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Humanities Libertexts

17.9: The Sentry

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  • We’d found an old Boche[1] dug-out, and he knew,
    And gave us hell, for shell on frantic shell
    Hammered on top, but never quite burst through.
    Rain, guttering down in waterfalls of slime
    Kept slush waist high, that rising hour by hour,
    Choked up the steps too thick with clay to climb.
    What murk of air remained stank old, and sour
    With fumes of whizz-bangs[2], and the smell of men
    Who’d lived there years, and left their curse in the den,
    If not their corpses. . . .
    There we herded from the blast
    Of whizz-bangs, but one found our door at last.
    Buffeting eyes and breath, snuffing the candles.
    And thud! flump! thud! down the steep steps came thumping
    And splashing in the flood, deluging muck—
    The sentry’s body; then his rifle, handles
    Of old Boche bombs, and mud in ruck on ruck.
    We dredged him up, for killed, until he whined
    “O sir, my eyes—I’m blind—I’m blind, I’m blind!”
    Coaxing, I held a flame against his lids
    And said if he could see the least blurred light
    He was not blind; in time he’d get all right.
    “I can’t,” he sobbed. Eyeballs, huge-bulged like squids
    Watch my dreams still; but I forgot him there
    In posting next for duty, and sending a scout
    To beg a stretcher somewhere, and floundering about
    To other posts under the shrieking air.

    Those other wretches, how they bled and spewed,
    And one who would have drowned himself for good,—
    I try not to remember these things now.
    Let dread hark back for one word only: how
    Half-listening to that sentry’s moans and jumps,
    And the wild chattering of his broken teeth,
    Renewed most horribly whenever crumps[3]
    Pummelled the roof and slogged the air beneath—
    Through the dense din, I say, we heard him shout
    “I see your lights!” But ours had long died out.

    Contributors and Attributions

    1. Disparaging term for a German, especially a German soldier.
    2. A small-calibre World War I shell that, when discharged, travelled at such a high velocity that the sound of its flight was heard only an instant, if at all, before the sound of its explosion.
    3. A shell or bomb.
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