Presently one burst a little behind me, and down went Captain Green and the Sergeant Major with whom he had been talking. Captain Green died a few days later at Rouen, and the Sergeant Major lost an arm. This was a hard blow right at the start, and it spelled disaster. Everything started to go wrong. Mr. Blofeld was in command, and another officer thought that he was in charge. We got conflicting orders, and there was one grand mix-up. Eventually we advanced and went straight up over the ridge. We walked slap-bang into perfectly directed fire. Torrents of machine-gun bullets crackled about us, and we went forward with our heads down, like men facing into a storm. It was a living marvel that any one could come through it.
A lot of them didn’t. Mr. Blofeld, who was near me, leaped in the air, letting go a hideous yell. I ran to him, disregarding the instruction not to stop to help any one. He was struck in the abdomen with an explosive bullet and was done for. I felt terribly about Mr. Blofeld, as he had been a good friend to me. He was the finest type of officer of the new English army, the rare sort who can be democratic and yet command respect. He had talked with me often, and I knew of his family and home life. He was more like an elder brother to me than a superior officer. I left Mr. Blofeld and went on.
The hail of bullets grew even worse. They whistled and cracked and squealed, and I began to wonder why on earth I didn’t get mine. Men were falling on all sides and the shrieks of those hit were the worst I had heard. The darkness made it worse, and although I had been over the top before by daylight this was the last limit of hellishness. And nothing but plain, unmixed machine-gun fire. As yet there was no artillery action to amount to anything.
Once again I put my hand inside my tunic and stroked Dinky and said to him, “For God’s sake, Dink, see me through this time.” I meant it too. I was actually praying,—to my mascot. I realize that this was plain, unadulterated, heathenish fetish worship, but it shows what a man reverts to in the barbaric stress of war.
By this time we were within about thirty yards of the Boche parapet and could see them standing shoulder to shoulder on the fire step, swarms of them, packed in, with the bayonets gleaming. Machine guns were emplaced and vomiting death at incredibly short intervals along the parapet. Flares were going up continuously, and it was almost as light as day.
We were terribly outnumbered, and the casualties had already been so great that I saw we were in for the worst thing we had ever known. Moreover, the next waves hadn’t appeared behind us.
I was in command, as all the officers and non-coms so far as I could make out had snuffed. I signalled to halt and take cover, my idea being to wait for the other waves to catch up. The men needed no second invitation to lie low. They rolled into the shell holes and burrowed where there was no cover.