The Prayer of the Men of Daleswood
He said: ``There were only twenty houses in Daleswood. A place you would scarcely have heard of. A village up top of the hills.
``When the war came there was no more than thirty men there between sixteen and forty-five. They all went.
``They all kept together; same battalion, same platoon. They was like that in Daleswood. Used to call the hop pickers foreigners, the ones that come from London. They used to go past Daleswood, some of them, every year, on their way down to the hop fields. Foreigners they used to call them. Kept very much to themselves, did the Daleswood people. Big woods all round them.
``Very lucky they was, the Daleswood men. They’d lost no more than five killed and a good sprinkling of wounded. But all the wounded was back again with the platoon. This was up to March when the big offensive started.
``It came very sudden. No bombardment to speak of. Just a burst of Tok Emmas going off all together and lifting the front trench clean out of it; then a barrage behind, and the Boche pouring over in thousands. `Our luck is holding good,’ the Daleswood men said, for their trench wasn’t getting it at all. But the platoon on their right got it. And it sounded bad too a long way beyond that. No one could be quite sure. But the platoon on their right was getting it: that was sure enough.
``And then the Boche got through them altogether. A message came to say so. `How are things on the right?’ they said to the runner. `Bad,’ said the runner, and he went back, though Lord knows what he went back to. The Boche was through right enough. `We’ll have to make a defensive flank,’ said the platoon commander. He was a Daleswood man too. Came from the big farm. He slipped down a communication trench with a few men, mostly bombers. And they reckoned they wouldn’t see any of them any more, for the Boche was on the right, thick as starlings.
``The bullets were snapping over thick to keep them down while the Boche went on, on the right: machine guns, of course. The barrage was screaming well over and dropping far back, and their wire was still all right just in front of them, when they put up a head to look. There was the left platoon of the battalion. One doesn’t bother, somehow, so much about another battalion as one’s own. One’s own gets sort of homely. And there they were wondering how their own officer was getting on, and the few fellows with them, on his defensive flank. The bombs were going off thick. All the Daleswood men were firing half right. It sounded from the noise as if it couldn’t last long, as if it would soon be decisive, and the battle be won, or lost, just there on the right, and perhaps the war ended. They didn’t notice the left. Nothing to speak of.
``Then a runner came from the left. `Hullo!’ they said, `How are things over there?’