I had just finished breakfast when I heard Miss Krupp come singing overhead with that peculiar note which warns of her proximity. I ran to the door (the running consisted of one step) and saw the explosion at the bottom of the little hill about 200 yards away. A moment later another scream and the earth is flying sky-high, this time 50 yards nearer. I waited anxiously for the next shot. Again the range was shorter, the third shell bursting half the distance from the first and then I realised that at this rate of progression I should very soon have an unwelcome visitor landing at my very door, for my dug-out was in direct line of fire. There was no time to adopt the Dublin lad’s advice when faced with a difficulty and ‘send for the polis’, nor was there any use trying to get out of the way, for as likely as not another shell would land in the trench itself, while my dug-out afforded some protection.
I knew there was nothing to fear while His powerful protection was over me, and it never failed me yet, but I confess I shook with fear as another shell came crashing down and the stones and the clay rattled in a shower outside and on the roof.
It is a curious thing I have never had a moment’s hesitation, nor ever felt fear in going into the greatest danger when duty called and some poor chap needed help, but to sit ‘in cold blood’, so to speak, and wait to be blown to pieces or buried by a ‘crump’ is an experience which tests one’s nerves to the limit. Thank God I have been able to conceal my feelings and so help others to despise the danger when I was just longing to take to my heels.
An officer said to me at the Somme: ‘I have often envied you your coolness and cheerfulness in hot corners.’ I rather surprised him by saying that my real feeling was abject fear and I often shook like a leaf.
And writing later in the day about another attack:
Three of my lads came tearing in to my dug-out, they had nearly been sent to glory and felt they were safe with the priest. The poor priest cracks a joke or two, makes them forget their terror, and goes on with his lunch while every morsel sticks in his throat from fear and dread of the next shell. A moment passes, two – ‘here he comes’ – dead silence and anxious faces for a second and then we all laugh, for it is one of our own shells going over. Five minutes more and we know all danger has passed, but it has been a memorable day for me, though only one of many such in the past.