Keep in touch
By Parson Thru
After a while, you get used to the sound of the shelling. So it’s hard to imagine a world without it. I can usually tell ours from theirs – theirs often lands a way behind our line and ours often falls short. Doesn’t matter what maker’s stamp it has in the end.
I’m an old timer here. Me and my mates, being sappers, keep the thing in good order. Doesn’t mean we don’t go up, but we do it at night. Fix the defences up after they’ve been blown to hell. Bring the odd lost Tommy in. PBI. Poor bloody infantry. By the time they reach the line, they’ve just about reached the end of the line. That’s the trouble with a stalemate: the Brass just keep throwing them in. Not a lot come back.
We're attached. To a Regiment. Keep on top of it all for them. I started off with the West Yorks. Nice set of lads most of them. Had the Leeds lot – the Pals. Loiners. A bit rough and ready, some of them, but good-hearted. Wouldn’t trust them with the missus, like.
The ones that were left – and us – got pulled back for a while. Re-brigaded. We were with a Guards lot for a bit, but they had a rough time. Not long out of training. It’s all a matter of luck. If the Brass have got something in mind, that’s it really. Cannon-fodder. Machine-gun-fodder. Barbed-wire-fodder.
Gas. That’s what worries me most. When we came up, we passed a column of blokes going back – all gassed. What a mess. What a bloody mess. I don’t know what happened to them. Most of them blinded. But I looked at the shoulder-flashes – Engineers, Signals. With that stuff you don’t have to be out in NML. You can be sat down here on the latrine. If it’s coming your way, you’re going to get it.
Latrines. Funny how that used to turn my stomach. They don’t really work properly down here. You get used to the smell. Sometimes, when it gets rough, it’s hard to know whether it’s the latrines or some poor bugger with an abdominal wound. The corpses sometimes let go as well. I think it depends whether they’ve been that morning.
I managed to get a couple of letters off last week. We got pulled back for a few days. One for me mam and one to Mary. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of them for a year now. The Army isn’t bad at getting the letters through from home. One of my jobs on the unit is to work with the Admin to turn the mail round for the casualties. I don’t know what they do with it all. Send it back? Maybe they just burn it.
We don’t really talk about what we’ll do after all this anymore. I had a job on the railway. Could have kept it, but I volunteered. Locomotive Department. A filthy job. Not much better than this lot if I’m honest, but the prospects were better. I don’t like to think about it anymore.
They’re not a bad set of blokes here. East Lancs. My third lot. The officer’s alright with us. Not trying to make a name for himself. A teacher in peace-time. I don’t like to get too attached. That’s a mistake you make at the beginning. It’s worse with the blokes you trained with. I grew up in the same street as some of them. All gone now. Just a matter of time. When your luck runs out, that’s it.
Anyway, I need to get some shut-eye. We’re up top tonight. One thing about this – I can sleep through anything. Just about.