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Trenches and Trees - Chapter 3, continued

We were introduced to a new sound in this sector, the faint plop of the trench mortar. The men on look-out listened intently for the plop and would dive for cover shouting "Sausage left!" or "Sausage right" as the case may be, and then every man would dart away in the opposite direction for the cover of a dug-out. We had quite a few men killed or badly wounded by these 'sausages'.

I recall a lively Cockney character, our Captain's batman, who had a great longing to possess a pair of riding breeches. He was always worrying the QM to get him a pair and whenever he came along the trench the chaps would greet him with "Now Cockney, have you got those breeches yet?" It became a great joke with us all till one day when we were chipping him the call came "Look out! Sausage left!" we all dived for cover but for once the quick witted Cockney was a bit slow, getting his head and shoulders in the dug-out but leaving his legs exposed. The 'sausage' fell with a terrific explosion right in the trench and the poor Cockney had both his legs blown to pulp.

The stretcher-bearers were soon on the scene and as they bore him away, still conscious, on a stretcher, he grinned and said wearily "Perhaps I'll get me breeches now!" He died before they got him to the dressing station. We were very upset at the loss of our cocky little pal - he was so full of life and humour, we always had a good laugh when he came along.

The next day I was busy with an oily rag and pull-through cleaning my rifle when the sergeant came up, the one who had given me my first pipe.

"That's right soldier," he observed, "always look after your rifle it's your best friend. You were on LP last night weren't you?"

"Yes, Sergeant."

"Well you won't have to do that again for a time. I've got a new job for you, the Captain wants you to be his batman."

"What me? I can't look after myself never mind a bloomin' officer."

"Well, he's picked you so you'd better go along and see him."

The Captain was a slightly built man, no bigger than myself, but he carried himself with a jaunty air and was really tough although he looked much too old to be out there. I thought he must have been at least fifty! I found him in a dug-out down a short sap of the main trench.

"Sergeant Brown told me to report to you Sir."

"Yes, that's right Williams. You are to be my batman."

"But Sir, I'm too green, I don't know anything about the job."

"Just a minute." The captain went to the entrance of the dug-out and called out "Brody." A thick-set sturdy figure of a man emerged from another dug-out some distance away. "Sir!"

"Brody, this is Williams, he's going to be my batman, show him the ropes will you?"

"Right Sir!" said Brody, and to me, "Come on soldier." He led me off to his dug-out and told me I should share it with him. "You'll be alright with the Captain, he's an old regular and a toff."

Dick Brody was a man of about thirty-five years, short and thick set with the face of an Indian Chief. He told me he was a gamekeeper in civilian life. If that meant he kept any game he came across I could have believed him, otherwise I'm sure he was a poacher. He was expert at making a fire with a minimum of smoke. This was very useful, as too much smoke usually prompted Jerry to contribute a 'sausage' to the cooking preparations.

Dick could make a very efficient oven out of a biscuit tin and clay and if there was nothing to roast, he would disappear from the trenches in the dead of night, returning quietly before dawn with a sack closely secured to his back with cord. No one ever found out where Dick got to on these night raids but he never came back empty handed and his officer and my captain fed very well. Rabbits, hare, chickens, ducks, eggs, vegetables and wine were among the things he scrounged and he served up some wonderful meals for the officers, always making sure that there was enough for us too.

I felt very anxious on one occasion when he failed to reappear in the trench before daylight. I attended to his officer's breakfast as well as the captain's that morning and on being asked "Where's Brody?" I replied "on the scrounge as usual Sir," and left it at that. About an hour or two later Dick arrived at our dug-out, very muddy and very tired. I got him some tea and grub and waited for him to explain what had gone wrong with his expedition.

Without disclosing exactly from where he had got it he told me that he had collected more than he could carry in one trip and having dumped his first load about half a mile behind the line he had gone back for a second sack full. Back at the source of supply he had nearly bumped into a patrolling sentry and had had to lie doggo before making a move. This delay meant that he could not get back over the top before daylight so he had hidden his second load and made his way to the nearest communication trench so that he could get home before 'Stand to' under cover. The only thing that upset Dick about this escapade was the fact that we had to manage for whole day on our ordinary rations!

Later in the day he shocked me when he said "Soldier, we can't leave all that lovely grub lying out there."

"What do you mean - we?" I butted in.

"I mean you are coming over to help me tonight."

"Here, hold on Dick, I'm not risking getting court-martialled for deserting the line."

"You'll be alright Soldier, the Skipper will look after us."

"What about that cross-eyed Sergeant Major?"

"He knows when he's well off, he'll get his share."

That night when it got really dark we took off our equipment and secured sacks on our backs.

"First job," instructed Dick, "is to get into our 'reserve line' trench and then over the top. Just do what I do and you'll be alright and if anyone stops us, remember we're 'runners' on the way to brigade HQ."

He led the way, walking fast and without a sound, while I followed, feeling terribly exposed, my back in my imagination not being covered with a sack but with a target, the bulls-eye being in the small of my back. After a time we came to an old tree stump and some bushes. Fumbling in the bushes Dick pulled out a sack and transferred the contents to the sack on my back.

"Right," he said, "you lie in these bushes and wait for me, I shall not be long."

Lying there waiting for him to return I made up my mind that I was no good at this game and that wild horses would not draw me out of my trench again. Dick was away for about the longest hour I ever remember but at last he returned and we started on the way back.

We got back to the reserve line and along the communication trench without being questioned, Dick now and then anticipating curiosity by mumbling, in a disgruntled voice 'battalion runners!' Safely back in our dug-out I was completely exhausted and determined that never again would I go with Dick on his stunts, for I had been scared stiff all the time.

Written by Harry Williams © 1965, 2010. All rights are strictly reserved. This publication may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, typescript, recording or otherwise, without prior permission in writing. Scanned from the original typescript and edited by Leigh Graham.

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Trench Mortar.

A small mortar that throws large shells short distances, useful in trench warfare.

Batman.

An officer's personal attendant; a person in charge of a bathorse (historical).

[French bāt pack-saddle, and man]

Q.M. or Q.M.S.

abbreviation: Quartermaster.
An officer responsible for the food, clothing, and equipment of troops.

Jerry, also Gerry.

Although a nickname for German soldiers or the German armed forces that was originally created during World War I, Jerry it did not come in to common use until World War II.

Trench.

From late 1914 until nearly the end of the war the fighting consisted largely of trench warfare. The trenches consisted of parallel lines of interconnected trenches protected by lines of barbed wire.


diagram of typical trench layout