“If you’re lucky you’ll get killed quick; if you’re damned lucky
you’ll get ‘it where it don’t ‘urt, and sent back to Blighty.”—BILL
“SOME min have all the damned luck that’s agoin’,” said Corporal
Flaherty. “There’s Murney, and he’s been at home two times since he
came out here. Three months ago he was allowed to go home and see his
wife and to welcome a new Murney into the wurl’. Then in the Loos do
the other day he got a bit of shrapnel in his heel and now he’s home
again. I don’t seem to be able to get home at all. I wish I had got
Murney’s shrapnel in my heel…. I’m sick of the trenches; I wish the
war was over.”
“What were you talking to the Captain about yesterday?” asked Rifleman
Barty, and he winked knowingly.
“What the devil is it to you?” inquired Flaherty.
“It’s nothin’ at all to me,” said Barty. “I would just like to know.”
“Well, you’ll not know,” said the Corporal.
“Then maybe I’ll be allowed to make a guess,” said Barty. “You’ll not
mind me guessin’, will yer?”
“Hold your ugly jaw!” said Flaherty, endeavouring to smile, but I could
see an uneasy look in the man’s eyes. “Ye’re always blatherin’.”
“Am I?” asked Barty, and turned to us. “Corp’ril Flaherty,” he said,
“is goin’ home on leave to see his old woman and welcome a new Flaherty
into the world, just like Murney did three months ago.”
Flaherty went red in the face, then white. He fixed a killing look
on Barty and yelled at him: “Up you get on the fire-step and keep on
sentry till I tell ye ye’re free. That’ll be a damned long time, me
“You’re a gay old dog, Flaherty,” said Barty, making no haste to obey
the order. “One wouldn’t think that there was so much in you; isn’t
that so, my boys? Papa Flaherty wants to get home!”
Barty winked again and glanced at the men who surrounded him. There
were nine of us there altogether; sardined in the bay of the trench
which the Munster Fusiliers held a few days ago. Nine! Flaherty, whom I
knew very well, a Dublin man with a wife in London, Barty a Cockney of
Irish descent, the Cherub, a stout youth with a fresh complexion, soft
red lips and tender blue eyes, a sergeant, a very good fellow and kind
to his men…. The others I knew only slightly, one of them a boy of
nineteen or twenty had just come out from England; this was his second
day in the trenches.
The Germans were shelling persistently all the morning, but missing
the trench every time. They were sending big stuff across, monster 9·2
shells which could not keep pace with their own sound; we could hear
them panting in from the unknown—three seconds before they had crossed
our trench to burst in Bois Hugo, the wood at the rear of our line. Big
shells can be seen in air, and look to us like beer bottles whirling
in space; some of the men vowed they got thirsty when they saw them.
Lighter shells travel more quickly: we only become aware of these when
they burst; the boys declare that these messengers of destruction have
either got rubber heels or stockinged soles.
“I wish they would stop this shelling,” said the Cherub in a low,
patient voice. He was a good boy, he loved everything noble and he had
a generous sympathy for all his mates. Yes, and even for the men across
the way who were enduring the same hardships as himself in an alien
“You know, I get tired of these trenches sometimes,” he said
diffidently. “I wish the war was over and done with.”
I went round the traverse into another bay less crowded, sat down on
the fire-step and began to write a letter. I had barely written two
words when a shell in stockinged soles burst with a vicious snarl, then
another came plonk!… A shower of splinters came whizzing through the
air…. Round the corner came a man walking hurriedly, unable to run
because of a wound in the leg; another followed with a lacerated cheek,
a third came along crawling on hands and knees and sat down opposite on
the floor of the trench.
How lucky to have left the bay was my first thought, then I got to my
feet and looked at the man opposite. It was Barty.
“Where did you get hit?” I asked.
“There!” he answered, and pointed at his boot which was torn at the
toecap. “I was just going to look over the top when the shell hit and a
piece had gone right through my foot near the big toe. I could hear it
breaking through; it was like a dog crunching a bone. Gawd! it doesn’t
‘arf give me gip!”
I took the man’s boot off and saw that the splinter of shell had gone
right through, tearing tendons and breaking bones. I dressed the wound.
“There are others round there,” an officer, coming up, said to me, I
went back to the bay to find it littered with sandbags and earth, the
parapet had been blown in. In the wreckage I saw Flaherty, dead; the
Cherub, dead, and five others disfigured, bleeding and lifeless. Two
shells had burst on the parapet, blew the structure in and killed seven
men. Many others had been wounded; those with slight injuries hobbled
away, glad to get free from the place, boys who were badly hurt lay in
the clay and chalk, bleeding and moaning. Several stretcher-bearers had
arrived and were at work dressing the wounds. High velocity shells were
bursting in the open field in front, and shells of a higher calibre
were hurling bushes and branches sky-high from Bois Hugo.
I placed Barty on my back and carried him down the narrow trench.
Progress was difficult, and in places where the trench had been three
parts filled with earth from bursting shells I had to crawl on all
fours with the wounded man on my back. I had to move very carefully
round sharp angles on the way; but, despite all precautions, the
wounded foot hit against the wall several times. When this happened the
soldier uttered a yell, then followed it up with a meek apology. “I’m
sorry, old man; it did ‘urt awful!”
Several times we sat down on the fire-step and rested. Once when we
sat, the Brigadier-General came along and stopped in front of the
“How do you feel?” asked the Brigadier.
“Not so bad,” said the youth, and a wan smile flitted across his face.
“It’ll get me ‘ome to England, I think.”
“Of course it will,” said the officer. “You’ll be back in blighty in a
day or two. Have you had any morphia?”
“Well, take two of these tablets,” said the Brigadier, taking a little
box from his pocket and emptying a couple of morphia pills in his hand.
“Just put them under your tongue and allow them to dissolve…. Good
luck to you, my boy!”
The Brigadier walked away; Barty placed the two tablets under his
“Now spit them out again,” I said to Barty.
“Why?” he asked.
“I’ve got to carry you down,” I explained. “I use one arm to steady
myself and the other to keep your wounded leg from touching the wall of
the trench. You’ve got to grip my shoulders. Morphia will cause you to
lose consciousness, and when that happens I can’t carry you any further
through this alley. You’ll have to lie here till it’s dark, when you
can be taken across the open.”
Barty spat out the morphia tablets and crawled up on my back again.
Two stretcher-bearers followed me carrying a wounded man on a blanket,
a most harrying business. The wounded man was bumping against the floor
of the trench all the time, the stretcher-bearer in front had to walk
backwards, the stretcher-bearer at rear was constantly tripping on
the folds of the blanket. A mile of trench had to be traversed before
the dressing-station was reached and it took the party two hours to
cover that distance. An idea of this method of bringing wounded away
from the firing-line may be gathered if you, reader, place a man in a
blanket and, aided by a friend, carry him across the level floor of
your drawing-room. Then, consider the drawing-room to be a trench, so
narrow in many places that the man has to be turned on his side to get
him through, and in other places so shaky that the slightest touch may
cause parados and parapet to fall in on top of you.
For myself, except when a peculiar injury necessitates it, I seldom use
a blanket. I prefer to place the wounded person prone on my back, get
a comrade stretcher-bearer to hold his legs and thus crawl out of the
trench with my burden. This, though trying on the knees, is not such a
very difficult feat.
“How do you feel now, Barty?” I asked my comrade as we reached the door
of the dressing-station.
“Oh, not so bad, you know,” he answered. “Will the M.O. give me some
morphia when we get in?”
“No doubt,” I said.
I carried him in and placed him on a stretcher on the floor. At the
moment the doctor was busy with another case.
“Chummy,” said Barty, as I was moving away.
“Yes,” I said, coming back to his side.
“It’s like this, Pat,” said the wounded boy. “I owe Corporal Darvy
a ‘arf-crown, Tubby Sinter two bob, and Jimmy James four packets of
fags—woodbines. Will you tell them when you go back that I’ll send out
the money and fags when I go back to blighty?”
“All right,” I replied. “I’ll let them know.”