‘More digging—oh, Christmas!’ growled Dave. ’I didn’t come here to dig. I could do that in my old dad’s garden at home.’
Ken chuckled. ’You’ll find the spade’ll do as much to win this war as the guns and rifles. There’s heaps of trenching in store for us, I can tell you.’
There was some delay about the maxims, and time went on without any order to move. The men began to grumble. It was hard indeed to lie and watch their comrades below being picked off, one after another, by these abominable sharpshooters, without a chance of hitting back.
‘Look at that!’ growled Roy Horan, pointing to a stalwart bluejacket who had just dropped at his oar as the boat pushed off the beach. ’It’s murder! That’s what it is. Sheer murder! Why the blazes can’t the ships turn loose?’
’Because they’ve got nothing to fire at. You can’t chuck away 6-inch shells on the off chance of killing one sniper. You wait until the Turks appear in force. Then you’ll see what naval guns can do.’
‘I don’t believe the swine will ever appear in force,’ said Roy, who had lost all his good humour and was looking absolutely savage. ’It breaks me all up to see our chaps shot down like rabbits without a chance of getting their own back.’
There was worse to come. From somewhere high up among the scrub-clad heights came a dull heavy crash, and almost instantly the clear air above the beach was filled with puffs of gray white smoke which floated like balls of cotton wool.
‘The guns! The beggars have got those guns up,’ ran a mutter along the trench.
‘About time for the ships to get to work,’ growled Roy, his big handsome face knitted in a scowl.
‘Ay, if they only knew where the guns were,’ replied Ken. ’But that’s the deuce of it. They can’t spot ’em without planes, and there are no planes here yet.’
Crash! A second gun spoke, and another shell burst above the beach. From that time on the firing was continuous. The whole beach was scourged with shrapnel, and landing operations became perilous in the extreme.
The men in the trenches fidgeted and swore beneath their breath. There is nothing more trying to troops than to see their comrades suffering and yet be unable to help them.
‘Can’t we do something?’ muttered Dave, as he saw a boat from one of the ships smashed to matchwood by a blast of shrapnel, and her crew and contents scattered into the sea. ’Can’t we do something? It’s enough to drive one loony to watch this sort of thing.’
Almost as he spoke there was a sudden flutter of excitement, as an order was passed from man to man down the trench.
They were to advance and take up a new position on the top of the slope.
There was no bugle note, no cheer, but at a whistle the men swarmed out of their trench and went uphill as hard as every they could go.