Going back we were under almost as heavy fire as we had been coming up. When we were about half-way across, shrapnel burst directly over our party and seven of the prisoners were killed and half a dozen wounded. I myself was unscratched. I stuck my hand inside my tunic and patted Dinky on the back, sent up a prayer for some more luck like that, and carried on.
After getting my prisoners back to the rear, I came up again but couldn’t find my battalion. I threw in with a battalion of Australians and was with them for twenty-four hours.
When I found my chaps again, the battle of High Wood was pretty well over. Our company for some reason had suffered very few casualties, less than twenty-nine. Company B, however, had been practically wiped out, losing all but thirteen men out of two hundred. The other two companies had less than one hundred casualties. We had lost about a third of our strength. It is a living wonder to me that any of us came through.
I don’t believe any of us would have if it hadn’t been for the tanks.
The net result of the battle of High Wood was that our troops carried on for nearly two miles beyond the position to be taken. They had to fall back but held the wood and the heights. Three of the tanks were stalled in the farther edge of the woods—out of fuel—and remained there for three days unharmed under the fire of the German guns.
Eventually some one ventured out and got some juice into them, and they returned to our lines. The tanks had proved themselves, not only as effective fighting machines, but as destroyers of German morale.
For weeks after our first introduction to the tanks they were the chief topic of conversation in our battalion. And, notwithstanding the fact that we had seen the monsters go into action, had seen what they did and the effect they had on the Boche, the details of their building and of their mechanism remained a mystery for a long time.
For weeks about all we knew about them was what we gathered from their appearance as they reeled along, camouflaged with browns and yellows like great toads, and that they were named with quaint names like “Creme de Menthe” and “Diplodocus.”
Eventually I met with a member of the crews who had manned the tanks at the battle of High Wood, and I obtained from him a description of some of his sensations. It was a thing we had all wondered about,—how the men inside felt as they went over.
My tanker was a young fellow not over twenty-five, a machine gunner, and in a little estaminet, over a glass of citron and soda, he told me of his first battle.
“Before we went in,” he said, “I was a little bit uncertain as to how we were coming out. We had tried the old boats out and had given them every reasonable test. We knew how much they would stand in the way of shells on top and in the way of bombs or mines underneath. Still there was all the difference between rehearsal and the actual going on the stage.