OBSERVING: AN AVERAGE DAY.
THE following is an attempt to produce a kind of verbal photograph of a day in the trenches, by recording syste- matically the events of periods of, on an average, thirty minutes' duration. As will be noticed, there are few or no reflections, but only statements of events each in its order. It is a fine record and a fine example of reticence in description. The writer is an artist by profession, and only an officer for the duration of the war.— ED. Spectator.
5.15 a.m.—I am in a trench with two signallers. It is not in the front line, but a little behind it, and naturally in view of the enemy. There are two dug-outs : one for the signallers from which we observe, and the other for myself. They are about 41 feet high, ana quite dark except for the doors and the hole to look through. We have been here since yesterday evening. It is not quite light yet. My feet are cold in spite of two socks, a puttee, a thigh boot, and five sandbags on each ; but a coat and two blankets have kept the rest of me warm. I am lying on a duckboard with sacks on it about a foot below the roof. Have slept a little like you do in a railway carriage.
5.10 a.m.—The signaller on duty at the telephone has just said cheerfully, "5.30, Sir." I agree, and ask him if the wires are all right. They are !
5.50 a.m.—Unroll the mufflers round my head and the blankets and kick off the sandbags. Then get off the bed sideways into the water. This is about a foot deep in the trench, but only three inches or so in the dug-outs. The front is absolutely quiet, and the enemy does not seem to have moved. I look at them through a telescope for some time, but see nothing new. It is a very beautiful morning and extremely clear. Behind me the sky is pale pink, with dark clouds in the distance. Four tall but broken trees and an ugly ruined house look black against it. The rest of the picture is foreground, and chiefly sandbags and long horizontal lines of mud.
6.15 a.m.—I wake up the other signaller and tell him to try and drain the water away a little down the trench. It is good for them to get some exercise. So he splashes about with a spade for ten minutes and makes a channel, and the water sinks slowly about an inch.
6.45 a.m.—I have found four rashers of bacon and am frying them in a mesa-tin lid over a small round tin of solid methylated spirit or something. Bacon is good stuff : it cooks so easily, and each time you turn it over it crackles with greater intensity. Added some bread which also fried, but in a dull sort of way. I have some very strong tea in a Thermos and a marmalade sandwich. Then a cigarette. Feel rather well. 8 a.m.—It is still quiet, though not quite so clear. The sky im clouded and a draughty wind has got up. Think a short walk would do me good, so go along trench a few yards. This is difficult in places where it has fallen in. I find a shell-hole near the. trench with fairly clean water in it and crawl to it. There is ice under tilt surface, but manage to wash. On way back to trench I slip and one hand goes into the mud.
8.20 a.m.—Arrive back at dug-out. Nothing has happened. Nothing new through telescope. Have a pipe.
8.30 a.m.—They have begun. Four "whizz-bangs "* have just burst very prettily over a communication trench to our right. Then silence again. I ring up the Battery (about a mile behind us) and talk to the officer at the guns. We inquire after each other's health and state of inundation. Both say we are very well and di" 8.50 a.m.—Two of our batteries just behind have begun firing at once. They sound much closer than they really are and make an irritating crack They stop after about ten minutes, and I can hear nothing but an occasional rifle shot from the front. A robin has appeared on the edge of the trench and is looking at us sideways. I offer it some crumbs, but of course it flies away.
0.15 a.m.—The Germans have started to retaliate over our heads to the right. One of their shots wont into a partly ruined cottage and there was an eruption of bricks and tiles and the building is a little more ruined. Some of them do not burst at all but disappear into the mud : that is, they are "duds." The signaller on duty is talking to the man at the Battery. I hear : That you, All? . . . They're coming over here . . . no, not too close . . . not bad ; some water on the floor ; he made us drain it. . . . Yea, we've got Jack's biscuits ..." I interrupt by going to look through the telescope. The view is still the same.
10 a.m.—It is fairly quiet, though those batteries behind us go off now and then in short bursts and the Germans reply with
bangs " on our trenches. It is not so fine, but clear still, and the enemy landscape looks black Rather chilly.
10.25 a.m.—We have just had a little excitement. I suddenly saw a German—a rare thing—through the telescope. The fool was walking on the skyline about a mile away and was very distinct. Ho had on a quite smartly cut greatcoat, so may have been an officer. Did some violent calculation and got a gun on to where I thought he was. Fired—short and a little left. Corrected the line, added fifty yards, and fired again. Still short, and the beast disappeared into a trench. Added another fifty and fired again. Burst high and over the french. Dropped twenty-five and gave him two rounds on percussion. One went right in, so something may have hit him. Hope so. Hope he is dead. . . . Rang up the officer at the Battery and told him about it. He suggested that probably we had not done much damage. Perhaps not ; but sniping with an eighteen-pounder is a sport one does not often get the chance of.
11.15 a.m.—It is raining now and is colder. The wind is blowing the rain sideways across the landscape, so the view is obscured. I am sitting on a bit of wood i my dug-out with my feet on a shelf. The front is quiet. It usually is in bad weather. Naturally this is partly because we cannot see each other, but I sometimes think it is human nature asserting itself as well. Rain, mud, and sold are sufficient to struggle with. I begin to think—a mistake out here—and wonder at the things I used to do two years ago, and if I shall ever go on with my work. It is all disrupted now. . . a lot of splashing—somebody is coming along the trench. I put my cap on straight and look out. It is the ColoneL We go and observe together and he jumps questions at me. He seems satisfied with things, and after a few minutes goes away muttering something about "not knowing how you fellows stick it." Am fond of the Colonel. He can be very fierce, but we are the best brigade in the division.
11.50 a.m.—The rain has stopped for the moment, but the water has risen an inch or two. Very chilly.
12.10 p.m.—They are " cnimping " t Us, or rather the neighbour- hood. One at a time, at irregular intervals. They are falling chiefly in front and to the right and the bits are flying about. I hurry into the signallers' dug-out and shut the door. This is no
protection really, but feels like it. They are looking a little dismal, so I gossip with them, and after a bit make the one at the telephone ask the Battery for the official time, which occupies several minutes. This signaller is a grocer in real life, so we discuss candles and things after that.
12.20 p.m.—It is over. They haven't hit us, though there are some large holes round about. Retire to my dug-out and smoke.
12.50 p.m.—I have just discovered the methylated is finished, but have found a candle. So cut this into six and molt them all
down in the mess tin lid to a lake of wax. Add bits of sacking and light them. The whole thing flares up and boils water from the
• Smallest German held-gun shells. t "A cramp": 8-la. high explosive or larger.
trench in a minute. So I have cocoa for lunch and mutton sand- wiches and cake. My servant rarely forgets anything. He is an aid soldier.
1.1,5 p.m.—The front is quiet, I can see nothing new. Presumably both sides are lunching.
2.15 p.m.—They are shelling a trench on our left rather per- Mstently, and the batteries behind have begun to retaliate. It is quite a "strafe," so I ring up the Battery and suggest joining in, and in about a minute the guns are reported ready on a wood which we know has enemy trenches in it and ought to be full of Germane. I begin by giving them a salvo of 11.E.* to startle them, and then very rapidly another of shrapnel to catch them on the run, then another and another. . . . It is magnificent ! The guns are perfect. The whole wood is lit up with the orange-coloured bursts and the black trees look like sticks of charcoal against the smoke.
2.35 p.m.—Complete silence again except for a little rumbling in the south. The signallers are still eating. They offer me a sugar biscuit which I accept, then ring up the officer at the Battery and talk about the Ammunition Return.
3.15 p.m.—It is raining again. Our heavies are firing, and their shells are roaring over our heads and bursting far beyond anything I can see. Have been looking at a magazine, but it is too dark now inside and the candles are finished.
3.20 p.m.—They are " crumping " again, but not so close. In between two shots we hear a scream and men shouting. I can see DO one near Us.
3.30 p.m.—An order has just come from the Battery to go and inspect a wire not far off, if all is quiet. It is ; so I take one of the signallers, with me and go along to the communication trench. It has duckboards along it, but they are all floating, and impede rather than facilitate one's progress. We get to the wire and find it in perfect order. It is near some infantry, and I run into an officer with a funny three days' beard. He is very agitated. One of those " crumps " landed on a dug-out with eight men in it. A fluke shot of course. It is quite near, just a heap of wood and earth in the dull light,. The signaller notices an arm and points it out, and I try to see and not to see at the same time. That must have been the scream we heard.. . . We go off into the trench again. On the way back one of our aeroplanes appears overhead and the Germans fire at it. They do not. hit it, but the bits come down over us, the bigger ones with 'a hum and a thud ; some with a sort of twittering sound, and the closest with a hiss. You cannot dodge them, as you cannot juCg3 whete they will fall. So we crouch in the trench and try to get under bulging sandbags. After a few minutes the aeraplane moves off and the Lits with it. The &wiener says, " Just like rain, Sir," and I find the ends of my coat and pockets and things in them have gone into the mud. Let them !
4.15 p.m.—Back at the telephone and report it to the Battery. Feel tired and jumpy. It is dark now. I cannot soo much more of the signalers than their eyes. They are wonderfully patient. We have cigarettes together.
5 p.m.—It is pouring and the water is rising. But we pretend not to notice. Have a pipe.
5.30 p.m.—Deadly cold. Have another pipe.