As we picked our way through the brick heaps there came towards us a British soldier with fixed bayonet, and an elderly bareheaded man. The elderly man’s hair was cut short, and was grizzly. He had not shaved for three days. He was stout, but his face had a curious grey tinge shot through the natural complexion. His lips were tightly compressed. He looked about him firmly enough, but with that open-eyed gaze of a wild animal which seemed to lack all comprehension. It was the face of a man almost witless. He wore the uniform of a German captain.
He was one of the men who had been through that bombardment.
France, July 9th.
During the first week of the battle of the Somme the Anzac troops far to the north, near Armentieres, raided the German trenches about a dozen times. Here is a sample of these raids.
We were late. For some reason we had decided to watch this one from the firing-line. We had stayed too long at Brigade Headquarters getting the details of the night’s plan. Just as we hurried out of the end of the communication trench into the dark jumble of the low sandbag constructions which formed this part of the firing-line, there came two bangs from the southward as if someone had hit an iron ship’s tank with a big drumstick. It was our preparatory bombardment which had begun.
A light showed dimly from one or two crevices in our trenches. We peeped into one. It was very small, and someone was busy in there. The bombardment was not half a minute old, but it was now continuous along the whole horizon behind us. The noise was that of a large orchestra of street boys each heartily banging his kerosene-tin drum. Our shells streamed overhead with an almost continuous swish.
I do not know why, but some curious sense made one keep low in ducking round to a bay of the front trench. The enemy’s reply was not due for some minutes yet. There was a sudden lurid red glare with a heavy crash over the parapet to our right—perhaps 150 yards away. “That’s not one of their 5.9’s, surely?” exclaims a friend.
“One of our trench mortars, I think,” says another. As we sit in the narrow trench, with our knees tucked up to our chins, there is no doubt whatever of the advent of a new sheaf of missiles through the air above our heads. We can hear the swish of our own shells, perhaps 100 feet up, and the occasional rustle of some missile passing overhead a good deal higher than that. One knows that this must be one of our howitzer shells making his slow path, perhaps 200 or 300 feet above us, on his way to fall on some German communication trench, and blow it in. I do not know, but I rather suspect his duty is so to jumble up the walls and banks of that trench as to prevent German supports from reaching their front line without clambering into the open fields where our shrapnel is falling like hail.