(July 8th to 14th)

Format: Triple

…’I dropped into it – almost atop o’ the machine-gun platform by the side o’ the old sugar boiler and the two Zoo-ave skel’tons. That gave me my bearin’s, an’ so I went through French End, all up those missin’ duckboards into Butcher’s Row, where the poy-looz was laid in six deep each side, an’ stuffed under the duckboards. It had froze tight, an’ the drippin’s had stopped and the creakin’s had begun.


This is from ‘A Madonna of the Trenches’ in ‘Debits and Credits’.

A young ‘runner’ is telling of a terrible experience in the trenches of ’14-’18. He was used to making his way through lines of frozen corpses, always at risk of a shell or a bullet, but that was his job. What had really frightened him was encountering his uncle at the door of a dug-out, and seeing the ghost of his dead Aunt Armine going inside. His uncle had joined her in the dugout, and deliberately killed himself by suffocation.

‘ …I hear a thud in the engine-room. Then the noise of machinery falling down – like fire-irons – and then two most awful yells. They’re more like hoots, and I know – I know while I listen – that it means that two men have died as they hooted. It was their last breath hooting out of them – in most awful pain…’


This is from ‘In the Same Boat’ in ‘A Diversity of Creatures’.

Conroy, an otherwise fit young man, has taken to drugs to ward off an appalling recurring nightmare. Here he is telling his dream to a Miss Henschil, a fellow sufferer, who is ‘in the same boat’. She has her own fearful dream, and like him has taken to drugs. They make friends and help each other escape their nightmares. Later they find that there is a cause; they are reliving experiences that their mothers had had just before they were born.

‘When I come to, I was lyin’ outside the cuttin’, which was pretty well filled up…Then I saw something like a mushroom in the moonlight. It was the nice old gentleman’s bald ‘ead. I patted it. ‘Im and ‘is ladies ‘ad copped it right enough… I dressed myself off ’em then and there, an’ topped off with a British warm. Then I went back to the cuttin’, and someone said to me “Dig, you ox, dig ! Gander’s under…” ‘


This is from ‘The Janeites’ in ‘Debits and Credits’. Humberstall, a gunner with a battery of Heavy guns in the trenches, is describing the moment when the enemy found the range and hit them. Two of the officers had been enthusiasts for Jane Austen, and had introduced the men to her books – hence ‘The Janeites’. They had called two of their guns ‘Lady Catherine de Burgh’ and ‘The Reverend Collins’ and spent many a happy hour in between barrages finding apposite quotations. For Humberstall, who is still shell-shocked, ‘Jane’ had been a happy and vivid memory from a hellish time.