Bertie Cox’s description of telephone maintenance as the work of a suicide gang is borne out by a description in the Canadian War Pictorial of the work of the linesmen in making sure that the observation posts were connected to the batteries.
“The wire from the [Forward Observation Officer’s] telephone to the battery ran over ground that was murderously exposed. …Through every foot of this path perilous the wire was in danger of being cut by shell or shrapnel. The FOO being the eye of the guns, the wire was the optic nerve; and when it was cut the guns were instantly blinded. It was being cut continually; slashed by the shrapnel, or blown up by the high explosive. It had to be guarded, therefore; watched from end to end, and every break repaired with instant precision.
“To guard this vital nerve was the duty of the ‘linesmen,’ a desperate duty, calling for more unflinching courage, more iron nerve and resolution than was ever demanded of the leader of any forlorn hope. Each linesman had his section of the wire to patrol, following it with his sack of tools and material through crater, shell-hole, mud-pit and shattered trench, and mending it with swift unerring skill whenever it was broken. For these men none of the splendid intoxication of the struggle, to rob the jaws of death, for the moment, of their grim terrors. With the ground rocking beneath them, the gigantic concussions of gun and shell stupefying their ears, their eyes bewildered by the ceaseless alternation of many-coloured flame and sudden dark, each went methodically about his task, a little lonely figure, intent upon his nippers or his copper wire, unperturbed amidst the crash of worlds. When one fell, stricken suddenly into a spineless heap, or simply dissolving in the scarlet blare of a shell-burst, another came out a once, took up the dead man’s work where he had dropped it, and calmly carried on.”(1)
(1) The Canadian War Pictorial: A Photographic Record. 3.1917. 20. Available from Early Canadiana Online
The image © IWM (Q 1430) from the Imperial War Museum shows Royal Artillery officers with their maps and a field telephone in a forward observation post in a shell hole near the front line, Flers, October 1916.