Next morning the enemy aeroplane appeared again at its appointed hour and sailed overhead, leaving behind it a long wake of smoke-puffs; and at the same hour in the afternoon as the previous shelling the German gun opened fire, dropping its first shell neatly fifty yards further from the shell-holes of the day before. The aeroplane, of course, had reported, or its photograph had shown, the previous day’s shells to have dropped apparently fifty yards to the left of the hamlet. The gun accordingly corrected its aim and opened fire on a spot fifty yards more to the right. For hours it bombarded that suffering field energetically, and at the end of that time, when they were satisfied the shelling was over, the Blue Marines climbed from their cellar. Next morning the aeroplane appeared again, and the Blue Marines allowed it this time to approach unattacked. Convinced probably by this and the appearance of the numerous shell-pits scattered round the gun position, the aeroplane swooped lower to verify its observations. Unfortunately another anti-aircraft gun a mile further along the line thought this too good an opportunity to miss, and opened rapid fire. The ’plane leaped upward and away, and the Blue Marines sped on its way with a stream of following shells.
“If the Huns’ minds work on the fixed and appointed path, one would expect the same old field will get a strafing this afternoon,” said the captain afterwards. “The airman will have seen the village knocked about, and if he knew that those last shells came from here he’ll just conclude that yesterday’s shooting missed us, and the gunners will have another whale at us this afternoon.”
He was right; the gun had “another whale” at them, and again dug many holes in the old field.
But next morning the Germans played a new and disconcerting game. The aeroplane hovered high above and dropped a light, and a minute later the Blue Marines heard a shrill whistle, that grew and changed to a whoop, and ended with the same old crash in the same old field.
“Now,” said the captain. “Stand by for trouble. That brute is spotting for his gun.”
The aeroplane dropped a light, turned, and circled round to the left. Five minutes later another shell screamed over, and this time fell crashing into the hamlet. The hit was palpable and unmistakable; a huge dense cloud of smoke and mortar-, lime-, and red brick-dust leapt and billowed and hung heavily over the village.
“This,” said the captain rapidly, “is where we do the rabbit act. Get to cover, all of you, and lie low.”
They did the rabbit act, scuttling amongst the broken houses to the shelter of their cellar and diving hastily into it. Another shell arrived, shrieking wrathfully, smashed into another broken house, and scattered its ruins in a whirlwind of flying fragments.