Wells and I were talking over the infernal injustice of the situation when another runner arrived from the Sergeant Major’s, ordering us up for the rum issue. I went up for the rum and left Wells to break the news about going over.
I got an extra large supply, as the Sergeant Major was good humored. It was the last rum he ever served. I got enough for the full platoon and then some, which was a lot, as the platoon was well down in numbers owing to casualties. I went among the boys with a spoon and the rum in a mess tin and served out two tots instead of the customary one. After that all hands felt a little better, but not much. They were all fagged out after the week’s hard work. I don’t think I ever saw a more discouraged lot getting ready to go over. For myself I didn’t seem to care much, I was in such rotten condition physically. I rather hoped it would be my last time.
THE LAST TIME OVER THE TOP
A general cleaning of rifles started, although it was dark. Mine was already in good shape, and I leaned it against the side of the trench and went below for the rest of my equipment. While I was gone, a shell fragment undid all my work by smashing the breech.
I had seen a new short German rifle in the dug-out with a bayonet and ammo, and decided to use that. I hid all my souvenirs, planning to get them when I came out if I ever came out. I hadn’t much nerve left after the bashing I had taken a fortnight before and didn’t hold much hope.
Our instructions were of the briefest. It was the old story that there would probably be little resistance, if any. There would be a few machine guns to stop us, but nothing more. The situation we had to handle was this: A certain small sector had held on the attacks of the few previous days, and the line had bent back around it. All we had to do was to straighten the line. We had heard this old ghost story too often to believe a word of it.
Our place had been designated where we were to get into extended formation, and our general direction was clear. We filed out of the trench at eight-thirty, and as we passed the other platoons,—we had been to the rear,—they tossed us the familiar farewell hail, “The best o’ luck, mytie.”
We soon found ourselves in the old sunken road that ran in front of Eaucort Abbaye. At this point we were not under observation, as a rise in the ground would have protected us even though it had been daylight. The moon was shining brilliantly, and we knew that it would not be anything in the nature of a surprise attack. We got into extended formation and waited for the order to advance. I thought I should go crazy during that short wait. Shells had begun to burst over and around us, and I was sure the next would be mine.