"WE'RE jake (all right) now for a bit," he drawled and lazily stood up, "although you can't bank on it - Jerry is using a pretty big mortar and occasionally whips in a quick - fourth for good measure."
"That's the one that might catch a man."
"Yes," he grinned, "Jerry knows all the tricks."
I crawled out from the ditch holding my hands reassuringly over the greatcoat.
"Hullo!" exclaimed my muddy friend, "you look like you're in the family way."
"It's my little dog," I grinned and took Horrie out from the coat. His tongue tried hard to lick me, his tail still had a waggle. He had a wag too for the driver who grinned and patted him.
"Look, Dig," he suggested, "the road is knocked about pretty badly around the next bend; you'll be kept very busy managing that machine and dodging Jerry's shellfire; you'll get it hot and strong soon as we poke our nose round the bend. Better let me take the pup in the truck and I'll pick you up at the end of the pass."
Thankfully I accepted the offer and Horrie, to his dismay, vanished into the truck which started immediately As I pushed the bike to the road I saw Horrie's little face anxiously pressed to the window to see if I was coming. I leapt on and waved to him; then all my time was taken up watching the greasy, broken road, leaning a little more closely over the handle bars. Again there came that "Whiz - zzz!" with a crash to the side or behind me. There was no time to dodge the shells; it was just a race to get through the pass. I'll never forget the feeling of relief when we managed it and got shelter from that merciless confined shelling. From close by in the mountains came the sustained roar of rifle- and machine-gun fire but it did not have the terrors of the whining howl of shell splinters, deep down in Hellfire Pass.
Horrie did not wait to be let out of the truck; he jumped from the window.
"That little bloke was very worried about you," laughed the driver.
"Yes," I said as Horrie nearly tried to eat me.
"Well, good luck, Dig," smiled the driver as he bent to his controls.
"Thanks a lot."
"She's right," he nodded, as the truck moved away.
Out among the hills I located B Company, reported to the sigs, and carried on with my job.
"You got the pup through," grinned Nippy Burke.
"Yes, by a stroke of luck. But I wish I could have left him with the Rebels; I'm afraid I mightn't get him back again. Goodness knows what jobs I'll be detailed to out here."
"I'll take him back to the boys, if you like, when I return," volunteered Ron Baker. Ron was our signal truck-driver and I accepted his offer gladly. The little Wog-dog had endeared himself to all of us; I hated to think of him mangled in the mud among these grim black mountains. Back at B.H.Q. actually was no safer, but there at least he would be among the boys; at least some or other of the boys would be always on hand.
"You've been experiencing a torrid time," I said.
"Yes," grinned Bill Arrowsmith, "we've had our moments," and he ruefully felt a busted nose.
"What gave you that lump on the head?" I asked Nippy. "You look as if you'd been hit by a shell."
"It felt worse than that," grinned Nippy. "The planes came very suddenly and strafed us. I jumped for that big olive-tree and dived around it fair on to Bill's head as he scooted round the other side."
"It was the funniest thing out," laughed Ron. "I saw the crash from another tree and was laughing fit to bust when I felt a little tug at my tail. I stopped laughing when I saw what it was!" and he showed me a bullet hole drilled low down through the tail of his coat.
"A near miss, that," grinned Bill.
"It was," said Ron thoughtfully. "I hate to think what would have happened if I'd been bending."
We carried on with our various jobs while ahead of us slowly grew stronger and stronger the grim pressure of war. Far above, through purple haze there now and then gleamed the snow cap of Mount Olympus overlooking this passing battle, as it had overlooked so very many battles that throughout history had surged down the Pass of Servia. What terrible tragedies have taken place there! How many times has a forlorn little army battled to hold that pass against overwhelming odds, just as our army was bleeding to hold it today? How thankful we felt that our nation, though small in number, lives in a great continent with mighty seas around it. But the unfortunate Greeks dwell in a tiny area of land pressed in by hungry nations of great power. We in our happy country have not the faintest idea of what unhappy little nations like the Greeks have suffered throughout the centuries.
Ron Baker set out on the return trip with Horrie, the little Wog-dog very anxious as he gazed back imploringly at me. This hurry-scurry of war, these breath-taking movements, these waves of terrifying sound with the grim atmosphere of tragedy and tension were very different to the martial tramp of the carefree parades.
The little Wog-dog sensed this was a phase of soldiering he must try very hard to understand.
To my great relief I was soon afterwards ordered to carry a message back to B.H.Q. Soon the bike and I were racing down the pass again; it seemed easier now I had been through it once, but I raced on trying to overtake the truck. When through the pass, I saw the truck in the distance, tearing across the straight stretch beyond. Suddenly it pulled up and Ron scrambled out of the truck with the Wog-dog under his arm. They dived to shelter as the planes roared down. I dived too. Three times again those wretched planes forced us to dive for cover. Finally I overtook the truck just as it entered the bushy track leading to B.H.Q. Ron was just in time to grab Horrie as he leapt at the cabin window when he saw me.
"He's nearly twisted his neck trying to gaze back along the road, laughed Ron.
With Horrie trotting ahead, tail mast-high, we visited the cook's quarters and forgot the terrors of the pass in ravenous enjoyment of a meal.
That night Murchie strolled in with his cheery old grin and swapped experiences of the pass.
"So you've been through it too!" he said to Horrie. "You're a full blown soldier now."
Poppa came in soon after and was joyfully greeted by Horrie.
"It's all right, Horrie," said Poppa, "we're all going to answer roll-call this time; the rest of the boys will blow in soon. Except Fitz and Gordie," he explained to us. "They've gone out for the time being to replace Harry Doran and Mat Taylor. The poor lads have been hit."
"Rotten luck," said Murchie quietly. "God blokes too."
Don and I rigged a little shelter from the bitter night with our gas capes and water-proof groundsheets. There was just sufficient room to crawl in under the cover. You can bet Horrie crawled in too and cuddled up at our feet.
That night we quietly decided that things obviously were very serious. There was no telling what would happen. If there was any confusion and the Rebels were split up, with none of us able to look after Horrie, we would give him to Doc. Sholto Douglas to look after. We knew he would keep an eye on Horrie although he was now very busy. But he was one of Horrie's many friends and the medical unit would always be kept intact, or as intact as the fortunes of war would allow.
We would thus know where to find Horrie again, should the worst happen.
We did not care even to voice our thoughts that it was possible the very worst might happen.
Morning found our shelter crisp with icicles, cold diamonds in the brilliantly bitter morning.
"I hate to think of wounded men lying out in this," murmured Don.
"They'd be asleep long ago," I replied.
We crept out of shelter while the tip of Horrie's nose peeped out of the blankets to watch us. But he didn't move. Not he; he stayed there snug and hidden under the warm blankets for another two hours.
Poppa was away bright and early on his cycle; Don watched him disappearing down the track leading to the pass.
"He'll be all right," said Murchie. "Couldn't kill him with a ton of bricks. The old war-horse will see us all out."
Don laughed. The Rebels would take it hard should anything happen to Sergeant Poppa.
A few hours later we saw him returning with a passenger but he helped him to the R.A.P. tent.
"Who did you bring in?" I inquired as he wheeled his bike back towards us.
"Yugoslav," he replied - somewhat defiantly I thought. "Picked him up this side of the pass. Leg pretty badly mangled."
Later we found out that Poppa's "Yugoslav" wore an Iron Cross on the left breast of his tunic. But Poppa only grinned. Doc. Douglas treated the German and he was sent to the rear in an ambulance. Being detailed for a job I walked to the bushes where my cycle was concealed. Horrie struggled in Don's arms.
"He's ready for another job," laughed Don. "He's been through his baptism of fire and wants another go."
"He'll get more than he wants here," I replied as I mounted. "Don't let him follow me. I don't want to take him through the pass again. It's getting stickier every hour."
The Wog-dog blossomed into a war-dog as if by magic, despite the fact that we long since had ceased to wonder at his instinct and intelligence and adaptability. He knew the whistle of bullets, the whine of shells, the scream of a bomb, he knew exactly what to do. In a moment he could act at some sudden alarm; he knew at any time what was doing and was intelligently ready to take his place at the right time and in the right way. The Wog-dog grew very dear to all of us.
But he saved us trouble and casualties many a time. Instinctively, although each going quietly about our jobs on what appeared a most peaceful morning, always a man or two would have his eye on the Wog-dog. Immediately that questioning little head went up, immediately he sat back and gazed steadfastly into the skies some man or other would stand and stare at Horrie. Should the dog bark then instantly the shout "Planes!" arose and Horrie would be leading the stampede for the nearest slit trench to jump in and bark a warning for us to follow quickly. After the raid was over Horrie would receive and graciously accept numerous pats for his timely warning. Very soon we all learned not to laugh at him, for despite everyone's danger the impulse to laugh was almost irresistible. He was such a comical little fellow; his dignity and his every movement were comical especially when racing to lead us all to safety.
We'd long since known the little dog was deeply sensitive but never dreamed how sensitive until we were crossing the log. This was over an icy mountain stream. A tree that had fallen across was our only method of crossing, but that tree was very slippery. The Wog-dog of course took the lead to show us how to cross. He trotted to the log with tail mast-high, dignity on his funny little face. When half-way across the log he slipped and splashed down into the stream amid roars of laughter. Swimming to the opposite bank he scrambled out, shook himself, then in very dignified fashion stepped on to the log and advanced towards us. When half-way across he stopped, gazed at us, and barked. When satisfied that all were watching him he deliberately jumped into the stream and swam ashore. He made his act perfectly plain; he had not fallen in at all, he did it on purpose to make us laugh.
After that we never laughed at him unless he was obviously playing. We thereafter respected Horrie's dignity, - which was very precious to him.
The tide of war rolled on. The enemy had brought up great weight of reinforcements and metal, determined to overwhelm us, roll down the pass and flood out upon Greece. Our reinforcements were pitifully small while as to our metal and air cover--!
The Anzac Corps felt it was to be a fight to the death when rumours came fast that our Greek Allies, bravely struggling away on our left flank, were in bad shape; their line had been breached in a number of places; if we did not get reinforcements and guns and munitions to them quickly there was danger of them collapsing. There were no reinforcements, nor guns, nor munitions.
The thunder of gunfire at the head of the pass had grown into an increasingly threatening roar.
At times, the sky seemed full of enemy planes shrieking down upon us.
Wounded, utterly weary, exhausted Greek soldiers in ones and twos, then threes and fours, began to stagger in towards us from the Albanian flank.
The Beginning of the End.