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Battle Lines

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Battle Lines
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Author(s): Boyd Cable
Date Published: 2010/06
Page Count: 316
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-099-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-100-3

Twenty seven stories of the men who fought the War of the Trenches

There are many well known authors of the fiction of war who have relied upon their imaginations to create their fiction. Not so the less familiar author of this book, who reveals in his introduction that these tales not only concerned the actions of men on the front line, but that he—as one of them—wrote these riveting and immediate stories within the sound of the German guns. His method was to take the often sparse and matter of fact nature of communiqués and officers’ reports and paint in for his reader the vital back story that is the authentic personal experience of war with which he was so familiar. Those interested in the Great War will find much in these stories, based in part on fact and gathered from two volumes published during the First World War itself, to engage them. Available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket for collectors.

And into this light passed a constant procession of wounded, some halting for no more than the brief seconds necessary for a glance at the placing of a bandage and an injection of an anti-tetanus serum, some waiting for long pain-laden minutes while a bandage was stripped off, an examination made, in certain cases a rapid play made with cruel-looking scissors and knives. Sometimes a man would walk to the table and stoop a bandaged head or thrust a bandaged hand or arm into the light. Or a stretcher would appear from the darkness and be laid under the light, while the doctors’ hands busied themselves about the khaki form that lay there.<br>
Some of the wounds were slight, some were awful and unpleasant beyond telling. The doctors worked in a high pressure of haste, but the procession never halted for an instant; one patient was hardly clear of the light-circle before another appeared in it. There were two doctors there—one a young man with a lieutenant’s stars on his sleeve; the other, apparently a man of about thirty, in bare arms with rolled-up shirt-sleeves. His jacket, hooked on the back of a broken chair, bore the badges of a captain’s rank. The faces of both as they caught the light were pale and glistening with sweat. The hands of both as they flitted and darted about bandages or torn flesh were swift moving, but steady and unshaking as steel pieces of machinery.<br>
Words that passed between the two were brief to curtness, technical to the last syllable. About them the dust motes danced in the light, the air hung heavy and stagnant, smelling of chemicals, the thick sickly scent of blood, the sharper reek of sweat. And everything about them, the roof over their heads, the walls around, the table under their hands, the floor beneath their feet, shook and trembled and quivered without cessation. And also without pause the uproar of battle bellowed and shrieked and pounded in their ears. Shells were streaming overhead, the closer ones with a rush and a whoop, the higher and heavier ones with long whistling sighs and screams. Shells exploding near them crashed thunderously and set the whole building rocking more violently than ever. The rifle and machine-gun fire never ceased, but rose and fell, sinking at times to a rapid spluttering crackle, rising again to a booming drum-like roll. The banging reports of bombs and grenades punctuated sharply the running roar of gun and rifle fire.<br>
Through all the whirlwind of noise the doctors worked steadily. Unheeding the noise, the dust, the heat, the trembling of the crazy building, they worked from dawn to noon, and from noon on again to dusk, only pausing for a few minutes at mid-day to swallow beef-tea and a biscuit, and in the afternoon to drink tepid tea. Early in the afternoon a light shell struck a corner of the roof, making a clean hole on entry and blowing out the other side in a clattering gust of flame and smoke, broken tiles and splintering wood. The room filled with choking smoke and dust and bitter blinding fumes, and a shower of dirt and fragments rained down on the floor and table, on the doctors, and on the men lying round the walls.<br>
At the first crash and clatter some of the wounded cried out sharply, but one amongst them chided the others, asking had they never heard a Fizz-Bang before, and what would the Doctor be thinking of them squealing there like a lot of schoolgirls at a mouse in the room? But later in the day there was a worse outcry and a worse reason for it. The second room was being emptied, the wounded being carried out to the ambulances that awaited them close by outside. There came suddenly out of the surrounding din of battle four quick car-filling rushes of sound—sh-sh-sh-shoosh—ba-ba-ba-bang! The shells had passed over no more than clear of the cottage, and burst in the air just beyond, and for an instant the stretcher-bearers halted hesitatingly and the wounded shrank on their stretchers.<br>
But next instant the work was resumed, and was in full swing when a minute later there came again the four wind-rushes, followed this time by four shattering crashes, an appalling clatter of whirling tiles and brick-work. The cottage disappeared in swirling clouds of smoke and brick-dust, and out of the turmoil came shrieks and cries and groans. When the dust had cleared it showed one end of the cottage completely wrecked, the roof gone, the walls gaping in ragged rents, the end wall collapsed in jumbled ruins. Inside the room was no more than a shambles. There were twenty odd men in it when the shells struck. Seven were carried out alive, and four of these died in the moving. In the other room, where the two doctors worked, no damage was done beyond the breakdown of a portion of the partition wall, and there was only one further casualty—a man who was actually having a slight hand-wound examined at the moment.<br>
He was killed instantly by a shell fragment which whizzed through the doorway. The two doctors, after a first hasty examination of the new casualties, held a hurried consultation. The obvious thing to do was to move, but the question was, Where to? One place after another was suggested, only for the suggestion to be dismissed for some good and adequate reason. In the middle of the discussion a fresh torrent of casualties began to pour in. Some plainly required immediate attention, and the doctors fell to work again. By the time the rush was cleared the question of changing position had been forgotten, or, at any rate, was dropped. The wounded continued to arrive, and the doctors continued to work.