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Over the Front in an Aeroplane and Scenes Inside t

Past scores and scores of rifle slits


The

French trenches were practically hidden by the houses of the little village, so that the first thing I saw was a belt of barbed wire, and an unostentatious little white line, which marked the advanced German position. Look as closely as one could, it was impossible to detect the slightest movement, yet it was from this innocent-looking little line that the bullets were imitating toy whips. I wedged myself into the chimney to get a view of another side and then climbed down.

We now left the village and walked into the open advanced trenches. The most remarkable thing was their utter desolation. We walked for a hundred yards at a time, past scores and scores of rifle-slits, without seeing a man. An officer explained that troops are not permitted in the open trenches during the daytime, to save them needless loss from the shells, which each side all day long, in a desultory way, threw into the open trenches of the other.

The men stayed down in the shell-proof shelters all the day and manned the trenches at night, when attacks are most feared.

It seemed as if the Germans could easily rush these trenches before the men could be called out to meet them, but along the sides of every trench ran one or two telephone wires. Apparently one quick order would have these front trenches lined with men. We came to one of the points nearest the German lines, from where the German trenches seemed

a mere stone's-throw. From there French soldiers used to crawl out and fraternize with the Germans, between the lines, but that is now forbidden.

We next came through a covered trench to a covered grenade section. Here a table stood against the outer wall. It had three lines of sockets in it, one ahead of the other. The soldiers fastened grenades to the muzzles of their rifles, shoved the muzzles up through the protected slit in the roof, rested the butts in one of the three sockets, which gave three different ranges, and pulled the trigger. If there is a premature explosion they are saved from its effects by the muzzle being above the roof.

We continued on into a long section of the covered front trench, where the rifle-slits have wires stretched across them about three inches from the bottom. The soldiers must stick their rifles out under the wire, which prevents their overshooting in the night. These covered trenches are roofed with logs and covered with two or three feet of earth. They are proof against ordinary shells, but not against heavy artillery.

When that starts bombarding, the men climb down into excavations, fifteen feet below the level of the trenches, and wait there until the storm is over.

Soon we came to a black little underground chamber. An officer gave an order and a brilliant ray of light shot in through an aperture in the wall, near the low roof. This aperture was some three feet from one side to the other, and only about six or eight inches from top to bottom. It had been opened by dropping a hinged steel shutter which was worked by a wire running over a pulley. The aperture was just above the surface of the ground outside. In the little room stood a machine-gun with its wicked-looking muzzle just flush with the opening. The gunner showed us how, by swinging the gun from side to side, he could play a stream of bullets through the wire entanglements, a foot or two from the ground.

[Illustration: Page 51

THE AUTHOR IN A FRONT TRENCH NEAR RHEIMS. (THE GERMANS ARE ABOUT THREE HUNDRED YARDS BEYOND THE WIRE ENTANGLEMENTS)]

At regular intervals we passed watchers, some standing in the covered trenches gazing through the slits, some lying out above the open trenches behind steel shields, and some using periscopes--all depending on the location of the trench.


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