Trench warfare is one of the dirtiest forms there are. First off, you have men living in what are basically open holes or buried holes in the ground. Add water to that mix and the men are constantly having to put up with mud.
If you add shit and piss from latrines, and men who have gut rot, as well as rats and the remains of unburied troops – or some of their bodily parts at least – then you have the true meaning of dirty.
That, believe it or not, is not the worst part. The worst part is that once the enemy has struggled across no-man’s land, the distance in which you engage them is limited to no more than twenty yards, and often as close as twenty inches.
Trench warfare is personal. The enemy has a face you could put onto any of the lads in your unit. The enemy has halitosis, body odour, fleas and lice, just like you.
The enemy is as hell-bent on killing you, as you are him, and will use any weapon he can including his teeth.
Trench warfare is positively medieval. Serrated bayonets, daggers, knives, bayonet swords, home-made spears, maces, billy clubs and knuckledusters are all used to rip, tear, slash, cut, smash, break and destroy the enemy. Even sharpened spades make excellent tools.
All of this crossed Blaise’s mind as he ducked back into cover. The grenade went off with a muffled crump and mud flew everywhere.
He pushed himself up and round the corner, trying desperately to see through the glass goggles on his gasmask, sucking hard for air.
A figure struggled to rise, but the fact it was missing an arm hampered it somewhat. Blaise shot it twice, his heavy Webley bucking.
The figure dropped back into the mud and he ran forward, his foot landing on its head, shoving the face further into the mud.
‘Teuffel!’ a curtain, made practically invisible by the mud coating it twitched aside as a massive Prussian Guards Officer stepped into the trench.
He gasped as Blaise rammed the Webley under his chin, eyes widening behind his own eye slits. A quick pull of the trigger and the man fell backward down the steps into his bunker.
‘Quickly!’ Blaise snatched a petrol bomb from the man behind him, lit it, and tossed it down the stairs. The darkness within was instantly removed as the fragile glass broke on the helmet of one of the Prussians behind the officer.
Horrible, piercing, heart-rending screams came from the men as the petrol, soap and rubber mix melted their rubber masks onto their faces. A couple of grenades stopped the screaming, as did the bayonets of the tommies that went down into the bunker.
‘Move up!’ There was a bend in the trench ahead so he threw another grenade up and over the bend, aiming for a couple of yards beyond it.
‘Lovely throw sir, you’d be well placed on the regimental cricket team.’ his faithful shadow, the Colour Sergeant was right behind him as ever.
‘Thanks sarn’t, I didn’t know they used grenades as balls!’ he moved on before the Colour could reply.
He stepped into utter carnage. The enemy had been in the process of setting up a heavy machine gun. When the grenade detonated, it had destroyed the carriage, turning it upon its crew as it was blasted into so many pieces of shrapnel.
‘How far now Colour?’ each unit of the attackers had been given a certain sized corridor of operations in order to avoid friendly casualties, and he was keen to avoid any mix up.
‘We stop at the next bend sir.’ the Colour Sergeant suddenly pushed him out of the way, lunging forward as he did so and bayoneting a Prussian through the head.
‘Bastard was playing dead sir. Sorry for the push,’ the Colour Sergeant stuck his bayonet into the mud to get the worst of the blood off.
‘Not at all, Colour, not all.’ adrenaline surged through his body, another dump on top of the previous fighting. Blaise had never felt so alive.
By God trench warfare was dirty, but by God was it glorious!