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World War One


A Yankee in the Trenches







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A YANKEE IN THE TRENCHES

By R. DERBY HOLMES CORPORAL OF THE 22D LONDON BATTALION OF THE QUEEN'S ROYAL WEST SURREY REGIMENT

ILLUSTRATED FROM PHOTOGRAPHS

BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1918

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Dedication

TO MARION A. PUTTEE, SOUTHALL, MIDDLESEX, ENGLAND, I DEDICATE THIS BOOK AS A TOKEN OF APPRECIATION FOR ALL THE LOVING THOUGHTS AND DEEDS BESTOWED UPON ME WHEN I WAS A STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND

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FOREWORD

I have tried as an American in writing this book to give the public a complete view of the trenches and life on the Western Front as it appeared to me, and also my impression of conditions and men as I found them. It has been a pleasure to write it, and now that I have finished I am genuinely sorry that I cannot go further. On the lecture tour I find that people ask me questions, and I have tried in this book to give in detail many things about the quieter side of war that to an audience would seem too tame. I feel that the public want to know how the soldiers live when not in the trenches, for all the time out there is not spent in killing and carnage. As in the case of all men in the trenches, I heard things and stories that especially impressed me, so I have written them as hearsay, not taking to myself credit as their originator. I trust that the reader will find as much joy in the cockney character as I did and which I have tried to show the public; let me say now that no finer body of men than those Bermondsey boys of my battalion could be found.

I think it fair to say that in compiling the trench terms at the end of this book I have not copied any war book, but I have given in each case my own version of the words, though I will confess that the idea and necessity of having such a list sprang from reading Sergeant Empey's "Over the Top." It would be impossible to write a book that the people would understand without the aid of such a glossary.

It is my sincere wish that after reading this book the reader may have a clearer conception of what this great world war means and what our soldiers are contending with, and that it may awaken the American people to the danger of Prussianism so that when in the future there is a call for funds for Liberty Loans, Red Cross work, or Y.M.C.A., there will be no slacking, for they form the real triangular sign to a successful termination of this terrible conflict.

R. DERBY HOLMES.

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CONTENTS

FOREWORD

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

I JOINING THE BRITISH ARMY

II GOING IN

III A TRENCH RAID

IV A FEW DAYS' REST IN BILLETS

V FEEDING THE TOMMIES

VI HIKING TO VIMY RIDGE

VII FASCINATION OF PATROL WORK

VIII ON THE GO

IX FIRST SIGHT OF THE TANKS

X FOLLOWING THE TANKS INTO BATTLE

XI PRISONERS

XII I BECOME A BOMBER

XIII BACK ON THE SOMME AGAIN

XIV THE LAST TIME OVER THE TOP

XV BITS OF BLIGHTY

XVI SUGGESTIONS FOR "SAMMY"

GLOSSARY OF ARMY SLANG

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Corporal Holmes in the Uniform of the 22nd London Battalion, Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment, H.M. Imperial Army Frontispiece Reduced Facsimile of Discharge Certificate of Character A Heavy Howitzer, Under Camouflage Over the Top on a Raid Cooking Under Difficulties Head-on View of a British Tank

Corporal Holmes with Staff Nurse and Another Patient, at Fulham Military Hospital, London, S.W.

Corporal Holmes with Company Office Force, at Winchester, England, a Week Prior to Discharge

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A YANKEE IN THE TRENCHES

CHAPTER I

JOINING THE BRITISH ARMY

Once, on the Somme in the fall of 1916, when I had been over the top and was being carried back somewhat disfigured but still in the ring, a cockney stretcher bearer shot this question at me:

"Hi sye, Yank. Wot th' bloody 'ell are you in this bloomin' row for? Ayen't there no trouble t' 'ome?" And for the life of me I couldn't answer. After more than a year in the British service I could not, on the spur of the moment, say exactly why I was there.

To be perfectly frank with myself and with the reader I had no very lofty motives when I took the King's shilling. When the great war broke out, I was mildly sympathetic with England, and mighty sorry in an indefinite way for France and Belgium; but my sympathies were not strong enough in any direction to get me into uniform with a chance of being killed. Nor, at first, was I able to work up any compelling hate for Germany. The abstract idea of democracy did not figure in my calculations at all.

However, as the war went on, it became apparent to me, as I suppose it must have to everybody, that the world was going through one of its epochal upheavals; and I figured that with so much history in the making, any unattached young man would be missing it if he did not take a part in the big game.

I had the fondness for adventure usual in young men. I liked to see the wheels go round. And so it happened that, when the war was about a year and a half old, I decided to get in before it was too late.

On second thought I won't say that it was purely love for adventure that took me across. There may have been in the back of my head a sneaking extra fondness for France, perhaps instinctive, for I was born in Paris, although my parents were American and I was brought to Boston as a baby and have lived here since.

Whatever my motives for joining the British army, they didn't have time to crystallize until I had been wounded and sent to Blighty, which is trench slang for England. While recuperating in one of the pleasant places of the English country-side, I had time to acquire a perspective and to discover that I had been fighting for democracy and the future safety of the world. I think that my experience in this respect is like that of most of the young Americans who have volunteered for service under a foreign flag.........

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