The Germans had made a fierce attack, had overborne a section of the defense and taken a good deal of trenched ground, had been counter-attacked and partly driven back, had scourged the lost parts with a fresh tempest of artillery fire and driven in again to close quarters, to hot bomb and bayonet work; were again checked and for the moment held.
Private Gerald Bunthrop’s battalion had been hurried up to support the broken and breaking line, was thrust into a badly wrecked trench with crumbling sides and broken traverses, with many dead and wounded cumbering the feet of the few defenders, with a reek of high-explosive fumes catching their throats and nostrils. The open ground beyond the trench was scattered thick with great heaps of German dead, a few more sprawled on the broken parapet, another and lesser few were huddled in the trench itself amongst the many khaki forms. The battalion holding the trench had been almost annihilated in the task, had in fact at first been driven out from part of the line and had only reoccupied it with heavy losses. Bunthrop had with his battalion passed along some smashed communication trenches and over the open ground this fighting had covered, and the sights they saw in passing might easily have shaken the stoutest hearts and nerves. They made the approach, too, under a destructive fire with high-explosive shells screaming and crashing over, around, and amongst them, with bullets whistling and hissing about them and striking the ground with the sound of constantly exploding Chinese crackers.
Bunthrop himself, to state the fact baldly, was in an agony of fear. He might have been tempted to bolt, but was restrained by a complete lack of any idea where to bolt to, by a lingering remnant of self-respect, and by a firm conviction that he would be dealt with mercilessly if he openly ran. But when he reached the comparative shelter of the broken trench all these safeguards of his decent behavior vanished. He flung himself into the trench, cowered in its deepest part, made not the slightest attempt to look over the parapet, much less to use his rifle. There is this much of excuse for him, that on the very instant that they reached the cover of the trench a bursting high-explosive had caught the four men next in line to him. The excuse may be insufficient for those who have never witnessed at very close hand the instant and terrible destruction of four companions