Excerpt from "Into The Jaws of Death"

by Private Jack O'Brien

A Narrative History of The Battalion
From The Letters of Edgar Robert "Bob" Goddard

Part 1

MY COMRADES, AND WHAT BECAME OF THEM,
AS TOLD TO ME IN LETTERS, BY MY OLD CHUM BOB GODDARD.

DEAR JACK

Well, you certainly had a pretty tough time in Germany, and I don't envy your experience. And now you want to hear what we did after you were taken prisoner, and what became of the bunch that you and I knew so well. It's not pleasant to recall the things that happened, Jack, but I'll do my best. Let me see; the Battle of St. Eloi was the last scrap you took part in. Well, after that things cooled down a bit, but we still took our turn in the trenches on that part of the line. No. 10 Platoon was still intact. We missed poor old Woodrow, and his chum Fred went around looking like a ghost. The latter had never gotten over his experience in No Man's Land, his eyes were sunken in his head, and he was nothing but a wreck. One night, when we were in reserves in Dickiebush, a few of us were talking and saying how lucky our little bunch had been, when at that minute an order came in sending us out on a working party. Fritz had gotten busy and blown down a section of our front lines, and the boys holding this spot had no protection, so we were being sent up to repair the damage. I guess Fritz was sore, for our Stokes light trench mortars and heavies had been pounding the German trenches all day long. Well, we were told off in small parties to carry up sandbags, corrugated iron, picks and shovels, to repair the line.

Our little bunch consisted of Tommy, Bink, Scottie, Bob Richardson, Newell, McMurchie, and one or two others whom you do not know. (Note from Web Master: 73136 Private Thomas Richard "Tommy" Gamman, Private (later Lt.) Basil Ward "Bink" Binkly, 73195 Private Robert "Bob" Richardson, 73140 Private Samuel Newell) "Flare-pistol Bill" was in charge, of course; and just our luck, we had to carry the corrugated iron (and damned awkward stuff it is), it's too wide to carry through the trenches, so we had to go overland-and I tell you, the machine gun fire was wicked. The boys holding the trenches had a lot of casualties. Well, we got our loads and started off in and out of shell holes. Tommy fell into a hole that was full of water and got soaked; and Chappie, with his poor eyesight, if he fell once, he fell at least a dozen times. We went along cursing our hard luck, and making the best time we could, for the bullets were flying mighty thick. Flares were going up every few minutes, and every time one went up we would "freeze" till it went out again. At last we got quite close to the front line, and when Fritz sent up a flare it would fall right behind us. They couldn't help seeing us, for we made a lovely target with those big slabs of corrugated iron on our heads. The machine guns just ripped lead at us, and we were hurrying to get to the trench, when young Blair got it through the thigh. He started to yell at the top of his voice; and Scottie, who happened to be next in line, cussed him roundly for the noise he was making. We would likely have been all killed if he hadn't shut up. Well, they bound him up and carried him out, and the rest of us went on.

We hadn't gone fifty feet when Scottie went down with a crash, just in front of me. I crawled up to him, and he was badly hit-the blood was pouring from his mouth, and he mumbled "Stretcher bearer." Flare-pistol Bill went on to the trench to hunt up one, and I crawled back to see if I could find the one who had come up with us. Before I got back with Bob the stretcher bearer from the trench had fixed Scottie up as well as he could. Poor Scottie! his jaw was shattered. Bink insisted on carrying Scottie out on his shoulders, and they started. But before going halfway Bink played out, and when Scottie saw that Bink was all in he got down and walked to the dressing station. Say, that boy was sure game. By the way, he's in Blighty now. Well, the rest of us got through safely; we fixed up our trench and managed to get back to our supports. A few nights later we made another trip to the front lines, and this was disastrous for No. 10. First of all, Tucker got shot in the face while on a wiring party; then Jack Branch was on a working party behind the trench when Fritzie started shelling, and he got a shrapnel bullet through his arm. We bound him up, and he was in great pain, but he smiled all the time. As he went out, he said, "I'll give your love to all the girls at Shorncliffe." I thought, "Well, isn't this a hell of a war, when a man can be pleased over getting a bloomin' big hole through his arm?" Later that same night Tommy Gammon was on sentry go, and I was sleeping in the dugout behind him, when Corporal Banks came in and woke me. He said, "Do you want to see Tommy? He's hit." Gee, I jumped up in a hurry and ran down the trench to where Tommy was; but I breathed freely when I saw that it was only a hole through his arm - I was afraid he had got it bad. "How did you get it, Tommy?" I said. He said, "Oh, you know the sandbags we rolled out of the way to fire through last night? - well, I thought some one might be walking past and get a bullet through his bean, as a fellow had farther down the trench, so I put up my arm to roll the bag into place, and bingo! Fritzie was right on the job." I wrote to Tommy's mother that night and told her that I thought Tommy had a Blighty, and she came all the way out from Canada to see him. But he didn't get farther than our base hospital, and he was back to the trenches again in six months, so his mother did not see him after all.

Well, after Tommy left us, we were sent back to rest billets, and it was then that the Battle of Hooge started. We could hear the guns roaring and at night the whole sky on our left was lit up. The roads were jammed with machine guns, marching troops, cyclists, and cavalry while coming from the scene of battle was a constant stream of ambulances. Tales of what was going on came leaking through and we fully expected to be sent up. But we couldn't move without orders, and we thought we might just as well enjoy ourselves, so we got up an open air concert. It certainly was a dandy, and we had no end of a time. A lot of the old boys took part; and then some one got up and gave us a parody on "The Sunshine of Your Smile." It goes like this

"Oh, Fritzie, that hands those Blighties out so free,

Just send a nice sweet cushy one to me

One that will strike me just below the knee.

Six months in Blighty--oh, how sweet ?twould be!

"Send me a shell with pellets nice and round;

Scatter them, all but one, upon the ground;

Send me that one, but let it come a mile,

And I will give you the sunshine of my smile."

This met with great applause, and we sang it till we all learned the words. The concert was scarcely over when our officers told us that word had come for us to be ready to move at a moment's notice. After talking to some of our wounded boys that had come back from the fighting, we began to realize that something very serious was happening. They told us that whole battalions of Canadians had been wiped out by shell fire. Fritzie had just blown everything to pieces before he advanced, just the same as he did at St. Eloi. We realized that our time on rest was likely to be cut short; so we got busy and spent all our money-and sure enough, next day the order came for us to move, and away we went along the road to V_____ just behind Ypres.

Continued


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