|The Rushden Echo, 12th January, 1917, transcribed by Gill Hollis
Glimpses of The War - Rushden Officer’s Impressions
Experiences in The Trenches - A Terrific Bombardment - A Fight in Mid-Air
Lieut. L. Perkins (a member of the Rushden Urban Council, and headmaster of the Newton-road Schools, Rushden), who has just spent a few days’ leave at home, has penned the following “glimpses” of life at the front, the sketch being written in the trenches:-
We have an early breakfast, for to-day we enter the trenches. We move off by companies, and on nearing the danger zone we proceed by platoons. Now we leave the open road and move along the “track,” till we enter the village through which the trenches run. The guide meets us and we file down……..street. The twists and turns are numerous and somewhat confusing at first.
Now we turn off sharply from the communicating trench and drop our men at the various sections allotted to us. Not until we are all so distributed can the retiring platoon quit the trench. It has been fine for a few days and the trench-boards are dry. Men for the various posts are now placed and the remainder can disappear into their dug-outs.
The “gas alert” signal is not on to-day, for the wind is behind us. Every man’s gas helmet has been inspected before marching out, and so there is a sense of security against gas attacks.
I place my equipment on a nail, in a small dug-out, and then examine the men’s quarters. On my return I find that the rats have already eaten through by haversack to get at my biscuits.
Rats! They swarm everywhere. As I stand for a few minutes in the dug-out they come out cautiously, then boldly, and spread over the floor. One youngster comes to smell at my boot, but, after examining toe and heel, he decides there is no dinner for him there and trots off.
A baby rat, with its mother in charge, comes out and plays a while.
Now I go to the front line trench for a two-hours’ turn of duty. The men are all well sheltered, except those on observation posts. Watchful eyes are ever strained across No Man’s Land to G……. Wood. It is still called G…… Wood, but the bare trunks stand there gaunt and dismal, their branches having been torn away and the leaves scattered by the shell-fire.
The ground between our trenches and the Germans’ is pitted with shell holes, some of them partly concealed by the grass of one or two years’ growth.
Not a Hun is to be seen, but we are reminded of his presence by occasional bursts from his machine guns.
Now and again the sniper is at work, but without success to-day. Our artillery has been busy all day, and in the evening the enemy replies vigorously. The majority of his shells burst clear of our trenches, but as we go from one post to another we find places where our passage is barred, and working parties are sent to repair damage.
Now it is quite dark, for the moon is obscured by heavy clouds. Overhead our shells are screaming on their way to smash the enemy’s wire entanglements. Our machine guns are rattling, as they send their “bursts” of fire to prevent the enemy getting out to repair their wire. We have an occasional response from the enemy’s machine guns.
Our patrols are now out, and due precautions are taken to avoid injury to our own men.
Now, relieved, I descend into the dug-out to get a few hours’ rest. Again our guns are busy, and the ground trembles with the shock of discharge. This particular dug-out is very deep It is about 8 ft. in height, and the floor measures 10 ft. by 12 ft., so that we have room to move about.
Former occupants have accumulated the household furniture, which comprises a table, three chairs, and one rough bedstead. We have no hall-stand, but there are nails driven into the props of our dwelling, and so our equipment is hung ready for immediate use. It is a relief to dispose of it for a time – pouches, revolver, haversack, with emergency rations, water-bottle filled, field-glasses, and gas-helmet. The steel helmet need not be worn down below, so that one feels more comfortable.
A few hours’ rest, and I am out on the top again. Now we are subject to a violent bombardment. Big stuff it is, too, and it has come a long way, enfilading our trenches. One hums overhead and I press flat against the trench side. That one has gone too far. Not so the next. Crash!
It feels as if my helmet is pressing my head down. One is deafened for a time, and for a moment there is a feeling of intense pressure. Then down comes a shower of earth and stones. Along with my sergeant I am passing near a shelter, and so we press into the corner till the “shower” is over. We hear another coming, with a noise suggestive of an approaching express, and it bursts a few feet beyond us. A big black cloud of smoke rises and earth and stones fly in all directions. We see bits of metal buried in the trench wall within a yard of us. Luckily, we are not hit, and we walk in the direction from which the shells come, for we notice that the enemy is “searching” our trenches, dropping the shells a little further each time.
At last he ceases fire, and shortly afterwards I am again relieved. Into the dug-out I go for a few minutes preparatory to returning to my own platoon posted in the second line of trenches. At the foot of the steps, as I am about to ascend, I hear a terrific bang, and am pushed back again by an invisible something. I wait a few minutes and the bang is repeated. Then I find at the top of the steps a great heap of earth, with just room enough for me to crawl out. Our air pipe is torn out and the big bellows have been blown away. (From time to time fresh air is forced down a 3 in. hose pipe by means of huge bellows, a man being detailed to act occasionally as “organ blower.” This pipe serves also as a speaking-tube.)
Now I reach the communicating trench. Here and there I have to climb over places where the trench sides have been blown down. I find the second line scarcely damaged. We have no casualties so far, though the next battalion has suffered somewhat. During the day the necessary repairs are made.
The next night is spent in the support trenches. Here our dug-out is not so deep. It is the cellar of what was once a house. A large spring mattress is on the floor and four of us lie across it, not to sleep much, however, for our artillery is firing incessantly.
The enemy’s shells burst perilously near our roof, which is scarcely thick enough for security. Yet we do get some sleep, for we are tired by the previous night’s vigil.
Nearly all the men are in bomb-proof shelters, but one unfortunate group has suffered. A sergeant comes in to report one man killed and some injured about 20 yards away. The Medical Officer is sent for, and the injured men are tended.
In the early morning there is a quiet funeral at the village cemetery, and the padre performs the last rites over the fallen soldier.
I am left in charge of a working-party. During the morning we witness an exhibition of skill on the part of our airmen. Soaring above us, one of our aviators is being shelled by the enemy. Three shells burst in rapid succession below him. He moves off to the right and three more burst in his wake. Then he rises rapidly and shells are seen bursting below him. Now he darts off straight over to the enemy’s lines, to return a few minutes with the shrapnel bursting around him. Other aeroplanes approach and take part in the dangerous work of observation.
Our work is carried on to the accompaniment of continual gun-fire. Our own guns are so near us, though we see never one, that the ground shakes with each round fired. It is dangerous too, for now and then a shell explodes prematurely, and a different note is heard as the bits come whistling over us. Near by are some trees, and we see bits of twigs cut off by the flying fragments. Luckily, no one is hit to-day – only the day previous a man was killed in this manner at the same place.
Now our task is finished, and we pass by a long trench to the main road. Here we divide into smaller parties until we are clear of the exposed ground. We pass the chateau; that bears evidence of the fray. There are great holes in the adjoining farm buildings, and the front of the chateau has been badly damaged, though now it is well protected by sand-bags.
We are at last back in the village, and can wash, and we remove our boots for the first time in three days. Best of all is the comparative quietness, for now the firing is not near enough to disturb our rest.