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  • Published: 4 August 2020
  • ISBN: 9780143775126
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $38.00

Into the Unknown

The Secret WWI Diary of Kiwi Alick Trafford No. 25/469


Chapter 4.

Baptism of fire

25 April, 1916.

An airship quietly sails across early in the morning and shakes us up
with a taste of bombs. The neighbour’s roof is blown off.

The regular morning chorus is violent cannonades. The repeat
godawful row and the following violent tremors begin to fray our nerves.
It is just luck we have not been hit.

We have not seen a penny of our pay since we left home, and
with drinking to be done the chaps are most dissatisfied. The French
mistakenly assume we are teetotallers as few of us are drinking at the
estaminets. I still hold strong with a bob in my pack.

A juicy leg of ham is spied behind a shop, and we make a plan to
pinch the tempting morsel. Like a footy game, a halfback passes the
loot along our fine backline until the fullback conceals it up his coat to
smuggle it back home. Our kind hostess promptly spies our spoil and
whisks it away to cook for us. Her kindness makes it more decent here.

They seem to live on fried spuds, pommes de terre. I collect the ham and
am amazed to see a butter churn connected to a wheel, with a running
dog to spin the machine around. The kids that hang about seem quite
content there is no school.

A tension has been building with the bombing and not knowing
when we are moving up. Evening leave is granted and it is down to the
estaminets for me. Plenty of fellows scratch up the cash to pour cheap
beer, champagne and plonk down their throats, and many are catatonic
in no time. We kick up our heels and the cheeky mademoiselle flirts
with all the boys.

Victims of the wine and champagne are not too flash on a sudden
early-morning alarm. All hands pack up and march off to Brigade
Headquarters at Steenbecque, then with rifles ready, expectantly stand
to. Nothing eventuates except a yarn to more seasoned soldiers hanging
about HQ. Their tales of snipers and bombs and men torn up curdle the
blood of even our staunchest men. It seems we have no idea what we
have signed up for.



Text copyright © Ian Trafford, 2020

Into the Unknown Ian Trafford

World War I (and its aftermath) in the words of a young soldier fresh off a remote New Zealand farm, written with immediacy, emotion and clarity.

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