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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