HOW MY COMRADES FARED

Seven supple lads and clean
Sat down to drink one night,
Sat down to drink at Nouex-les-Mines,
Then went away to fight.

Seven supple lads and clean
Are finished with the fight;
But only three at Nouex-les-Mines
Sit down to drink to-night.

FELAN went up the ladder of the assembly trench with a lighted
cigarette in his mouth. Out on the open his first feeling was one of
disappointment; to start with, the charge was as dull as a church
parade. Felan, although orders were given to the contrary, expected a
wild, whooping forward rush, but the men stepped out soberly, with the
pious decision of ancient ladies going to church. In front the curtain
of smoke receded, but the air stunk with its pungent odour still. A
little valley formed by the caprice of the breeze opened in the fumes
and its far end disclosed the enemy’s wire entanglements. Felan walked
through the valley for a distance of five yards, then he glanced to
his right and found that there was nobody in sight there. Pryor had
disappeared.

“Here, Bill, we’ve lost connection!” he cried, turning to his left.
But his words were wasted on air; he was alone in his little glen,
and invisible birds flicked angry wings close to his ears. His first
inclination was to turn back, not through fear, but with a desire to
make inquiries.

“I can’t take a trench by myself,” he muttered. “Shall I go back? If I
do so some may call me a coward. Oh, damn it! I’ll go forward.”

He felt afraid now, but his fear was not that which makes a man run
away; he was attracted towards that which engendered the fear as an
urchin attracted towards a wasps’ nest longs to poke the hive and annoy
its occupants.

“Suppose I get killed now and see nothing,” he said to himself. “Where
is Bill, and Pryor, and the others?”

He reached the enemy’s wire, tripped, and fell headlong. He got to his
feet again and took stock of the space in front. There was the German
trench, sure enough, with its rows of dirty sandbags, a machine-gun
emplacement and a maxim peeping furtively through the loophole. A big,
bearded German was adjusting the range of the weapon. He looked at
Felan, Felan looked at him and tightened his grip on his rifle.

“You——!” said Felan, and just made one step forward when something
“hit him all over,” as he said afterwards. He dropped out of the world
of conscious things.

A stretcher-bearer found him some twenty minutes later and placed him
in a shell-hole, after removing his equipment, which he placed on the
rim of the crater.

Felan returned to a conscious life that was tense with agony. Pain
gripped at the innermost parts of his being. “I cannot stand this,” he
yelled. “God Almighty, it’s hell!”

He felt as if somebody was shoving a red-hot bar of iron through
his chest. Unable to move, he lay still, feeling the bar getting
shoved further and further in. For a moment he had a glimpse of his
rifle lying on the ground near him and he tried to reach it. But the
unsuccessful effort cost him much, and he became unconscious again.

A shell bursting near his hand shook him into reality, and splinters
whizzed by his head. He raised himself upwards, hoping to get killed
outright. He was unsuccessful. Again his eyes rested on his rifle.

“If God would give me strength to get it into my hand,” he muttered.
“Lying here like a rat in a trap and I’ve seen nothing. Not a run for
my money…. I suppose all the boys are dead. Lucky fellows if they die
easy…. I’ve seen nothing only one German, and he done for me. I wish
the bullet had gone through my head.”

He looked at his equipment, at the bayonet scabbard lying limply under
the haversack. The water-bottle hung over the rim of the shell-hole.
“Full of rum, the bottle is, and I’m so dry. I wish I could get hold of
it. I was a damned fool ever to join the Army…. My God! I wish I was
dead,” said Felan.

The minutes passed by like a long grey thread unwinding itself slowly
from some invisible ball, and the pain bit deeper into the boy. Vivid
remembrances of long-past events flashed across his mind and fled away
like telegraph poles seen by passengers in an express train. Then he
lost consciousness again.

About eleven o’clock in the morning I found a stretcher-bearer whose
mate had been wounded, and he helped me to carry a wounded man into
our original front trench. On our way across I heard somebody calling
“Pat! Pat!” I looked round and saw a man crawling in on his hands and
knees, his head almost touching the ground. He called to me, but he did
not look in my direction. But I recognised the voice: the corporal was
calling. I went across to him.

“Wounded?” I asked.

“Yes, Pat,” he answered, and, turning over, he sat down. His face was
very white.

“You should not have crawled in,” I muttered. “It’s only wearing you
out; and it’s not very healthy here.”

“Oh, I wanted to get away from this hell,” he said.

“It’s very foolish,” I replied. “Let me see your wound.”

I dressed the wound and gave the corporal two morphia tablets and put
two blue crosses on his face. This would tell those who might come his
way later that morphia had been given.

“Lie down,” I said. “When the man whom we’re carrying is safely in,
we’ll come back for you.”

I left him. In the trench were many wounded lying on the floor and on
the fire-steps. A soldier was lying face downwards, groaning. A muddy
ground-sheet was placed over his shoulders. I raised the sheet and
found that his wound was not dressed.

“Painful, matey?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s old Pat,” muttered the man.

“Who are you?” I asked, for I did not recognise the voice.

“You don’t know me!” said the man, surprise in his tones.

He turned a queer, puckered face half round, but I did not recognise
him even then; pain had so distorted his countenance.

“No,” I replied. “Who are you?”

“Felan,” he replied.

“My God!” I cried, then hurriedly, “I’ll dress your wound. You’ll get
carried in to the dressing-station directly.”

“It’s about time,” said Felan wearily. “I’ve been out a couple of
days…. Is there no R.A.M.C.?”

I dressed Felan’s wound, returned, and looked for the corporal, but I
could not find him. Someone must have carried him in, I thought.

Kore had got to the German barbed-wire entanglement when he breathed in
a mouthful of smoke which almost choked him at first, and afterwards
instilled him with a certain placid confidence in everything. He came
to a leisurely halt and looked around him. In front, a platoon of the
20th London Regiment, losing its objective, crossed parallel to the
enemy’s trench. Then he saw a youth who was with him at school, and
he shouted to him. The youth stopped; Kore came up and the boys shook
hands, leant on their rifles, and began to talk of old times when a
machine gun played about their ears. Both got hit.

M’Crone disappeared; he was never seen by any of his regiment after the
25th.

The four men were reported as killed in the casualty list.