Lewis Gunner in a Shell Hole

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two British soldiers try to survive an attack on German positions that went wrong.

Submitted: March 03, 2017

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Submitted: March 03, 2017

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Lewis Gunner in a Shell Hole

A fountain of slimy, muddy water engulfed Trevor and his mate Chris as they dove into the deep shell hole, and the bullets from the German machinegun chewed up its slippery edge, spraying them with more mud. The Lewis gun dropped by Trevor slid to a halt just before it reached the edge of the water. It had been a close call. Trevor’s piercing eyes had barely noticed the movement of the machinegun’s muzzle as it was yanked to their line of advance.
“Down!” It was all he had managed to call out as his survival instincts had thrown him over the edge of the hole into safety.
As soon as he scrambled from the water he looked for his mate. Chris crept slowly from the water’s edge. “Okay?” Trevor asked.
“Fine, just wet,” was the answer from the figure that no longer looked like his friend.
“That was close,” Trevor observed drily.
“Too close for comfort.” Chris retorted. He pointed to Trevor’s left leg. “Look at your shoe.”
Trevor looked at his shoe, and saw almost half the heel was missing, ripped away by a bullet.
“Another inch and I would have got myself a Blighty,” Trevor said with regret sounding in his voice.
The men instinctively crouched lower as a new burst from the German machinegun not even thirty yards away tore up the edge of the shell hole again.
“Damn,” Trevor swore. “He’s got us pinned down. Stay low, no matter what you do, don’t raise your head.”
“Don’t worry,” Chris answered softly. “I haven’t got a death wish. Let’s sit this one out.”
The two men slid slowly further down so that they were up to their knees in the stinking, grey water, far below the level where any bullets could reach them.
The sound of the battle going on around them couldn’t tell them if any progress was being made by their comrades. The attack was probably still going on. The stutter of machineguns came from both sides of no-man’s land, and shells of all calibres exploded around them, turning the battlefield into a cauldron of sound and smoke. Every now and then the high pitched whistle of a stray bullet passed just a few feet over their heads, and at regular intervals, the enemy machine gunner made it clear he hadn’t forgotten about him. They could be in for a long wait. After some minutes had gone by, the two men got the fright of their lives as a dark shadow suddenly loomed over them. Trevor jerked up the muzzle of the Lewis gun and tried to hook his finger in the pistol grip, wiling to blast any German to hell if the occasion arose. He needn’t have bothered, the shadow jumped across one side of the shell hole as a burst of bullets tore through his body, dropping him like a ragdoll on the edge of the hole, head down. His flat, saucer shaped tin hat, came off and rolled into the slime at the bottom of the hole. Chris looked straight into the eyes of the Tommy that would not see another dawn again, they were a warm brown. Chalk faced, Chris swallowed with difficulty before he spoke.
“Fuck!” He uttered softly. “I hope nobody does that again.”
“Stop complaining, it could have been you. Do you know him?”
Chris took a better look at the dead face. “No, must have been one of those new boys in Quirk’s platoon. I haven’t seen him before. What shall we do?”
“What do you mean? Nothing?”
“But we can’t just let him lie there, not like that. It’s indecent. We should get him down here, with us.”
Trevor shook his head. “Don’t be foolish. Leave him. He’s going to be our camouflage. It will be harder for anyone to see us, if we have to look over the edge. He could be the best thing that happened to us today.”
Chris realized his friend was right. He didn’t want the man to lie where more bullets could chew him up further, but the reasoning was sound. The dead man just had to stay where he was.

The men relaxed again. After about two hours the noise of the battle subsided a bit. The heaviest shelling moved slightly to the north, but there was still too much stuff flying around for them to leave the safety of the hole in the ground. The only thing that had changed was that the German machine gunner had found himself some new, more interesting targets. Now the main hazard came from the occasional rifle bullet that slammed into the mud close to the body of the dead soldier.

Trevor thought it became time to suss out the situation they were in. Being in the dark about things could be fatal.
“I’m going to take a look,” Trevor said. He moved close to the dead man’s body, took off his helmet and slowly inched his way up behind the buttocks that protruded in the air. He could just see about a dozen yards of the enemy lines with its tangle of barbed wire in front of it.  The machine gunner who had pinned them down let another burst fly. Instinctively, Trevor froze, but he needn’t have bothered. The gun was firing at a group of five khaki clad figures some fifty yards away. The men were frantically trying to crawl to the safety of a low pile of bricks that had been a farmhouse, before the heavy guns had turned it into rubble. As Trevor watched, he could see the impact of the bullets on three of the men, who immediately stopped moving. It was a sickening sight, but it gave Trevor the opportunity to establish the exact position of the enemy machinegun. As the remaining two crawling figures reached safety, Trevor slowly slid down the shell hole again.
“I saw it,” he said to Chris. “That gun is to the right of us. “We should try to put it out of action.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I could see it firing. It’s in a concrete shelter, but it has a wide slit in front of it.”
“Can we get it from here?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Trevor said. “We’ll have to move. We can’t crawl up to it, the wire’s too thick here, we’ll have to move at least a dozen yards to the right. Then we’ll have a better angle on the gun.”
“Strange,” said Chris. “That Jerry gunner can get to us. Look at your heel.”
“I know what you mean, but he can just get to us. I don’t think that gun can traverse any further. If we move, we’ll have better chance of putting him and his loader out of action.”
“It sound bloody dangerous to me.”
Trevor nodded and said: “It is, but we can’t lie here forever. The guys down there are being driven back. Before you know it, Jerry is going to mount a counterattack, and then we’re in for it. As it is, we can’t even move all the way back to the trench, the closer we get to our lines, the easier it will be for that gunner to pick us off. We’re lucky that we’re a bit too close to their wire now, but things can really turn ugly. No, we’ve got to do something.”
“I guess you’re right,” Chris replied. “Let’s get that fucker, but wait a second, I’ll have to get rid of this muck.” He picked up the two drum magazines that had fallen on the side of the shell hole, and started to wipe of the mud with a rag he took from his pocket. “We don’t want any foul ups,” he stated as he cleaned the first muddy magazine. He carefully put the drum upside down next to him and started on the second magazine. “So, how are we going to do it?”
Trevor thought for a moment. 
“We’ll do it as we can hear him fire to the right. He will be preoccupied with the guys over there. All the guys in the shelter will be looking at the area where they are still trying to break through. They must think they got everyone over here. They hardly pay attention to us. That will give us the break that we need. When I say so, we’ll climb out of this damn hole, sprint for a couple of seconds to the right. Some of our guys are lying next to what looks like a bit of broken down wall. That’s where we’ll go to ground, as soon as we hit the ground, I’ll put a whole drum into them. They won’t know what hit them. If the timing is right, the entire crew gets it.”
“Let’s hope so.”
“Just make sure you’re beside me,” Trevor said. “As soon as I put that magazine into them, you must hand me another one. You never know if any of the other Jerries gets it into his head to become a hero. If necessary, we’ll put the other two drums into them; we’ll make mincemeat of them.”
Just as Trevor crawled up to the rim of the shell hole, the world seem to explode. Mud mixed with shrapnel whizzed around, and Trevor’s legs were stung by what felt like red hot bee stings.  It was strange, but it seemed like all sounds had ceased to exist. His face was pushed into the mud so he couldn’t breathe for a couple of seconds. When he felt the air return to his longs, he could taste the mud in his mouth. He slowly turned his head out of the mud. He was no longer in the shell hole. He was flat on his stomach next to the corpse of the dead Tommy, and he could see figures on the other side of the shell hole coming closer. Figures in field grey uniforms with those coalscuttle helmets, moving slowly but menacingly while pointing their rifles at him. Then a strong hand grabbed his shoulder and rolled him over. A pair of grey eyes stared down at him. Trevor could see the tracks of the sweat running down the grimy face of the enemy soldier.
“Hands up, Tommy,” Trevor heard the man say. “Alles ist kaputt.”
“Where’s Chris?” he stammered.
“Friend?” The German asked.
One of the other Germans that had reached him looked intently at him, and shook his head. “Todt.”
Trevor knew what it meant and felt vomit rise from his stomach. The German soldier stepped quickly to the side as Trever threw up. Then they drew him up and started pushing him towards the German line. When they moved away from the shell hole, Trevor glanced down. He saw the mangled body of his friend, half submerged in the slime of the hole, the upper part of his uniform still smoking. Trevor started retching again, but there was nothing in his stomach that could be thrown up.  A rifle butt prodded in his back, so he stumbled as quickly as he could towards the German trench, all the while blood from the shrapnel from the grenades running into his boots.
Within a couple of minutes The German patrol was back in their own line. As soon as they were under cover, they gestured Trevor to sit on a fire step. Trevor bent over, unwound his blood-soaked puttees and inspected his legs. There were at least a dozen small punctures, where the shrapnel had torn into his flesh. It looked like his lower legs had been painted red, but although it was extremely painful, he could still use both of them.
While he inspected his legs, the Germans around him watched his moves. One of them walked away and came back with another man who carried a Red Cross pouch. Trevor realized it was a stretcher bearer. As soon as the man began bandaging his legs, another soldier walked up to him and offered him a drink from a half filled bottle of white liquid.
“Schnapps,” he said. “Gut. Trinken Sie.”
Trevor accepted the bottle and took a swig. The fiery liquid burnt down his throat, but the shock of the alcohol reaching his stomach mad him more aware of what was going on. He looked around, and saw that he was just to the side of the machinegun nest he had wanted to wipe out. The gun hammered a couple of times, and fell silent.  The entire sector had become almost silent as the battle ceased to rage. As Trevor was being bandaged, a soldier emerged from the machinegun shelter. He looked young, no more than seventeen or eighteen with a face that was too young to even grow a stubble, he looked very grimy, but had sparkling eyes and a friendly smile as he walked up to Trevor. The young soldier’s right hand went into pocket and came out with a packet of cigarettes.
“Zigarette, Tommy?” He asked and offered one to Trevor.
As Trevor held out his hand, their fingers met, and Trevor looked into the sparkling, blue eyes.
“Kamerad,” the young soldier said and offered Trevor a light.
Trevor’s fingers started to tremble, as he realize that just a couple of minutes before he would have gladly emptied an entire magazine into this friendly face.
“Thanks,” he said as he had taken the first puff. His hands steadied again. Somehow he felt relieved, that he hadn’t been able to destroy this boy’s life.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2018 Bert Broomberg. All rights reserved.

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