The lucky one
A peaceful field lush and green, tainted neither by hatred
nor bloodshed. Trees, old as the land, stand tall and steady, small birds
chirping merrily, rabbit running across the field. A paradise, no? This was the
field as it was before but now, now that land is gone and has been replaced by
a new one. A field of blackened dirt, torn asunder, huge gashes scored on
opposite sides and blister burst with great force leaving behind fissures large
enough to drown a man. Trees once ancient titans now thin skeletal fingers. The
field, with purity rivalling a child’s, now had the bloodlust of hell, eagerly
awaiting its next feast. Where once roamed rabbits and deer now housed rats,
bloated creatures with beady eyes, searching among the corpses for the sweetest
flesh to devour, like the king of a grand feast. And crows, little more than
rats with wings, always appearing right before a slaughter. What was once
paradise now became a demented temple to a twisted god called war.
We stood there, like sardines in a tin, tightly packed.
Unable to move an inch. I guess I was lucky that I was near the back, less
packed. I could hear the sergeants calling.
“Give in all your valuables. If you come back you get it
back. If you don’t it’ll be shared out among those who do”
Ha, when I think back on it I always wonder what would
happen when no one returned to our trench. Would the generals, the cowards who
never fight and hid miles away, get it? Would it be sold for the war fund?
Never mind. From the shrill screech I could tell that the bombing had started.
By us and the enemy. Boom!!!Tremors ran along the ground. It had
been a bomb getting really lucky and even as I had looked towards it I could
hear those who were close to the impact and thrown into the air, like ragdolls,
screaming. Most had been dead before hitting the ground.
“If you see
any of our boys retreating…”
That was the sergeant yelling at the poor fool stuck on guard
duty. If anyone had retreated the poor kid would have had to kill them. Killing
Germans was one thing, but having to kill your own allies? That was completely
different. People you had sat with, talked with, endured hell on earth with
simply for not wanting to die as less than a foot note on the pages of history.
Just a number, a statistic. It was a job no one wanted. And the kid had looked
so young, barely old enough to sign up.
The day I
signed up was one of those few sunny days here in Britain, the kind where you
just want to be lazy and relax. But that day hadn’t been a day for laziness. It
had been a day of action, of young men signing up for the war, of sisters and
mothers happily cheering them off; of fathers proudly congratulating them
unaware that it would be the last time they would ever see them again.
Everywhere I had looked there had been colours, the families in their best
clothes the banners with cheerful propaganda, the British flag. The vivid red
over pure white and surrounded by the deepest of blues. However the flag wasn’t
the main sight to see that right had been reserved for the sign up table, for
the crush of men practically fighting to be the first to sign up. I'm sad to
say I had been one of them. One of the worst actually. If I had known the true
horrors of war I would have been running in the opposite direction. But I was
foolish and naïve back then. Thought it would all be over by Christmas, that I
would be some kind of war hero. I remember turning, time seeming to slow as I
saw my girlfriend, the one I wanted to marry. She seemed worried I had opened
my mouth to reassure her
I had been broken from my memories by the whistle, not just
any whistle. The Whistle. The signal to charge. To go over the top. The people
who were at the front were practically flung over by those behind them. Even
though we had just begun I had already see people dead. I had to wait for what
had felt like hours before I went over and the first thing I saw wasn’t the
backs of my allies charging the enemy trench but their bodies hung over the
barbed wire, like old clothes, limp and motionless. But I couldn’t stop I had
to continue. Had to jump over the bodies of those on the floor, hide behind
those on the wire, go around those who refused to roll over and die. I could feel
every step jarring my legs. Every sound, a death sentence. Every breath tearing
my lungs. Every thought on how I would die, forgotten, there was no time for
thought, only action. The path I was running on was no longer a dirty mud field
but a road of flesh and blood. The dull thumps of machine guns missing their
targets, the whistle of the mortar flying through the air, the screams of those
who were hit. A thick cloud of dirt, constantly shifting, hung in the air.
Flung there by the mortar. It looked kind of like gas, if gas was brown. No.
The gasses were far brighter sickly greens and bright yellows, I would know.
It was a normal day, at least as normal as you can get in a
trench. We were just sitting around not on guard duty the only chance of us
being killed was by a lucky bomb. It was probably around noon when it had
happened. The bombing had stopped for a couple of minutes. Some had joked that
the Germans had ran out of ammunition, hoping it was true. I had been about to
go to the john when I had heard the first sign of the bombing restarting. “No
big deal,” I had thought whilst walking to the latrines, god they stunk. “Not
like they’ll hit us any time soon”. I
was wrong. They didn’t need to hit us, just hit close by. I had been far away
from the initial impact and the first warning I had gotten was the yelling.
“Gas, gas, gas!”
I grabbed my gas mask from the box hanging off my neck.
Tearing It out of the container I bumbled around with the straps before finally
attaching it to my face. I turned only to be faced by a wall of green and
yellow. I could make out shapes in the wall, shadows tempting me, mocking me.
Suddenly someone burst out of the wall clawing at his throat, smashing off the
walls. Others had soon followed him. All I could do was stand there and watch.
Those were people I had known, Walter was one of them, and nearby to him had
been Albert. I heard someone speak from besides me, it had been my best mate
James. He grabbed my overcoat and pulled me down to his level before chocking
out some words.
“H-help m-me p-p-pl-please.”
After that he just lost what
little strength he had left in his body and collapsed, spasming on the ground
pain wracking across his face before it tensed one last time and he just fell
Pain, white hot pain. That was the only thing my brain could
comprehend at that time. I had been hit in the leg, which I could barely feel
anymore due to the pain. I had dragged myself to some cover behind the lip of a
crater of some kind where I could only lean against it as I tried to deal with
the pain. When the pain finally lessened I had barely been able to hear
anything. There were no bombs, no machine guns. I couldn’t even hear footsteps
any more. What had happened, had everyone else been killed, had we managed to take
the trench. What was going on? The only thing I could do was think, is this the
meaning of the old lie:
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, it is sweet and fitting to die for
wasn’t fitting, and it certainly wasn’t sweet. If anything it had felt wrong
and bitter. But then again it is called the old lie. Maybe I'm just over
thinking this; it’s not like my opinion matters much, not then and not now. It
turned out that we had managed to take the trench but we got gassed. Not that
it mattered to me after that. I had been wounded, unable to work anymore, so I
was sent back home to my family. And that is how I am now here to tell you
this. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, sed dulcius pro patria vivere. It is sweet and fitting to die for your country, but sweeter to live
for one's country. The old lie mixed with the absolute truth.