After my delightful few days of leave, things moved fast. I was back in Dover just two days when I, with two hundred other men, was sent to Winchester. Here we were notified that we were transferred to the Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment.
This news brought a wild howl from the men. They wanted to stop with the Fusiliers. It is part of the British system that every man is taught the traditions and history of his regiment and to know that his is absolutely the best in the whole army. In a surprisingly short time they get so they swear by their own regiment and by their officers, and they protest bitterly at a transfer.
Personally I didn't care a rap. I had early made up my mind that I was a very small pebble on the beach and that it was up to me to obey ord
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Title: A Yankee in the Trenches
Author: R. Derby Holmes
Release Date: August 25, 2004 [EBook #13279]
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK A YANKEE IN THE TRENCHES ***
Produced by Janet Kegg and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed
IN THE TRENCHES
R. DERBY HOLMES
CORPORAL OF THE 22D LONDON BATTALION OF THE
QUEEN'S ROYAL WEST SURREY REGIMENT
ILLUSTRATED FROM PHOTOGRAPHS
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
TO MARION A. PUTTEE, SOUTHALL, MIDDLESEX, ENGLAND, I DEDICATE THIS BOOK AS A TOKEN OF APPRECIATION FOR ALL THE LOVING THOUGHTS AND DEEDS BESTOWED UPON ME WHEN I WAS A STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
I have tried as an American in writing this book to give the public a complete view of the trenches and life on the Western Front as it appeared to me, and also my impression of conditions and men as I found them. It has been a pleasure to write it, and now that I have finished I am genuinely sorry that I cannot go further. On the lecture tour I find that people ask me questions, and I have tried in this book to give in detail many things about the quieter side of war that to an audience would seem too tame. I feel that the public want to know how the soldiers live when not in the trenches, for all the time out there is not spent in killing and carnage. As in the case of all men in the trenches, I heard things and stories that especially impressed me, so I have written them as hearsay, not taking to myself credit as their originator. I trust that the reader will find as much joy in the cockney character as I did and which I have tried to show the public; let me say now that no finer body of men than those Bermondsey boys of my battalion could be found.
I think it fair to say that in compiling the trench terms at the end of this book I have not copied any war book, but I have given in each case my own version of the words, though I will confess that the idea and necessity of having such a list sprang from reading Sergeant Empey's "Over the Top." It would be impossible to write a book that the people would understand without the aid of such a glossary.
It is my sincere wish that after reading this book the reader may have a clearer conception of what this great world war means and what our soldiers are contending with, and that it may awaken the American people to the danger of Prussianism so that when in the future there is a call for funds for Liberty Loans, Red Cross work, or Y.M.C.A., there will be no slacking, for they form the real triangular sign to a successful termination of this terrible conflict.
R. DERBY HOLMES.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
I JOINING THE BRITISH ARMY
II GOING IN
III A TRENCH RAID
IV A FEW DAYS' REST IN BILLETS
V FEEDING THE TOMMIES
VI HIKING TO VIMY RIDGE
VII FASCINATION OF PATROL WORK
VIII ON THE GO
IX FIRST SIGHT OF THE TANKS
X FOLLOWING THE TANKS INTO BATTLE
XII I BECOME A BOMBER
XIII BACK ON THE SOMME AGAIN
XIV THE LAST TIME OVER THE TOP
XV BITS OF BLIGHTY
XVI SUGGESTIONS FOR "SAMMY"
GLOSSARY OF ARMY SLANG
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Corporal Holmes in the Uniform of the 22nd London Battalion, Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment, H.M. Imperial Army Frontispiece
Reduced Facsimile of Discharge Certificate of Character
A Heavy Howitzer, Under Camouflage
Over the Top on a Raid
Cooking Under Difficulties
Head-on View of a British Tank
Corporal Holmes with Staff Nurse and Another Patient, at Fulham Military Hospital, London, S.W.
Corporal Holmes with Company Office Force, at Winchester, England, a Week Prior to Discharge
A YANKEE IN THE TRENCHES
JOINING THE BRITISH ARMY
Once, on the Somme in the fall of 1916, when I had been over the top and was being carried back somewhat disfigured but still in the ring, a cockney stretcher bearer shot this question at me:
"Hi sye, Yank. Wot th' bloody 'ell are you in this bloomin' row for? Ayen't there no trouble t' 'ome?"
And for the life of me I couldn't answer. After more than a year in the British service I could not, on the spur of the moment, say exactly why I was there.
To be perfectly frank with myself and with the reader I had no very lofty motives when I took the King's shilling. When the great war broke out, I was mildly sympathetic with England, and mighty sorry in an indefinite way for France and Belgium; but my sympathies were not strong enough in any direction to get me into uniform with a chance of being killed. Nor, at first, was I able to work up any compelling hate for Germany. The abstract idea of democracy did not figure in my calculations at all.
However, as the war went on, it became apparent to me, as I suppose it must have to everybody, that the world was going through one of its epochal upheavals; and I figured that with so much history in the making, any unattached young man would be missing it if he did not take a part in the big game.
I had the fondness for adventure usual in young men. I liked to see the wheels go round. And so it happened that, when the war was about a year and a half old, I decided to get in before it was too late.
On second thought I won't say that it was purely love for adventure that took me across. There may have been in the back of my head a sneaking extra fondness for France, perhaps instinctive, for I was born in Paris, although my parents were American and I was brought to Boston as a baby and have lived here since.
Whatever my motives for joining the British army, they didn't have time to crystallize until I had been wounded and sent to Blighty, which is trench slang for England. While recuperating in one of the pleasant places of the English country-side, I had time to acquire a perspective and to discover that I had been fighting for democracy and the future safety of the world. I think that my experience in this respect is like that of most of the young Americans who have volunteered for service under a foreign flag.
I decided to get into the big war game early in 1916. My first thought was to go into the ambulance service, as I knew several men in that work. One of them described the driver's life about as follows. He said:
"The blessés curse you because you jolt them. The doctors curse you because you don't get the blessés in fast enough. The Transport Service curse you because you get in the way. You eat standing up and don't sleep at all. You're as likely as anybody to get killed, and all the glory you get is the War Cross, if you're lucky, and you don't get a single chance to kill a Hun."
That settled the ambulance for me. I hadn't wanted particularly to kill a Hun until it was suggested that I mightn't. Then I wanted to slaughter a whole division.
So I decided on something where there would be fighting. And having decided, I thought I would "go the whole hog" and work my way across to England on a horse transport.
One day in the first part of February I went, at what seemed an early hour, to an office on Commercial Street, Boston, where they were advertising for horse tenders for England. About three hundred men were earlier than I. It seemed as though every beach-comber and patriot in New England was trying to get across. I didn't get the job, but filed my application and was lucky enough to be signed on for a sailing on February 22 on the steam-ship Cambrian, bound for London.
We spent the morning of Washington's Birthday loading the horses. These government animals were selected stock and full of ginger. They seemed to know that they were going to France and resented it keenly. Those in my care seemed to regard my attentions as a personal affront.
We had a strenuous forenoon getting the horses aboard, and sailed at noon. After we had herded in the livestock, some of the officers herded up the herders. I drew a pink slip with two numbers on it, one showing the compartment where I was supposed to sleep, the other indicating my bunk.
That compartment certainly was a glory-hole. Most of the men had been drunk the night before, and the place had the rich, balmy fragrance of a water-front saloon. Incidentally there was a good deal of unauthorized and undomesticated livestock. I made a limited acquaintance with that pretty, playful little creature, the "cootie," who was to become so familiar in the trenches later on. He wasn't called a cootie aboard ship, but he was the same bird.
Perhaps the less said about that trip across the better. It lasted twenty-one days. We fed the animals three times a day and cleaned the stalls once on the trip. I got chewed up some and stepped on a few times. Altogether the experience was good intensive training for the trench life to come; especially the bunks. Those sleeping quarters sure were close and crawly.
We landed in London on Saturday night about nine-thirty. The immigration inspectors gave us a quick examination and we were turned back to the shipping people, who paid us off,—two pounds, equal to about ten dollars real change.
After that we rode on the train half an hour and then marched through the streets, darkened to fool the Zeps. Around one o'clock we brought up at Thrawl Street, at the lodgings where we were supposed to stop until we were started for home.
The place where we were quartered was a typical London doss house. There were forty beds in the room with mine, all of them occupied. All hands were snoring, and the fellow in the next cot was going it with the cut-out wide open, breaking all records. Most of the beds sagged like a hammock. Mine humped up in the middle like a pile of bricks.
I was up early and was directed to the place across the way where we were to eat. It was labeled "Mother Wolf's. The Universal Provider." She provided just one meal of weak tea, moldy bread, and rancid bacon for me. After that I went to a hotel. I may remark in passing that horse tenders, going or coming or in between whiles, do not live on the fat of the land.
I spent the day—it was Sunday—seeing