Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Imagine standing in septic water. Behind you is a dirt wall eight feet high. In front of you is another dirt wall, nearly vertical, eight feet high. Your feet have been soaked for days and caked mud covers your wet wool uniform.
No one speaks. It’s absolutely quiet except for the occasional match being struck to light a cigarette and a cough from someone suffering from mild gas inhalation and likely pneumonia to boot.
Your hands would shake from the cold and nervousness if it weren’t for the fact that they were too busy hanging onto a ten pound rifle. You look into the dirt wall and pray the ammunition isn’t faulty.
All you can do is wait and stare into the dirt wall in front of you. You briefly close your eyes. You haven’t slept or had an edible meal in a week. The thought of food is not enjoyable as the scent of blood, death and human suffering waft upwards from the trench floor. It is acrid. It may be the last thing you remember.
A whistle blows and an officer shouts in the distance. You can’t make out the words as the constant shelling has left a ringing in your ears. You’ve been here before you know what the officer yelled. ‘Make Ready’.
You fasten your bayonet to your rifle and check your ammo pouch. The whistle sounds and flares go up. You jump and roll over the top of the dirt wall. Up on your feet you run as fast as you can. Boots covered in mud. You can’t feel your feet. You know they are underneath you but they are numb.
Bodies fall all around you. Don’t think about it. Keep moving. You can feel the German machine guns rattatat tatting a hail storm of sonic lead at you. The light from the flares dies and you fall you into a crater created by a gun that’s sole purpose was to kill you or your enemy. You don’t care. It’s cover. You slog to the far side of the crater.
Your feet sink into the bottom and you fall forward into the carcass of a horse. It smells slightly worse than the trench you hurled yourself over the top of. Fighting for every inch you scramble up the business side of the trench. You peer over the top of the crater. You’re the only person from your squad that has made it this far and is not dead or wounded.
Random flares go up into the air all over the battlefield. You lay splayed out on the bank of the crater. You can hear the bullets scream by. That doesn’t seem to bother you as much as the moaning and screaming of your injured mates laying on the field, crying for their mothers and possibly being blessed by a quicker death as they lay muddied, wounded and alone in a foreign land.
Hours go by as lay on the inner wall of your sheltered crater. Except for an occasional burst of a heavy machine gun. The flares have quit their arched trajectories. You are alone. In the dark.
You need to get back to your trench. Once the sun comes up you are not going to be able to move. If you get back to your trench you may be able to live for at least one more day. All you want is that one more day.
You make your way back to relative safety. Through craters and over corpses. Thankful with every gained foot that the Germans didn’t shell you with Mustard gas. Ahead of you is a soldier from your unit. He is tangled in barbed wire and you can see the moonlit almost reflecting off part of his leg. It’s the blood leaking out from where he got shot. He knows enough to not make a sound. He is still alive.
Slowly and methodically you cut him loose. Now the task of dragging him back to your trench is all yours.
An hour after you cut him loose you push his unconscious body over the edge of your trench and you scurry over the top and are happy to land at the bottom in the septic water. If your friend is lucky he will only loose his leg and not succumb to any type of blood poisoning. A slow painful death.
You lived another day. Maybe if you live through a few more you can go home and see your son who was born a few weeks after you were shipped off to this wretched foreign land. You hate yourself for thinking that far ahead. You’ve seen too much death, too many friends lying in the mud, eyes open on a battlefield where the last visions were of death and a place one could only describe as a living hell. Don’t think too far ahead. You’ve only lived one more day.
Strangely, if you make it to the end and live, sometimes when the cold wind rattatat tats against your shutters as you sit next to your fire alone, all the memories, all the pain comes back. Forever you will see your friends and comrades open eyes as they lay dead in the mud in some awful foreign land.
Never take all the freedom and the life you get to lead for granted. Never Forget the men and women who gave up their lives. Never Forget.