When we came up, we inherited these underground shelters, and they were mighty comfortable after the kipping in the muck. There were a lot of souvenirs to be picked up, and almost everybody annexed helmets and other truck that had been left behind by the Germans.
Sometimes it was dangerous to go after souvenirs too greedily. The inventive Hun had a habit of fixing up a body with a bomb under it and a tempting wrist watch on the hand. If you started to take the watch, the bomb went off, and after that you didn’t care what time it was.
I accumulated a number of very fine razors, and one of the saw-tooth bayonets the Boche pioneers use. This is a perfectly hellish weapon that slips in easily and mangles terribly when it is withdrawn. I had thought that I would have a nice collection of souvenirs to take to Blighty if I ever got leave. I got the leave all right, and shortly, but the collection stayed behind.
The dug-out that Number 10 drew was built of concrete and was big enough to accommodate the entire platoon. We were well within the Boche range and early in the day had several casualties, one of them a chap named Stransfield, a young Yorkshireman who was a very good friend of mine. Stransie was sitting on the top step cleaning his rifle and was blown to pieces by a falling shell. After that we kept to cover all day and slept all the time. We needed it after the exhausting work of the past eight days.
It was along about dark when I was awakened by a runner from headquarters, which was in a dug-out a little way up the line, with word that the platoon commanders were wanted. I happened to be in command of the platoon, as Mr. Blofeld was acting second in command of the company, Sergeant Page was away in Havre as instructor for a month, and I was next senior.
I thought that probably this was merely another detail for some fatigue, so I asked Wells if he would go. He did and in about half an hour came back with a face as long as my arm. I was sitting on the fire step cleaning my rifle and Wellsie sank dejectedly down beside me.
“Darby,” he sighed hopelessly, “wot th’ blinkin’ ’ell do you think is up now?”
I hadn’t the faintest idea and said so. I had, however, as the educated Bones used to say “a premonition of impending disaster.” As a premonitor I was a success. Disaster was right.
Wellsie sighed again and spilled the news.
“We’re goin’ over th’ bleedin’ top at nine. We don’t ’ave to carry no tools. We’re in the first bloomin’ wave.”
Going without tools was supposed to be a sort of consolation for being in the first wave. The other three waves carry either picks or shovels. They consolidate the trenches after they have been taken by the first wave. That is, they turn the trench around, facing the other way, to be ready for a counter attack. It is a miserable job. The tools are heavy and awkward, and the last waves get the cream of the artillery fire, as the Boche naturally does not want to take the chance of shelling the first wave for fear of getting his own men. However, the first wave gets the machine-gun fire and gets it good. At that the first wave is the preference. I have heard hundreds of men say so. Probably the reason is that a bullet, unless it is explosive, makes a relatively clean wound, while a shell fragment may mangle fearfully.