Now It Can Be Told

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Author: Philip Gibbs

VI

The chateau of Vermelles, where that had happened, was an empty ruin, and there was no sign of the gilt furniture, or the long mirrors, or the marble Venus when I looked through the charred window-frames upon piles of bricks and timber churned up by shell-fire. The gunner officer took us to the cemetery, to meet some friends of his who had their battery nearby. We stumbled over broken walls and pushed through undergrowth to get to the graveyard, where some broken crosses and wire frames with immortelles remained as relics of that garden where the people of Vermelles had laid their dead to rest. New dead had followed old dead. I stumbled over something soft, like a ball of clay, and saw that it was the head of a faceless man, in a battered kepi. From a ditch close by came a sickly stench of half-buried flesh.

"The whole place is a pest-house," said the gunner.

Another voice spoke from some hiding-place.

"Salvo!"

The earth shook and there was a flash of red flame, and a shock of noise which hurt one’s ear-drums.

"That’s my battery," said the gunner officer. "It’s the very devil when one doesn’t expect it."

I was introduced to the gentleman who had said "Salvo!" He was the gunner-major, and a charming fellow, recently from civil life. All the battery was made up of New Army men learning their job, and learning it very well, I should say. There was no arrogance about them.

"It’s sporting of you to come along to a spot like this," said one of them. "I wouldn’t unless I had to. Of course you’ll take tea in our mess?"

I was glad to take tea—in a little house at the end of the ruined high-street of Vermelles which had by some miracle escaped destruction, though a shell had pierced through the brick wall of the parlor and had failed to burst. It was there still, firmly wedged, like a huge nail. The tea was good, in tin mugs. Better still was the company of the gunner officers. They told me how often they were "scared stiff." They had been very frightened an hour before I came, when the German gunners had ranged up and down the street, smashing up ruined houses into greater ruin.

"They’re so methodical!" said one of the officers.

"Wonderful shooting!" said another.

"I will say they’re topping gunners," said the major. "But we’re learning; my men are very keen. Put in a good word for the new artillery. It would buck them up no end."

We went back before sunset, down the long straight road, and past the chateau which we had visited in the afternoon. It looked very peaceful there among the trees.

It is curious that I remember the details of that day so vividly, as though they happened yesterday. On hundreds of other days I had adventures like that, which I remember more dimly.

"That brigade major was a trifle haughty, don’t you think?" said my companion. "And the others didn’t seem very friendly. Not like those gunner boys."

"We called at an awkward time. They were rather fussed."

"One expects good manners. Especially from Regulars who pride themselves on being different in that way from the New Army."

"It’s the difference between the professional and the amateur soldier. The Regular crowd think the war belongs to them. . . But I liked their pluck. They’re arrogant to Death himself when he comes knocking at the door."

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Chicago: Philip Gibbs, "VI," Now It Can Be Told, ed. F. N. Maude and trans. James Legge in Now It Can Be Told Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LIY8I6QQPBBY5NU.

MLA: Gibbs, Philip. "VI." Now It Can Be Told, edited by F. N. Maude, and translated by James Legge, in Now It Can Be Told, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LIY8I6QQPBBY5NU.

Harvard: Gibbs, P, 'VI' in Now It Can Be Told, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, Now It Can Be Told. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LIY8I6QQPBBY5NU.