The stories featured in this section are fictionalized accounts of battles that the 13th Battalion participates in on a regular basis.
France - March 1917
Dirt and burlap pelt my helmet as the bullets from the German machine gun
smack against the sandbags above my head. I crunch my neck down between my
shoulders and try to bring my head further down beneath the lip of the
shell hole position. A thin voice calls out from my left, "Morphia.
Morphia." A hobnailed boot hangs over the side of my position. I can make
out the puttees and hose tops of one of my mates, but cannot see who it is.
I set down my rifle and crawl over to the booted leg. Slowly, I crane my
next out to see over the lip of the hole. Private Hiatt lies in a crumpled
mass atop the dirt embankment. His left arm is sprawled out across the
ground and his eyes stare vacantly towards the sky. His mouth twitches and
I faintly hear him cry out again, "Morphia. Morphia" Reaching over the
sandbags, I grab the shoulder straps of his web gear. Winding my fingers
underneath the strap, I pull him towards my position. Bullets slam into
the ground between us and a sledge hammer crashes against my helmeted head.
My body twists around and I fall down into the bottom of the shell hole.
My helmet arches through the air, landing on the far side of the crater,
spinning like a top. My head rings and my vision is blurred. Reaching up
to my ear, I hiss out loud as my fingers touch raw flesh. Pulling my hand
down, my finger tips are smeared bright crimson. As my vision slowly
clears and the ringing in my ears diminishes, I reach for my helmet. Just
below the brim, the right side of the chin strap and d-ring have been
ripped off. A strip of hair encrusted flesh hangs from the leather.
Gingerly, I set the helmet back upon my head and return to help Brian.
Peeking carefully over the top of the hole, I start once again to reach for
his web gear. As I begin to pull him towards me, his helmet slides off his
head revealing the gaping hole in his temple. Only then do I notice he is
no longer crying out. I feel my throat tighten and taste bile in my mouth.
Fighting back a gag, I pull his body down into the shell hole and prop him
up in the rear of the position. Quickly reaching back over the top of the
crater, I snag his helmet. After I put his helmet back on his head and
over his face, it is easier to think of him as sleeping than dead. Leaning
over him, I reach into the dressing pocket of his tunic and pull out a
small pewter flask. The whiskey burns as it slides down my throat. My
stomach immediately warmes. "Bieler!" I hear from my left. "What?" I
whisper back. "Do you have any grenades left?" Checking my small pack, I
feel around inside and find four Mills Bombs. "Yes. Why?" I call back.
"Can you reach that bloody Maxim?" I hear over the gun fire. Peering over
the side of the sand bags, I can make out the tripod and barrel of the
German machine gun not 50 feet from my position. Looking over to my left,
I see Corporal Cuesta's face waiting for my response. I give him a quick
thumbs up and watch him turn to the others in his bomb crater. Turning
back, he calls out, "Wait for our signal and let him have one." Sliding
back into the shell hole, I pull out two Mills Bombs and place them in the
dirt in front of me. Carefully, I pull the pins so that they just hang
inside the fuse mechanism. One quick pull and they will be ready to throw.
Grabbing one bomb in my right hand, I wait for Cpl. Cuesta. From that
direction, a whistle blows and the air fills with the sound of rifle fire.
Out of the corner of my eye, five of my mates blast away at the German
gunner. Getting to my knees, I pull the pin and hurl the grenade.
Reaching down, I grab the second and throw it as well. The German Maxim
barks out in response and I hear a shout from my left. Krumpf! Krumpf!
The two grenades explode next to the gun. Before the smoke can clear, Cpl.
Cuesta is screaming commands as the men rush forward towards the overturned
gun. Grabbing my pack, I scramble over the top of the shell hole to join
them. The men in front of me disappear into the smoke of the grenades as I
race to catch up. Sliding into a new shell hole, I slam into the ground
next to the Corporal. Next to him are Pte Hunt, and Pte Grant. I look
around and see no others. Reaching down to my side, I pull out my canteen.
The lukewarm water washes dust and grim from my mouth and throat. I push
the canteen into Cpl. Cuesta's shoulder. Without looking down, he reaches
out for it and mutters his thanks. He stares intently out over the shell
hole off towards the German lines.
"They're falling back," he announces, "Get ready to push on." The canteen
is returned and I watch the others check their weapons and equipment before
we continue onward. Twenty yards gained and we are now four of ten men who
went over the top not fifteen minutes ago. "How many grenades do you have
left?" The Cpl. asks. "Two," I reply. Reaching into his pocket, he hands
me another one, "Here's one for your collection." "Extra rum for the man
who can keep up with me," he announces as he gets into a low crouch.
"We'll take the next two holes to my right," he commands as he looks at
each of us in turn, "OK?" When no one answers, he stands, jumps out of the
shell hole, moving to the next position. Privates Hunt and Grant follow.
Before I can move to join them, a machine gun rips out a long burst across
the open field. Looking over the edge of the crater, I see the two
privates sprawled out across the ground. Corporal Cuesta sways on his
feet, his rifle trailing from his hand. A lone shot rings out, and he
spins round and collapses to the ground. From the German lines, smoke
rises from the barrel of the second Maxim gun hidden among the sand bags.
A cheer erupts from the German lines and I feel my chest tighten. Nothing
has gone well today.
by Jeff Bieler
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