The Spike or Victoria University College Review June 1918
"Tich" — And Some Others
And Some Others
The ridge lay in front of the village; to cross over it was, as Tich said, "unhealthy"; but it had to be done again and again as long as any wounded still lay beyond it. And at almost every return to the Advanced Station, the senior bearer sergeant reported to the O.C., "Two more bearer squads gone, sir." From the A.D.S. it certainly looked as if nothing could live crossing the shell-swept slope, over which the infantry had advanced a few hours previously; for now an enemy barrage of five-point-nines fell almost unceasingly on it.
"I'm afraid I have very few men to spare," replied the Colonel. "Five casualties already out of six reinforcement men who arrived an hour ago. They have got their eye on the station here. And we're full with stretcher cases."
Tich, ignoring the fact that the advice or opinion of a private was not asked for, and risking a severe "strafe" from a sorely-tried O.C., interjected, "Why not use some of the Fritzes, sir?"
Tich was one of the company humorists; he was a short, brown-faced, brown-eyed, hardy little man, and stout-hearted withal. His chief failing was an unquenchable thirst; while his experience in flirtation with an astounding variety of women, from fat Madame Pinchon of the "Estaminet au Progres" to the slim, petite, and altogether lovable little Yvonne of the "Chat Noir," was a source of wonder and jealousy to his co-mates in exile. He had an amazing stock of yarns—mostly "recondite and Rabelaisian"—with which he delighted his chums when in billets. In a "stunt" he was as brave as a lion; but he had then one sorrow—at such a time bock was not procurable and the issue of the Army rum was very small. He was an indefatigable collector of Boche souvenirs; but one ambition—the possession of a German watch—was still unsatisfied. Hence his suggestion was not without a sinister and ulterior motive. The day previous to the company's arrival at "Red Post" (as the A.D.S. was officially known) he had questioned one of the sergeants.
"Say, Sarge, the S.M. says you're some stunt on languages. We know you are on bad language, but what's the Fritz for a watch?"
"Eine Uhr," grunted the Sergeant.
"'Ere, 'ere, Sarge, I didn't ask yer for the Scotch. Yer can't kid me. I know blame well the Scotch say "oor." I was at Alloa on leave."
"Right-O," snorted the N.C.O. "Go away and don't ask any more damn-fool questions. But Uhr is the word."
"Don't sound pleasant, though," suggested Tich.
"Oh, go to blazes," said the non-com.
"What a kind-hearted, nice-mannered cove the Sarge is, isn't he?" inquired Tich of his "cobber."
"You'd better leave well alone and imshi," replied the other. "He's gone very crook because the C.O.'s detailed him for duty at the M.D.S. instead of further up. He's not exactly an angel at any time, but to-day he's got 'em bad."page 26
Off they went together; and that same evening under cover of dark, the company moved up to "Red Post" and established an A.D.S. During the night the stretcher squads were detailed in readiness and the n.c.o's went round to see that every man had his field dressing pinned inside his tunic and that gas masks and shrapnel helmets were ready. They knew that in another twelve hours the company's numerical strength would be considerably reduced.
At 6 p.m. punctually to the minute every British gun in the sector opened out, and the batteries dropped their barrage, in front of the infantry men who were advancing to attack the village.
"The curtain's up for act 1," shouted Tich above the din into his No. 1's ear. "We come on in Act 2."
"Damned good orchestra," he added, as the larger British shells whizzed overhead. "Good bass work. Staccato later on when the typewriters get to work."
Some time afterwards when our barrage had moved steadily forward, stretcher squads were given the word, "Ready to move." Each man settled his steel helmet firmly on his head, saw that his gas mask was at the alert; and patted his tunic to make sure the invaluable field-dressing was there. A few faces were white, but the lips were all firm as, guided by the sergeants and corporals, they moved off to where the enemy's counter-barrage was falling heavily near to and on the ridge. One shell passed right overhead before they started, and snorts and squeals of pain told that the horse-lines had "stopped it."
Out they went steadily, one squad at a time, as the n.c.o. in charge directed. One party seemed to hesitate for a second or two, and then a roar and a geyser of mud and earth not far from it showed where the shell had landed. When the smoke had cleared and the splinters had ceased falling, one could see the Lance-Corporal lying motionless in the mud, and two of the bearers bringing back a third on the stretcher.
"Bob's done in," panted the white-faced, mud-bespattered No. 1. "No," answering the sergeant's question and wiping the blood from his face, "that's Bob's, not mine. I didn't get a scratch, and Bill's is only flesh. Jim here," pointing to the man on the stretcher, "has copped it on the head. He's got a dressing on. We'll drop him at the Post and come straight back."
The sergeant nodded, gave a curt order to the corporal on his right, and the squad began to move again. In a short time they had all cleared the ridge, and, with the loss of a few more men, reached the R.A.P, Here a short-sleeved, blood-smeared captain of the N.Z.M.C., assisted by two orderlies, was working at top pressure with the more seriously wounded. An ambulance corporal and three men were busy attending to the slightly wounded (known officially as "walking cases"). These were to walk back to the A.D.S. assisted by the spare numbers of the stretcher squads—not that there were many spare numbers just then.
Back and through the barrage went the squads with their wounded, a more difficult process than coming over, as the bearers could not now duck or drop for safety owing to the Mounded whom they were carrying, so that occasionally a squad set out with a case and arrived at the dump without stretcher and patient, or remained out on the ridge dead or wounded, with the unfortunate casualty.page 27
This went on for some hours until at last the senior sergeant had to ask the C.O. for more men. It was this that gave Tich the opportunity to make his proposal to utilise prisoners, some of whom were already coming back. To his great surprise and secret delight the Colonel, instead of "strafing" him, fell in with the suggestion; and commandeering some Bavarians, handed three of them over to the senior-sergeant. The latter turned to Tich and said:
"You're acting-corporal, vice Bob, and will control squads one, two, and three. Don't move off till I give the word. And watch the movement of that blasted barrage and slip your squads through quickly."
Squad No. 1 consisted of three Bavarians, who seemed quite willing to do the work. Not that it would have made much difference had they not been.
Tich armed himself with a thick stick.
"What's that for?" demanded the sergeant.
"In case Fritz tries to get a strangle-hold on to me."
"Rats," said the n.c.o. "Lead off, Tich," and the squads moved forward.
Once clear of the ridge, Tich ordered his No. 1 squad into a shell-hole, or, rather, pushed them in, and followed them.
"Let's see what's in your pockets," he said. Then, to the first Bavarian, "No compree English?" The German regarded him stolidly and a little apprehensively, as the lithe little man flourished his bludgeon in alarming proximity to the prisoner's nose.
Then, remembering the bad-tempered sergeant's advice, Tich said, quickly:
"You got oor, eh? Compree oor? Oh, damn, I'm talking French."
The German showed little signs of comprehension, and Tich said with great fervor, "That blasted sergeant's a swanker. He don't know no blurry German."
After much pantomimic show of twisting his wrist and scanning it carefully and drawing an imaginary watch from his pocket, he succeeded in making the second German understand a little. This Boche, a slim young man of about 25 years of age and totally different to his two hoggish fellow-captives, drew a large time-piece from one of his pockets and said, "Drei Viertel ouf drei."
"Cut it out," commanded the corporal. "Of course I'm dry, but I want that oor. Believe the sarge was right after all."
He grabbed the watch and put it into his tunic pocket.
"Come on, you blighters," then said the little man, urging the three out of the shell-hole with the aid of his stick.
In an hour they were on their way back to the A.D.S. with a wounded N.Z. rifleman on the stretcher.
"How do you like being carried by brother Boche," demanded Tich.
"S'all right," replied the other. "Got a fag?" he asked. "My leg's giving me hell. Reckon its Blighty for keeps or good old New Zealand. Bone's smashed just above the ankle.
By good luck they reached the A.D.S. safely and Tich at once went back with his squad. As they neared the ridge the usual ominous whizzing of an approaching shell made Tich drop quickly to earth.
"Down," he yelled to his three Germans. "On yer guts, quick."page 28
The shell seemed to land almost simultaneously with his words. When the falling pieces had cleared away, Tich picked himself up and looked round. One German was dead, the second was bleeding from face, arm, and leg. The third, the youngest of the three, was evidently unharmed. Tich applied field dressings to the wounded Boche, and, with the assistance of the third, managed to make him understand that he was to go back to Red Post. Then he and the remaining Hun each grasped an end of the stretcher and went on to the R.A.P.
Together they commenced to carry back a badly-wounded lieutenant of the 14th Tararua Company. The ridge and its neighborhood were receiving the usual amount of attention, and for one moment Tich hesitated.
"Not that I care a curse," he explained to the officer, "but you don't want another. You've got enough to take you to Blighty."
"Carry on," said the sub. "I want to get out of this and damn quick."
As they cleared the ridge a belated five-nine landed rather close to be pleasant. Tich's calf was cut by a flying splinter.
"What rotten luck," he said, "three bar eighteen thousand and one, slightly wounded; remaining with unit. All right, Fritz," he added, "go right ahead."
They reached Red Post in safety, and the wounded man was handed over to the Major.
"By God, sir," said Tich, "there's no unsterlised insects on this Hun. He's game as hell."
The Major detailed an orderly to dress Tich's wound and to give him A.T.S. 500 units. This latter, Tich averred, was worse than the scratch he had received.
"Turn in now," said the Major, "and lie down for a few hours,"
"No damn fear, sir," answered Tich. "They're short-handed as it is, and my leg'll get stiff if I don't keep going."
The Major grinned broadly and turned away.
"Where's my bloody Fritz?" Tich yelled, as he emerged into the light.
"Fritz" was finishing a mug of bovril.
"Cripes, he's earned it," said the little man. " 'Ere, Fritz, come 'ere." He pushed and pulled him into a position of attention.
Then he took the watch from his pocket and looked at it lovingly.
"Now, Fritz, I'm Alex. Oh, hell! no!! not him. I'm Dug. Haig. 'Shun. Private Fritz Lager Beer, Number umpteen hundred and one. Let me see how does the next go? It doesn't matter. My own way's best. For gallant and distinguished conduct in the field—assisting at the risk of his own life to evacuate wounded under heavy shell fire. I can't pin it on and I'm not going to kiss you on both cheeks like Madamoiselle from Amentieres. You're not a bad sort though you are a blooming Hun; so here's your watch instead of the Military Medal or the Crox dee Gurr."
The bewildered German, with wonder and astonishment depicted on his face, put the watch back in his pocket without a word.
"Smile, damn you, smile," yelled Tich.
Then, in answer to a sergeant, who was making mysterious signs with his right arm.page 29
"Right O, sarge, I'm coming; and I'm as dry as hell. Hope you've got enough.
He disappeared into the quartermaster's dug-out, and as he went the sergeant-major smiled and murmured:
"Yes, rough as——; but he'll do me."
- A.D.S.: Advanced dressing station.
- M.D.S.: Main dressing station.
- R.A.P.: Regimental aid post.
- Compree: Army French—to understand.
- Imshi: To go away—an Egyptian borrowing, 20th century; to go crook, to become angry or annoyed, to lose one's temper.
- Crox dee Gurr: Probably Croix de Guerre.
- A strafe: Something or anything unpleasant received by soldiers, whether it be a reprimand from a superior or a bombardment by minenwerfer or by big guns.
- A stunt: An affair with the enemy. Though usually applied to a big offensive, it may also be used when referring to raids, night patrols, etc.
- A.T.S.: Anti-tetanus serum—injected into all men wounded.
- Type-writers: Machine guns.