“When we crawled in through the trapdoor for the first time over, the shut-up feeling got me. I’d felt it before but not that way. I got to imagining what would happen if we got stalled somewhere in the Boche lines, and they built a fire around us. That was natural, because it’s hot inside a tank at the best. You mustn’t smoke either. I hadn’t minded that in rehearsal, but in action I was crazy for a fag.
“We went across, you remember, at eleven, and the sun was shining bright. We were parboiled before we started, and when we got going good it was like a Turkish bath. I was stripped to the waist and was dripping. Besides that, when we begun to give ’em hell, the place filled with gas, and it was stifling. The old boat pitched a good deal going into shell holes, and it was all a man could do to keep his station. I put my nose up to my loop-hole to get air, but only once. The machine-gun bullets were simply rattling on our hide. Tock, tock, tock they kept drumming. The first shell that hit us must have been head on and a direct hit. There was a terrific crash, and the old girl shook all over,—seemed to pause a little even. But no harm was done. After that we breathed easier. We hadn’t been quite sure that the Boche shells wouldn’t do us in.
“By the time we got to the Boche trenches, we knew he hadn’t anything that could hurt us. We just sat and raked him and laughed and wished it was over, so we could get the air.”
I had already seen the effect of the tanks on the Germans. The batch of prisoners who had been turned over to me seemed dazed. One who spoke English said in a quavering voice:
“Gott in Himmel, Kamarad, how could one endure? These things are not human. They are not fair.”
That “fair” thing made a hit with me after going against tear gas and hearing about liquid fire and such things.
The great number of the prisoners we took at High Wood were very scared looking at first and very surly. They apparently expected to be badly treated and perhaps tortured. They were tractable enough for the most part. But they needed watching, and they got it from me, as I had heard much of the treachery of the Boche prisoners.
On the way to the rear with my bunch, I ran into a little episode which showed the foolishness of trusting a German,—particularly an officer.
I was herding my lot along when we came up with about twelve in charge of a young fellow from a Leicester regiment. He was a private, and as most of his non-commissioned officers had been put out of action, he was acting corporal. We were walking together behind the prisoners, swapping notes on the fight, when one of his stopped, and no amount of coaxing would induce him to go any farther. He was an officer, of what rank I don’t know, but judging from his age probably a lieutenant.
Finally Crane—that was the Leicester chap—went up to the officer, threatened him with his bayonet, and let him know that he was due for the cold steel if he didn’t get up and hike.