Magnificent Britain is a novel in three parts which spans the twentieth century. You can read the beginning of Part One in the Amazon Kindle Store but this excerpt is from the start of Part Three.
I was presented to Captain Temple-Smith, my Company Commander, who was courteously welcoming.
He told me that his battalion had been resting up in the reserve for several days and were going back into the front line that night.
We were given a meal, then at about 16.00 hours the company was paraded and Temple-Smith explained to his men the reason for my attachment to the battalion. We then marched up to the front line.
I was surprised to find
that for several hundred yards the company travelled in open country alongside the communication trench without once venturing into it.
Temple-Smith explained that because of the constant rain the communication trench was waterlogged and it would be heavy going.
It was the end of an extremely foggy day and dusk was falling. Ahead of us, sudden, brief flashes of light flickered and glimmered dully through the murk indicating the position of the front line. A place of evil alchemy that induced shivers in me which I tried to put down to the February chill.
All sound was muffled by the fog, but as we approached nearer to the front the sporadic sounds of warfare became ever more intimidating.
I could hear heavy guns being discharged, shells bursting, rifle fire and even the occasional whistle of a bullet through the air.
We marched ‘at ease’ through the descending dark. I was surprised to find the officers and men engaging in desultory conversation as we marched. This had never happened in training. The relaxed camaraderie between officers and men sprang, I supposed, from them having experienced so many dangers together.
It was nearly 03.00 hours
when I finally collapsed into my hard little bunk in the dug out.
But sleep was impossible.
I was still lying awake, with my teeth chattering, when Stidges roused me just before dawn.
It was time for my first experience of the ritual known as ‘stand to.’
This always occurred half an hour before dawn and half an hour before dusk, as these were the likeliest times for the Bosche to launch a full scale attack taking advantage of the half light.
The men were roused and paraded and then the order to ‘stand to’ was given throughout the whole front.
Sentries would stand on the fire steps and prepare to repel any enemy advance. They would remain there for about an hour until the threat of an attack had passed. It was always a very tense period. However, I was told later that a full scale attack was a rarity and was always preceded by an intense bombardment.
Nevertheless, on that first morning I fully expected an enemy attack and I was completely keyed up.
The men had been on ‘stand to’ for about twenty minutes when suddenly, as dawn broke, a German machine gun swept our trench with its fire. Bullets buried themselves in the topmost sandbags of our parapet, flinging dirt into everyone’s faces. The men swore in the crudest terms. I looked to the other officers, expecting them to admonish the men, but they said nothing. Almost immediately, a Vickers machine gun on our side returned fire.
When the machine guns stopped firing I truly understood for the first time that silence has its own distinctive sound.
I must have been as white as a sheet. Temple-Smith glanced at me and said with a smile, ‘Just our way of saying “Good Morning”, Brearley.’
Magnificent Britain by Michael Murray http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007A4F71G