Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Over the Top -- Chapter XXIV -- January 31, 2017

Arthur Guy Empey was a member of the US Cavalry who resigned to volunteer for the British Army during World War One. He was wounded during the Battle of the Somme. When the US entered the war, he tried to rejoin the US Army, but was rejected because of his wounds and possibly because of some disparaging comments about American draftees. He wrote a book, Over the Top, about his experiences during the war. With the 100th anniversary of the war, I thought it might be interesting to post his story. Empey later became a prolific pulp magazine author, a movie star and producer, and a playwright. 

From "Tommy's Dictionary of the Trenches" by Empey:   
 “Whizz Bang.” A small German shell which whizzes through the air and explodes with a "bang." Their bark is worse than their bite.
“Gone West." Killed; died. 

CHAPTER I -- From Mufti to Khaki
CHAPTER II -- Blighty to Rest Billets
CHAPTER III -- I Go to Church
CHAPTER IV -- Into the Trench
CHAPTER V -- Mud, Rats and Shells
CHAPTER VI -- "Back of the Line"
CHAPTER VII -- Rations
CHAPTER VIII -- The Little Wooden Cross

CHAPTER IX -- Suicide Annex  

CHAPTER X -- "The Day's Work" 
CHAPTER XX -   Chats With Fritz
CHAPTER XXI -  "About Turn"
CHAPTER XXII -  Punishments and Machine-Gun Stunts
CHAPTER XXIII -  Gas Attacks and Spies


A FEW days later I had orders to report back to Divisional Headquarters, about thirty kilos behind the line. I reported to the A. P. M. (Assistant Provost Marshal). He told me to report to billet No. 78 for quarters and rations.

It was about eight o’clock at night and I was tired and soon fell asleep in the straw of the billet. It was a miserable night outside, cold, and a drizzly rain was falling.

About two in the morning I was awakened by someone shaking me by the shoulder. Opening my eyes I saw a Regimental Sergeant-Major bending over me. He had a lighted lantern in his right hand. I started to ask him what was the matter, when he put his finger to his lips for silence and whispered:

“Get on your equipment, and, without any noise, come with me.”

This greatly mystified me, but I obeyed his order.

Outside of the billet, I asked him what was up, but he shut me up with:

“Don’t ask any questions, it’s against orders. I don’t know myself.”

It was raining like the mischief.

We splashed along a muddy road for about fifteen minutes, finally stopping at the entrance of what must have been an old barn. In the darkness, I could hear pigs grunting, as if they had just been disturbed. In front of the door stood an officer in a mack (mackintosh). The R. S. M. went up to him, whispered something, and then left. This officer called to me, asked my name, number and regiment, at the same time, in the light of a lantern he was holding, making a notation in a little book.

When he had finished writing, he whispered:

“Go into that billet and wait 'orders, and no talking. Understand?”

I stumbled into the barn and sat on the floor in the darkness. I could see no one, but could hear men breathing and moving; they seemed nervous and restless. I know I was.

During my wait, three other men entered. Then the ofiicer poked his head in the door and ordered:

“Fall in, outside the billet, in single rank.”

We fell in, standing at ease. Then he commanded.

“Squad—’Shun! Number!"

There were twelve of us.

“Right — Turn! Left —- Wheel! Quick -— March!” And away we went. The rain was trickling down my back and I was shivering from the cold.

With the officer leading, we must have marched over an hour, plowing through the mud and occasionally stumbling into a shell hole in the road, when suddenly the officer made a left wheel, and we found ourselves in a sort of enclosed courtyard.

The dawn was breaking and the rain had ceased.

In front of us were four stacks of rifles, three to a stack.

The ofiicer brought us to attention and gave the order to unpile arms. We each took a rifle. Giving us “Stand at ease,” in a nervous and shaky voice, he informed:

“Men, you are here on a very solemn duty.

You have been selected as a firing squad for the execution of a soldier, who, having been found guilty of a grievous crime against King and Country, has been regularly and duly tried and sentenced to be shot at 3.28 AM. this date. This sentence has been approved by the reviewing authority and ordered carried out. It is our duty to carry on with the sentence of the court.

“There are twelve rifles, one of which contains a blank cartridge, the other eleven containing ball cartridges. Every man is expected to do his duty and fire to kill. Take your orders from me. Squad—’Shun ! ”

We came to attention. Then he left. My heart was of lead and my knees shook.

After standing at “Attention” for what seemed a week, though in reality it could not have been over five minutes, we heard a low whispering in our rear and footsteps on the stone flagging of the courtyard.

Our officer reappeared and in a low, but firm voice, ordered:

“About—Turn !”

We turned about. In the gray light of dawn, a few yards in front of me, I could make out a brick wall. Against this wall was a dark form with a white square pinned on its breast. We were supposed to aim at this square. To the right of the form I noticed a white spot on the wall. This would be my target.

“Ready! Aim! Fire!”

The dark form sank into a huddled heap. My bullet sped on its way, and hit the whitish spot on the wall; I could see the splinters fly. Someone else had received the rifle containing the blank cartridge, but my mind was at case, there was no blood of a Tommy on my hands.

“Order—Arms! About—Turn! Pile—Arms! Stand—Clear.”

The stacks were re-formed.

“Quick—March! Right—Wheel!” and we left the scene of execution behind us.

It was now daylight. After marching about five minutes, we were dismissed with the following instructions from the officer in command:

“Return, alone, to your respective companies, and remember, no talking about this affair, or else it will go hard with the guilty ones.”

We needed no urging to get away. I did not recognize any of the men on the firing squad, even the officer was a stranger to me.

The victim’s relations and friends in Blighty will never know that he was executed; they will be under the impression that he died doing his bit for King and Country.

In the public casualty lists his name will appear under the caption “Accidentally Killed,” or “Died.”

The day after the execution I received orders to report back to the line, and to keep a still tongue in my head. '

Executions are a part of the day’s work but the part we hated most of all, I think—certainly the saddest. The British War Department is thought by many people to be composed of rigid regulations all wound around with red tape. But it has a heart, and one of the evidences of this is the considerate way in which an execution is concealed and reported to the relative of the unfortunate man. They never know the truth. He is listed in the bulletins as among the “accidentally killed.”

In the last ten years I have several times read stories in magazines of cowards changing, in a charge, to heroes. I used to laugh at it. It seemed easy for story-writers but I said, “Men aren’t made that way.” But over in France I learned once that the streak of yellow can turn all white. I picked up the story, bit by bit, from the Captain of the Company, the sentries who guarded the poor fellow, as well as from my own observations. At first I did not realize the whole of his story, but after a week of investigation it stood out as clear in my mind as the mountains of my native West in the spring sunshine. It impressed me so much that I wrote it all down in rest billets on odd scraps of paper. The incidents are, as I say, every bit true; the feelings of the man are true,——I know from all I underwent in the fighting over in France.

We will call him Albert Lloyd. That wasn’t his name, but it will do:

Albert Lloyd was what the world terms a coward.

In London they called him a slacker ' His country had been at war nearly eighteen months, and still he was not in khaki.

He had no good reason for not enlisting, being alone in the world, having been educated in an Orphan Asylum, and there being no one dependent upon him for support. He had no good position to lose, and there was no sweetheart to tell him with her lips to go, while her eyes pleaded for him to stay.

Every time he saw a recruiting sergeant, he’d slink around the corner out of sight, with a terrible fear gnawing at his heart. When passing the big recruiting posters, and on his way to business and back he passed many, he would pull down his cap and look the other way, to get away from that awful finger pointing at him, under the caption, “Your King and Country Need You”; or the boring eyes of Kitchener, which burned into his very soul, causing him to shudder.

Then the Zeppelin raids—during them, he used to crouch in a comer of his boarding-house cellar, whimpering like a whipped puppy and calling upon the Lord to protect him.

Even his landlady despised him, although she had to admit that he was “good pay.”

He very seldom read the papers, but one momentous morning, the landlady put the morning paper at his place before he came down to breakfast. Taking his seat, he read the flaring headline, “Conscription Bill Passed,” and nearly fainted. Excusing himself, he stumbled upstairs to his bedroom, with the horror of it gnawing into his vitals.

Having saved up a few pounds, he decided not to leave the house, and to sham sickness, so he stayed in his room and had the landlady serve his meals there.

Everytime there was a knock at the door, he trembled all over, imagining it was a policeman who had come to take him away to the army.

One morning his fears were realized. Sure enough there stood a policeman with the fatal paper. Taking it in his trembling hand, he read that he, Albert Lloyd, was ordered to report himself to the nearest recruiting station for physical examination. He reported immediately, because he was afraid to disobey.

The doctor looked with approval upon Lloyd’s six feet of physical perfection, and thought what a fine guardsman he would make, but examined his heart twice before he passed him as “physically fit”; it was beating so fast.

From the recruiting depot Lloyd was taken, with many others, in charge of a sergeant, to the training depot at Aldershot, where he was given an outfit of khaki, and drew his other equipment. He made a fine-looking soldier, except for the slight shrinking in his shoulders, and the hunted look in his eyes

At the training depot it does not take long to find out a man’s character, and Lloyd was promptly dubbed “Windy.” In the English Army, “windy” means cowardly.

The smallest recruit in the barracks looked on him with contempt, and was not slow to show it in many ways.

Lloyd was a good soldier, learned quickly, obeyed every order promptly, never groused at the hardest fatigues. He was afraid to. He lived in deadly fear of the officers and “Non-Coms” over him. They also despised him.

One morning about three months after his enlistment, Lloyd’s company was paraded, and the names picked for the next draft to France were read. When his name was called, he did not step out smartly, two paces to the front, and answer cheerfully, “Here, sir,” as the others did. He just fainted in ranks, and was carried to barracks amid the sneers of the rest.

That night was an agony of misery to him. He could not sleep. Just cried and whimpered in his bunk, because on the morrow the draft was to sail for France, where he would see death on all sides, and perhaps be killed himself. On the steamer, crossing the Channel, he would have jumped overboard to escape, but was afraid of drowning.

Arriving in France, he and the rest were huddled into cattle cars. On the side of each appeared in white letters, “Chevaux 8, Hommes 40.” After hours of bumping over the uneven French road beds they arrived at the training base of Rouen.

At this place they were put through a week’s rigid training in trench warfare. On the morning of the eighth day, they paraded at ten o’clock, and were inspected and passed by General H———, then were marched to the Quartermaster’s, to draw their gas helmets and trench equipment.

At four in the afternoon, they were again hustled into cattle cars. This time, the journey lasted two days. They disembarked at the town of Frévent, and could hear a distant dull booming. With knees shaking, Lloyd asked the Sergeant what the noise was, and nearly dropped when the Sergeant replied in a somewhat bored tone:

“Oh, them’s the guns up the line. We’ll be up there in a couple o’ days or so. Don’t worry, my laddie, you’ll see more of ’em than you want before you get ’ome to Blighty again, that is, if you’re lucky enough to get back. Now lend a hand there unloadin’ them cars, and quit that everlastin’ shakin’. I believe yer scared.” The last with a contemptuous sneer.

They marched ten kilos, full pack, to a little dilapidated village, and the sound of the guns grew louder, constantly louder.

The village was full of soldiers who turned out to inspect the new draft, the men who were shortly to be their mates in the trenches, for they were going “up the line’ on the morrow, to “take over” their certain sector of trenches.

The draft was paraded in front of Battalion Headquarters, and the men were assigned to companies.

Lloyd was the only man assigned to “D” Company. Perhaps the officer in charge of the draft had something to do with it, for he called Lloyd aside, and said:

“Lloyd, you are going to a new company. No one knows you. Your bed will be as you make it, so for God’s sake, brace up and be a man. I think you have the stuff in you, my boy, so goodbye, and the best of luck to you.”

The next day the battalion took over their part of the trenches. It happened to be a very quiet day. The artillery behind the lines was still, except for an occasional shell sent over to let the Germans know the gunners were not asleep.

In the darkness, in single file, the Company slowly wended their way down the communication trench to the front line. No one noticed Lloyd’s white and drawn face.

After they had relieved the Company in the trenches, Lloyd, with two of the old company men, was put on guard in one of the traverses. Not a shot was fired from the German lines, and no one paid any attention to him crouched on the firing step.

On the first time in, a new recruit is not required to stand with his head "over the top.” He only “sits it out, ” while the older men keep watch.

At about ten o’clock, all of a sudden, he thought hell had broken loose, and crouched and shivered up against the parapet. Shells started bursting, as he imagined, right in their trench, when in fact they were landing about a hundred yards in rear of them, in the second lines.

One of the older men on guard, turning to his mate, said:

“There goes Fritz with those damned trench mortars again. It’s about time our artillery ‘taped’ them, and sent over a few. Well, ‘I’ll be damned, where’s that blighter of a draft man gone to? There’s his rifle leaning against the parapet. He must have legged it. Just keep your eye peeled, Dick, while I report it to the Sergeant. I wonder if the fool knows he can be shot for such tricks as leavin’ his post.”

Lloyd had gone. When the trench mortars opened up, a maddening terror seized him and he wanted to run, to get away from that horrible din, anywhere to safety. So quietly sneaking around the traverse, he came to the entrance of a communication trench, and ran madly and blindly down it, running into traverses, stumbling into muddy holes, and falling full length over trench grids.

Groping blindly, with his arms stretched out in front of him, he at last came out of the trench into the village, or what used to be a village, before the German artillery razed it.

Mixed with his fear, he had a peculiar sort of cunning, which whispered to him to avoid all sentries, because if they saw him he would be sent back to that awful destruction in the front line, and perhaps be killed or maimed. The thought made him shudder, the cold sweat coming out in beads on his face.

On his left, in the darkness, he could make out the shadowy forms of trees; crawling on his hands and knees, stopping and crouching with fear at each shell-burst, he finally reached an old orchard, and cowered at the base of a shot-scarred apple-tree.

He remained there all night, listening to the sound of the guns and ever praying, praying that his useless life would be spared.

As dawn began to break, he could discern little dark objects protruding from the ground all about him. Curiosity mastered his fear and he crawled to one of the objects, and there, in the uncertain light, he read on a little wooden cross:

“Pte. H. S. Wheaton, No. 1670, 1st London Regt. R. F. Killed in action, April 25, 1916. R. I. P.” (Rest in Peace).

When it dawned on him that he had been hiding all night in a cemetery, his reason seemed to leave him, and a mad desire to be free from it all made him rush madly away, falling over little wooden crosses, smashing some and trampling others under his feet.

In his flight, he came to an old French dugout, half caved in, and partially filled with slimy and filthy water.

Like a fox being chased by the hounds, he ducked into this hole, and threw himself on a pile of old empty sandbags, wet and mildewed. Then— unconsciousness.

On the next day, he came to; far distant voices sounded in his ears. Opening his eyes, in the entrance of the dugout he saw a Corporal and two men with fixed bayonets.

The Corporal was addressing him:

“Get up, you white-livered blighter! Curse you and the day you ever joined “D” Company, spoiling their fine record! It’ll be you up against the wall, and a good job too. Get a hold of him, men, and if he makes a break, give him the bayonet, and send it home, the cowardly sneak. Come on, you, move, we’ve been looking for you long enough.”

Lloyd, trembling and weakened by his long fast, tottered out, assisted by a soldier on each side of him.

They took him before the Captain, but could get nothing out of him but:

“For God’s sake, sir, don’t have me shot, don’t have me shot!”

The Captain, utterly disgusted with him, sent him under escort to Division Headquarters for trial by court-martial, charged with desertion under fire.

They shoot deserters in France.

During his trial, Lloyd sat as one dazed, and could put nothing forward in his defence, only an occasional “Don’t have me shot!”

His sentence was passed: “To be shot at 3:38 o’clock on the morning of May 18, 1916.” This meant that he had only one more day to live.

He did not realize the awfulness of his sentence, his brain seemed paralyzed. He knew nothing of his trip, under guard, in a motor lorry to the sandbagged guardroom in the village, where he was dumped on the floor and left, while a sentry with a fixed bayonet paced up and down in front of the entrance.

Bully beef, water, and biscuits were left beside him for his supper.

The sentry, seeing that he ate nothing, came inside and shook him by the shoulder, saying in a kind voice:

“Cheero, laddie, better eat something. You’ll feel better. Don’t give up hope. You’ll be pardoned before morning. I know the way they run these things. They’re only trying to scare you, that’s all. Come now, that’s a good lad, eat something. It’ll make the world look different to you.”

The good-hearted sentry knew he was lying about the pardon. He knew nothing short of a miracle could save the poor lad.

Lloyd listened eagerly to his sentry’s words, and believed them. A look of hope came into his eyes, and he ravenously ate the meal beside him.

In about an hour’s time, the Chaplain came to see him, but Lloyd would have none of him. He wanted no parson; he was to be pardoned.

The artillery behind the lines suddenly opened up with everything they had. An intense bombardment of the enemy’s lines had commenced. The roar of the guns was deafening. Lloyd’s fears came back with a rush, and he cowered on the earthen floor with his hands over his face.

The sentry, seeing his position, came in and tried to cheer him by talking to him:

“Never mind them guns, boy, they won’t hurt you. They are ours. We are giving the ‘ Boches ' a dose of their own medicine. Our boys are going over the top at dawn of the morning to take their trenches. We’ll give ’em a taste of cold steel with their sausages and beer. You just sit tight now until they relieve you. I’ll have to go now, lad, as it’s nearly time for my relief, and I don’t want them to see me a-talkin’ with you. So long, laddie, cheero.”

With this, the sentry resumed the pacing of his post. In about ten minutes’ time he was relieved, and a “D” Company man took his place.

Looking into the guardhouse, the sentry noticed the cowering attitude of Lloyd, and, with a sneer, said to him:

“Instead of whimpering in that corner, you ought to be saying your prayers. It’s bally conscripts like you what’s spoilin’ our record. We’ve been out here nigh onto eighteen months, and you’re the first man to desert his post. The whole Battalion is laughin’ and pokin’ fun at ‘ D ’ Company, bad luck to you! but you won’t get another chance to disgrace us. They’ll put your lights out in the mornin’.”

After listening to this tirade, Lloyd, in a faltering voice, asked: “They are not going to shoot me, are they? Why, the other sentry said they’d pardon me. For God’s sake—don’t tell me I’m to be shot!” and his voice died away in a sob.

“Of course, they’re going to shoot you. The other sentry was jest a-kiddin’ you. Jest like old Smith. Always a-tryin’ to cheer some one. You ain’t got no more chance o’ bein’ pardoned than I have of gettin’ to be Colonel of my ‘Batt.’ ”

When the fact that all hope was gone finally entered Lloyd’s brain, a calm seemed to settle over him, and rising to his knees, with his arms stretched out to heaven, he prayed, and all of his soul entered into the prayer:

“Oh, good and merciful God, give me strength to die like a man! Deliver me from this coward’s death. Give me a chance to die like my mates in the fighting line, to die fighting for my country. I ask this of thee.”

A peace, hitherto unknown, came to him, and he crouched and cowered no more, but calmly waited the dawn, ready to go to his death. The shells were bursting all around the guardroom, but he hardly noticed them.

While waiting there, the voice of the sentry, singing in a low tone, came to him. He was singing the chorus of the popular trench ditty:

“I want to go home, I want to go home.
I don’t want to go to the trenches no more.
Where the ‘whizzbangs’ and ‘sausages’ roar galore.
Take me over the sea, where the Allemand can’t get at me.
Oh my, I don’t want to die! I want to go home. ”

Lloyd listened to the words with a strange interest, and wondered what kind of a home he would go to across the Great Divide. It would be the only home he had ever known.

Suddenly there came a great rushing through the air, a blinding flash, a deafening report, and the sandbag walls of the guardroom toppled over, and then—blackness.

When Lloyd recovered consciousness, he was lying on his right side, facing what used to be the entrance of the guardroom. Now, it was only a jumble of rent and torn sandbags. His head seemed bursting. He slowly rose on his elbow, and there in the east the dawn was breaking. But what was that mangled shape lying over there among the sandbags? Slowly dragging himself to it, he saw the body of the sentry. One look was enough to know that he was dead. The soldier’s head was missing. The sentry had had his wish gratified. He had “gone home.” He was safe at last from the “whizzbangs” and the Allemand.

Like a flash it came to Lloyd that he was free. Free to go “over the top” with his Company. Free to die like a true Briton fighting for his King and Country. A great gladness and warmth came over him. Carefully stepping over the body of the sentry, he started on a mad race down the ruined street of the village, amid the bursting shells, minding them not, dodging through or around hurrying platoons on their way to also go “over the top.” Coming to a communication trench he could not get through. It was blocked with laughing, cheering, and cursing soldiers. Climbing out of the trench, he ran wildly along the top, never heeding the rain of machine-gun bullets and shells, not even hearing the shouts of the officers, telling him to get back into the trench. He was going to join his Company who were in the front line. He was going to fight with them. He, the despised coward, had come into his own.

While he was racing along, jumping over trenches crowded with soldiers, a ringing cheer broke out all along the front line, and his heart sank. He knew he was too late. His Company had gone over. But still he ran madly. 7He would catch them. He would die with them.

Meanwhile his Company had gone “over.” They, with the other companies had taken the first and second German trenches, and had pushed steadily on to the third line. “D” Company, led by their Captain, the one who had sent Lloyd to Division Headquarters for trial, charged with desertion, had pushed steadily forward until they found themselves far in advance of the rest of the attacking force. “Bombing out" trench after trench, and using their bayonets, they came to a German communication trench, which ended in a blindsap, and then the Captain, and what was left of his men, knew they were in a trap. They would not retire. "D" Company never retired, and they were “D” Company. Right in front of them they could see hundreds of Germans preparing to rush them with bomb and bayonet. They would have some chance if ammunition and bombs could reach them from the rear. Their supply was exhausted, and the men realized it would be a case of dying as bravely as possible, or making a run for it. But “D” Company would not run. It was against their traditions and principles.

The Germans would have to advance across an open space of three to four hundred yards before they could get within bombing distance of the trench, and then it would be all their own way.

Turning to his Company, the Captain said:

“Men, it’s a case of going West for us. We are out of ammunition and bombs, and the 'Boches’ have us in a trap. They will bomb us out. Our bayonets are useless here. We will have to go over and meet them, and it’s a case of thirty to one, so send every thrust home, and die like the men of ‘D’ Company should. When I give the word, follow me, and up and at them. Give them hell! God, if we only had a machine gun, we could wipe them out! Here they come, get ready, men.” ’

Just as he finished speaking, the welcome “pup-pup” of a machine gun in their rear rang out, and the front line of the onrushing German seemed to melt away. They wavered, but once again came rushing onward. Down went their second line. The machine gun was taking an awful toll of lives. Then again they tried to advance, but the machine gun mowed them down. Dropping their rifles and bombs, they broke and fled in a wild rush back to their trench, amid the cheers of “D” Company. They were forming again for another attempt, when in the rear of “D” Company came a mighty cheer. The ammunition had arrived and with it a battalion of Scotch to reinforce them. They were saved. The unknown machine gunner had come to the rescue in the nick of time.

With the reinforcements, it was an easy task to take the third German line.

After the attack was over, the Captain and three of his non-commissioned officers, wended their way back to the position where the machine gun had done its deadly work. He wanted to thank the gunner in the name of “D” Company for his magnificent deed. They arrived at the gun, and an awful sight met their eyes.

Lloyd had reached the front line trench, after his Company had left it. A strange company was nimbly crawling up the trench ladders. They were reinforcements going over. They were Scotties, and they made a magnificent sight in their brightly colored kilts and bare knees.

Jumping over the trench, Lloyd raced across “No Man’s Land,” unheeding the rain of bullets, leaping over dark forms on the ground, some of which lay still, while others called out to him as he speeded past.

He came to the German front line, but it was deserted, except for heaps of dead and wounded ——a grim tribute to the work of his Company, good old “D” Company. Leaping trenches, and gasping for breath, Lloyd could see right ahead of him his Company in a dead-ended sap of a communication trench, and across the open, away in front of them, a mass of Germans preparing for a charge. Why didn’t “D” Company fire on them? Why were they so strangely silent? What were they waiting for? Then he knew—their ammunition was exhausted.

But what was that on his right? A machine gun. Why didn’t it open fire and save them? He would make that gun’s crew do their duty. Rushing over to the gun, he saw why it had not opened fire. Scattered around its base lay six still forms. They had brought their gun to consolidate the captured position, but a German machine gun had decreed they would never fire again.

Lloyd rushed to the gun, and grasping the traversing handles, trained it on the Germans. He pressed the thumb piece, but only a sharp click was the result. The gun was unloaded. Then he realized his helplessness. He did not know how to load the gun. Oh, why hadn’t he attended the machine-gun course in England? He’d been offered the chance, but with a blush of shame he remembered that he had been afraid. The nickname of the machine gunners had frightened him. They were called the “Suicide Club.” Now, because of this fear, his Company would be destroyed, the men of “D” Company would have to die, because he, Albert Lloyd, had been afraid of a name. In his shame he cried like a baby. Anyway he could die with them, and, rising to his feet, he stumbled over the body of one of the gunners, who emitted a faint moan. A gleam of hope flashed through him. Perhaps this man could tell him how to load the gun. Stooping over the body, he gently shook it, and the soldier opened his eyes. Seeing Lloyd, he closed them again, and in a faint voice said:

“Get away, you blighter, leave me alone. I don’t want any coward around me.”

The words cut Lloyd like a knife, but he was desperate. Taking the revolver out of the holster of the dying man, he pressed the cold muzzle to the soldier’s head, and replied:

“Yes, it is Lloyd, the coward of Company ‘D,’ but so help me God, if you don’t tell me how to load that gun, I’ll put a bullet through your brain !”

A sunny smile came over the countenance of the dying man, and he said in a faint whisper:

“Good old boy! I knew you wouldn’t disgrace our Company—”

Lloyd interposed, “For God’s sake, if you want to save that Company you are so proud of, tell me how to load that damned gun!” ‘

As if reciting a lesson in school, the soldier replied in a weak, singsong voice: “Insert tag end of belt in feed block, with left hand pull belt left front. Pull crank handle back on roller, let go, and repeat motion. Gun is now loaded. To fire, raise automatic safety latch, and press thumb piece. Gun is now firing. If gun stops, ascertain position of crank handle—”

But Lloyd waited for no more. With wild joy at his heart, he took a belt from one of the ammunition boxes lying beside the gun, and followed the dying man’s instructions. Then he pressed the thumb piece, and a burst of fire rewarded his efforts. The gun was working.

Training it on the Germans, he shouted for joy as their front rank went down.

Traversing the gun back and forth along the mass of Germans, he saw them break and run back to the cover of their trench, leaving their dead and wounded behind. He had saved his Company, he, Lloyd, the coward, had “done his bit.” Releasing the thumb piece, he looked at the watch on his wrist. He was still alive, and the hands pointed to “3: 38,” the time set for his death by the court.

“Ping!”——-a bullet sang through the air, and Lloyd fell forward across the gun. A thin trickle of blood ran down his face from a little, black round hole in his forehead.

The sentence of the court had been “duly carried out.”

The Captain slowly raised the limp form drooping over the gun, and, wiping the blood from the white face, recognized it as Lloyd, the coward of “B” Company. Reverently covering the face with his handkerchief, he turned to his “noncoms, ” and in a voice husky with emotion, addressed them:

“Boys, it’s Lloyd the deserter. He has redeemed himself, died the death of a hero. Died that his mates might live.”

That afternoon, a solemn procession wended its way toward the cemetery. In the front a stretcher was carried by two Sergeants. Across the stretcher the Union Jack was carefully spread. Behind the stretcher came a Captain and forty-three men, all that were left of “D” Company.

Arriving at the cemetery, they halted in front of an open grave. All about them, wooden crosses were broken and trampled into the ground.

A grizzled old Sergeant, noting this destruction, muttered under his breath: “Curse the cowardly blighter who wrecked those crosses! If I could only get these two hands around his neck, his trip West would be a short one.”

The corpse on the stretcher seemed to move, or it might have been the wind blowing the folds of the Union Jack.

Next: CHAPTER XXV -- Preparing For The Big Push

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Nieuport 28 -- January 29, 2017

When I was a kid, someone gave me a book about World War One airplanes.  I virtually memorized it. The Nieuport 28 was rejected by the French Armée de l'air, but the American Army Air Service, lacking equipment, took them. 

In July, 2010, we visited the Museum of Flight near Seattle.   I took this photo in the Personal Courage Wing, which features airplanes, mostly fighters, from World War One and World War Two.  The museum's Nieuport 28 is an original.  It is painted in the colors of Quentin Roosevelt, the son of Theodore Roosevelt, who died in a Nieuport 28.  

Today is also the start of Catholic Schools Week.

I'm grateful that my parents put me in Catholic schools for 12 years.  I'm also grateful to my teachers. 

Good Shepherd in Pacifica gave our daughter a great education and continues to do the same for many other children. They are having an open house today from 11am to 1:30pm.  The school is worth considering if you live in or near Pacifica: http://goodshepherdschool.us/

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Gung Hay Fat Choy, 2017 -- January 28, 2017

Moving Picture World, 26-December-1914
In honor of the beginning of Chinese New Year, the Year of the Rooster, here is the Pathé rooster, symbol of the second-oldest movie production company in the world.  Pathé Frères was founded in 1896 by Charles, Émile, Théophile and Jacques Pathé.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Apollo One 50 Years -- January 27, 2017

Fifty years ago today, on 27-January-1967, during a rehearsal, the cabin of the Apollo One capsule caught fire.  The crew, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, all died.  I don't think I remember the day, but I remember reading about the findings of the committee that investigated.  The atmosphere was pure oxygen.  The cabin contained flammable material.  The inner hatch couldn't be opened from the inside because the pressure was higher inside the cabin. 

This was NASA's only fatality in a spacecraft before Challenger in 1986. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

New Cat #39 -- January 25, 2017

I took this photo on 21-January-2017. 

We had repeated power outages last night and during the early morning.   We had high winds during the night. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

1954 Alfa Romeo B.A.T. 7 (Berlinetta Aerodynamica Technica) -- January 23, 2017

We visited the Blackhawk Museum in June, 2013 to drool over their collection of classic autos. The 1954 Alfa Romeo B.A.T. 7 (Berlinetta Aerodynamica Technica).  The B.A.T. 7, an aerodynamic concept car, was designed and built by Franco Scaglione and Nuccio Bertone.  Despite the number 7, it was the second of the B.A.T. series.  There are more to come. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

New Muni LRVs -- January 21, 2017


Muni received its first of 215 Siemens S200 light rail vehicles.  They will replace the noisy Bredas.  It will start testing soon. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

We the People -- January 20, 2017

A poster by Shepard Fairey.  Thanks to The Amplifier Foundation (theamplifierfoundation.or). 

These free downloadable posters may not be sold or used for profit. Amplifier does not authorize illegal postings. Beware of laws in your local community.

I'm going to miss Barack Obama and Joe Biden.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Ringling Bros' World's Greatest Shows -- January 18, 2017

San Francisco Call, 09-September-1900
Over the weekend, I was saddened to learn that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was calling it quits after about 147 years.  In September, 1900, the "Ringling Bros.' World's Greatest Shows, The Invincible Monarch of Amusements and Beyond All Dispute or Doubt the Greatest Show on Earth" paid its first visit to San Francisco.  They purchased the Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1905.  My parents took me and my sister every year at the Cow Palace. I can still smell it. 

Be sure to click on the ad, which is very large, to see the details. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Muhammad Ali 75 -- January 17, 2017

Muhammad Ali, who may have been The Greatest of All Time,was born 75 years ago today, on 17-January-1942.  I got interested in boxing during the time after Ali gave up the heavyweight title.  I liked Joe Frazier.  I liked his name and I liked his workingman style.

I started reading The Ring Magazine while it was still being published by its founder, Nat Fleischer. I loved his articles about the history of boxing. Fleischer insisted on calling Muhammed Ali Cassius Clay.  Fleischer didn't call Jack Dempsey Bill.  He didn't call Sugar Ray Robinson Walker Smith.  He didn't call Pancho Villa Francisco Guilledo.  So why wouldn't he call Ali Ali?  I began to suspect it might have something to with racism or what we now call Islamophobia.
The documentary When We Were Kings told the story of The Rumble in the Jungle, Ali's 1974 fight in Zaire against giant George Foreman.  No one expected Ali to win.  Some people expected Ali to die.  I still get the chant "Ali, boma ye!" stuck in my head.

I remember a program Ali did on ABC's Wide World of Sports where he sat with Howard Cosell and watched movies of past heavyweight champs.  Ali said he would have beaten each one.  I wonder if he would have beaten Jack Johnson or Joe Louis.  In either case, it would have been a heck of a fight.  I would like to see the show again.

Kevin Starr and Gene Cernan -- January 17, 2017

Former San Francisco City Librarian and California State Librarian Kevin Starr died.  I haven't yet read his whole California Dream series, but I have enjoyed what I have read.  He was always helpful to people who were interested in learning about history. 

We lost another astronaut.  Gene Cernan, a Naval aviator, was the last person to walk on the Moon so far. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Happy Birthday, Dr King, 2017 -- January 16, 2017

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” —
 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

We should keep this in mind as Congress marches boldly forward to repeal the Affordable Care Act, gut Medicare and Medicaid and destroy CHIP. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Human Be-In 50 Years -- January 14, 2017

Fifty years ago, on 14-January-1967, I lived up the hill from Golden Gate Park, not far from the Polo Fields.  I don't remember this particular event, but I remember later ones when I could hear the music.  I remember some adults complaining about these events.  I never got to go.

The Human Be-In was an early Hippie event in the park. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Colonel William F Cody, 100 Years -- January 10, 2017


Colonel William F Cody, Buffalo Bill, died 100 years ago today, on 10-January-1917.  He received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1872 for his gallantry as a scout.  It was revoked in 1917 when Congress changed the rules and had many older medals reviewed.  It was restored in 1989.  

Seattle Star, 10-January-1917

DENVER Colo., Jan 10 — Wm F Cody (Buffalo Bill) is dead. The noted plainsman and scout breathed his last at 12:05 p m. today, and with his paasing it seemed to the thousands of friends who had closely followed hi« fight for life as if the laat vestige of the old West, the "wild and woolly" West, had passed with him.

He died at the home of his sister. Mrs May Cody Decker, of this city, where for weeks he lay critically ill, fighting the hardest battle of his life.

Hope Gone for Weeks

Weeks ago friends despaired of his recovery from a complication of disease. but Buffalo Bill refused to give up. He rallied to the extent that he could be removed to Glenwood Springs for his health, but a relapse occurred and he was brought back to Denver.

Thruout his 70 years, Buffalo Bill has always been active and won the most admiration of young America by his adventuresome life. 

Killed Buffaloes

He was born William Frederick Cody, but in 1867 killed 4,280 buffalo in 18 months, and ever since
America has known him as Buffalo Bill.

Up to the civil war, Cody was a pony express rider. He enlisted with the the Seventh Kansas aa scout
and guide during the war. and became colonel.

Government Scout

In 1868 Cody tiecame a government scout and furnished the thrills of Indian warfare, of which most American boys have read. He boasts he took part in more Indian battles than any other white man.  In one he savs. he killed Yellow Hand, the Cheyenne chief, in a hand-to-hand fight.

Buffalo Bill bacame rich with his Wild West show, which he started in 1876. He toured the world with his cowboye and ponies, giving Europe its first glimpse of America's wild and woolly West.  Later he lost the bulk of his fortune.

Tried to Make Stage Star

Retiring from the show, Buffalo Bill lived on his Western ranch, where he has devoted his later years to reclamation of arid lands in Wyoming.  He turned the Big Horn valley from a barren, sun-dried  waste into fruitful, wealth-producing country. 

At one time Cody spent $60,000 to make Mrs Katherlne Clemmons Gould, wife of the millionaire, Howard Gould, a stage star.  He sued her for that amount, which he claimed he lost in the unsuccessful venture.  The suit was withdrawn, however, before decision was made.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Highway One Closed -- January 9, 2017

When the alarm went off this morning, I tuned the radio to KCBS.  They said that Highway One North was closed at Reina del Mar because of mudslides.  I told my wife, who wasn't fully awake.  She jumped out of bed and got dressed rapidly.  She was supposed to open the before school care room.  The trip that usually takes 7-8 minutes took her one hour.  They were letting thirty cars through each way on the southbound lanes.  She said it was not a nice sensation driving the wrong way.  I worked from home.

Caltrans was still trying to clear the mud and keep it from flowing back onto the road during the evening commute.  

We had very heavy rain over the weekend. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Unfortunate Bark Sharpshooter -- January 8, 2017

San Francisco Call, 07-January-1896
The drawing is from the 07-January-1896 San Francisco Call. William A Coulter did many maritime drawings for the newspaper.  A libel is some kind of a suit in maritime law. 

The Sharpshooter Has Been in Trouble for Over Three Months.
She Was Dismasted, Towed From Guaymas, and Now Libel Suits Are Threatened

Of all the vessels that have ever entered the port of San Francisco the British bark Sharpshooter has had the hardest luck.  She was dismasted in the Gulf of California, was at the mercy of the winds and waves for weeks, drifted past ports of safety that it was impossible to reach and was passed on several occasions by vessels which did not notice the signal of distress flying from the remains of the mainmast.  Finally the bark was picked up by a steamer sent out to look for her and she was towed into Guaymas.

The Sharpshooter was consigned to Grace & Co. and when that firm learned of her whereabouts they sent the tug Fearless to tow her to San Francisco. On her arrival here Captain Watts and his crew thought all their troubles were over.  They soon found out their mistake.  They had only just begun. Grace & Co. at once took possession of the cargo and held the freight as security for the towage bill. Captain Watts could not get a cent of money and the crew are still hanging by the ship in hopes of getting paid. For over two months the Sharpshooter has lain at Harrison street, with the captain and men hoping day after day for the settlement that never came.

While Grace & Co., the underwriters, and Captain Watts were discussing the situation, the wharfage bill, the grocers' and butchers' bills and bills for sundry other necessaries kept growing, and the men began clamoring for their money. The captain could not satisfy them, and the chances are that half a dozen libels will be filed on the hull to-day.

 Captain Watts finally became convinced yesterday that there was no hope of an immediate settlement, so he decided to move the bark to Oakland Creek. At 1 p. m. she was taken in tow by the Alert, and an hour later was hard and fast in the mud of the creek. The crew are still aboard, and they intend to stay there until they get their money. The greatest sufferer in the whole affair is the master.  He is the principal owner in the bark, and outside of her has not a cent in the world. He is accompanied by his wife and children, and in order to raise money to pay some small necessary expenses he has been compelled to sell many an article that was prized aboard the ship. Of course no repairs have been made to the vessel, and she is to-day in the same dilapidated condition as when she entered port.  During the months she has lain at Harrison street she has been an object of curiosity and wonderment to the thousands who have passed and repassed her. 

What the outcome of the present entanglements will be is hard to predict.  The chances are, however, that the hull will be sold and when all the expenses are paid there will be very little left for Captain Watts.

The Sharpshooter came from Peru with a cargo of nitrate. During the storm that dismantled her part of the load was thrown overboard. A curious circumstance in connection with the disaster is that when all hopes failed Captain Watts wrote a letter and putting it in a bottle dropped it overboard. It reached land and was picked up by some fishermen, who forwarded it to the United States Consul at
Guaymas. The latter appealed to the Mexican Government and it sent out the steamer that picked up the unfortunate bark.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Killed the First Day of the Somme -- Will Streets -- January 5, 2017

On 01-July-2016, I missed the opportunity to mark the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme.  More British soldiers died on that day than on any other day in history.  I thought to make up for it, I would write about some of the poets who died that day.  There were a lot.

Will Streets served in the Sheffield Pals, first in Egypt, then on the Western Front.  By the time of the Battle of the Somme, he was a sergeant.  On the first day, he was wounded and reported missing.  His body turned up ten months later.  His poems were published later in 1917 in a book, The Undying Splendour.

The image is from the movie The Battle of the Somme.

April Evening: France, 1916. 

0 sweet blue eve that seems so loath to die,
Trailing the sunset glory into night,
Within the soft, cool strangeness of thy light,
My heart doth seem to find its sanctuary.
The day doth verge with all its secret care,
The thrush is lilting Vespers on the thorn ;
In Nature’s inner heart seems to be born
A sweet serenity ; and over there
Within the shadows of the stealing Night,
Beneath the benison of all her stars
Men, stirr’d to passion by relentless Mars,
Laughing at Death, wage an unceasing fight.
The thunder of the guns, the scream of shells
Now seem to rend the placid evening air :
Yet as the night is lit by many a flare
The thrush his love in one wild lyric tells.
O sweet blue eve!  Lingering awhile with thee,
Before the earth with thy sweet dews are wet,
My heart all but thy beauty shall forget
And find itself in thy serenity.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Sopwith Aeroplanes, Part II -- January 3, 2017

The 29-September-1919 issue of Aerial Age Weekly featured the second of two parts of "The Sopwith Aeroplanes," an article about the products of the Sopwith Aviation Company.  Part one is here. 


The Sopwith "Snipe"

THIS machine, brought out March 17, 1917, was produced primarily with a view to the attainment of a very high performance and exhibits characteristic of both the "Camel" and '"Dolphin." From the latter it differs in point of stagger and plane dimensions, and also in having a 200 h.p. B. R. engine in place of the Hispano-Suiza. As in the "Dolphin," the rudder is of large size and balanced, and the "Snipe," as might be expected from its general lines and arrangement of weights, was highly maneuverable. The pilot's head, owing to the deep fuselage and small gap, is on a level with the top plane, the centre of which is partly cut away and partly slotted. A double-bay system of struts is used, giving, with the relatively small span, great constructional strength. Owing to the large diameter of the B. R. 2, the rectangularity of the fuselage only appears towards the tail, and the body is more pronouncedly circular than in previous Sopwith designs. The "Snipe" did not make its appearance until well on in the middle of 1918, and had thus very little chance of introducing its qualities to the German Flying Corps. In the short time at its disposal, however, it made an enviable reputation for itself. In four days a single "Snipe" squadron accounted for 36 enemy aeroplanes, and downed 13 in one day. At this rate German aerial personnel would have become rapidly exhausted. An outstanding feat was that performed by Major Barker, who, on a Sopwith "Snipe," when attacked by 60 hostile machines, crashed four of them and drove down no less than 10 out of control.

In addition it might be mentioned that a "Snipe" fitted with an A.B.C. engine attained a speed of 156 m.p.h. and climbed to 10,000 ft. in 4'/2 minutes.

The Sopwith "Dolphin"

Two principal objects were borne in mind in the design of this single-seater fighter—firstly, to make good use of the 200 h.p. Hispano-Suiza engine (which had reached a productive stage), and, secondly, to afford the pilot a range of vision greater than that of any other existing aeroplane. The former necessitated a departure from the usual lines of the Sopwith fuselage, the upper surface of which in the rear of the cockpit is more pronouncedly arched than in previous types. The span of the planes was increased beyond that of the "Camel," and a double-bay arrangement of struts adopted in order to provide great structural strength. At the same time the gap was slightly diminished, and, what forms a srong characteristic of the type, a negative stagger was adopted, with the object of placing the main spar extensions of the top plane in such a position as not to interfere with the complete freedom of movement of the pilot, who occupies the rectangular space formed by them. On these tubular steel spar extensions—which are supported by four short vertical struts from the fuselage—arc mounted two Lewis guns, capable of being aimed independently of the direction of the machine. Two fixed Vickers' guns firing through the propeller are arranged along the top of the engine, and are partially covered in by this cylinder fairing. The general arrangement of the front part of the fuselage is particularly neat, and its formidable appearance is well supported by the "Dolphin's" offensive capabilities. The radiator is divided into two portions, each carried on one side of the fuselage level with the pilot's cockpit. In front of each radiator is arranged an inclined and adjustable deflector, allowing the whole or any part of the cooling surface to be obstructed. Among other features of the "Dolphin"' will be noted an empennage design differing markedly from that of previous Sopwith types. The fin is of a more upright shape and the rudder is balanced.

The 300 h.p. "Dolphin"

In connection with this type it is of considerable interest to note that at the signing of the Armistice it was being built in quantities by the French Government, for themselves and the American Government in France. It is fitted with the 300 h.p. Hispano-Suiza, and an adjustable tail plane is employed, since the variable load is considerable, the French and American Governments calling for a very large quantity of petrol to be carried. The machine was reinforced in certain respects to allow for the considerable addition of power, and it had every promise of being an extremely formidable proposition.

In general outline it was very similar to the 200 h.p. Hispano-Suiza "Dolphin." The guns were completely concealed under the cowling, being fitted in tunnels, and the air intake of the carburetor was fitted with a telescopic-type gas tube direct into the front cowl, considerably diminishing the risk of carburetor fire.

The Sopwith "Cuckoo"

There is a genuine humor in all the Sopwith type-names, and in none more so than in the ''Cuckoo," which was encouraged to lay a very splendid egg in any German nest that could be located above the surface of the sea. The egg in this case was a special 18-in. torpedo, which the "Cuckoo" carried strung underneath her fuselage and between the wheels of the landing carriage, which, it will be observed, consists of two independent wheels, each separately mounted, and not, as is usual, united by a common or articulated axle.

This machine was built at thec request of Commander Murray Sueter, R.N., and was of considerable dimensions. The treble-bay arrangement of struts will be noted, as also the installation of the 200 h.p. Hispano-Suiza geared engine, with the elliptical radiator surrounding the propeller shaft.

The "Buffalo"

This machine, fitted with a B. R. 200 h.p. engine, was designed primarily for reconnaissance and contact patrol work, with a view to armouring the pilot, observer and fuel tanks against enemy attack. The construction of the fore part of the fuselage was similar to the "Salamander." It was fitted with one synchronized gun firing forward and one Lewis gun on a Scarfe ring mounting firing aft. The experiments with this machine were highly successful, and it was on the point of being put into quantity production when the Armistice was signed.

The "Salamander"

In general lines this formidable aeroplane is modelled upon its prototype, the "Snipe," but its function is of a totally different character, as it was designed primarily as a trench fighter, for which purpose it is armed with two fixed machine guns and protected with armor plating. The latter forms the front of the fuselage from a point immediately in the rear of the engine (a B. R. of 200 h.p.), and extends to the rear of the pilot's cockpit. This plating was not added to an existing frame, but had a structural as well as a protective function, and itself formed the front portion of the fuselage. It will be noticed that the faired cowling behind the engine is added above the armor. A small variation from "Snipe" detail is seen in the tapering spine serving to fair off the pilot's head. The being bullet-proof, gave him a considerable means of protection against attack from the rear. The total weight of the armor is 650 lbs., and, in addition to this extra load, 2,000 rounds of ammunition were carried for the guns.