It Doesnt Look As If It Had Ever Exploded
"IT DOESNT LOOK AS IF IT HAD EVER EXPLODED"Dere Mable:
Its nobodies fault but the Fritzes that you aint gettin an extinguished service medal insted of this letter. A couple of mornins after I rote you last Joe woke me up an said they were puttin on a battle upstairs. From the way they were shootin things up he thought they ought to be down in the dug-out in a little while. Joes the kind of a fello that gets you up an hour before theres any need for it. I told him to call me when he heard them at the top of the stairs. Practical. Thats me all over, Mable. Then I turned over to get some sleep.
Then the Lootenant came runnin down cussin an swearin because the fone was busted. He told us wed have to go back to the battery an tell em to snap out of it an show the Fritzes that it took two to make an argument. From where we was the Fritzes seemed to be puttin up a pretty good argument all alone an most of it seemed to be goin in the direckshun of the battery. But Joe says Sailor Gare so we started off down the road. There was plenty of noise out there. It was awful foggy but you could see the red flashes once in a while when one of them lit in a field near the road.
Every time one busted Joe would duck into a ditch. He had me doin it pretty soon. The more we ducked the more we couldnt help it till we was goin down the road like a couple of Rushin dancers. Then we broke all the rules of the runners union an ran.
We didnt have no trouble findin the Captin cause we knew just where to look. Just as we started to go down in his dug-out we heard a big one comin and both landed together at the bottom. After a fellos face gets broken in to goin down stairs that way its the easiest way. The Captin was awful sore. He wanted to know what the this an that we meant by comin in without knockin. That fello would want you to salute if you had both arms shot off. I didnt say nothin. Just gave him the Lootenants message.
That seemed to make him madder still. He pushed the papers around on his desk an said didnt that one thing an another Lootenant know he couldnt get fire without orders from regimental headquarters. An didnt he know that regimental headquarters couldnt give any order till they was asked for it by doboy headquarters. An why the this an that didnt we go to the doboys if we wanted some fire.
Id like to have told him where to go to get some fire. I just saluted tho, an said "Yes sir." Spirited. Thats me all over, Mable. Then we went back to pass the buck to the Lootenant. The doboy oficers was all sittin around tellin him how good the Inglish artilery was. A couple of hours later when Joe an I was havin breakfast we heard the battery fire about twenty shots. The doboys said it was lucky we didnt fire any more cause they was probably all shorts anyway. That dont mean that they were a different size or anything, Mable. A short is a shell that hasnt got the ambishun.
I went up to an artilery observashun post with the Lootenant the other day. Only it isnt a post but a round tin house like a ticket office set in the trenches on top of a hill. Theres a slit cut in the front to look thru. The Lootenant showed me where Nobodies land was. I could see the Fritz trenches runnin in front of a piece of woods about half a mile away. They must have all been away on a furlo or something cause there wasnt as much as a fly sittin over there.
This is a great place for soovenirs. I got a lot of buttons, a piece of shell, a couple of bones I found stickin out of the trench an a Fritz hand grenade. As soon as I can find a box Im goin to send you the whole bunch. I wouldnt monkey with the hand grenade much. It doesnt look as if it had ever exploded. Give it to Archie Wainwright an tell him its a trench warmer. Maybe hell stick it in the fire.
In the afternoon when things is quiet an everybodies asleep we go out an throw hand grenades at the rats. Thats good sport cause you got to be quick or youll get your self insted of a rat. Joe Mink had to spoil it of course by blowin in dug outs. Hed have been all right if hed picked old dug outs but he wasnt satisfied till hed found one with a fello comin up the stairs. I dont see yet tho why there was such a holler raised. The old thing didnt go off. It just caught the fello in the stummick an knocked some wind out. He blacked Joes eyes an then went to the Major. Joes back in the eschelon now groomin horses. Angus MacKenzie has come up in his place so Im just as satisfied.
I guess were goin across pretty soon now. Then Ill be able to get a helmet an a looger pistel an a pair of feel glasses. I guess the Fritzes are gettin scared. I hope there not as scared as I am.
yours indefinitely Bill
Since I rote you last I been over the top with the doboys, taken a woods that I cant see why anybody wanted, an collected enuff soovenirs to equip a South American army. Im ritin this from a Fritz dug-out in the middle of the woods on Fritz oficers paper. If Id telefoned ahed he couldnt have had things fixed up better for me. There was a lunch out on the table an blankets an even clean underclose (if youll excuse my menshuning them). They used to have electric lights here but somebody soovenired the dinamo so they wont work.
The nite before we went over four more artilery runners came up. I ast the Lootenant if they was plannin to send any doboys over to help us in the attack. He said there had to be a lot of runners sos that when two went back with a message an got killed he could send two more. Always cheery an bright, the Lootenant.
The nite before the attack we went up to a tunnel thats dug right under a hill an has got rooms in it an everything. Those fellos didnt seem to care how many shovels they wore out. We got into it down a long flight of steps in the pitch dark where I like to have broke my neck. Then down a long passage feelin your way along the road. Every four or five feet somebody would run into you an cuss you.
At last we came round a bend an there was all the doboys sittin in the mud eatin supper an smokin. The only lights they had was pieces of candle stuck up on there equipment. It looked like the whole army was in that tunnel an all smokin at the same time. The Lootenant told us to make ourselves comfortable then he disappeared into one of the rooms off to the side.
About ten o'clock all the doboys got up an went out. Then we sat in the mud and waited for three hours. Angus found some duck boards and went to sleep.
Some time after midnite a lot of oficers came out of the room. We walked thru the tunnel so far that I figgered that we must be comin out somewhere behind the German lines. At last we climed a flight of stairs an there we were right out doors. Id expected thered be an awful battle goin on by that time but everything was as quiet as church except for a few big ones that would sail over every once in a while. The stars were all out just like it was an ordinary nite. We walked along a lot of paths an fell over a lot of old barb wire, then dropped into a trench. It struck me that was the time to go across while things were quiet. But I heard the doboy Major say that there was only four more hours to wait. These fellos are worse than your family for gettin to places on time.
Everything was quiet for a long time. Then all of a sudden all the guns in the world began bangin away at the same minit. Over the top of the hill behind us an as far as you could see ether way it was just one big flash. Then the shells began racin over, squealin an whisselin an rumblin along like they was racin each other to see who was goin to get first crack at the Fritzes.
Every one of them seemed to have its own speshul whissel tied onto it. Some of them rumbled along like a fast train hittin a down grade. Some would just sing an hum to themselves sort of quiet an happy while others would go yellin an screamin across like the fire department on an exhibishun run. There was one bunch that squealed like a trolly goin round a turn on dry rails. You sort of felt as if someone ought to grease it.
Besides all these noises over our heads there was the poundin an hammerin behind us from the guns themselves. The big fellos just boom boomed away like a bunch of base drums. Up nearer tho it was like a mountin of giant fire crackers goin off together. Then thered be a let up for a second like a fello thats awful mad but runs out of words. After that theyd go at it agen harder than ever.
The best part of it was that most of them was our own shells. The Fritzes didnt seem to get into the spirit of the thing at all. Every few minutes theyd sail over a big one right near the tunnel where we came out. That was about as safe a place as he could have put em cause there wasnt anybody there.
At first the noise an everything gave a fello something to think about. After a while tho you got used to it just like you do to Niagra Falls or a steam radiator. Then there wasnt anything to do but get cold an ask about the time. A couple of doboys got tellin each other what kind of a dinner theyd order if they was some place where they wasnt. Whenever you get uncomfortable enuff a couple of fellos like that always show up. I slid down in the bottom of the trench where it was a little warmer an tried to smoke a cigaret under my hand. I must have dropped off to sleep cause the next thing I knew I was all doubled up in the bottom of the trench an half froze. I heard somebody say "Fifteen minites more." The guns was goin it harder than ever. If we hadnt won that scrap wed have had to knock off the war for a couple of months till they got some more amunishun.
Goin over wasnt much. Id read so many things about how you felt just before an just when an just after that I tried to figger just how I did feel. I was so cold I couldnt feel anything tho. I was thinkin about this when somebody says "Snap out of it ahead there. There goin." An there was the Lootenant boostin the Major out of the trench an a lot of doboys with their rifles in there hands hurryin along the top an disappearin in the fog.
"THERE WAS THE LOOTENANT BOOSTIN THE MAJOR OUT OF THE TRENCH"
Just as we got out of the trench the worst noise started I ever heard. It made all the shootin that went before sound like a fello drummin on the table with a couple of knives. Even the machine guns was in it this time. They sounded like a rivitin competishun in a ship yard. I heard somebody say "There goes our machine gun barrage. I hope they get it over our heads." He struck me as a pretty sensible fello.
Somebody had marked the place up with tape like a tennis court. We followed along one of these till we came to another tape runnin the same way as the trenches. There was a lot of doboys lyin down there an a lot of others comin up thru the fog, half runnin, half walkin an all of them stooped over like they was carryin something heavy.
In front it was just fog. We could see red flashes runnin thru it like bubbles in boilin water where the shells from our barrage was bustin. The fog didnt go very high cause you could make out a little blue sky once in a while. Then right thru the top of it came tearin out a regular fourth of July celebrashun of Fritz fireworks. They were just like the rockets at Weewillo Park that spit out long snakes of gold fire like a broom when they bust. The nearer that barrage came to the Fritz trenches the faster they went up all along the line.
We lay there a few minites till everybody came up. The thing that struck me now was that I wasnt scared. Id been more afraid of bein scared than anything else. Then the Major got up an started on with everybody else taggin along with him. It was to foggy to see what was happenin on each side. We went down a hill. It got swampy an we struck some duck boards. Somebody must have been over before us an put them down. If they could get around as easy as that it beat me what they were makin all this fuss for.
All around us was big shell holes filled with water. They gave the Americans a second hand battle field to begin on. The French had used it lots of times before. Once I lost sight of the Lootenant an stepped off the duck boards to pass some doboys. It was like steppin into a well. There didnt seem to be any bottom to it. I grabbed hold of a doboy that was goin by but he pushed me back agen an says "Who the this an that do you think your mawlin around here?" Then somebody gave me a hand. What I needed more than a tin derby was a pair of water wings. I didnt feel cold any more tho.
Something happened to the duckboards an we was wadin in mud to our knees. Every once in a while Id slip into a shell hole an then Id have to run to catch up agen. That Major must have been brought up in Indiana the way he got thru the mud. My rapped leggins began to shrink an the cavs of my legs hurt something awful. But we kept goin an goin without ever gettin to the Fritz trenches.
After a while we came to a little creek about ten foot wide with bushes along each side. The Major an a couple of the oficers just jumped right in an waded across. It wasnt much over there waste but it looked awful cold an black slippin along thru the fog. The doboys stood for a minit on the bank shivering like a dog when you throw a stick he wants in a pond he knows is cold.
I wish you could have heard the Major cuss. He had a line that would have driven a team of mules without reins or a whip. Naturally havin gotten all wet he couldnt see callin the battle off there. Pretty soon some doboy jumped in right where hed gone over. Then it seemed like the whole army was fightin to get across in that one place. Of course they had the whole creek to pick from but somehow nobody thought of that till everything was all over.
All this time I kept thinkin how we was most across Nobodies land an I wasnt scared yet. I got so cocky about it I stopped to light a cigaret just to show the doboys that a battle or so didnt make no difference to me one way or the other. But we were thru the swamp now an my legs hurt agen. We came to a road runnin right down the middle of Nobodies Land. The Major stopped here an sent out fellos to see where the rest of the outfit was. The fog was still so thick you couldnt see nothin an you couldnt hear nothin of course on acount of the racket.
All of a sudden a flock of machine guns got under way at the same time. There was a noise all around like a bunch of fellos whisselin thru there teeth. Everyone dropped down in the grass. I lay so close to the ground I bet I was a foot wider than usual. Then I knew the reason I hadnt been scared before was because nobodied been firin at us till now. Fightin is good fun, Mable, as long as the bullets are all goin the same way as you are. I dropped my cigaret when I flopped down. Now I could smell it burnin a hole thru my coat. I wouldnt have raised up enuff to pull it out tho if it had burned a hole right thru me.
As soon as the whisselin let up a little the Major jumped up an says how he didnt know where the rest of the army was but we wasnt goin to lie there an rot. I didnt feel as if I was goin to rot for quite a while but I didnt like to get left behind so I tagged along. We passed two or three of our fellos that was done in. Then a bunch of barb wire with a couple of doboys workin like hell with wire clippers. Our shells had busted it up pretty good but there was an awful lot to bust.
Just as we got thru the wire somebody says "Look out." A Fritz was runnin toward us thru the fog. His hands was floppin over his head kind of loose an he was makin the queerest noises I ever heard. The way I imagine a sheep would if youd kicked it.
His helmet was so big it looked more like a tin sunbonnet. He was just a kid an the scardest one I ever seen. We didnt have time to soovenir him. Somebody just planted him an awful kick that sent him across the barb wire an out of sight thru the fog in the direcshun of our lines.
"HIS HELMET LOOKED LIKE A TIN SUNBONNET"
Something else moved up ahead. We yelled at it but it didnt say nothin so a couple of doboys dropped down an fired. We passed him a minit later. He was layin on his back with one arm still floppin a little like a fello thats restless in his sleep.
We were right in the Fritz trenches now. They were the ones Id seen a few days before from the observashun post. Everybody seemed to have cleared out except a few that was beyond clearin. There machine guns was layin around still hot. The doboys just distributed a few bums into the dug-outs like salvashun army tracks. Then we climed out an went on.
The woods werent more than half a minit from the trenches. We ran right into them before we knew it. Everybody just busted into the bushes but I tell you Mable, it was worse than takin a cold bath in winter. I expected to fall into a machine gun nest any minit. Nobody tried to stop us tho. It looked as tho theyd all beat it. Pretty soon I came to a road all made out of boards. Id lost the Lootenant and the Major by this time but there was a lot of doboys around an it looked as tho the show was all over anyway. Just as we stepped out on the road about a dozen Fritzes came runnin down with there hands floppin over there heads an blattin like the first one had. Some doboy made a pass at one of them with a bayonet just for fun. He started to whine like a kid. No matter how scared I ever get Mable Ill never be as scared as these Fritzes an thats sayin a goodeel.
Things seemed pretty well over so I stopped to help the doboys soovenir this bunch. I just took a few buttons an a helmet offen one. He had red hair. Most of them wanted us to take everything they had. Then I started up the road to see if I could find the Lootenant an the Major an a looger pistel. There was a bunch of us all together. I dont know just how it happened but I guess there must have been a machine gun planted at a bend in the road just ahead of us. It cut loose as soon as the last prisoner had started for the rear. I could hear those old pills whisselin thru there teeth at me as they went past. A couple of the doboys dropped without lettin out a sound an I made a move that would have deceived the quickest eye. I never saw a road cleared so quick in my life. An there I lay beside the board road, Mable, lissenin to the machine gun bullets playin she loves me she loves me not with the daisies over my head.
I hated to lose that helmet havin taken it off the Fritz myself an he havin red hair an the like. So I slipped it into an openin under the road. Then I noticed everybody else crawlin away thru the bushes so I crawled after them havin nothin else to do.
After Id crawled till it seemed like I must be pretty near out of the woods an the knees of my trousers I stood up. When I looked around for the doboys there wasnt any. All I could hear was rivitin machines an shells bustin all around me. An the bullets was criss-crossin thru the bushes like a bunch of draggin flies. It seemed like a useless place for an artilery fello to be in.
Well, Mable, Im goin to quit now cause one of the doboy runners is goin back an I want to give him this letter. I am enclosin some mud I picked up in Nobodies Land. It may help to give you some idear of the country.
Yours to the last Fritz Bill
I never thought Id be ritin such long letters that Id have to be gettin them off my chest on the instalment plan. Ive sharpened my pencil so ofen there aint hardly enuff left to hang onto. There shellin the woods today. Every time one lands anywhere near the dug out something seems to break the point.
Well, Mable, in my last letter I left myself standin all alone in the middle of the woods lissenin to a lot of things flyin round my head that arent in no bird book. I was beginnin to think wether, havin lost the Lootenant an the Major, I hadnt ought to go back to my battery. Duty before plesure. Thats me all over, Mable. Just then I heard someone comin thru the woods.
That was the worst minit of my life except once when I had to make a speech in High School. I decided if it was goin to be my last Id spend it as private as I could so I stepped behind a bush. Whoever was comin seemed to have the spring halt. Hed come a little way. Then hed stop. Then hed come a little. I couldnt figger where I had any call to act as a Fritz recepshun comittee so I started to crawl away. Just as I stuck my head around the bush I saw something that made me lie down agen so hard I bet the ground is still stamped with the eagels on my buttons. It was only the end of a shoe passin thru the brush about fifteen feet away. There are times tho when an old shoe can look worse than your granfathers gost sittin on the end of your bed makin faces at you.
"I STUCK MY HEAD AROUND THE BUSH"
I lay there for what seemed like a couple of days. I didnt dare roll over on my back for fear of makin a noise an I didnt dare stay on my face for fear of somebody makin a pincushun out of me while I wasnt lookin. I was tryin to think out some way of not doin ether when the queerest noise you ever heard started on the other side of the bush. It was like water comin back into a facet after its been shut off for a while. I could feel my tin derby pull right up offen my head. The noise kept gettin loud an ended up with a sneeze. You couldnt have lifted me higher with a shell. I never was gladder tho to hear a sneeze cause I knew who that belonged to. I could have told it blindfolded in a milyun.
I was so glad to find Angus I forgot he didnt know I was there an ran around the bush. He was lying in a bunch of briars all red in the face from trying to hold in. When he heard me comin he threw up both hands. Then when he saw who it was he tried to make out he was stretchin.
Angus said hed been crawlin around the woods tryin to find somebody till he saw me duck behind a bush. Hed been layin there ever since tryin to decide wether to shoot me an take a chance on missin or lay there till I died a natshural death. It was easy to see tho that we wouldnt win anything but a wooden cross hangin round there so we walked thru the woods till we ran into about twenty doboys. One of them said they was after a machine gun nest that was holdin things up. Even that was better than snoopin around alone an we followed along like a couple of dogs after a parade.
Well, Mable, the doboys is ether awful brave or awful stupid. They might have been after birds nests the way they went at it. Nobody but me seemed to figger that we might be comin up in front of that machine gun insted of behind it. It was just beginnin to strike me that this didnt have much to do with an artilery runner when a couple of the doboys off to one side began throwin hand grenades. I heard a lot of cussin an when we got up there was five Fritzes standin in a pit with a machine gun. There hands was up in the air except for a couple that didnt count.
It was the first time Id seen them doin any real soldierin. An do you know, Mable, there wasnt a woman among em. They wasnt even chained to there guns. Theres something wrong with this war or else the styles are changin.
One of the doboys took them back. They were a pretty poor lot an didnt have anything worth while with them. The doboys seemed to have some idear where they were goin so we stuck along. They went down in a few dug outs. In one of them we found six Fritzes an four looger pistels. That made everybody feel pretty good except the fellos that was left out. They voted solid it was a rotten show. The machine guns was off more to one side now but it seemed like they was throwin a lot of shells around without much regard to where we was.
We came out on a road an ran into a doboy Captin an two or three men. Havin nothin better to do we followed him. He turned up a little railroad track like the one that used to run around the county fair for a dime. It twisted along thru the woods without seemin to come out much of anyplace. Then we came round a bend an about fifty yards away was a gang of Fritzes stokin shells into four whoppin big guns as fast as they could fire them out.
The next thing I knew I was runnin down that little track behind the Captin. Quite a ways behind, Mable. Everybody was cussin like a mule-skinner. Angus was sayin things in Skotch I bet hed hate to have rote down as his last words. But the Fritzes didnt seem to have no idear of makin them that. They stopped for one look an dove in the bushes like a bunch of rabbits. All except a few that was to scared to run. They just stood an gobbled at us.
It seemed to me wed done something worth sittin around an havin a postmortem about. But the Captin just rote the name of his company on one of the guns with a piece of chalk. Then he lit his pipe an started off down the track agen. We came out on a road after a while an there was the Major an a whole lot of doboys. The doboys was sittin on the railroad track, smokin cigarets an watchin the shells bust in the woods all around them like they was at a baseball game. A squad of Fritzes was puttin a few of our doboys on stretchers an carryin them off down the road.
Well, Mable, there aint much more to tell. The Major sent me over to a tin house where the Lootenant was. I found him dryin off by an old Fritz stove an eatin somebodies Irun Rashuns. I never could find out when the battle was offishully over. There was machine guns poppin away all the afternoon but nobody seemed to be botherin much about them. I guess they just got sick of it an quit. Anyway they were gone by night.
Now were lyin around takin it easy. We fire at the Fritzes all day an they fire back at us. They havnt interfered with my meals yet tho so let them go to it. Every dug out has been turned inside out. I guess the Fritzes dont get charged for losin equipment like we do. From the amount of stuff we found they must get pretty near undressed before they run away.
Ive just been figgerin up the total victory with Angus. We got five loogers, two pair of feel glasses (one broke), a gold watch that can be fixed, three pocket fulls of buttons, a lot of letters we cant read an four belts. As for helmets an gas masks an the like all you got to do is reach your hand out the dug out door. If we could only soovenir a Ford truck to carry all this stuff wed be fixed.
Im goin to quit now an get some sleep. Angus says lay up all you can while you have a chance. Hes laid up enuff to last him the rest of his life since Ive known him.
Yours as long as it lasts Bill