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100 years ago in Spokane: From the front in Europe, a primer in trench warfare

Mon., Nov. 13, 2017

 (Spokesman-Review archives)
(Spokesman-Review archives)

Soldier William J. McKie returned from the European front and told a group of his former teachers at Lewis and Clark High School how the “great sport of ‘over the top’ is accomplished.”

It was accomplished with help of the “Suicide Club.”

Here’s how McKie explained it:

First, the artillery bombards the no-man’s land between trenches, wiping out the barbed wire. Then, at a given signal, “the boys scramble out of our trench and start walking very slowly toward the enemy’s trench.”

One man in the six-man holds a machine gun, which he shoots from the hip, picking off enemy snipers and keeping the other enemy soldiers under cover. The greatest danger came “when he has to reload.”

If the machine-gunner is hit, another man takes his place “and so on down the line.”

If all goes well, they advance to just past the first enemy trench line, now deserted, and they get into a shell hole while the infantry comes up from behind and digs a new trench. They don’t use the old German trench, because the German gunners have those coordinates locked in.

“The machine gun squad is called the ‘suicide club,’” said McKie. “It’s hard to get volunteers for the suicide squad.”