It's cold, very cold and my body hurts all over. I cannot see much....visibility is limited by the fact it's pre-dawn and I'm cuddled round a corpse in a half frozen shell hole, reeking of rot and Mustard Gas. It is so quiet.....that at this moment that very silence seems deafening. Then I hear the thumping of my own heart.....well I'm pretty sure it's my heart beating hard and not the heart of a German corpse I've been sharing this hole with since the shelling started. I have no idea where the rest of my patrol is.....out here somewhere I suppose though I haven't a clue if any of them is still living or not. I mustn't shout out....I need to be...silent, still, alive.
The shelling had gone on for 3 or 4 minutes or so but God it seemed like a fucking eternity. Now in it's aftermath I can't focus. My soul has been knocked out of kilter and my brain is scrambled. I see only brief images, in my mind, smoke going by, flickers of movement...light in the darkness. But I begin to think my friend the corpse (I allow that now he is dead that he isn't really a German, or an English or Frenchmen for that matter....he is just another rotting corpse now, in the end.) I feel wet all over but the warm wetness in my crotch suggests that I pissed myself during the shelling....It doesn't matter really, it isn't the first time. I'm just grateful to be alive to notice.
As the minutes pass, sound comes back to me. Some where south of High Wood is the crump, crump of distant shelling impacting the sodden ground. I keep hearing a whistle, chirping in the night until i realize it's just my ears continuing to ring. I'm hungry, confused and I have to shit but I don't dare give my position away...I can hold it though it's mostly liquid and will leak out if I don't find away to....voices, several voices from out there. What language? German...a patrol? I pull a Mills Bomb out and wait....they are no longer speaking but I here the squish/crunch of boots breaking the semi-frozen mud....and then nothing.
I begin to move...west, south west back to the line. Never standing, crawling, hunched walking just a step or two at a time...connecting shell hole to shell hole. Since the lines haven't really moved much in the last several months rare is the shell hole out here that isn't occupied by the dead or pieces of the dead. Hollow empty eyes, pleading for...what? Their mums maybe? The silence, deafening silence has returned and every step I make seems like an explosion of sound then...a whisper. Sgt Millar...the patrol or what's left of them have gathered in this collapsed outpost with the dead and the rats as well. Seems three of our patrol took a direct hit. The Sgt. believes we were unlucky in moving into an area scheduled for a pre-planned sporadic box-barrage...non of us detected any movement from the German trenches though we never really got close, not even to the wire before the shelling dispersed us. The Germans routinely follow pre-planned barrages with a follow up patrol which all of us managed to avoid.
Corporal Lakey took some shell fragments to the face and left shoulder but can walk with help. Adams legs are mangled and we carry him back to the trench....Smithy crawls forward to alert the sentries that we are coming in. The trench line further south took a beating from the shells and they have casualties as well. The Captain meets us as we come in and seems less then pleased that we didn't at least get a look at Fritz's wire and hardly reacts when informed of our dead and wounded. As we move quickly down the line to a reserve trench our mates pat us lightly as we pass....we have all been out there...outside the wire.
By Thomas O Davis
Use by Permission