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Over the Front in an Aeroplane and Scenes Inside t

Replied the soldier into the telephone


Meantime the rain came down in torrents and began to leak through the thin plank roofing in little streams which were very hard to dodge.

The Lieutenant showed us a bomb-proof which he had just begun to build into the earth wall of the cellar, behind the stack of shells. He was going to cover it with a concrete roof, pile a few feet of earth on top of that, then some sand-bags, and top the whole off with boulders, so as to make any shell hitting it explode at once on the surface, instead of boring half-way down before exploding. He was doing all this work with his eight men at night when they were not handling the gun. During the day they slept except when, as now, they wanted to disturb the sleep of the enemy. This bomb-proof was only meant for refuge when the Germans began bombarding him. The men's regular sleeping-quarters were a little to the rear.

And still the rain came down, the air became raw and cold, and the little waterfalls became harder and harder to dodge. But the man at the telephone squatted patiently by the wall, and his seven mates chatted placidly together in incomprehensible Flemish, switching instantly to French when answering any question the Lieutenant put to them.

The Lieutenant explained how the gun was aimed, the sighting device showing a stake in line with a church steeple; only as there was nothing to be seen in front of Julia except an earth bank and ten feet of false hedge, it stands to reason that stake and steeple were behind her and appeared, not through a telescope as I had just stupidly thought, but as a reflection in a mirror--which is the way all well-conducted howitzers are aimed.

Finally, after an hour's wait the Lieutenant rang up his Major on the telephone and asked whether anything was amiss with the Captain. No; the Captain was only linking up a new telephone connection nearly four kilometres in front of us.

The Lieutenant pointed out a false hedge some hundred yards behind us.

"That is exceedingly dangerous for us here," he explained. "It is much too close to us. It should be at least 150 yards further removed. If it draws the German fire, as it is intended to do, that fire is just as apt to hit us as the false hedge. It was put up as a protection to another gun which was off there to the right, but it's a very uncomfortable thing to have near us, especially before we have a bomb-proof to crawl into."

"Ting--aling--aling!" went the telephone bell. The soldier listened. "The Captain says, 'Are you all ready?'"

"Tell him 'yes'," replied the Lieutenant.

"Aim for 3,750 metres," repeated the soldier at the telephone.

The Lieutenant and a couple of his men busied themselves around the sight and elevating cranks of the gun. Another man removed a leather cap which had been fitted over Julia's nose to keep the rain out.

I was busy sticking cotton wool in my ears.

"The Captain says to say when you are ready and he will give the order to fire."

"All ready," said the Lieutenant, backing away from Julia and holding a thick white cord in his hand which ran from her to him.

"All ready," replied the soldier into the telephone.

"Tirez!" ("Fire!") said he a fraction of a second later.

The Lieutenant's arm gave a jerk, the whole front of the shelter was a mass of blood-red flame, there was a bellow of sound, the barrel of the great gun ran smoothly three feet or so back into the cellar and then smoothly forward again. There was a rush of air around my legs.


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