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Over the Front in an Aeroplane and Scenes Inside t

When they've destroyed the blockhouse completely


Almost

simultaneously with the report I heard with one ear the telephonist say, "Coup parti" ("The shot has left"), while with the other I listened to the long-drawn wheeze with which the projectile mounted into the sky on its mountain-high trajectory. In the second which had meanwhile elapsed one of the artillerymen had swung open the breech of the gun, another had taken out the now empty copper cylinder and placed it on the floor to the right of Julia, a third had lifted a new shell and with the aid of the second had run it into the breech, and a fourth had slipped in a fresh copper cylinder containing a full charge of three of the little cream-colored tape-coils. Whereupon the first artilleryman had swung to and locked the breech again.

"In eighteen seconds you should hear the shell explode," said the Lieutenant, taking his stand by the telephonist with an open notebook and pencil in his hands--"15, 16, 17, 18"--I finished counting. Boom! came the distant explosion.

A few seconds of silence.

"Plus 3," announced the telephonist, repeating an order from the distant Captain.

The Lieutenant made an entry in his notebook and simultaneously rattled off some figures like a football quarterback. The men worked over the sights and cranks, while my Commandant said to me: "That shot was too far to the right; plus 3 means five three-thousandths further to

the left."

"All ready," said the Lieutenant.

"All ready," repeated the telephonist, and then:

"Tirez!" and again the twitch of the white cord, the blood-red flame, the roar, the slow, easy recoil, the diminishing wheeze, the "Coup parti," the eighteen seconds' silence, and the distant boom.

"Plus 4," sang out the telephonist, and there was a mechanical repetition of operations. "The observer corrected the first shot about ten metres to the left, and, finding that was not enough, corrected the second shot another fifteen metres to the left. They'll edge along like that till they reach the blockhouse, destroying the trench to right of it on the way. Then, when they've destroyed the blockhouse completely, if that does not take up all the day's allowance of shells, they'll expend the remainder on knocking out the trench to the left of the blockhouse. To-day's allowance for Julia is twenty shells, and probably she will use up most of them on the blockhouse to make a thorough job of it."

"Tirez!" came the telephonist's voice, and as the roar was succeeded by silence, my Commandant exclaimed to me: "Filons!" French slang for which the American equivalent is, "Let us beat it!"

As I reluctantly crawled up into the rain after having shaken hands with the Lieutenant, my Commandant explained that the Germans would undoubtedly begin to search the immediate vicinity with their artillery to try to silence the gun which was throwing the "marmites" into them. As we had the provocative false hedge right behind us and no bomb-proof to crawl into, I had to agree that he was prudent.

And so we "beat it" through the downpour, sliding around in the oily Flemish mud, while the German guns began to drop whole kitchen-loads of "marmites" into a poor wrecked village five hundred yards to our left, from which they evidently suspected that our shots had come.

As we slithered along, drenched to the skin, toward the "Villa Beausejour" and our waiting motor, we could hear the Captain of 75's letting off salvo after salvo at the farm-house of which the prisoners had informed him, while behind us Julia continued to explode at half-minute intervals. There was all the difference in the world between the dry short report of the big howitzer and the hollower, sharper, more penetrating explosion of the 75's.


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