A Bruce Bairnsfather cartoon.
"My dug-out was on fire…"
From: Captain Norman C.S. Down, 14th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, quoted in Jon E. Lewis, The Mammoth Book of War Diaries and Letters; Life on the battlefield in the words of the ordinary soldier, 1775-1991, 1998
SAME PLACE, June 12th 1915
Still here, and no word of being relieved. That's only nineteen days that we've been in the front line without a relief, and we haven't lost more than two hundred men during the time, so we aren't doing so badly.
All the same, life's hardly worth living. From dewy dawn till the stars begin to peep the Hun shells us, shell after shell the whole day long, and we just have to sit and look pleasant. Our own artillery do their best, but all they can do is to polish their guns and think how nice it would be to have something to fire out of them. If only we could have the man here who said that there was no shortage of shells.
I'm not being very cheerful, am I, but at present I'm suffering rather badly from lack of sleep. This morning after "stand to" I told my servant to make me a cup of cocoa. Before it was ready I had fallen asleep and he had to wake me. I took the cocoa from him and tried to drink it, but it was too hot, and so I sat down and waited for it to cool. I must have fallen off again directly, as I woke up with a start to find scalding liquid tickling down my kilt and on to my bare knees. I didn't want to let my man see what a fool I had made of myself, so I raked up an old Tommy's Cooker and put a dixie of water on it. My dug-out was on fire when I woke up again, and I had to use all my remaining water to put it out. After this I gave up all idea of a hot drink and went to sleep on the sopping floor of the dug-out. Five or six hours later a small earthquake roused me to the fact that all around me was dark. This was astonishing for midday in June. A shell had closed up the dug-out door, an ungentlemanly thing to do, but better perhaps than coming in through the door. When my men dug me out they told me that this sort of thing had been going on for over an hour, and that they had retired to the far end of the trench, and had wondered why I didn't do likewise…
Later.–I've been hit, Phyllis, and am feeling a regular wounded 'ero. I was walking along the trench when there was a bang, and I was thrown forward on to my face. "You're hit, sir, hit in the back," said one of my men, and with a breathless haste my tunic and shirt was tom off, to disclose a shrapnel ball clinging lovingly to my spine in the midst of a huge bruise. The skin had just been scratched. Oh, I was sick, I had fully expected a nice cushy one, and a month down the line, with perhaps a fortnight's sick leave in England to top up with, and then to find it was the merest scratch. Oh, it was cruel. However, the news got round, and I had a message from battalion H.Q. asking whether they should send along a stretcher! And when I went down to the dressing station to get some iodine put on the wound the M.O. turned round to the orderly and said, "Just put some iodine on this officer's wound, will you. You'll find it if you look long enough". That put the lid on it. No more wounds for me. Till next time. Your wounded hero.