The dead here were enough to give you the horrors. I had never seen so many before and never saw so many afterwards in one place. They were all over the place, both Germans and our own men. And in all states of mutilation and decomposition.
There were arms and legs sticking out of the trench sides. You could tell their nationality by the uniforms. The Scotch predominated. And their dead lay in the trenches and outside and hanging over the edges. I think it was here that I first got the real meaning of that old quotation about the curse of a dead man’s eye. With so many lying about, there were always eyes staring at you.
Sometimes a particularly wide-staring corpse would seem to follow you with his gaze, like one of these posters with the pointing finger that they use to advertise Liberty Bonds. We would cover them up or turn them over. Here and there one would have a scornful death smile on his lips, as though he were laughing at the folly of the whole thing.
The stench here was appalling. That frightful, sickening smell that strikes one in the face like something tangible. Ugh! I immediately grew dizzy and faint and had a mad desire to run. I think if I hadn’t been a non-com with a certain small amount of responsibility to live up to, I should have gone crazy.
I managed to pull myself together and placed my men as comfortably as possible. The Germans were five hundred yards away, and there was but little danger of an attack, so comparatively few had to “stand to.” The rest took to the shelters.
I found a little two-man shelter that everybody else had avoided and crawled in. I crowded up against a man in there and spoke to him. He didn’t answer and then suddenly I became aware of a stench more powerful than ordinary. I put out my hand and thrust it into a slimy, cold mess. I had found a dead German with a gaping, putrefying wound in his abdomen. I crawled out of that shelter, gagging and retching. This time I simply couldn’t smother my impulse to run, and run I did, into the next traverse, where I sank weak and faint on the fire step. I sat there the rest of the night, regardless of shells, my mind milling wildly on the problem of war and the reason thereof and cursing myself for a fool.
[Illustration: HEAD-ON VIEW OF A BRITISH TANK.]
It was very early in the morning when Wells shook me up with, “Hi sye, Darby, wot the blinkin’ blazes is that noise?”
We listened, and away from the rear came a tremendous whirring, burring, rumbling buzz, like a swarm of giant bees. I thought of everything from a Zeppelin to a donkey engine but couldn’t make it out. Blofeld ran around the corner of a traverse and told us to get the men out. He didn’t know what was coming and wasn’t taking any chances.
It was getting a little light though heavily misty. We waited, and then out of the gray blanket of fog waddled the great steel monsters that we were to know afterwards as the “tanks.” I shall never forget it.