King's Business - 1968-11

any minute. While waiting, we were grateful for some shelter in the deep German dugout. Tempo­ rary security was sweet indeed, but expecting any minute to be summoned to go forward into that inferno was depressing beyond words. How we tried to stave off our fear! We seldom spoke. We longed with an infinite longing for the war to end that minute! An intended attack that night got us several hundred yards forward to a certain starting point. There was no “ front line” on occasions such as this, for obvious reasons. All the tem p o ra ry protection from small arms fire was shell- holes. Even on the way up, shells came so close we had to duck to avoid them. I managed to duck into a shell-hole but a chap was already there. I touched him and spoke, but there was no answer; he was stone-dead. Some time be­ fore this he had aimed, but a bul­ let got him first, and there he lay. My company was in the first wave. At a given signal, we ad­ vanced. It was too dark to see far ahead, except that the enemy’s Verey lights (star shells) flared almost continuously. Over the rough terrain we stumbled. Some­ how the enemy got wind of our coming and we could see them dimly here and there retreating, not too far ahead of us. How far we were to go I never found out, for a shell exploded just behind some of us. The terrific force of it pitched another chap and me headlong into a big shell-hole. This chap said “ I’m done!” which were his last words. I was sure my leg was blown off. It went numb, and all I could see, as I lay there, was one leg. After recov­ ering a bit, I took a cautious look at the lip o f the shell crater, but no leg was to be seen! Where was it? It should be somewhere in sight! I began to examine my condition and discovered that my leg (the missing one) was tucked under me, apparently lifeless. I saw a hole in front o f my knee, but realizing that the shell burst behind me, I knew that the shell Cont. on Page UU

paign had begun, the artillery on both sides hammering day and night without cessation, with its dreadful toll of human life and suifering, as the enemy fought to the limit for ev e ry inch of ground. True, we knew by the ex­ perience of previous but lesser battles, the strain of bombard­ ments, raids, casualties, and all that goes on at the Front, but this was different. This was ALL OUT! As daily and hourly we drew nearer the Somme Front, with the sounds of battle ever in­ creasing (artillery can be heard a long way off), a sickening fear gripped us. Finally we arrived at the city of Albert, well-known through­ out this region for its hanging Madonna, which, being struck by an enemy shell, hung head down from the steeple, and could be seen easily from a distance. We were now on the verge of our part in the fury just ahead of us. Words fail to describe the emo­ tions in realizing that “ this is it!” What possible chance did anyone have of coming out alive from this inferno o f raging battle and continuing a r t ille r y bombard­ ment? That last evening at Albert a group of us whose background was the church, the Bible, and a trust in God, got together, spread ourselves on the ground like wheel-spokes and read, alternate­ ly, two Scripture passages. One was Psalm 91, a verse of which read: “A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh thee.” How we all clung to that promise, even though hope for survival seemed remote in­ deed ! That same evening we marched toward the Flame. Our route took us through Albert (entirely de­ serted of civilians) right under the hanging Madonna and out into the country beyond, through the lines o f our own artillery, first the batteries of the real “ heavies,” the howitzers, and fur­ ther on the various field guns, all their crews ceaselessly feeding

them shells, deluging enemy ter­ ritory with a rain of fire. Even though a deadly fear and a kind of hopeless dread filled my heart, I’ll never forget the awful gran­ deur of the scene. Miles of terri­ tory were alive with all the forces of battle turned loose as thou­ sands of guns of all caliber poured a ceaseless tornado of shells into enemy lines. It was the sight and sound of a lifetime! So it was for many thousands of men who nev­ er returned from the hell into which we were plunging. That night we spent (a few hours of it) in chalk pits trying to get some sleep, at least trying to forget the scenes of the walk­ ing wounded and those being borne away on stretchers — lines and lines o f them. They were be­ ing taken out of i t : we were fac­ ing the fury. We envied them! Next morning we arrived at our temporary post, which was a captured German outpost, greets ed by sights such as that of dead men lying about. One scene still sticks in my memory—of a chap shattered by a shell. Pieces o f his body were held together by the frayed straps of his belt and equipment. A ham lying nearly, and other signs of food, bespoke the arrival of a previous ration party that did not quite “ arrive” ere an enemy shell got them. Or­ dinarily we would have had a glorious time with that ham, but who could eat under these condi­ tions ? Appetite for food was gone. Life was distorted. This was a picture o f hell with the constant dread shadow of a violent death at any moment. Devastation ex­ tended as far as the eye could see, although we were not yet ac­ tually in action. This was at Pozieres, which by now was nothing but red brick- dust and a few smashed trees. Roads were obliterated. What a scene of utter destruction and desolation! What a monster war is! Our position was on a slight eminence, and the country, as far as the eye could see, was nothing but millions o f shell-holes! We expected to be called into action



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