There were yellow and green and blue and black and striped bombs; egg-shaped, barrel-shaped, conical, and concave bombs; bombs that were exploded by pulling a string and by pressing a button—all these to be thrown by hand, without mentioning grenades and other larger varieties to be thrown by mechanical means, which would have made a Chinese warrior of Confucius’ time or a Roman legionary feel at home.
“This was the first-born,” the subaltern explained, “the first thing we could lay our hands on when the close quarters’ trench warfare began.”
It was as out of date as grandfather’s smooth-bore, the tin-pot bomb that both sides used early in the winter. A wick was attached to the high explosive, wrapped in cloth and stuck in an ordinary army jam tin.
“Quite home-made, as you see, sir,” remarked the sergeant. “Used to fix them up ourselves in the trenches in odd hours—saved burying the refuse jam tins according to medical corps directions—and you threw them at the Boches. Had to use a match to light it. Very old-fashioned, sir. I wonder if that old fuse has got damp. No, it’s going all right”—and he threw the jam pot, which made a good explosion. Later, when he began hammering the end of another he looked up in mild surprise at the dignified back-stepping of the spectators.
“Is that fuse out?” someone asked.
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir,” he replied. “It’s safer. But here is the best; we’re discarding the others,” he went on, as he picked up a bomb.
It was a pleasure to throw this crowning achievement of experiments. It fitted your hand nicely; it threw easily; it did the business; it was fool-proof against a man in love or a war-poet.
“We saw as soon as this style came out,” said the sergeant, “that it was bound to be popular. Everybody asks for it—except the Boches, sir.”
It was the best day because one ran the gamut of the mechanics and emotions of modern war within a single experience—and oh, the twinkle in that staff officer’s eye!
It was on a Monday that I first met him in the ballroom of a large chateau. Here another officer was talking over a telephone in an explicit, businesslike fashion about “sending up more bombs,” while we looked at maps spread out on narrow, improvised tables, such as are used for a buffet at a reception. Those maps showed all the British trenches and all the German trenches—spider-weblike lines that cunning human spiders had spun with spades—in that region; and where our batteries were and where some of the German batteries were, if our aeroplane observations were correct.
To the layman they were simply blue prints, such as he sees in the office of an engineer or an architect, or elaborate printed maps with many blue and red pencil-lings. To the general in command they were alive with rifle-power and gun-power and other powers mysterious to us; the sword with which he thrust and feinted and guarded in the ceaseless fencing of trench warfare, while higher authorities than he kept their secrets as he kept his and bided their day.