It was two a.m. From the dug-outs came unmistakable sounds of slumber. Men off duty were not kept awake by cold and moisture in summer. They had fashioned for themselves comfortable dormitories in the hard earth walls. A cot in an officer’s bedchamber was indicated as mine. The walls had been hung with cuts from illustrated papers and bagging spread on the floor to make it “home-like.” He lay down on the floor because he was nearer the door in case he had to respond to an alarm; besides, he said I would soon appreciate that I was not the object of favouritism. So I did. It was a trench-made cot, fashioned by some private of engineers, I fancy, who had Germans rather than the American cousin in mind.
“The wall side of the rib that runs down the middle is the comfortable side, I have found,” said my host. “It may not appear so at first, but you will find it works out that way.”
Nevertheless, I slept, my last recollection that of sniping shots, to be awakened with the first streaks of day by the sound of a fusillade—the “morning hate” or the “morning strafe” as it is called. After the vigil of darkness it breaks the monotony to salute the dawn with a burst of rifle-shots. Eyes strained through the mist over the wheatfield watching for some one of the enemy who may be exposing himself, unconscious that it is light enough for him to be visible. Objects which are not men but look as if they might be in the hazy distance, called for attention on the chance. For ten minutes, perhaps, the serenade lasted, and then things settled down to the normal. The men were yawning and stirring from their dug-outs. After the muster they would take the places of those who had been “on the bridge” through the night.
“It’s a case of how little water you can wash with, isn’t it?” I said to the cook, who appreciated my thoughtfulness when I made shift with a dipperful, as I had done on desert journeys. We were in a trench that was inundated with water in winter, and not more than two miles from a town which had water laid on. But bringing a water supply in pails along narrow trenches is a poor pastime, though better than bringing it up under the rifle-sights of snipers across the fields back of the trenches.
“Don’t expect much for breakfast,” said the strafer of the chicken. But it was eggs and bacon, the British stand-by in all weathers, at home and abroad.
J------was going to turn in and sleep. These youngsters could sleep at any time; for one hour, or two hours, or five, or ten, if they had a chance. A sudden burst of rifle-fire was the alarm clock which always promptly awakened them. The recollection of cheery hospitality and their fine, buoyant spirit is even clearer now than when I left the trench.
It was at a bombing school on a French farm, where chosen soldiers brought back from the trenches were being trained in the use of the anarchists’ weapon, which has now become as respectable as the rifle. The war has steadily developed specialism. M.B. degrees for Master Bombers are not beyond the range of possibilities.