“Rouse yourselves,” he cried. “Get a move on. The Germans are almost on top of us. The front line’s falling back. They’ll stand here.” He seized one or two of them and pushed them towards the door. “You,” he said, “and you and you, get outside and round the back there. See if you can get a pickaxe, a trenching tool, anything, and break down that grating and knock a bigger hole in the window. We may have to crawl out there presently. The rest o’ ye come with me an’ help block up the door.”
Through the din that followed, the telephonist fought to get his message through; he had to give up an attempt to speak it while a hatchet, a crowbar, and a pickaxe were noisily at work breaking out a fresh exit from the back of the cellar, and even after that work had been completed, it was difficult to make himself heard. He completed the urgent message for reenforcements at last, listened to some confused and confusing comments upon it, and then made ready to take some messages from the other end.
“You’ll have to shout,” he said, “no, shout—speak loud, because I can’t ’ardly ’ear myself think—no, ’ear myself think. Oh, all sorts, but the shelling is the worst, and one o’ them beastly airyale torpedoes. All right, go ahead.”
The earpiece receiver strapped tightly over one ear, left his right hand free to use a pencil, and as he took the spoken message word by word, he wrote it on the pad of message forms under his hand. Under the circumstances it is hardly surprising that the message took a good deal longer than a normal time to send through, and while he was taking it, the signaler’s mind was altogether too occupied to pay any attention to the progress of events above and around him. But now the sergeant came back and warned him that he had better get his things ready and put together as far as he could, in case they had to make a quick and sudden move.
“The game’s up, I’m afraid,” he said gloomily, and took a note that was brought down by another orderly. “I thought so,” he commented, as he read it hastily and passed it to the other signaler. “It’s a message warning the right and left flanks that we can’t hold the center any longer, and that they are to commence falling back to conform to our retirement at 3.20 ac emma, which is ten minutes from now.”
Over their heads the signalers could hear tramping scurrying feet, the hammering out of loopholes, the dragging thump and flinging down of obstacles piled up as an additional defense to the rickety walls. Then there were more hurrying footsteps, and presently the jarring rap-rap-rap of a machine gun immediately over their heads.
“That’s done it!” said the sergeant. “We’ve got no orders to move, but I’m going to chance it and establish an alternative signaling station in one of the trenches somewhere behind here. This cellar roof is too thin to stop an ordinary Fizzbang, much less a good solid Crump, and that machine gun upstairs is a certain invitation to sudden death and the German gunners to down and out us.”