But under those two streams of overhead traffic is a third quite easily distinguishable. It comes with short, descending screams—sheafs of them together.
At the end of each there is a momentary glare over the sandbags, and the bang as of an exploding rocket.
That is German shrapnel, bursting in the air and projecting its pellets in a cone like a shot-gun. A little to the south of us there is a much more formidable crash, always recurring several times in the minute. We always know when that crash is coming by a certain fierce orange glare which lights up the tops of our sandbags immediately before we hear the sound. Three or four times the crash and the glare came together, and a big cloud of stuffy-smelling white smoke drifted low overhead, and bits of mud and earth cascaded down upon us from the sky above; and just for two minutes the sheaf of four shells from some particular field battery, which sent them passing as regularly as a clock about five times a minute overhead, seemed to lower and burst just above us; and one or two odd high-explosive bursts—4.2, I should say—crept in close upon us from the rear, while the parapet gave several ponderous jumps towards us from the other direction. One would swear that it had shifted inwards a good inch, though I do not suppose it had. The dazzling orange flashes and crashes close around us were rather like a bad dream. One could not resist the reflection that often comes over a man when he begins his holiday with a rough sea crossing, “How on earth did I ever imagine that there was advantage to be obtained out of this?”
That was the moment which was chosen by one of the party to go along and see that the men were all right. There was a sentry in the next bay of the trench. All by himself, but “right as rain,” as he puts it. Shrapnel was breaking in showers on the parapet, swishing overhead like driven hail. While the enemy is bursting shell on your parapet he cannot come there himself. Provided that your sentry’s nerves are all right, and that a “crump” does not drop right into his little section of trench, there is not much that can go wrong. And there is nothing much wanting in the nerves of this infantry.
However, something had clearly gone wrong with this attack. It was quite obvious that the enemy somehow or another knew that it was coming off, and where; for he had begun to shoot back within a very few minutes of our opening shot, and he was shooting very hard. Clearly he had noticed some point in our preparations, and he too had prepared. “I will teach these people a lesson this time,” he thought, as he laid his guns on the likely section.