from the British newsmagazine ‘the Sphere’, August 4th, 1917
the Hand Grenade in the War

Bombing in Front of Ypres

from British and French magazines


Night lay on " Sandbag Village." The wind made a faint rustling at intervals in the trees overhead; through their branches it was just possible to see the lesser darkness of the sky. Down in the wood it was too dark to see at all, and movement was slow and tentative.

In the distance splashing sounds could be heard, which on growing nearer turned out to be a soldier feeling and wading his way down a small imitation of the canons of the Colorado. With difficulty he reached a darker shadow than the rest — a low and solidly-built dug-out.

He crawled through the door, struck a match, and lit the candle. His officer lay apparently dead on the ground. Gently but firmly he said the words, "Stand-to time, sir!" the "sirs" being repeated in a crescendo at intervals. After a minute or two the desired effect was produced — " Oh, for heaven's sake dry up, Bidley! Got my tea ? Fetch a cigarette — no, man, don't be an ass, they're on there ; that's it — and a match, thanks."

In one corner his lord and master absorbed hot tea and smoked, while in the other, 100,484, Private Ridley, Wessex, was turning what looked like a large game of spillikens into a set of equipment. This feat accomplished, he set to work scraping picturesque but surplus mud off his master. The tea was finished, and with one swift movement the sub was turned into the walking Selfridge's that it is deemed necessary for the modern officer to be. " Ridley, you will wait by my kit through the action; if we move either way you must have it packed ready, and bring it along — see? "

" Very good, sir."

"I'm going round to the Mess for orders; tell my men to stand to, at once, without packs."

"Yes, sir."

The Bombardo

The Mess was an imposing dug-out, built of the noble sandbag, and could dine the nine Headquarter officers. It was known as " H.Q." in conjunction with its little village of dug-outs, built so that one could go from one to another in a trench the whole way. From this point the Colonel commanded his battalion.

There was one other officer in the Mess; the others had not arrived yet. He greeted the arrival of the great Ridley's master with, "Cheero ! Pioneer. Who said a spot ?" answered by "Yoicks, Turnips, no bad notion !" The syphon fizzed, and there was silence for a few seconds. Turnips was the Battalion Sniping Officer. He had been a farmer — hence his name — and was a great, tall, sunburned man, with an eye that glinted on occasions and made one think. But he was a good-tempered old bird and a dead shot. "What time is the bombardo starting?" asked the Pioneer officer.

"Four ack-emma," replied Turnips in signallers' jargon (meaning four a.m.), "and the four mines go up half-an-hour after — some joy production I think — Eh, what?"

"I should say so."

"Are you out for a Military Cross?" asked Turnips with a grin.

"Not on purpose, I don't," said the Pioneer with a laugh, "all the same we never know what's comin' next. We shan't be up till midday, anyhow, as we are in support, and it ought to go top hole when you think of the bombardo and the four joy-producers."

"Good morning, all ranks!" and the Colonel and Adjutant, followed by the Senior Major, splashed vigorously into the Mess. In a few minutes the cheery mug of the "woild Oirishman," alias "Spud," or sometimes known as "Murphy the Doc," appeared in the doorway. Last, but not least, came " Machine Guns" and the "Bomber." Everyone being present, the H.Q. company was reported " standing-to." " Gentlemen," said the C.O., "we are in support — Headquarter officers will remain at Headquarters and await orders. The bombardment starts in half-an-hour! "

The Dug-out Rocks

The first salvo of shell screamed overhead; at once, as though a devil had pressed a button, the hellish racket was let loose. It seemed as though the night was rent by enormous trains travelling at maniac speed.

"Just on time for the mines," shouted the Pioneer, peering at his watch. " Another minute and a half," called the Machine Gunner. " Hope this old rat hole of your creation won't shake in, Pioneer." "You build a better," was the retort. As they sat round the table during those few seconds that preceded the mines, the gaiety left their faces, and in the flickering candle-light they looked a little drawn and very tense, though with no sign of fear.

Suddenly the dug-out rose, rocked, and sank again; a few seconds elapsed and the movement was repeated, accompanied by a great, deep, swelling growl. "They're up! They were to go up two and two," said the Bomber. "I expect a good many of the Huns are a bit thoughtful by this time. Our people ought to be in their front line by now," he went on after a second or two.

"Bombers Up at Once"

Dawn at last! Dank and grey the light filtered through the gaunt, almost leafless, boughs of the trees — stripped by the many bombardments to which they had borne silent witness.

The shelling round H.Q. was getting very heavy, and the Pioneer said that he preferred Brighton as a winter health resort. This helpful and interesting fact was disregarded as they awaited anxiously the reports on the progress of the attack. At first all went well; then they heard that the wire on the left had not been cut by the artillery, and that the 1st Mudshires were wiped clean out, after they had got through it and into their objective ; then the left of the 4th Mudshires was " left in the air," rolled up, and step by step they had to come back. Of course, the right had to come back, too. A sweating orderly dashed into the dug- out asking for the Adjutant, who seized the message and read out in a quiet, bored voice, " Reinforce our original first line with all available men ; situation critical. — Hendrick, Brigade Major."

"Machine-guns and bombers, up at once ; pioneers and snipers, act as ammunition and bomb- carriers till otherwise ordered. Proceed, gentlemen."

Very soon afterwards the Sniper and the Pioneer, who were now alone in the Mess, saw the companies go past, up the communication trench, with the curious, stooping shamble that is acquired so quickly by the trench-dweller. They greeted their friends and wished them luck as they went.

The intense gun-fire had slackened a bit during the last hour or so, but suddenly it burst out in renewed strength. The message came through that the Huns were counter-attacking. " This is where we start, old thing," said the Pioneer, who was becoming restive through the long nerve- racking wait. An H.Q. orderly came with their orders — more bombs were wanted in trench B3 and B4. Quickly, and without hitch, the men were collected in the trench and led down to the bomb store, where they were loaded up by some bombers in charge of it. Even the officers were loaded till they could walk only with difficulty. In the meantime shells were falling thick and fast; so great was the noise that one could not even hear the warning scream of their coming. Bits were falling all round the party like rain, and the bigger pieces fell with a loud whizzing smack. However, no one was hit, and they started off up the trench with that rapid, crouching gait. One bullet hit one of the bombs on a man; he blew absolutely clean away, for all his load went off, and he took four others with him. Five minutes later a sweating, praying, blaspheming, bloody carrying party splashed into the front line. All morning they went on, first bombs, then ammunition, backwards and forwards through that hell shell-fire. By midday the Hun attack was repulsed, and quiet reigned during the afternoon. The Pioneer got his men to work on loopholes and the Sniper rested near the bombs. "Damn it!" said the Pioneer, "I have only fifteen men left with all this work to do to-night."

Bombers Crawl Towards Fritz

Night had fallen again, the horrors of day were hidden once more, and the darkness falling silently permitted the men's tired eyes to see only the thrilling beauties of starlights and bursting shell. The shelling was not worth notice; both sides were hard at work rebuilding trenches, putting out wire, and helping the stretcher-bearers. The part of the line in which we are interested ran over the edge of a low ridge in a salient piercing the German line like a tongue; the bombardo had blown in the tip altogether, so that the two ends were "in the air," and we were forced to hold a little way back. Men were occupying the arms of the salient, which was hardly two hundred yards across, and the Pioneer was detailed to sap across the point to join up the old line. We find him out at the point. "Got your bombers ready ?" whispered he to the Bomber. "Sure, and I'm giving you the sergeant — you supply bayonet men ; I'll look you up later. Cheero!" was the reply. "So-long," said the Pioneer. "Sergeant, get a couple of bombers and bayonet men and we will reconnoitre this trench."

"Very good, sir." The bayonets and bombers came up, and very quietly and cautiously they crawled out over the debris; soon they got half-way across, keeping quite still when they heard the warning hiss of a light going up. They got right across without being fired on, and the men were sent for. Half-way over was a piece of trench five yards long, consisting of one traverse which had not been blown in. This the Pioneer made his point of defence in case of attack; the only trouble was that a tree had fallen across the trench and rather blocked connection with half his party on the left.

However, he posted three bombers in front of each half as a screen and they started working — and such work! in full kit, with their rifles on the parados, ready to be seized in an instant, and in profound silence ; not a whisper or click of shovel! " Sergeant, here a minute ; look at those tree stumps half right. Watch carefully !" "Yes, I see, sir; that's Fritz all right, and I can hear them too !"

Dim uncertain silhouettes were moving backwards and forwards amongst the stumps, bending low, and at intervals hammering could be heard or the patting of shovels on sandbags; they were only about twenty-five yards away. Now and then a whisper of conversation was heard. "Look again, sergeant, quick ! just below that short, white stump in front." Two motionless faces could be seen peering up at the light which was falling over-head. The next light they were crawling closer and closer. Just as the Pioneer had cocked his revolver the Bomber sank down near him and was shown the sights. He thought a minute, and the faint click of his revolver was heard. " I think they are going to joy stunt, old thing," he whispered. "Got fids of bombs? " asked the Pioneer. "Yes, rather, just you wait and listen." "I think it's time we gave those men a "45 a-piece. They are only ten yards away; anyhow, move very slowly." Imperceptibly two right arms crept up on to the parapet, two eyes lay along the sights waiting for a light. The two Huns sat in a small shell hole, not dreaming that the trench was occupied.

A German Ruse

Pang! Pang! Loud and harsh the two revolvers blazed in the silence, which had only been stirred by the liquid hiss of the V. lights and the murmur of distant gunning. The Pioneer saw his man give a little jump like a hiccough. As though these two death-dealing shots had hit a magazine of guncotton, the entire front woke to activity — a frightened cluster of Very lights shot up into the air. A long line of Hun bombers that had been just behind the officers sprang up and rushed forward, throwing bombs in great quantities, which burst with a harsh detonation and a great cloud of smoke. The two machine guns woke to life and vomited their appalling, nerve-shaking rattle overhead. Now the Germans were trying an attack!

"Stop, you infernal blighters! For God's sake, stop!" shrieked the Pioneer. A German had got in and was yelling " Retire " ; the pioneer sergeant thought it was his officer and had passed the order, having been a little excited. The Pioneer could do nothing to make himself heard. "As if they had not been told never to obey that command! " he wailed, meaning that nowadays, owing to the old Hun trick, the word "retire" is not used, but always "go back." "Bomber, old bird, we've got to lump it! I doubt if we get back."

"Look Out ! Shells !" They had a look at the Hun bombers, who were preparing another rush. "We shan't get back, sir," said the bombing sergeant, arranging bombs along the fire step and no whit disconcerted. The officers put a round in the empty chambers of their revolvers and watched the Huns.

"Look out! Shells !" shouted the Bomber. "The artillery have got the S.O.S. at last. By gad ! Salvo of direct hits! Six ins., too ! Ah, here come the Crumps," as theHuns' batteries replied.

"Hell! man, we're going to get hotted up !" — his last words drowned in the awful blast of shell from every gun on either side. Great sheets of red flame seared the smoke-laden air, which grew to a dense fog through which the Hun bombers and bayonet men tried to rush. Our little group, composed of the two officers, the sergeant, and the two bayonet men, were stranded between the lines. Suddenly the Bomber leapt from the trench, blazing at the oncoming Huns with his revolver. The Pioneer scrambled up to drag him in — a crescendo heaven-filling roar — crash — a hot, red blaze — the Pioneer felt a colossal whack just under his eye. Then he forgot himself too, and cursed wildly. In the thick smoke, made pearl-grey by Very lights, he could see grey figures running to and fro. He yelled, "Keep on the fire step, you blighters," and rushed madly up and down the traverse, firing his revolver at a great pace into the onrushing Huns, who were coming straight for the trench; then in despair he seized some bombs and started helping the sergeant throw them. It made him think of apple fights in orchards at home, and he laughed and threw more. Some of the Germans' bombs came very near, but none actually fell in the • trench, though half-a-dozen burst right on the parapet and parados.

Only Six Bombs Left

"That shell that landed near you and the bombing officer, sir — he is very badly wounded, so I told one of the men to take him back if he could." "All right; this shell fire seems to be bottling them up. I've never seen our artillery so on the spot, have you ?"

"No, sir, direct hits first salvo; of course, it's what they were on to before the attack, so they knew the range to a foot."

"No ammunition left, sir," shouted one of the men.

"Good heavens ! We have only six bombs and four rounds of revolver ammunition ; all we can do is to wait," said the Pioneer.

Interest had shifted from them to the front in general, and a heavy action was going on. The Pioneer sat silently in the bottom of the trench dabbing his eye and watching the dark edge of the parapet with four rounds to face a final assault. After twenty minutes' dragging suspense, waiting for the wild yells and bayonets of the Germans, the sergeant looked over the parapet and said gleefully, "They've gone back, sir; we've got a chance!" "Good egg !" was the answer. "I wonder when this fire will slacken. Look !"

They both knew what it was; a thin stream of sparks like a rocket could be seen high in the air — much higher than any light. They crouched down and held their ears. Swish — swish — swish! getting louder as it fell, came the huge projectile. Heavy thud, followed in a second by a terrific, soul-wrecking detonation, and the whine of the flying fragments.

"That was jolly close; and a ‘Rum - jar,' too !" said the Pioneer as the mud came down in a shower. The "Rum-jar" is a huge trench mortar shaped just like a rum-jar, only about half again as big. These began to fall about one every half-minute, and the remaining bayonet man got peppered, but not seriously. Slowly the fire died away. And with great care, worming their way back, they reached the trenches, in spite of the difficulty of the wounded man.

"Poor Old Bomber"

The Pioneer found his men, and was furiously bitter that they should not have made sure who gave the order, but he managed to forgive them after a while, and led the way back to the communicating trench with the few that remained. On the way they met a stretcher. The Pioneer raised the cover from the white and motionless face.

"He is dead, sir," said the stretcher-bearer.

"Poor old Bomber," said the Pioneer. "Lead on in front!"

Next morning, with a black eye, he went into the H.Q. Mess for breakfast. Everyone was there ; but there was a plate too many. On it was a letter. Slowly the Adjutant wrote, "Killed in Action," and replaced it. ...

"Scrambled eggs, please," said Turnips to the Mess orderly.


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