“Ready, boys? On, then!”
This time he moved more slowly still, over terrible going, all holes and hummocks. Half consciously he took cover all he could. The air was alive with the whistle from machine-gun fire storming across zigzag fashion-alive it was with bullets, dust, and smoke. ’How shall I tell her?’ he thought. There would be nothing to tell but just a sort of jagged brown sensation. He kept his eyes steadily before him, not wanting to seethe men falling, not wanting anything to divert him from getting there. He felt the faint fanning of the passing bullets. The second line must be close now. Why didn’t that barrage lift? Was this new dodge of firing till the last second going to do them in? Another hundred yards and he would be bang into it. He flung himself flat and waited; looking at his wrist-watch he noted that his arm was soaked with blood. He thought: ’A wound! Now I shall go home. Thank God! Oh, Noel!’ The passing bullets whirled above him; he could hear them even through the screech and thunder of the shell-fire. ‘The beastly things!’ he thought: A voice beside him gasped out:
“It’s lifted, sir.”
He called: “Come on, boys!” and went forward, stooping. A bullet struck his rifle. The shock made him stagger and sent an electric shock spinning up his arm. ‘Luck again!’ he thought. ’Now for it! I haven’t seen a German yet!’ He leaped forward, spun round, flung up his arms, and fell on his back, shot through and through....
The position was consolidated, as they say, and in the darkness stretcher-bearers were out over the half-mile. Like will-o’-the-wisps, with their shaded lanterns, they moved, hour after hour, slowly quartering the black honeycomb which lay behind the new British line. Now and then in the light of some star-shell their figures were disclosed, bending and raising the forms of the wounded, or wielding pick and shovel.