Cité St Pierre, December 5, 1917

Wednesday         Very cold again this morning & heavy frost I slept all morning; great aerial activity today being clear and bright I am in the best My personal opinion is that the war is far from ending

After being up to 2 am, Percy deserves to lie in. Later today, the 5st and 52nd Batteries will be shelled heavily enough to wound two gunners and knock the wheel off a gun. “The pits,” notes the 13th Brigade diarist, stood “the shock … very well.” (1)

We are reminded that the gunners in their pits and dugouts are not safe from enemy fire, though they can expect to be spared the horrors of hand-to-hand combat. The novel Percy is reading, Jack London’s The Valley of the Moon, describes such horrors in a battle between strikers and scabs in Oakland (Book II, Chapter 9):

“It was battle without quarter—a massacre. The scabs and their protectors, surrounded, … fought like cornered rats, but could not withstand the rush of a hundred men. Clubs and pick-handles were swinging, revolvers were exploding, and cobblestones were flung with crushing effect at arm’s distance. …There were curses and snarls of rage, wild cries of terror and pain. … These things were not men. They were beasts, fighting over bones, destroying one another for bones.”

When the police come, the strikers are trapped, and “as they had done, so were they done by. No effort was made to arrest. They were clubbed down and shot down to the last man by the guardians of the peace who were infuriated by what had been wreaked on their brethren.”

Saxon watches it all from the window of her own house: “Her brain no longer worked. She sat numb, staring, incapable of anything save seeing the rapid horror before her eyes that flashed along like a moving picture film gone mad.”

But it is not a film gone mad, but men, ordinary familiar men, doing unimaginable things:

“One scab, terribly wounded, on his knees and begging for mercy, was kicked in the face. As he sprawled backward another striker, standing over him, fired a revolver into his chest, quickly and deliberately, again and again, until the weapon was empty. Another scab, backed over the pickets by a hand clutching his throat, had his face pulped by a revolver butt. Again and again, continually, the revolver rose and fell, and Saxon knew the man who wielded it… she had met him at dances and danced with him in the days before she was married. He had always been kind and good natured.”

“Anything could happen now,” says the narrator.

 

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