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Trenches at Zonnebeke

Blunden's War - Part 8: Tea and Chocolate at Cambrin


We are in the first half of July. Summer is around, quite possibly unnoticed from the shell swept La Bassee Road, where the "north wind of discipline" made Blunden pine for rest in a damp cellar. Earlier in the month he had paraded a guard for inspection, only to be told never to bring a guard so badly turned out again.

Risking death under shellfire, the Battalion marched down the road - the army specified parties of six men at 200 yard intervals - and turned into a side road by a church with an unexploded shell lodged in it. Tea was dished out, and a thrifty old woman was selling chocolate. The new commander, Major Harrison, aware of the sensitive location at the head of the communication trench they occupied, ordered her to be sent away.

This well ordered trench was sunk with mineshafts - and notices to infantry: KEEP OUT. THIS MEANS YOU. The tunnellers hurried nervously along the trench to listen or mine below ground. Pumping air down the shaft, the bellows were heard by the Germans and a minenwerfer smashed the entrance, and the men in it. "One man was carried out past me, collapsing like a sack of potatoes, spouting blood at twenty paces."

Not far off, a young and cheerful lance corporal was making some tea as EB passed by. A shell burst, and EB ran back hearing a cry. Three minutes previously the lance corporal's mess tin was bubbling over a little flame. Now his flesh was blackened , and his eye was under the duckboard. "At this moment, while we looked with intense fear at so strange a horror, the lance corporal's brother came round the traverse." He was sent to company headquarters in a kind of catalepsy, and EB and Sgt Simmons - after a share of rum - shovelled into the sandbag EB held saying: "It's a lie. We're a lie."

Cambrin was beginning to terrify.

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