Our shells are whizzing and whirring overhead. We see flames of bursting shells stabbing through the darkness away out ahead. Enemy machine-gun bullets are ripping into the wet dirt along our parapet, so we’re having a rotten time looking over the top. Heads pop up. Eyes take a searching sweep into the darkness ahead and down we bob again.
Along the trench, heads going up and down like chickens cleaning up hot soup. Now and again a call goes up for stretcher-bearers as a bullet finds its billet.
On our post we are taking it in turns to look over. The man on my left is looking over the top. Bullets smack into the parapet and he ducks down cursing hard and earnestly. A little pause and he laughs nervously and looks over again.
Now he jumps down. It’s my turn and, taking a grip upon myself, I force my head up until my eyes just clear the parapet. No bullets are coming near me so, getting gamer, I have a look about in front. Suddenly my head seems to be floating far away through a black, soundless void. Now it is floating on water. Cold water, into which my face is sinking, sinking, sinking. From miles away above me a voice calls down through the water, ‘Some poor cow’s got it through the tin lid.’
My mind is working. I somehow realise I’m the ‘poor cow’ the voice spoke of and begin to struggle. I’m underwater. I’m swallowing water. I can’t breathe. My head is above water. Flop, and my face falls through blackness into water again.
‘Steady, son, we’ve got you.’ Hands are lifting me from the water. My reason returns and I know I am being lifted from a waterhole in the floor of the trench. Our platoon officer and some men have placed me on a fire-step.
‘How d’you feel?’
‘Let’s see it.’ And I jump! My forehead is being lifted! I’ve sagged back on the step, but feel better except that my head is bursting. Men tie a field dressing around my forehead and soon I am back to normal.
The men are interested in my tin hat. A torch flashed on the floor of the trench and I see my old steel helmet carries a bright copper streak from the top of the dome down to the brim. The brim is creased and bent. A man shows me a great rugged piece of steel that is hanging down from the underside of the tin hat.
‘That stuck in your forehead. The top of it came out through your eyebrow. Look where the bullet travelled down. Crimes, you’re lucky!’ And I see that a copper-clad enemy machine-gun bullet has travelled from the top of my helmet to the brim and then been guided off. My life undoubtedly saved by my old tin lid!
‘How are you! Feel up to going out now?’ our officer is asking.
I feel my forehead. It is very sore. I know my eye is swollen. The old hand wound is very sore now. I’ll go out. I’ve had enough. Swish, swish, swish, the bullets fly in a stream overhead. I’m not going out through them.
‘No, Sir. I’ll stay on. I’m right.’ I don’t tell him that I’m too frightened to make out through those streaming bullets, but he probably knows.