The Fires of Annihilation

Second Article in Series, “The Last Stand of the Princess Pats”

George Pearson June 1 1918

The Fires of Annihilation

Second Article in Series, “The Last Stand of the Princess Pats”

George Pearson June 1 1918

The Fires of Annihilation

Second Article in Series, “The Last Stand of the Princess Pats”

George Pearson

Who Wrote “Engländer Schwein,’’ “The Soul of the Assault,” etc.

AT nine o’clock on the morning of the fourth day of May, a single German gun spoke once and as though it had been an awaited signal the well-drilled Germans opposite dropped into their warrens in one pretty and simultaneous movement just as though they had been one man.

And without any other warning than that significant action, we just as prettily and I will warrant, because of the handicap under which we suffered, much more swiftly leapt into our own holes, where we scrunched down, a trifle out of breath perhaps with the quickness of our leap and staring at one another in a somewhat startled fashion, but yet saying with a brave attempt at a jest: “This is der Tag—Kismet!”

The bombardment was on. That one report was followed by one more, but that one was the vast and accumulated sound cf so many lesser ones that the ear lost count of the tale of them; the world turned into a throbbing, pounding terror and w-e lay there waiting for it

We alternately prayed and blasphemed that our artillery should do something. Were we dogs that they should let us die thus—like dogs—-like rats—and unrevenged? Only once was our prayer answered by our artillery, and by one gun only, quite early in the bombardment. The poor lonely thing barked feebly, twice, after the manner of a plucky terrier facing the annihilating rush of a tiger and then drew home so fierce a German fire that it was for ever silenced.

The trench then began amid a great rending of flesh and earth and bags to go through all the painful processes of dissolution—began violently to decay and fall apart, to spout oilwells and otherwise alternately to inter and to vomit its denizens. Men sighed and died and their souls slipped gladly away from the turmoil. The murmur of war changed to the cavernous roar of it and hung there for all the daylight hours of a long, long day. It was a slow, a steady and a merciless shelling which lasted for hours without respite so that the air throbbed and sobbed and sucked in painful unison with our held breaths and leaping hearts.

The battery which claimed us for its own prey lay in a direct

line to the right so that it had an enfilade fire on and swept the trench from one end to the other, almost always, because of the great length of target offering, striking in one place if it missed in another. First there would come the slow and deep-mouthed pair: “Boom!” Boom!” and, merging into the heel of that sound, the rapid-fire “Boom ! Boom ! Boom ! Boom” of the balance of the battery. If one were standing, sitting or kneeling, there was just one thing to do and that very quickly, fling oneself down at full length on the bottom of the trench before the burst. That came announced by the shell’s scream from the moment that that sharper sound emerged faintly from the duller and distant one of the boom until in a steadily rising crescendo of a million rasping throaty squeaks the thing burst right at our perishing ear-drums in a violent “Bang” and followed by a series of them, each one holding its own vivid flash of addled flame and belching sulphurous odors, as rotten in odor as in color.

The burst, if it were within the line of vision, showed an irregular shaped and

jagged broken-glass edged flame that leaped miracuously in the tiny moment of the seeing from a spark to a house-size, holding always to those contorted colors of a badly addled egg and falling short no whit of that flavor to the offended nostrils.

The succession of sounds, as the rest of the battery fire reached us, was so rapid that the harsh sound of each one interlocked with all the rest and made a pulsating chain of them. The body was frequently lifted up from the ground by the suck and thrust of the air pulsation and there were moments when, however cool and detached one felt, the body trembled in a dainty unison with the shuddering earth it lay on. The impact of the displaced air was as definite and as painful as that of any other blow, the only difference being that this blow appeared to submerge and suffocate as it drove wads of air home down the throat and stopped the heart and choked the lungs, hurting the chest, rather than actually to strike in the ordinary sense. In the mind, the chief sensation after that first premonitory burst was one of stupidity as Nature rushed her calls out for her curative legions and so partially chloroformed our brains with that self-same selfanesthesia as had relieved the terrible weariness of the night-march of retirement from Polygon Wood. It made even our wonder and our pain stupid, less keen and similarly and mercifully dulled all emotions and all sufferings, even those of fright, which was vastly different from the emotion inspiring shrillness of concentrated machine-gun fire.

II/TTH the body tied down ' V to this merciless inactivity of a rat caught in a trap, and waiting to be killed, it was natural that the mind should roam strangely. I found time to reflect on the strangeness of

the fact that I felt no actual fear other than the gasping breathlessness of the shock of very close bursts, while on some other occasionsthat I could remember, and some of which were not to be compared with this one for pure horror, I had felt fear in its worst form, stark panic, maddening fright.

The worst of fear for most men comes later—after it is all over, when there is no longer any need for the mind to brace itself so tensely for the impact of the shock, and so relaxes and invites reaction. It is then that hospital beds see and hear strange things, screaming, strangling dreams of purest terror, running on for years, breaking sleep, nerves, will-power, mentality; making broken men.

Stolid minds gave way to terror now and had their suffering here and now; after it was over they should forget: Sensitive ones leashed their leaping thoughts and held them tightly now, paying later when they should lift the control and the engines of their minds should race wildly, the belt off and all holds gone, remembering only the months of accumulated torture.

' I ' HAT sharp exhilaration in the air of L the night before as we left Polygon Wood was now explained : It was the gas and smoke of high-explosive shell-fire tinged perhaps by errant whiffs of the more potent and distant main body of the asphyxiating gas. The eyes, nostrils and lungs smarted and burned with the contact. It bit sharply and clawed into the chest like the inhalation of an especially rancid cigarette and like that, bringing with it and in the added proportion of its greater volume, a certain biting, stinging light headed exhilaration which made even the pain of it not unpleasant to the taste.

Each time as soon as the last clap of the battery which had us in hand had died down, some one of us sprang quickly to his feet and thrust an inquiring head above the parapet and, eye sweeping the country about our front and making certain that the enemy infantry were not advancing on us, in which case we should of course man the parapet and, so desperate were we, perhaps go out to meet them fairly in the open field, and charge them man to man, the best, the quickest; and so quickly determine whose was the best claim of being the better man.

Each fresh glance showed some new section of the trench caved in, but beyond the constant recurrence of that painful fact it was impossible to say with any degree of accuracy just what was occurring in a general way. The guns shot with a terrible accuracy so that in the rare intervals when the fire lifted off our own persons and we could observe its effect on others, our hearts stood still to see the black columns walk up and down the trench a hundred yards away just like a living thing—but dealing death. Men were suffering there, being buried alive— dying the slow deaths of wounded worms under tons of suffocating earth.

Once while we lay with our chins in the mud waiting for this spouting turmoil of others’ misery to shift on to us as it so regularly did, there came from out in front a cry for help, so desperate, so faint, so cracked with pain and terror that the pity of it tore our hearts. The words were indistinguishable.

“Speak louder,” someone cried.

“Is that the K.R.R.?”

“Yes,” we shouted, for the sake of brevity, although the King’s Royal Rifles were well up on our right.

“Well, then for the love of God, mate, come an’ give us a hand,—God’s sake!” “Don’t do anything of the kind! It’s a trap! It’s a trap!” warned a voice from the bottom of our trench, for we were not unmindful of the fact that German snipers were by this time crawling up under cover of the shell-fire.

“No! No!” shouted Wostenholm above the dim:” It was too good English, an’ too broad English! Come on!”

He jumped up and with another man raised himself stiffly over the top and crawled out in front. They reappeared in a couple of minutes with two wounded and very badly shaken K.R.R.’s who slumped weakly down in the bottom of the trench, giving way instantly and completely to the relaxation of the comparative safety our reassuring presence seemed to afford them. They told us brokenly of how they had done rear-guard for their regiment and had then crawled up through the bombardment, not knowing where they were and fearful until they heard our voices lest they had blundered in amongst the enemy. The trench was too narrow to allow of their passage even if they could have walked; so we made them as comfortable as we

could and left them in a weak portion of the trench which could be of no use to us in the event of a hand-to-hand struggle. They asked for a fag, sank weakly back,

and closed their eyes.

THAT narrowness of the trench which we had found so irksome when we had sought that impossible rest during the night now proved our one best friend since it offered just that much less of a target to the flying fragments which filled the air. Stamborough had elected to move up on the other side of the traverse, thinking it safer there, and Shepherd, his mate, followed as a matter of course so that I was left alone until Radcliffe, whose mates were dead and buried, came to the vacated place and joined me, both for company and for the greater safety the spot afforded. He sat with his back against the traverse on the other side of which the other two had gone, with his knees up, staring straight ahead at me with eyes that, once naturally protuberant, now almost frightened ; they protruded so.

By-,” he muttered. “This is murder

-We’ll all be killed!”

Nearly every one said that and certainly all believed it. The utter hopelessness of it all and the feeling and the thought that was the hardest to bear was this: To be killed like rats in a pit,

not even swiftly, but agonizingly over a long period of many torturing hours, the sport of these cruel shells. We longed bitterly for the Germans to come on and end it ail; for by that time we knew that by reason of our depleted numbers and all the other factors of importance in our strength that there could be but one ending to any determined assault, but we did yearn for that, to kill some Germans and go down fighting like men and not like unknown impounded dogs. If only they would come on and finish us quickly! How glorious! Prayers for that and other mercies were not so much prayed as wrung from rebellious hearts, out of agony and sweat and blood.

For each burst I flung myself down and implored the stubborn fellow who sat at my head to do likewise, but he refused all my importunities: “What’s the use?

We’ll all be bloody well killed, anyhow, I’m goin’ to take mine settin’.”

And he clung to that and would give me no other answer, as between bursts I

lifted my head and cried again: “Are

you all right, Ratty?”

“I'm all right, mate. . . . How ’bout yourself?” We looked across the few feet that separated us and into each other’s eyes, reading death.

THE rifle and machine gun fire interested most: It was in sound so

Utterly unlike anything we had yet heard in this war and answered bookish description of the sound of rifle fire. We had come to associate that with sharp reports and the air-burning passage of bullets over our heads, but this was undoubtedly the buzzing of bees and as utterly unlike all past experienced rifle-fire as this intensive bombardment was unlike all other of the scores of casual bombardments we had (sat in the mud to). It was the great distance of the German riflemen from us that made the difference in the sound, just on the edge of a rifle’s carrying power so that by the time the bullets reached us they had lost their greatest force and were turning sideways and because of that making this summer humming. We had good proof of that when they struck; for they made the wicked wounds of small shells, utterly destroying heads and if in the body, causing the long tear of an ugly shell splinter.

We continued to jump up after each covey of bursts, to thrust a head up above the parapet, quickly, very quickly, and jerk it down again, satisfied if there was no solid mass of men up and coming at us; for we did not propose to be spitted. Single ones we could plainly see, sometimes adding insult to injury by walking brazenly erect, knowing that we could do them no harm. They crept up on us now, shooting and bombing from the depression in front at every slightest sign of life we offered and as though that were not enough the very guns themselves now sniped wastefully at us so that almost each time a head lifted for a moment to make nervously sure again that the infantry were not coming on, high-explosive shells fell on or near that spot; the enemy was searching out each tiny indication of human life to utterly destroy it. And on top of all that there had now set in a rifle and machine-gun fire that was truly murderous and that swept over us with the song of a thousand harps, changing again at times to the dull hum of millions of bees and which in conjunction with the the pop of hand and rifle grenades that were constantly being tossed and shot at us by the hands of snipers, the burst of their bombs and the steady punctuation of the high-explosive shells, made much the worst fire that any man there had ever experienced, although we represented in our various persons all the wars of our generation.

IT was when in a moment of surcease from the shells the small-arms fire reached its most furious maximum of intensity that we heard a cry from the far side of the traverse for volunteers to go out and get a wounded man. It seemed a pity, for we had long since ceased to try to do anything for the wounded except to crawl to and bind up those who seemed most likely to live and to tell those who could walk, “to beat it” to the communication trench which some said had been dug during the night. As for the other more severely wounded men, we merely adjusted their heads, and if they could

smoke, gave them cigarettçs. Afterwards we took their papers for their wives.

So that lives should be thrown away for this wounded man when the rifle of each unwounded man was so badly needed here seemed odd indeed. An unusually painful wound perhaps? No soldier fears death but all dread useless sacrifice. We listened hopefully to the voices on the other side and for my own part I hoped that the volunteers would offer before the call reached us, for the decision either way would be a hard one, since on the one hand it meant certain death without any of the justification of any useful purpose accomplished; and on the other no Pat could deny the plea of a wounded comrade. However, we waited stoically for the call to slip down the line as was done with volunteer calls, which went from man to man instead of being put up to us en masse.

The call was answered—the bravest thing in the worst fire we had ever seen. At first the only indication of the fact was the cessation of the call for volunteers. We shouted to know if they had got them, but received no answer. Shortly after that I heard queer voices, rose to my feet, looked around and saw the most inspiring act of pure courage that it has ever been my fortune to witness.

In this terrible fire, so dreadful that the air thrummed and quivered with the countless displacements of turning bullets that struck so thickly that they sent the mud flying in all directions hereabout, two men ran heavily just at my head, carrying a heavy thing on a stretcher. A loaded stretcher is at all times a very heavy burden on the most level of dry ground. Here it was terrible. These men were imbued with super-human strength for, although the ground was full of shell holes and very wet and slippery, they were actually running.

The lead bearer was a boy of less than twenty who was unknown to me although I had from the fine quality of the face noticed it when he had lately joined us in a draft. That face glowed ardently now with the indescribable confusion of the sheer terror and sublime exaltation of his sacrificial moment. His wonderful eyes shone holily as might the star eyes of a young girl when first she glimpses all the unsuspected beauty of her purpose here, as this beautiful boy now glimpsed his. His cap had fallen off so that, as they passed me, long waves of his fine, light colored hair were flung back by the aiding

wind against the swift movement of an unusually graceful body, exposing each beauty of line of the broad forehead and bringing into strong relief the winsome uptilt of the defiant chin so that each

feature of the glorified young face and thrown back head carried in each line its own individual beautiful defiance of death and all its harm of body. His lips were parted—fixed so by terror, but again, the windows of his soul contradicted that so that I swear his eyes were looking on things denied duller souls.

The man who ran with him was one who in Polygon Wood has eaten his heart out for his daily punishment because he had once failed the regiment. This was his expiation and his unstudied answer to the worst of his detractors. Perhaps of these two brave men he was by all odds the most courageous for, although his eyes too looked straight ahead, there was in them nothing but the pure animal terror of his spirit’s agony, unrelieved by any of that divine hope of Heaven which shone in the other’s eyes and which his lagging soul might out of pity have conjured up for the agony of its body. His cap too was off and it was strangely fitting that his hair w'as stiff and did not wave like that of the

The latter’s coat was off and the muscles of him slipped and strained and slipped again beneath the coarse army shirt. He was speaking, imploring, commanding, and by the chanting, praying monotone of the words, almost to himself : “Faster! Faster! Faster!”

It seemed incredible that they had lived so long with the fire so bad and the snipers so close.

THOSE warning roars of the battery boomed out again. I flung myself down. There was a crash : The air was

full of falling things. I sprang up to see that all was gone: And have rarely

known such sorrow.

“Make way there-Gangway!” It

was the gruff voice of a sergeant leading the boy out to the communication trench and the dressing station in the wood. The boy was the only living survivor of the trio but seemed not to know that or anything else, for he was quite dazed and gave no indication of pain from the bloody mess of a completely pulverized arm which he carried like a wet dish-rag in the hollow of the other; any more than he felt pain from the bad head wound which had laid bare his scalp and which had already matted his silky hair with blood which now ran down and covered his face, filling his eyes. There was no room for one man to pass another so we crawled up on top to let him by.

It seemed as though all loose strings of fate were tying here in this wood of Bellewaarde. As the sergeant took the boy out some rude things were hurled at the former from several quarters. He feigned not to hear. That place out back to which he now was going represented Heaven and safety to us and him—the last place anyone in authority should seek to go to on any but the direct order. Only the courageous nature of this boy’s sacrifice could condone even the sending of a man from the ranks out with him, for it seemed certain that the Germans might rush us at any moment, for which reason no man who could bear a rifle was to be lightly spared, even for suffering. And certainly it was disgraceful for a

sergeant to go. He knew all that as well as we did and knew that we knew too, so that he was very glad to slip on by with a great show of bluster about his wounded man that sat but poorly on him who had

never before shown kindness to any one of us sick, wounded or well. He knew that we saw through his ruse and that he made this brave man whom he dishonored with his touch the pretext for the carrying of his own carcass to safety. We damned him to his face and he took it for what he was—the same bull-necked sergeant with whom we had had the feud in Polygon Wood. And just then a flying splinter took him in the head, wounding him slightly so that like as not he won a decoration for bringing a wounded man out from under fire!

That is the last I saw or heard of the boy and I have since forgotten his name although I made enquiry afterward, hoping that he and the other man might perhaps have been honored or decorated. But neither of them ever were.

C TARTLED men began to crowd down ^ on us from around the shoulder of the traverse. All were there, but even that was few enough for we had been in the morning only the weak half of a weakened battalion and that poor strength was now sadly depleted. “What’s up?” we asked.

“Orders to evacuate,” they said tersely and hurried on past toward the communication trench, leaving us to wait until the men directly above us should also have passed and thereby indicated an orderly evacuation up to this point where we stood. We did not know whether to be glad or sorry. Some swore wrathfully; others were frankly glad and made no bones about it either. “Anything,” they said, “to get out o’ this.” For the most part we were both relieved and sorry, relieved to get away from so awful a place and terribly chagrined that we must again retire. But both these conflicting emotions were confused by the more powerful one of our soldier anger at an enemy who pounded us with man-made things of iron and steel, for ever keeping us at arm’s length and from the fierce assuaging of our insenate lust for his blood in the man test of a close-up melee.

“What about the wounded?” we asked when we saw that only whole men were passing us.

“Leavin’ ’em,” a lack-lustered eyed man said wearily.

That saddened us: Things must be bad indeed, worse than we had thought possible for the old regiment. We turned slowly and went with them.

The occasion offered the first opportunity we had for exchanajjg news of casualties with our comrades from the upper reaches of the trench. There were scores of them and although it was not long past noon, and although all who could after any fashion walk, crawl or hobble had gone down the communication-trench, the main trench was already well littered with the dead and the dying. Owing to the narrowness of the trench we had been forced to lay some of our dead upon the parapet where they now received further wounds. It was either that or walk on them. Only those were buried who had been done so by a shell when the wall of the trench had slid in on them, kicking, strangling, their mouths and nostrils full of mud.

Sergeant Hubbard whom we all liked so much had just died, quietly enough toowe were relieved to hear. His ' mate, Wostenholm, had just come from his side after having bound his wounds and tended him all the morning. It was worse up there than here they said—wounded and dead men everywhere and no place for a shocked foot to fall, short of sacrilege. Things had quietened down now for the

first time and what little fire now came our way seemed a very small thing indeed to what had just passed so that at first there was no dearth of nervous upraised heads to make certain that it was not the quiet before the storm and that a charge was not being launched against us. The sergeants swore and bade the heads keep well down, saying that we should all be cut up if we acted like young soldiers: “Think you was a bloomin’ draft,” one said bitterly, chewed his frost-bitten moustache and glared.

We held our heads down, less for fear of getting them hit than because it would go hard with us if the enemy should get an inkling of our present movement and so shell the soon-to-be crowded communication trench.

' j ' HAT portion of the trench next to and between us and the communicationtrench was blown in so that we had to bend our backs well in going over it. As we did so the man ahead of me gave a rasping scream and pointed, staring down at the loose earth: “Look at Joe! Look at Joe !” he cried. Joe had been his mate and now portions of the battered head of him projected from the earth. It was too much. The man passed on ahead of me, screaming his hysterical way down the trench.

“Shut your bloomin’ row!” a sergeant shouted thickly: “You’ll have all these young soldiers havin’ highstericks with you.”

The man’s cries ceased and he went to blubbering instead, in a curious strangling chest racking, minus all the quieter dignity of grief and with every move to wipe away the moist evidence of his retching sorrow only adding to the unhandsome furrows on his already unlovely face. It was Sunday in May and the sun smiled down at us.

Everywhere the trench had been blown in and everywhere we had to mind our step to avoid the unmentionable. We came to the communication trench, and found it choked with the men who had preceded Us, and who struggled now amongst the bodies of the narrow passageway, to get back amongst us. An angry officer emerged from the commodious dug-out at the cross-roads of the trenches and drove angrily at the struggling mass with expostulating hands.

“Get back! Go back to your places! What d’ye mean? You’ll have us all cut up!”

“A wash-out,” we cried and were much relieved, eyen those who had a moment before looked forward so eagerly to leaving the accursed place.

The officer seized a man by the shoulder : “Who gave that order to evacuate? Who gave it?” he cried angrily, looking at all of us in turn, “I’ll have him up before the C.O.—getting us all cut up,” he fumed, and then added as an afterthought: “My God! Supposin’ the C.O. should pop in on us now and see this mess?”

HP HAT was like a dash of cold water A to the worst case of trenchitis there . . . for the commanding officer was a soldier and well understood this breed of ours that he too sprang from. We made our way back more cheerfully than we had come, taking care because of the narrowness of the passage to let the men from furthest up the trench lead the way so that we should not have to pass one another. We wondered from whence had come the mistaken order and sagely decided, as always in similar circumstance, on the theatrical explanation that never failed to warm our melodramatic hearts:

An English speaking German had crawled up to the trench and breathed the order into our unsuspecting ears. When it was pointed out that if so illusory a passage had really occurred the trench would already have been filled with Germans, the untimely remark and its too matter-offact author met only with the simple scorn they both deserved. There was little enough romance and too much fact as things were, so why begrudge the poor comfort of any we might nourish? It sustained our courage.

ONCE mqre the bombardment was on: Once more Radcliffe and I stared stonily at one another across the few feet of our own private abomination of desolation; two animals in a hell of a fix. I tried to bring out after each crash what sometimes stuck: “Are you all right,

Ratty?” and perhaps a hysterical laugh. “I’m all right! How ‘bout you, mate?” and once more we quarreled gustily between the salvoes of the guns about his stubborn sitting. Once more he stonily reiterated: “I’ll jolly well take mine

settin’.” And at the last he did go crowding cheerfully by me with his Blighty, although somewhat concerned at the lightness of it.

He was held up in the act of passing by a fresh outburst of that German battery which we now looked upon as our own and so lay down flat this time because of the new hope his Blighty had inspired him with and fearful that the latter might be too well added to. He even deigned to take the head cover I had for some time past been urging on him, his own duplicate of my own hard-packed pack-sack with which at every salvo I had held over my head as I lay waiting for the bursts. Radcliffe swore that the Allemands had heard of his Blighty for the shells rained more heavily on both sides of our little slot of safety. One broke cleanly on the cave-in just below us so that we thought we were killed, being by that time barren of any more detailed emotion. There was just one tremendous bursting, tearing lift that hoisted our bodies up like fragments of paper in a strong draught and that set them down again with the cessation of the great pulsation while our lungs struggled furiously against the biting fumes of the acid and our bodies trembled and shook with the thousand nerve-shocks of the moment. Our ears and eyes and nostrils were full of earth and a thick layer of which was intermingled with a heavy collection of fine fragments of steel which was as impalpable as flour and which covered our bodies so thoroughly that it fell off us in great clots when we rose stupidly to our feet and looked at the damage.

The whole passageway to Blighty was filled in and our backs against the dead end of a broken traverse. Radcliffe spoke: "It’ll take more ’n that to keep me here.” And slinging his rifle across his back, he plunged boldly at the still smoking ruin and began to clamber over it, exposing his body as he did so to the full blast of the once more fully developed small-arms fire as well as the equally dangerous attentions of the close-up snipers.

He dropped on the other side unharmed and that was the last I saw of him for many months.

'T' HE sun had come out some little timp A before so that I had taken my overcoat off and flung it upon the ground to dry. I reached for it now and found it astonishingly full of holes although it had lain just above my body; which had re-

Continned on paffe 88

Continued from paye 32

ceived none. I rolled it up tightly, and stuffing it in my pack-sack, further distended that useful article of shelter. It was time to fall again ; I followed the thought and did so.

The greater bulk of the improved-packsack that I now held over my head made my situation seem quite safe by comparison, a state of mind which was materially aided by the nauseating thought of what a bad and messy head hit meant and by the great satisfaction I derived from the fact that the increased size of the pack enabled me to place my hands under my chest instead of exposing them to the job of holding the pack in position as I had had to do with it in its former smaller state. For want of the distraction of Radcliffe’s uncheerful countenance in my eye I fell to counting the flakes and fragments of metal that fell on either side of the wall at my head and was surprised to note the quantity of them that struck without injury to me; for although my body and the pack at my head both frequently received the impact of the dying blows of glancing fragments, these had in most cases less force than the well-thrown stones of a boy. It seemed on further study to be incredible so that it aroused my further curiosity and so spared me much painful thinking of the kind that comes to a man when he is alone in a bad time. Most of these harmless hits came from shells which had burst so far on one side of the trench that such fragments as came near the latter either struck the ground outside and showered earth on one or, if they travelled at a higher altitude, still struck the trench wall so far above the head and body that they either imbedded themselves where they struck, or else only ricocheted harmlessly down on the body. The trench was ^^t deep enough to a hair for the body jB evade all hits that did not come directly on top of it. The number of such near-by hits was amazing and past all counting, the-more so when I could tell by listening that I was not by any means in the worst portion of the trench. Amongst this lesser fry these side shots were the most innocuous; worst were those chunks of steel and shrapnel bullets that came from shells which had burst squarely over the trench but much further down so that their parts landed neatly up and down the length of the trench just so far as their force could carry them and so that I received in consequence many blows that made me rub myself ruefully. One in particular, I remember, a large shell nose that struck my thigh so shrewd a blow that I thought the bone had been broken, and that without tearing my clothes, although I believe the flesh was bruised. It made one feel that one was being stoned on a magnificent scale. I fell prey to Atkinitis and began to pocket some of the more interesting chunks as souvenirs of the occasion, putting them in with the rice. But all that was quite by the way and totally irrelevant to the major facts of the situation and interesting only because of the presence of so harmless a feature in

a situation so bad that it rapidly became worse.

EDITOR’S Note.—/n the next number Mr. Pearson will continue his narrative with the story of the terrible events which, led to the practical annihilation of the original Princess Pats.