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Over the Front in an Aeroplane and Scenes Inside t

The Commandant and his orderly


It must have been comical to see the way in which the Commandant, his orderly and I did an Indian war-dance down that road, all three bent double. The Lieutenant must have caught the contagion from us, for, as more bullets came by, zeup! zeup! zeup! he doubled up himself. In a few seconds, however, he said we were out of sight again, and so we straightened up and walked forward proudly erect, although every little while when some bullets went by just over our heads we showed distinct tendencies to collapse anew.

Now we came to the communication trench and climbed down into it one after the other. It was very different from the French "boyaux," or communicating trenches. Those were dug a good seven feet deep almost everywhere, and never less than six feet. So that one could walk about in them at one's ease without paying any attention to the bullets that cracked up above. Only a shell plunging directly into one of these three feet wide, seven feet deep ditches could be dangerous.

But the Belgians could not dig down more than about two and one-half feet at the most without striking water. That, with an earth and sod rampart about two feet high, gave a protection never more than five feet at its highest and often under four feet in height. Now, it probably sounds very easy to keep sheltered while walking along behind four feet of ditch and parapet, but if any one tries it for more than five minutes at a time he will know what a real backache feels like.

This trench, which ran forward in very short abrupt zigzags, was floored with pieces of wicker-work to prevent sinking into the mud. The half-hour's rain had filled long stretches of it ankle-deep with water.

Crouched double, we waded along in single file, the Lieutenant, myself, the Commandant and his orderly. The bullets were striking some ruined farm buildings close on our left with sharp cracks. They hit the breastworks with muffled thuds and passed close over the breastwork with a kind of buzzing whistle. We paddled along till suddenly we came to a place where, for some unaccountable reason, the trench stopped, renewing itself again perhaps three or four yards further on. Across the unsheltered surface of the ground which intervened ran a slack telephone wire some two feet above the ground.

"You'd better hurry up across here," remarked the Lieutenant as he scrambled out of the trench, took a couple of strides, swung first one leg and then the other over the telephone wire, took a couple of strides more and dropped into the trench beyond.

There is not the slightest question as to the hurry in which I negotiated this obstacle. Then, to see what I must have looked like, I turned to watch the two who were following me. The Commandant, I must confess, managed to accomplish the feat in a fashion not wholly destitute of dignity. But the way his orderly bounded out of the trench, hurdled the telephone wire and with one lithe leap descended upon us in the other trench was a sight for sore eyes. It certainly must have drawn a chuckle from the German sharpshooters witnessing it through their telescopic sights.


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