Hardly was I in bed and beginning to feel its warmth and go to sleep, than I believe I hear a voice, a peremptory order coming from outside in the street, and as if getting an electric shock, I jump out of bed: “Everybody outside, in battle dress,” says the voice. In two minutes I am outside, equipped with my knapsack on. My squad bumps into each other in the narrow stable where we were encamped; the men feel for their packs and their guns. The shadows are counted, the captain swears and grumbles. Finally we are ready. In silence the column starts out. We renew our advance toward the cannon thunder.
En route, I distinguish shadows in the grass in the ditch. I see an artillery man stretched out on his back, his comrades unbuttoning his jacket. I hear the raucous squeal of his rapid breathing. We pass on. A hundred meters further on, heart rending shrieks pierce the air; it is the man over there in the wet grass who cries out in his pain. This time I am choked with emotion. The sight of the wounds of those young men lying on stretchers, that’s nothing. But those horrible shrieks!
We arrive at a charming hamlet, huddled in the poplars along the Somme. It is Suzanne, our stationing for the battle, the trenches are nearby.
At midnight we lie down on the floor of the stable allotted to us. A bad night, cold and short besides, as we must get up at 3:00 am. We leave; we take 1000 paces; we stop; we wait. At 9:00 am, we are still waiting; we are the reserves. I write these notes, but the shells are coming nearer. They tear through the air. Will it be a short retreat on our part? We wait.
“Vroom, vroom,” repeat our 75s on the nearest slope. German prisoners are over there by the fire station. I go over to glance at them to take my mind off the battle; they are all deeply asleep.
11 o’clock, the shell bursts come nearer, without our paying much attention, when all of a sudden, as I was looking at the evacuation of a German wounded man, I am struck as by the hiss of a viper. Instantly and as by a reflex, I flatten myself on the ground and at the same moment a formidable noise, as if lightning struck the nearby house, shatters the air. I feel myself, but all is well, and get up, and notice a piece of tile roofing fall just next to me. I hasten to rejoin my squad amidst a certain confusion, it is our first baptism of fire. We are ordered to evacuate the village and to regroup some 200 meters further back. A horse of the unit that has followed us passes by, leaving a trail of blood. A piece of shrapnel must have hit him. Finally, we install ourselves in a former chalk quarry and there we eat with a good appetite and get ready to make coffee.
We notice that the shelling is getting closer...