Monday, February 28, 2011
SOLDIER TELLS OF LIFE IN THE TRENCHES
Soldier tells Of life in the trenches.
London Dec. 30. 1914
Correspondent of AP.
The following account of life at the front is from a correspondent who volunteered for service at the beginning of the war, and has since been promoted to the rank of officer.
“During the latter part of November, the army in the trenches was well nigh perishing with cold. Since early December it has been the victim of persistant rain and flood. Night after night, whole companies are flooded out of the trenches while a rearrangements of forces has made it impossible to give the men their former weekly three days of rest in the villages behind the lines. All the advanced forces will remain in their trenches now for 18 days; then they begin to have a brief relief.
“It is difficult5 to give an idea of what rain means in the trenches. The lines under frosty conditions seem such an orderly, permanent and town like series of cubby holes that when they all start to melt away and cave in under the influence of thaw and rain, it as if one was trying to travel through a pitch dark London in rains. Officers who were glorying in fine new dugouts equipped with all the trench comforts, suddenly found themselves buried in a mass of collapsed earth of the consistency and quality of thick paint.
“ The latest gossip here is that the Indian division and the Germans were so close to each other a day or two ago that they used the same parapet for their trenches and took turns at firing through their mutual loop holes. That of course is a little exaggerated, but serves to illustrate the manner in which the two armies keep continually getting closer and closer. Hand grenades and home made bombs fashioned out of biscuit tins can be used advantageously at many points.
“Generally, however, the trenches are about two hundred yards apart in this section. That gives the sharp shooters plenty of chance to get in their fine work and it is dangerous to push ones head above a trench even to sight the rifle. Many of the sharp shooters are using periscopes much like those of the submarine, and with these they can sight and shoot accurately without coming anywhere near the top of the trench. The opposing sharpshooters of course delight in efforts to hit the tube of the periscope and frequently succeed.
“Since the rains and floods came, the communication trenches have largely oozed away. Some of them are like rivers: others are knee-deep with pasty mud of exactly the same consistency as baker’s dough. A regiment which passes through one such trench a day or two ago left three men behind and had to send a relief [arty back to dif them out.
“Under such circumstances the labor of bringing up ammunition and rations from the rear is terrific, and the men assigned to this labor reach their destination in a state of utter fatigue; nevertheless they have to take their turn at sentry later in the night.
“The enemy is very business like and misses no chance to shoot any man who exposes himself. Today, for instance, an English soldier was up a willow tree cutting withes. A shot passed him and he sportively signaled A miss; left” A second shot came and he signaled “A Miss; right” The enemy profited by his advice, and the third shot passed straight through his head.
“There are the strictest orders against men exposing themselves, but some of the careless ones are surprisingly disregardful of their safety. Yesterday a private who was dragging a sack of coal walked slowly along the top of a communication trench for a considerable distance in full view of the enemy. Merely because the bottom of the trench was muddy and traveling down there in safety would have been more laborious than on the firm soil above. A hail of bullets passed him, but he even stopped to light his pipe behind an 18 inch willow before he deliberately climbed back down into the trench with his load.
“The whole army is very tired of willow trees and poplars. It would be a relief to know that we would never have to see them again. Willow stumps are particularly annoying because in the dark they look exactly like a crouching soldier, with perhaps a stray limb resembling a leveled gun.
“I was out scouting two nights ago and went farther ahead than I had intended. I had no rifle with me. About 40 yards from the enemy’s trench I suddenly saw what I thought was a German crouching down with leveled gun. My heart stopped, and I hastily signaled for the rifle of the man behind me, only to find it not loaded. The I looked again and found the German was only a willow stump.
“On my way back, crawling cautiously through a turnip field-one must move cautiously for these turnips crackle most alarmingly under foot. Suddenly up went one of their star shells which make the neighborhood light as day for a mile around. I dropped down. To my horror I discovered that my face was close alongside a German corpse, that had laid there since their last unsuccessful infantry attack six weeks ago. Another and another rocket went up, and it was many minutes before I could get away from that grisly object. I brought back his helmet and rifle as souvenirs.
“There is a good supply of news in the trenches, but most of it I regret to say is unreliable. Today, for instance, we heard of a great naval victory for the English. A great Galician victory for the Russians, and for the twentieth time, that the Kaiser was sick with death”.