutely necessary in order to get us back to the headquarter farm. One wants a compass, the pole star, and plenty of hope ever to get across those enormous prairies—known as fields out there—and reach the place at the other side one wants to get to. It is a long study before you really learn the simplest and best way up to your own bit of trench; but when it comes to learning everybody else’s way up as well (as a machine gunner has to), it needs a long and painful course of instruction—higher branches of this art consisting of not only knowing the way up, but the safest way up.
The night we carried out this tour of inspection we were all left in a fog as to how we had gone to and returned from the trenches. After we had got in we knew, by long examination of the maps, how everything lay, but it was some time before we had got the real practical hang of it all.
Our return journey from the inspection was a pretty silent affair. We all knew these were a nasty set of trenches. Not half so pleasant as the Plugstreet ones. The conversations we had with the present owners made it quite clear that warm times were the vogue round there. Altogether we could see we were in for a “bit of a time.”
We cleared off back to Neuve Eglise that night, and next day took those trenches over. This was the beginning of my life at Wulverghem. When we got in, late that night, we found that the post had arrived some time before. Thinking there might be something for me, I went into the back room where they sorted the letters, to get any there might be before going off to my own billets. “There’s only one for you, sir, to-night,” said the corporal who looked after the letters. He handed me an envelope. I opened it. Inside, a short note and a cheque.
“We shall be very glad to accept your sketch, ’Where did that one go to?’ From the Bystander”—the foundation-stone of Fragments from France.
BOARDS—BACK AT OUR FARM
We got out of the frying-pan into the fire when we went to Wulverghem—a much more exciting and precarious locality than Plugstreet. During all my war experiences I have grown to regard Plugstreet as the unit of tranquillity. I have never had the fortune to return there since those times mentioned in previous chapters. When you leave Plugstreet you take away a pleasing memory of slime and reasonable shelling, which is more than you can say for the other places. If you went to Plugstreet after, say, the Ypres Salient, it would be more or less like going to a convalescent home after a painful operation.