My tunic rotten with other men’s blood and partly splattered with a comrade’s brains

>>  Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Australian journalist Lieutenant J.A. Raws, who with his brother, was killed in the battle of the Somme. He was only in the war for 4 weeks but he wrote letters describing what he experienced:

“The great horror of many of us is the fear of being lost with troops at night on the battlefield. We do all our fighting and moving at night, and the confusion of passing through a barrage of enemy shells in the dark is pretty appalling …

Our battalion ... had to march for three miles, under shellfire, go out into No Man’s Land in front of the German trenches, and dig a narrow trench to be used to jump off from in another assault. I was posted in the rear to bring up the rear and prevent straggling. We went in single file along narrow communication trenches. We were shelled all the way up but got absolute hell when passing through a particular heavy curtain of fire where the enemy was playing on a ruined village (Pozieres) ... In the midst of this barrage our line was held up. I went up from the rear and found that we had been cut off, about half of us, from the rest of the battalion, and were lost. I would gladly have shot myself, for I had not the slightest idea where our lines were, and the shells were coming at us from, it seemed, three directions. As a matter of fact that was right. Well, we lay down terror-stricken along the bank. The shelling was awful ... we eventually found our way to the right spot out in No Man’s Land. Our leader was shot before we arrived and the strain sent the two other officers mad. I and another new officer Lieutenant Short took charge and dug the trench. We were shot at all the time ... the wounded and killed had to be thrown to one side ... I refused to let any sound man help a wounded man, the sound had to dig ... We dug on and finished amid a tornado of shells ... I was buried once and thrown down several times ... buried with the dead and dying. The ground was covered with bodies in all stages of decay and mutilation and I would, after struggling from the earth, pick up a body by me and lift him out with me and find him a decayed corpse. I pulled a head off - it was covered with blood. The horror was indescribable. I went up again that night and stayed there. We were shelled to hell ceaselessly. X went mad and disappeared ... there remained nothing but a charred mass of debris with bricks, stones, girders and bodies pounded to nothing ... we were lousy, stinking, sleepless ... I have one puttee, another dead man’s helmet and a dead man’s bayonet. My tunic rotten with other men’s blood and partly splattered with a comrade’s brains. It is horrible, but why should you people at home not know? Several of my friends are raving mad. I met three officers out in No Man’s Land the other night, all rambling and mad. Poor Devils!.""


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