Transcribed from the Bexhill Chronicle dated 25th December 1915.
LIFE IN THE TRENCHES
(BY A BEXHILL SOLDIER)
The following interesting sketch of life in the trenches has been received from a correspondent who is “somewhere in France”.
FIRST TWENTY HOURS IN THE TRENCHES
We have again changed our billets, and are now about 14 miles behind our last billets. I had quite an interesting time in my first 24 hours in the trenches.
We paraded at 3.30 on Tuesday – 60 men and three officers. We were split up, one officer to each 20 men. About dusk we got to a thoroughly ruined village – not one single house standing, some with only one wall left. The church was smashed to pieces. It was altogether an extraordinary sight. The place was more than a village, and was, I suppose, as far as I could see in the dark, about the size of Rye or some place like that.
In one of these ruined houses, gum-boots and waders are stored, so that men going up to the trenches can take their own boots off and put on these waders. However, none of my 20 men wanted to put them on. I, as a matter of fact, advised them not to. You will see later on why.
Having waited there ten minutes or so while the men got their rifles loaded, our guides turned up – three of them – to guide us into the trenches. They were men of the Battalion already in there. We started on the road, and then, after about 400 yards, the road disappeared into what looked like a morass, all covered with pools about ten feet across, and as I had reason to know later, about 8 feet deep; these are, or rather were, caused by shells bursting.
GERMAN STAR SHELLS
About every half minute the Germans send up their flares or shells, which give a most brilliant light, and while they are up it is advisable to stand quite still or to lie down. As a matter of fact, standing still is the best, I believe.
Incidentally, all this time it was drizzling hard, and we were already quite wet through.
The mud was something wonderful – never less than over the top of our ankle boots. The two guides had long poles, which they dug into anything which looked like a hole to see how deep it was. Every now and then we had to cross old trenches by means of wooden bridges, sometimes only consisting of a single plank in a great state of slipperiness. A good many men, of course, fell in at most of these bridges.
At the most we had three-quarters of a mile to go from the house, where boots were changed, to the front line of trenches where I had to go, and it took us 2 ¾ hours! So perhaps you can imagine more or less what we had to go through. As a matter of fact, no one can possibly have any idea what it was like unless they have been over that ground.
Eventually, after what seemed like hours, we came to some trenches which were the reserve trenches. The last 20 men and one officer stayed there for their twenty-four hours; and the guides then took us on to the front line trenches, which were about 700 yards further on. This part of the journey was even worse than the first. The men had their rifles to carry. I do not carry a rifle, consequently I was able to get on a bit faster and was able to help the men over the worst places and then get up to the front of the men again. Of course, we were going along in single file – one man behind the other – a very necessary proceeding, as you have to tread exactly where the man in front of you trod, otherwise you might go in up to your neck in mud and water, consequently anyone who had gumboots or waders on merely got the water over the top of them, and then had to carry a boot full of water along with him. All this time the German flares were going up and a certain number of bullets were screaming overhead.
At last we got to our trenches, and the men were divided into four lots of five men, and they had to take up their position in front of the front line trenches, about 20 to 40 yards from them. They had a pile of sand bags behind which they took cover, and some of them had shelters into which they could shelter from the rain. One man always had to be on duty while the others rested.
I remained in the front line trench, and not in these “island posts,” as they are called. They were “islands” in more senses than one, as they were quite surrounded by water as well as being isolated from the next one.
Usually the lines of trenches are connected by communication trenches, up which you walk. These trenches had them, but they were full of water.
I was able to sleep in a small “dug-out” with two other officers. I was able to take my boots off and dry my feet, and put on a dry pair of socks, so consequently was able to keep more or less warm.
We had breakfast at about 9 o’clock, and had, what do you think? Two eggs and bacon fried on a trench fire (which consists of a bucket with coke in it) bread, jam and coffee.
For dinner we had hot soup, some sort of kidney and steak pie, also hot bottled pears, biscuits, cheese, and cocoa. Tea and supper were run into one, and consisted of hot soup, hot stew, bottled greengages, biscuits and cheese, and tea.
I was never more surprised in my life when I got my share. This was all in a water-logged trench with on the average, one foot of water in it, and all rations and supplies have to be brought up the same way as we came.
We started back at nine o’clock, and this time we were guided on to a road, or rather tracks which at one time had been a road, and was still quite nice to walk along in place of that nightmare of a journey which we had up.
We got to the gum boot house in three quarters of an hour instead of 2 ¾, which was a great improvement, and got into our billets at 11 o’clock. Most of the men were rather tired, but they sang all the way back as soon as they got on the main road and out of sight of the German trenches.
The German trenches in that part of the line were about 150 to 200 yards away, and any attack from either side was quite out of the question.
I don’t think we shall go into these particular trenches again; they are quite the worst on the line; none of the others are nearly so bad, and you can get into them by daylight; these you could not unless you practically swam!
We moved back to these billets yesterday in motor ‘buses, and are now out of the noise of the guns.
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