IN THE TRENCHES
Major R., who is a great admirer of things English, suddenly gave the command to his men, and out of compliment to us “It’s a long way to Tipararee” rang out. The pronunciation of the words was most odd and we listened in wonder; the Major’s chest however positively swelled with pride, for he had taught them himself! We assured him, tactfully, the result was most successful.
We returned to the Headquarters and sorted out stores for the trenches. The Major at that moment received a telephone message to say a farm in the Nieuport direction was being attacked. We looked up from our work and saw the shells bursting like fireworks, the noise of course was deafening. We soon got accustomed to it and besides had too much to do to bother. When all was ready, we were given our instructions—we were to keep together till we had passed through the village when the doctor would be there to meet us and, with a guide, conduct us to the trenches; we were all to proceed twenty paces one after the other, no word was to be spoken, and if a Verey light showed up we were to drop down flat. I hoped fervently it might not be in a foot of mud!
Off we set, and I must say my heart was pounding pretty hard. It was rather nervy work once we were beyond the town, straining our eyes through the darkness to follow the figure ahead. Occasionally a sentry popped up from apparently nowhere. A whispered word and then on we went again. I really can’t say how far we walked like this; it seemed positively miles. Suddenly a light flared in the sky, illuminating the surrounding country in an eerie glare. It didn’t take me many minutes, needless to say, to drop flat! Luckily it was pave, but I would have welcomed mud rather than be left standing silhouetted within sight of the German trenches on that shell-riddled road. Finally we saw a long black line running at right angles, and the guide in front motioned me to stop while he went on ahead.
I had time to look round and examine the place as well as I could and also to put down my bundle of woollies that had become extremely heavy. These trenches were built against a railway bank (the railway lines had long since been destroyed or torn up), and just beyond ran the famous Yser and the inundations which had helped to stem the German advance. I was touched on the shoulder at this point, and clambered down into the trench along a very slippery plank. The men looked very surprised to see us, and their little dug-outs were like large rabbit hutches. I crawled into one on my hands and knees as the door was very low. The two occupants had a small brazier burning. Straw was on the floor—the straw we had previously seen on the men’s backs—and you should have seen their faces brighten at the sight of a new pair of socks. We pushed on, as it was getting late. I shall never forget that trench—it was the second line—the first line consisting of “listening posts” somewhere in that watery waste beyond, where the men wore waders reaching well above their knees. We squelched along a narrow strip of plank with the trenches on one side and a sort of cesspool on the other—no wonder they got typhoid, and I prayed I mightn’t slip.