A barrage is a term used to describe extensive artillery fire against enemy positions. Barrages were classified as light, moderate or heavy. A light barrage amounted to six or seven shells every ten minutes. A moderate barrage was thirty shells a minute and a heavy one, fifty to sixty shells a minute. There were several different types of barrage used during the First World War.
Box Barrage: artillery fire aimed around a target area to prevent the enemy command from sending in reinforcements.
Pin-Point Barrage: an attempt to wipe out a machine-gun post or a deadly sniper.
Search Barrage: using reports from aerial observers and spies on the ground to destroy important targets such as army headquarters, ammunition stores or opposing artillery batteries.
Counter-Battery Barrage: artillery fire targeted against enemy guns.
My observation post was situated in a little pocket just under the peak of the hill. With the aid of glasses I could make out the French trenches and behind them the devastated town of Mousson and the Moselle winding its sluggish course through the early spring landscape. Gradually I became aware of details: a company of French soldiers was marching through the streets of the town. They broke formation, and went in single file along the communication trench leading to the front line. Another group followed them.
A subaltern was watching through his glasses.
"See those Frenchies" he asked.
"Yes, sir." "Let's tickle them up! Range twenty-two hundred," he cried to the telephonist.
And "Twenty-two hundred," echoed the telephonist.
I kept my eyes glued to the glasses. My head was in a whirl, and I was trembling with excitement, surrendered to the passion of the moment like a gambler, like a hunter. My hands shook and my heart pounded wildly. The air was filled with a sudden high-pitched whine, and a brown cloud of dust dimmed my field of vision.
The French soldiers scattered, rushed for shelter; but not all of them. Some lay dead or wounded.
"Direct hit!" cried the subaltern.
The telephonist cheered.
Having now been in the trenches for five months, I had passed my prime. For the first three weeks, an officer was of little use in the front line; he did not know his way about, had not learned the rules of health and safety, or grown accustomed to recognizing degrees of danger. Between three weeks and four weeks he was at his best, unless he happened to have any particular bad shock or sequence of shocks. Then his usefulness gradually declined as neurasthenia developed. At six months he was still more or less all right; but by nine or ten months, unless he had been given a few weeks' rest on a technical course, or in hospital, he usually became a drag on the other company officers. After a year or fifteen months he was often worse than useless. Dr W. H. R. Rivers told me later that the action of one of the ductless glands - I think the thyroid - caused this slow general decline in military usefulness, by failing at a certain point to pump its sedative chemical into the blood. Without its continued assistance A man went about his tasks in an apathetic and doped condition, cheated into further endurance. It has taken some ten years for my blood to recover.
Officers had a less laborious but a more nervous time than the men. There were proportionately twice as many neurasthenic cases among officers as among men, though a man's average expectancy of trench service before getting killed or wounded was twice as long as an officer's. Officers between me ages of twenty-three and thirty-three could count on a longer useful life than those older or younger. I was too young. Men over forty, though not suffering from want of sleep so much as those under twenty, had less resistance to sudden alarms and shocks. The unfortunates were officers who had endured two years or more of continuous trench service. In many cases they became dipsomaniacs. I knew three or four who had worked up to the point of two bottles of whisky a day before being lucky enough to get wounded or sent home in some other way. A two-bottle company commander of one of our line battalions is still alive who, in three shows running, got his company needlessly destroyed because he was no longer capable of taking clear decisions.
The question of getting hurt is in no sense a question of taking any special precautions. At Anzac the principal danger was from sharp-shooters, and one had to learn the dangerous spots and how to circumvent them. Shell-fire was of little danger only because it was so little in quantity, not because it did not reach every part of the area of one's perambulations. Here, there is practically no danger at all from rifle or machine-gun fire. The danger from artillery fire is
greater only because there is more of it, and one can say with definiteness that there is no spot within the area of one's daily movements which is really safe. It is merely a question of coincidence of a shell and oneself being simultaneously at one and the same spot. Experience has shown that it is quite futile to try and dodge shellfire; one is just as likely to run into a beaten zone as out of it. There is no spot in the whole sector which may not, conceivably, be shelled.
Not only have the front-line trenches been obliterated at certain points, but the British artillery reached second and third line trenches, and exploded ammunition depots five miles behind the front. Prisoners are dazed and bewildered by the bombardment and the incessant raids of the British infantry, which they are powerless to stop. The British are in excellent spirits, and detachments go to the front singing.
I am no more in love with war and soldiering, however, than I was when I left Melbourne, and if any of you lucky fellows - forgive me, but you are lucky - find yourselves longing to change your humdrum existence for the heroics of battle, you will find plenty of us willing to swop jobs. How we do think of home and laugh at the pettiness of our little-daily annoyances! We could not sleep, we remember, because of the creaking of the pantry door, or the noise of the tramcars, or the kids playing around and making a row. Well, we can't sleep now because - six shells are bursting around here every minute, and you can't get much sleep between them; Guns are belching out shells, with a most thunderous clap each time; The ground is shaking with each little explosion; I am wet, and the ground on which I rest is wet; My feet are cold: in fact, I'm all cold, with my two skimp blankets; I am covered with cold, clotted sweat, and sometimes my person is foul; I am hungry; I am annoyed because of the absurdity of war; I see no chance of anything better for tomorrow, or the day after, or the year after.
One could go on and on. This, mind, is not weeping; it is just mentioning how absurd our old complaints seem to be now. And don't think I always sleep on the wet ground. I sometimes get a dry bit. And I had a hot bath yesterday, and am clean, for the time. By the way while I was having my bath, another officer of His Majesty's gallant forces was blown to pieces a little way in front. He had just come out of the trenches and was going to have his bath. I went into a hut just afterwards and had a couple of rubbers at bridge. One forces oneself to be callous.
For a while I am attached to an entrenching battalion, consisting of fighting men temporarily engaged on engineering enterprises along the front. From what I can see, the infantry spend five out of every six hours at the front in various labour of this sort - building up, repairing and pulling down here, there and everywhere, and carrying, carrying, carrying sandbags, timber and earth from morn till eve, and then till morn again.
And all the time a very remorseless enemy plugs us whenever he can see us and thinks it worth while. Almost always we are hidden from his guns, but they have countless eyes aloft and all our anti-aircraft guns and our own aeroplanes cannot keep them always closed. So gunners, way back behind the German lines, who have never seen us and our works, peer over maps all covered with little squares, and then turn handles, squirt out wonderful little instruments giving levels and directions, and then, pipe in mouth, just press a button or pull a string, and away comes a little token across the sky to us. We hear it coming with a great nasal screech, and if it gets louder and louder we just flop down in the mud, wherever we are, and pray or swear, according to our individual temperaments. Mostly, however, they don't trouble about small working parties, preferring to devote themselves to observation posts, high buildings, main roads and gun emplacements.
We spend a lot of our time in bomb-proofs when the enemy are expected to shell, where we are now. They don't seem to have much in the way of munitions now; we did a 30 mins intense this morning just before dawn. It was a wonderful sight, the great flashes of the guns lit up the sky for miles. I stood with my back to the parapet and could see beautifully - most awe inspiring. They were bursting the German wire and parapet on either side of us and the shells went whiz - louder and louder then bang until the earth shook. Poor Germans! They have to take it lying down now apparently. One battery tried to fight back but our guns for miles turned streams of shell onto them. I could hear them go out towards it like angry bees, fierce as anything, until the battery stopped, which it did pretty quick. They are getting a few more in now but it is absolutely safe unless they get a direct hit - a small risk for war.
It's a marvellous thing, this modern war, and makes one feel pretty small. I wouldn't have missed it for anything, although at times one would give one's soul for it to stop.