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Blunden's War - Part 9: Port Arthur - Skeletons and a Brewery


The army had an agreeable surprise for C Company at Cambrin - the arrival of drab painted London buses to take foot soldiers into billets. Years later Blunden still cannot quite believe that he rolled into Bethune on the top of a bus, past the miners in their clogs on their way to the pits. But the surprise was short-lived as they were wanted to hold trenches again at Richebourg.

Folklore had it that in the derelict trenches there was a large dugout containing six or seven old German corpses yellowed by gas, and in another, a skeletonised German officer in bed with a woman...but the Germans had their eyes on the area by day, and Blunden votes for letting sleeping dugouts lie.

Blunden recalls the return to the La Bassee Road as if he had last visited it a year previously. It was around a month only.

Port Arthur was an old brewery ruin, encircled with sandbag ramparts, EB says that the map of it was like one of the intestines. The men could fit forty to a cellar, EB was allotted a side cellar with a sound bed and new sandbags for bedding. Within the ruin was a look out post, a machine gun post - and someone had hollowed out a small tunnel, a secret passage into the communication trench 'Hun Street'. Nearby a pit had been dug for sandbag filling, inside the pit a pair of boots still containing feet. This all was the work of the enemy, in days gone by.

But there were compensations for the endless form filling accounting for 146 screw pickets large, 193 small, 5 mallets etc - the numbers never varied.

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