Fighting a Gas Attack in the Trenches
How it feels when the green-yellow cloud steals on you
��IN a new book entitled "Over the Top" (G. P. Putnam's Sons), Arthur Guy Empey, "machine gunner serving in France," takes you into the trenches and makes you feel what it is to fight under modern conditions. Here is his? account of a gas-attack:
Three days after we had silenced Fritz, the Germans sent over gas. It did not catch us una- wares, because the wind had been made to order, that is, it was blowing from the' German trenches towards ours at the rate of abou£ five miles per hour.
Warnings had been passed down the trench to keep a sharp lookout for gas.
We had a new man at the periscope, on this afternoon in question ; I was sitting on the fire step, cleaning my rifle, when he called out to me:
"There's a sort of greenish, yellow cloud rolling along the ground out in front, it's coming "
But I waited for no more. Grabbing my bayonet, which was detached from the rifle, I gave the alarm by banging an empty shell case, which was hanging near the periscope. At the same instant, gongs started ringing down the trench, the signal for Tommy to don his respirator, or smoke helmet, as we call it.
Donning the Gas Masks Gas travels quickly. No time must be lost. There are only about eighteen or twenty seconds in which to adjust a gas helmet.
A gas helmet is made of cloth, treated with chemicals. There are two windows, or glass eyes in it, through which you can see. Inside there is a rubber mouth tube.
For a minute, pandemonium reigned in our trench — Tommies adjusting their helmets, bombers running here and there, and men turning out of the dugouts with fixed bayonets, to man the fire step.
Re-inforcements were pouring out of the com- munication trenches.
Our gun's crew were busy mounting the machine- gun on the parapet and bringing up extra am- munition from the dugout.
A company man on our right was too slow in getting on his helmet; he sank to the ground, clutching at his throat, and after a few spasmodic twistings, went West (died). It was horrible to see him die, but we were powerless to help him. In the corner of a traverse, a little muddy cur dog, one of the company's pets, was lying dead, with his two paws over his nose.
It's the animals that suffer the most, the horses, mules, cattle, dogs, cats, and rats, they having no helmets to save them. Tommy does not sympathize with rats in a gas attack.
At times, gas has been known to travel, with dire results, fifteen miles behind the lines.
In the Folds of the Green-Yellow Cloud
German gas is heavier than air and soon
fills the trenches and dugouts, where it
��has been known to lurk for two or three days, until the air is purified by means of large chemical sprayers. The author continues:
A gas, or smoke helmet, as it is called, at the best is a vile-smelling thing, and it is not long before one gets a violent headache from wearing it.
.Our eighteen-pounders were bursting in No Man's Land, in an effort, by the artillery, to disperse the gas clouds.
The fire step was lined with crouching men, bayonets fixed, and bombs near at hand to repel the expected attack.
Our artillery had put a barrage of curtain fire on the German lines, to try and break up their attack and keep back re-inforcements.
I trained my machine gun on their trench and its bullets were raking the parapet.
Then over they came, bayonets glistening. In their respirators, which have a large snout in front, they looked like some horrible nightmare.
All along our trench, rifles and machine-guns spoke, our shrapnel was bursting over their heads. They went down in heaps, but new ones took the place of the fallen. Nothing could stop that mad rush. The Germans reached our barbed wire, which had previously been demolis! ed by their shells, then it was bomb against bomb, and the devil for all.
Suddenly, my" head seemed to burst from a loud "crack" in my ear. Then my head began to swim, throat got dry, and a heavy pressure on the lungs warned me that my helmet was leaking. Turning my gun over to No. 2, I changed helmets.
One helmet is good for five hours of strongest gas. Each Tommy carries two.
The trench started to wind like a snake, and sand- bags appeared to be floating in the air. The noise was horrible ; I sank onto the 'fire step, needles seemed to be pricking my flesh — then blackness.
I was awakened by one of my mates removing my smoke helmet. How delicious that cool, fresh air felt in my lungs.
A strong wind had arisen and dispersed the gas.
They told me that I had been "out" for three hours; they thought I was dead.
When the Wind Dispersed the Gas
The attack had been repulsed after a hard fight. Twice the Germans had gained a foothold, but had been driven out by counter-attacks. The trench was filled with their dead and ours. Through a periscope, Empey counted eighteen dead Germans in the barbed wire; they were a ghastly sight in their horrible-looking respirators.
He examined his first smoke helmet; a bullet had gone through it on the left side, just grazing his ear; the gas had pene- trated through the hole made in the cloth.