Another milestone has been set!
It is only Thursday and here you have it: a new and wonderful post in this outstanding weekly Series. Peixoto: this time even you have to agree this deserves some kind of reward. By the way, we have an Ambush Blitz tournament coming up in October, in Lisbon, and some last minute painting may be needed...
Did I really say in my last post that this time I was going to tell you about the ups and downs of trench warfare?
Well, I am sorry to have misled you guys. Although I searched the book “Storm of Steel” over and over again, I could only find the “downs”. I think somebody excluded the “ups” from my edition.
(The Good Life)
As I mentioned in my last post, EJ and his group of merry friends arrived at the western front (in December 1914) full of illusions and hopes for everlasting glory.
However, a diet of hard work and endless shelling brought back reality real quick. It seems that the soil in Champagne is somewhat chalky – it was right there they had to dig their trenches. At dusk those guys had to stand to arms in the trench, ready for anything. Between 10 pm and 6 am only two men out of a whole platoon were allowed to sleep – giving each soldier two hours sleep. Two hours sleep was only theoretically, it seems, since they had to awake early to fetch straw or do any other chore that needed to be done (like going for food, coffee, water, or the newspaper…well, maybe not the newspaper).
Sentry duty at night was also a popular occupation for everybody, especially when it rained. When finally the trooper was allowed any rest, he had to crawl into a dugout – meaning a hole dug in the chalk, facing the trench, with constant dripping inside it.
And of course, the veterans did not miss any opportunity to remind the recruits what they were (recruits...), by the way of giving them every tedious, unpleasant or hard work available. But do not think It was everyday the same thing. No way, since the lucky ones had the opportunity to deepen communication trenches at night, immersed in mud and water up to…wherever.
As you can see, there seemed to be fun and games for everybody to go around.
When removed from the front, EJ and his buddies had other distractions. Catching up on their sleep and thoroughly cleaning their kit. Drilling was also daily and plentiful.
Our hero becomes disillusioned by this state of affairs. Boredom sets in and he considered it more dangerous to a soldier than the proximity of death. He considered the system of defence used as deleterious – the true defence lied, in his opinion, in the condition and courage of the men behind the trenches, not on their scale or dimension.
These were big words, coming from a recruit. This guy had the bad luck, during one of his sentry duties, to fall asleep. Well, his duty officer found him in that condition and snatched his weapon from him. Afterwards, he made EJ walk to the French posts holding only a pickaxe – an adventure that almost proved fatal for him.
It is always the same thing with most guys that volunteer for the army in time of war. They think it will be all about parading their new uniform, fending off the inevitable numerous chasing girls and killing enemies by the dozens.
When the bullets start meeting the meat (I love this expression…) most recruits wonder to themselves: “nobody actually told us we could get maimed or killed out here!” or “are those guys really allowed to fire at us?” or something in the neighbourhood of that. I say “to themselves” because nobody actually cared about what recruits had to say, anyway.
Mind you, EJ was not the whining type, as you will notice later on, but he sure suffered the usual “shock and awe” thing in his first real battle.
Well, this was the “good life” EJ occasionally had, while serving in the front line.
In my next post, I will tell you something more about the “bad life” he had.