Somehow he made you feel that you wouldn’t mind going to hell if he was along, and you knew that he’d be willing to come if he could do any good. A good little man! Peace to his ashes.
At ten o’clock things busted loose, and the most intense bombardment ever known in warfare up to that time began. Thousands of guns, both French and English, in fact every available gun within a radius of fifteen miles, poured it in. In the Bedlamitish din and roar it was impossible to hear the next man unless he put his mouth up close to your ear and yelled.
My ear drums ached, and I thought I should go insane if the racket didn’t stop. I was frightfully nervous and scared, but tried not to show it. An officer or a non-com must conceal his nervousness, though he be dying with fright.
The faces of the men were hard-set and pale. Some of them looked positively green. They smoked fag after fag, lighting the new ones on the butts.
All through the bombardment Fritz was comparatively quiet. He was saving all his for the time when we should come over. Probably, too, he was holed up to a large extent in his concrete dug-outs. I looked over the top once or twice and wondered if I, too, would be lying there unburied with the rats and maggots gnawing me into an unrecognizable mass. There were moments in that hour from ten to eleven when I was distinctly sorry for myself.
The time, strangely enough, went fast—as it probably does with a condemned man in his last hour. At zero minus ten the word went down the line “Ten to go” and we got to the better positions of the trench and secured our footing on the side of the parapet to make our climb over when the signal came. Some of the men gave their bayonets a last fond rub, and I looked to my bolt action to see that it worked well. I had ten rounds in the magazine, and I didn’t intend to rely too much on the bayonet. At a few seconds of eleven I looked at my wrist watch and was afflicted again with that empty feeling in the solar plexus. Then the whistles shrilled; I blew mine, and over we went.
To a disinterested spectator who was far enough up in the air to be out of range it must have been a wonderful spectacle to see those thousands of men go over, wave after wave.
The terrain was level out to the point where the little hill of High Wood rose covered with the splintered poles of what had once been a forest. This position and the supports to the left and rear of it began to fairly belch machine-gun and shell fire. If Fritz had been quiet before, he gave us all he had now.
Our battalion went over from the second trench, and we got the cream of it.
The tanks were just ahead of us and lumbered along in an imposing row. They lurched down into deep craters and out again, tipped and reeled and listed, and sometimes seemed as though they must upset; but they came up each time and went on and on. And how slow they did seem to move! Lord, I thought we should never cover that five or six hundred yards.