Very lucky they was, the Daleswood men. They'd lost no more than five killed and a good sprinkling of wounded. But all the wounded was back again with the platoon. This was up to March when the big offensive started.

It came very sudden. No bombardment to speak of. Just a burst of Tok Emmas going off all together and lifting the front trench clean out of it; then a barrage behind, and the Boche pouring over in thousands. "Our luck is holding good," the Daleswood men said, for their trench wasn't getting it at all. But the platoon on their right got it. And it sounded bad too a long way beyond that. No one could be quite sure. But the platoon on their right was getting it: that was sure enough.

This is from a novel about the Great War called Tales of War. I know Tok Emmas is an artillery. But I do not understand the phrase below.

"lifting the front trench clean out of it..."

Does it mean the bombardment has destroyed the trench?

  • 2
    I believe it would mean "lifting those soldiers in the front trench clean out of the trench". Just as we say "the front line (of soldiers)". A kind of metonymy.
    – TimR
    Mar 16, 2016 at 10:45

1 Answer 1


The meaning is not entirely clear. To me it suggests artillery shells landing and destroying the front trench, exploding and throwing ("lifting") earth and soil upward into the air. It is also entirely possible that "the front trench" refers to the soldiers in that trench, so there could be bodies flung into the air as well. So "the front trench" (troops) were thrown by the explosion, and thrown out of it (the trench itself)

"clean" is used here informally as an adverb, meaning "wholly, completely". See dictionary.com (definition 34). This suggests that the soil or bodies flew a considerable distance and landed completely outside of the trench; they did not remain in the trench or fly upward and then land back in the same trench.

"No X to speak of" is a standard idiom. It means there was only a little X, not much, hardly enough to be worth mentioning. See for instance Cambridge dictionary or freedictionary.com. So there was no major carpet-bombing bombardment of the entire area, just enough to destroy the front trench and then a second barrage "behind" (further back).

Note also the narrator is speaking with nonstandard grammar: "they was", "the wounded was" instead of "were", and he uses "sudden" as an adverb instead of "suddenly".


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