The tank machine guns were spitting fire over the heads of our first wave, and their Hotchkiss guns were rattling. A beautiful creeping barrage preceded us. Row after row of shells burst at just the right distance ahead, spewing gobs of smoke and flashes of flame, made thin by the bright sunlight. Half a dozen airplanes circled like dragonflies up there in the blue.
There was a tank just ahead of me. I got behind it. And marched there. Slow! God, how slow! Anyhow, it kept off the machine-gun bullets, but not, the shrapnel. It was breaking over us in clouds. I felt the stunning patter of the fragments on my tin hat, cringed under it, and wondered vaguely why it didn’t do me in.
Men in the front wave were going down like tenpins. Off there diagonally to the right and forward I glimpsed a blinding burst, and as much as a whole platoon went down.
Around me men were dropping all the time—men I knew. I saw Dolbsie clawing at his throat as he reeled forward, falling. I saw Vickers double up, drop his rifle, and somersault, hanging on to his abdomen.
A hundred yards away, to the right, an officer walked backwards with an automatic pistol balanced on his finger, smiling, pulling his men along like a drum major. A shell or something hit him. He disappeared in a welter of blood and half a dozen of the front file fell with him.
I thought we must be nearly there and sneaked a look around the edge of the tank. A traversing machine gun raked the mud, throwing up handfuls, and I heard the gruff “row, row” of flattened bullets as they ricocheted off the steel armor. I ducked back, and on we went.
Slow! Slow! I found myself planning what I would do when I got to the front trenches—if we ever did. There would be a grand rumpus, and I would click a dozen or more.
And then we arrived.
I don’t suppose that trip across No Man’s Land behind the tanks took over five minutes, but it seemed like an hour.
At the end of it my participation in the battle of High Wood ended. No, I wasn’t wounded. But when we reached the Boche front trenches a strange thing happened. There was no fight worth mentioning. The tanks stopped over the trenches and blazed away right and left with their all-around traverse.
A few Boches ran out and threw silly little bombs at the monsters. The tanks, noses in air, moved slowly on. And then the Graybacks swarmed up out of shelters and dug-outs, literally in hundreds, and held up their hands, whining “Mercy, kamarad.”
We took prisoners by platoons. Blofeld grabbed me and turned over a gang of thirty to me. We searched them rapidly, cut their suspenders and belts, and I started to the rear with them. They seemed glad to go. So was I.
As we hurried back over the five hundred yards that had been No Man’s Land and was now British ground, I looked back and saw the irresistible tanks smashing their way through the tree stumps of High Wood, still spitting death and destruction in three directions.