The Silence of Slaughter

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“In front of our trenches near La Bassée was a brickworks. The French used to put their bricks together as high as houses and on top of these houses there were machine guns which prevented us from going near them.

One day we got the order to attack these brickworks and to take them. The only possible means to take them was by a surprise attack in full daylight and we got orders to do so. We cut zigzag lines through our barbed wire entanglements and at noon we went over the top.

We ran approximately a hundred yards when we came under machine gunfire which was so terrific that the losses were so staggering that we got orders to lie down and to seek shelter. Nobody dared to lift his head because the very moment the machine gunners saw any movement they let fly.

And then the British artillery opened up. And the corpses and the hats and the arms and the legs flew about and we were cut to pieces.

All of a sudden the enemy fire ceased. Complete silence came over the battlefield and one of the chaps in my shell hole asked me, ‘I wonder what they’re up to?’

Another one answered, ‘perhaps they are getting tea.’ The third one says, ‘don’t be a fool. Do you see what I see?’ And we looked over the brim of our shell hole and there between the brick heaps, out there came a British soldier with a Red Cross flag which he waved and he was followed by stretcher bearers who came slowly towards us and collected our wounded.

We got up, still completely dumb from fear of death and helped them to bring our wounded into our trenches. One hour later a British Army doctor came out, again with a Red Cross flag and he arranged a truce for two hours to let us collect our dead ones. I never forgot this generosity of the British, which I must say took place shortly before Christmas, 1914.”

Stefan Westmann - 29th Division, German Army.

WW1Steve Blassberg