The next morning, Robert joins an ammunition convoy riding to the front with thirty-five mules and one hundred horses. They pass by the marshes where Robert nearly drowned the previous winter. At a fork in the road, Military Police are stationed on the lookout for deserters and spies, and Robert’s convoy takes the fork leading to Wytsbrouk. Within ten minutes, they reach another fork that leads to St. Eloi, and Robert feels “as if he had come home.”
Although Robert is forced to relive his trauma by passing through areas where he nearly died, he feels a sense of homecoming rather than dread. This emotion, combined with his restlessness during his time away from the war, suggests that he has lost all sense of his identity apart from being a soldier, and that the battlefield is now where he feels the most comfortable.
Robert looks up and realizes that there are no birds flying overhead. Suddenly, a bomb explodes, and he is thrown off his horse. Men and animals run in every direction as planes fill the air and bombs fall all around them. The attack dissipates into silence and the survivors gather: seven mules, fifteen horses, and twenty-three out of sixty men. Kneeling down to collect his kit bag, Robert notices Juliet’s candle wedged into the ground and set alight by the bombs. He blows it out, puts it in his pocket, and starts to help the other survivors “extricate themselves from the dead.”
This ambush, like several other attacks that Robert has experienced, demonstrates the unpredictability of life as a soldier. Despite this constant, uncertain threat of death, Robert’s reaction to the incident is measured and routine as he focuses on his duty to help survivors, suggesting that he has become somewhat desensitized to the stress and fear of his role as an officer.