Eyewitness by Garrie Hutchinson Read Free Book Online

Book: Eyewitness by Garrie Hutchinson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Garrie Hutchinson
curved between grass which was like two green waves poised on either side.
    We battalions came to the four crossroads where there were trenches in the corn, by a crucifix of wood in a damaged brick shrine. There was much gun-fire. We waited.
    Late in the afternoon we were ordered forward. From his crucifix the Man of Sorrows watched our going. One wondered if His mild look was bent especially on those marked for death that day. We left the road at an old orchard, and entered a sap. We passed V.C. House and wound down V.C. Avenue. Shells fell rapidly.
    A bald man with a red moustache lay on a board, very still, his face to the wall. The sap was littered with rubbish, splintered wood and iron poking from the heaps of burnt earth. Here and there the sap was completely blown in. Then there were more dead. Further on, it was no sap, but a line of rubble heaps. We came to the Three-Hundred- Yard line. Then, issuing from a sally port, we dashed through the shrapnel barrage in artillery formation, and reached the front-line. Again we waited.
    A sad-faced man, sitting beside a body, said, ‘Sniper – my brother – keep under the parapet.’ Here the line was enfiladed (shot at) from the left flank where it curved.
    The 59 th and 60 th were in the line. They knew their orders by heart. They were to wave their bayonets and cheer, then remain quiet. Three times this would be done. It was a bluff. They would not go over.
    When this had been done once, the order to attack ran from mouth to mouth. ‘Over the bags in five minutes – over the bags in five minutes’; so it passed along. Then, ‘Over you go.’
    The 60 th climbed on the parapet, heavily laden, dragging with them scaling ladders, light bridges, picks, shovels and bags of bombs. There was wire to go through, and sinking ground; a creek to cross, more marsh and wire; then the German line.
    Scores of stammering German machine-guns spluttered violently, drowning the noise of the cannonade. The air was thick with bullets, swishing in a flat lattice of death. There were gaps in the lines of men – wide ones, small ones. The survivors spread across the front, keeping the line straight. There was no hesitation, no recoil, no dropping of the unwounded into shell holes. The bullets skimmed low, from knee to groin, riddling the tumbling bodies before they touched the ground. Still the line kept on.
    Hundreds were mown down in the flicker of an eyelid, like great rows of teeth knocked from a comb, but still the line went on, thinning and stretching. Wounded wriggled into shell holes or were hit again.
    Men were cut in two by streams of bullets. And still the line went on.
    The 59 th were watching from the breastwork. Here one man alone, there two or three, walked unhurrying, with the mien of kings, rifles at the high port and tipped with that foot of steel which carries the spirit of an army – heads high, that few, to meet the death they scorned. No fury of battle but a determined calm bore them forward. Theirs was an unquestioning self-sacrifice that held back nothing. They died, all but one or two who walked through the fire by a miracle. A few had fallen behind in the marsh, exhausted by the weight they carried. Some had fallen in the creek, and under their heavy equipment could not mount the slippery banks. There were also some slightly wounded.
    Fifty-six remained of a full thousand. It was over in five minutes.
    And then the 59 th rose, vengeful, with a shout – a thousand as one man. The chattering, metallic staccato of the tempest of hell burst in nickelled gusts. Sheaves and streams of bullets swept like whirling knives. There were many corpses hung inert on our wire, but the 59 th surged forward, now in silence, more steadily, more precise than on parade. A few yards and there were but two hundred marching on. The rest lay in heaps and bloody swathes. They began firing at the German line as they advanced. Lewis gunners dropped into shell holes and fired burst after

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