Long Before Daybreak- Part Two

The Rediscovered WWI memoir of an art student's survival in the trenches.


The following extract abridged from Albert Clayton’s recently discovered WW1 memoir Long Before Daybreak describes his first arrival at the front line trench.   

We found, of course, another regiment in occupation when we arrived in the front line on that blazing afternoon in late July (the trenches thee were safe enough to allow of a daylight relief). Another regiment standing impatiently by, chafing at the delay in our coming. And the very moment our officers and theirs had formally “handed over,” stood one another a farewell scotch in the officers’ dugout and said their “cheerios” and “good lucks”, they tarried no longer, but were off hell-for- leather the way we had come. 

After all, why linger? When you have stood up to shot and shell for nearly a week you don’t wait to see the next one drop... it might be that one with your name on it. 

So they bided just long enough to give us their parting advice: 

“Patrol that gap on your left arter dark,” they said; “keep yer ‘eads dahn in the day-time; watch aht for a sniper they’ve got in the middle; and don’t light no fires.” With which fruit of experience, they shot off.                                             


The daytime in that front line did not at first seem too alarming. I just had to stand about the fire-bay with a fixed bayonet, taking a peep across No Man’s Land every now and then by means of a box periscope, through which nothing much could be seen, however, except a lot of long grass and tangled wire. Behind this trench the ground rose steeply to the crest of a small rocky hillock which lay between us and the support line, giving the pleasant feeling that we had a wall at our backs - and friends behind the wall. 

script with published book 2
The unpleasant feeling started soon after we had got settled in, with a sudden, terrifying “Whiz....z....bang! Whiz....z...bang!” half a dozen times in rapid succession. The “whiz” cleft the air just over my head; the “bang” burst itself against the rocky hillock behind; while the air was filled for the space of seconds with the hum of bees - the bits and pieces of flying iron. 

Just a German “Whiz-Bang” battery administering the regular daily laxative... About once every two hours the dose was repeated, and each time it occurred I waited in fear and trembling, expecting every moment that the next one would fall short of the hillock and explode in the trench. Why the German gunners failed to shorten their range and drop the whole lot in the trench I could never make out. But by some miracle they didn’t. 

It was old Bill Parker, the Company’s oldest soldier (out since 1914), who set my mind as much at rest as ever it was likely to be upon the vagaries of shell-fire. “Don’t get the wind up, mate,” he said, “for you never ‘ears the shell that kills yer.” 

Long Before Daybreak by Albert Clayton is published in paperback and eBook on Amazon
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