I have edited and re-wrote parts of this as well as correcting spellings and grammar.
May 14, 1917
Her breath was caught in her throat and she felt as though she could no longer breathe. The world around her seemed to slip away, along with her consciousness.
Her chest tightened and her body weakened.
All because of a letter. One letter which would change her life forever.
A letter which would rip them apart.
A letter of conscription.
America had entered the war on the sixth of April, 1917. Up to that date, America had tried to keep out of World War One–though she had traded with nations involved in the war–but unrestricted submarine warfare, introduced by the Germans on January 9, 1917, was the first issue that caused Woodrow Wilson to ask Congress to declare war on Germany on April second. Four days later, America joined World War One on the side of the Allies.
The war in Europe had been raging since 1914. She had toured Europe in late 1913 with her husband on their honeymoon and had returned just before the war had been declared.
The horror of the war had kept her awake for weeks, not knowing whether her husband would be drafted and now, here she was, with the letter in her hand.
Rose Elizabeth Dawson was just twenty-two years old. She had met her husband, Jack Dawson, on board the Titanic almost five years before. She had defied her family and society to be with him and she had never regretted her decision. Therefore, her family and ex-fiancé believed her to be dead.
They had married in New York in September of 1912, just a small but beautiful ceremony in Central Park. They had worked for many months to be able to afford the marriage, but once they married, all of the hard work was worth it.
They continued to live in New York. Rose was a theatre actress, starring in many plays a year. The money happened to be good and she was considered one of the most talented actresses at the Electric Theatre.
Jack was an artist there. He drew the posters and did the promotional side of things at the theatre. It was convenient for them both. Work was just a few blocks away from their two-bedroom apartment.
Life had been good for the couple. They had married young, but never regretted a thing. Their love for each other was stronger than most married couples twice their age.
It was only now that things started to boil over.
Jack was just twenty-five. He had a long life ahead of him. But now he had been conscripted into the war in Europe. The worst part was that he would actually be fighting on the front line, where all of the deaths were.
He himself had read the horror stories in the newspapers, of the number of deaths and casualties in France alone.
The Battle of the Somme held the record for most number of deaths in a war. Held a record? As if it was some sort of contest of who killed the most. These were real people who were dying, who were in pain. Not just a figure on a piece of paper, like many people seemed to forget.
General Haig had announced that morale in the trenches was high. How could that be? When many people were losing their families and friends?
His Rose had wept long hours once she had read the letter. He did everything he could to comfort her and reassure her, but he himself was just as scared of what the war held for him.
He had reassured her time after time that he would return to her. He reminded her that he was a survivor and that nothing on this earth would come between them. But he himself was having doubts.
There were men out there younger than him, already fathers, who had been lost in the damned war. Why would God spare him? Just to return to his wife?
The telegram had arrived that morning. A young man stood outside the apartment door, and in his hand, he had held the letter.
"Telegram for Jack Dawson." His young voice had cracked and Rose had found this amusing.
"He isn't here right now."
"Are you his wife?"
With that, the boy had handed her the letter before hurrying away on his bicycle.
Rose had frowned and found the whole event odd, the way the boy scurried away, not even hinting for a tip.
Rose had set the letter on the counter, fighting the urge to open it herself, and carried on running through her lines for the play she was set to star in soon.
Jack had returned from work in a rather good mood and had found the telegram on the counter addressed to him. He had frowned. He rarely received mail.
As he sank into a chair and read it, his face had paled.
The US Army wanted him to join the war, which had already torn the world apart. How could he be separated from his Rose, even for a short time? When they had married, they had vowed to never be separated again, and now, here he was, about to be taken away from her again.
There wasn't anything either of them could do about the notice. The law required he go to war. If not, he could end up in prison.
Rose's reaction to the notice had been worse than this. She had let the letter slip from her delicate fingers and simply crumpled in his arms.
"I wish I could go with you," Rose sniffed when she calmed down.
"No, you don't. You don't want to see war. I don't want you to see the war. Reading about it is bad enough."
"I don't want to witness the battle. Just be with you, Jack."
"Maybe they will take me as a nurse?" Rose offered. Anything to keep her with Jack.
"I don't want you anywhere near the war, Rose."
With that, Rose had simply nodded before sobbing once again in her husband's arms. Jack would do anything he could to protect her, and he knew she meant well by suggesting she join the war, but he would never sleep, knowing Rose wasn't safe. At least if she was here, she would be safe.
Jack left for the basic training a week later. In October, Jack said his good-byes to Rose and then left for Europe. Jack was uneasy about the crossing. He'd heard about the U-Boats sinking ships frequently.
The journey to Europe took ten days, and they arrived in England safely, with no battles. Jack crossed the English Channel and dreaded the time when he would reach France.
Once he knew of his location, he began to write to Rose, sometimes daily.
Anything to take his mind off where he was. He pictured his Rose alone and cried himself to sleep most nights.
The war would be cold, long, and lonely.
November 18, 1917
My dear Rose,
I have only been here for two weeks and it already seems an eternity since I saw your beautiful face.
We may be apart geographically, but you're always here in my heart. Things haven't been so bad so far. But the situation here is something I hope you never see.
The beautiful French countryside has been butchered by bombs and explosives. I have made friends with a French soldier, Thierry. He, too, was drafted away from him wife and two daughters. He talks of them endlessly and has shown me pictures.
I keep a picture of you in my pack, Rose. Every time I feel afraid and alone, I take it out, see your smiling face, and I'm reminded of what I will be returning to.
We've been told we could be home for the New Year. Imagine that, huh, Rosie? Home in time to ring in 1918 together, and then we can begin to try for a baby again.
This is all I can write for now. I will write again soon. Trust me.
December 1, 1917
I do hope you are here for the New Year, Jack. In just the short space of time we've been apart, I've felt nothing but loneliness.
Work isn't the same without you. Everyone seems to ask of you as if you had died.
I have only starred in one play since you left. The crying I do for you seems to exhaust me physically and mentally. I know I shouldn't be like this, darling, but just thinking of you alone out there is enough to make me want to pack up here and join you.
I wish to know no details of the war, Jack. It is a waste of writing. I just want to know how you are.
I am glad you have a friend. How is he? Tell him I send my love and that he and his family are in my prayers, just as you are, Jack, every night.
I pray for the war to end, for you to return to me, and for the soldiers who are killed as we speak.
It is almost too much for anyone to take in, Jack.
I also have a picture of you and I on our wedding day. I take it wherever I go and I sleep with it underneath my pillow.
I have taken to sleeping on your side of the bed. Anything to be closer to you.
I can still smell your scent on the covers and your warm arms around me on the cold nights.
Keep yourself safe, my darling. Not just for me, but for yourself.
Please write soon. I love to hear from you.
I love you,
December 21, 1917
My dearest Rose,
I want to take this chance now to wish you a very Merry Christmas. I would love to be there, Rosie. To help you with the decorations and such. I bet the place looks beautiful.
Please, my love, don't worry too much. I may not be home for the New Year, but I will return. That is a promise.
Carry on as normal. Don't think of me too much. Please, for me, stop crying. I never could bear to see you cry, especially over me or this damned war.
Follow your dreams, Rose. Don't stop your work, which I know you love so damned much. You are so talented.
When I see you on that stage, I feel so much admiration for you, my Rose. I still feel it now, sitting here alone in my trench. The other guys have gone to play cards with some of the other soldiers. I have made friends with another few men. They're good guys. Most of them have families or a wife. One guy, Matthew's, fiancée gave birth to twins just three days before he was conscripted. He has done nothing but write to his girl since he came here.
Thierry is as well as he can be, considering where we are. He thanks you for your kind wishes.
Tell everyone at the theatre that I will return safely and give them my best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.
I know it will be hard. This is our first Christmas apart. But stay strong, my darling.
I will be home before you know it.
January 9, 1918
I didn't celebrate Christmas. I didn't even bother with the trimmings. I thought to not bother with you not been here. I cooked myself a lonely dinner and ate it by the fire whilst watching the snow fall outside the window and crying myself to sleep that night.
It has been just two months and it feels like forever.
Things seem to be getting worse over there, from what I have read in the papers. I know I said I wanted to know nothing of the war, but the newspapers seem to report more and more casualties each day.
I rang in the New Year with some work friends. Abigail, Tom, Richie, and such. We all had a few glasses of wine before dancing into the night and kicking up our heels.
I miss you, though, darling. I felt guilty almost immediately afterwards for enjoying myself when so many men are out there fighting for our country.
I haven't felt well since Christmas. Maybe it was the fact that I was alone. I have planned a visit to the doctor's for next week. I do hope it's nothing serious.
Happy New Year, my darling. May you soon return to me and see the rest of the year together.
I have some news from Timmy and Jo. They're to become parents in September. Jo has found out she is just over a month pregnant. I was wild with excitement, but I also felt a little sad. I want that to happen to me. I want to carry your child, Jack.
I want you to be home. I want a lot of things.
February 1, 1918
My dear Rose,
Forgive me for not writing sooner. The conditions here are worsening, but enough of that.
Please congratulate Timmy and Jo. I cannot even begin to express how happy I am for them.
I want a baby, too, Rose. I want to be a father to your baby. I want to raise it with you. Hell, we'll have a whole bunch of babies.
That is one of the only thoughts keeping me going. To know that when I return, I will be able to make a baby with you.
It is almost six years since we met, Rose. Six long years. I still love you, now more than ever. I hope you know that. I gaze at the beautiful stars here each night and yet none of them will ever compare with your beauty.
Please let me know how the doctor visit went. I do hope you're well.
The guys and I saw in the New Year with a bottle of whisky, a fire, and some tunes. We all sang Auld Lang Sine as midnight approached and then we returned to what we call our beds and most of us wept, me included.
I'm sorry for not being there, darling. I don't want you to live like this, Rosie. You have to remain positive and healthy.
Sorry this letter is so short. I have to go.
I love you from now until eternity-remember that, my love.
February 14, 1918
I did see the doctor, and he gave me some very surprising news-I am pregnant, Jack.
I am four months along. We conceived the night you left for France.
Oh, God, Jack. Please stay safe, now more than ever. We're to have a baby in five months' time, and it needs its father, just like I need you.
Your last letter made me burst into tears. Maybe it's because my emotions are everywhere, with me being with child.
I am due sometime in late July. Please come home before then. I don't want to give birth to our child alone. I don't want to have to be alone much longer.
Abigail has come to live with me for some months, due to my pregnancy. It's something I don't want to admit, but I am finding it hard to cope with. All of this is just so overwhelming. I always expected that when we had a child, you would be here with me all the way, Jack.
In your last letter, you said you wanted to be a father. Well, you are.
I hope this news makes you happy, my love.
You also said conditions are worsening. How are they? Please don't shield me any longer. I have felt the pain of living without you for four long months. The pain cannot get any worse, can it?
Stay safe, love. Don't let go now. We both need you, now more than ever.
I have to stay strong now, for I have a life within me. A life created by our love.
I love you, darling.
From your Rose
March 20, 1918
My dearest Rose,
I have never felt such pain as what I feel right now. To know I am here in another country, fighting a damned war, while you are there at home, carrying our child.
I cannot begin to tell you just how happy I am, Rose. To know you are pregnant is enough now to carry me through. I will be home before you give birth. I will see my son or daughter come into this world.
I hope you are well, my dear. Keep warm and safe. Do not let anything get you down.
I will be home now before long, my dear. I swear it.
It will be a good thing when this war is over. It's keeping thousands of men from seeing their families. I am one of the lucky ones. I can write to my wife. Some men here can't even write at all, for they have lost limbs. Matthew was shot just two days ago, and I had to write to his girl to give her the news.
Men are dying left, right, and centre at the hospitals in town. They are full, and some men are even refusing to go to the hospital, thinking they will die there.
I have never been so close to death in my life as I am right now.
There are dead bodies scattered everywhere, of all nationalities, many of which are fathers.
The sights are sickening, Rose. You do not wish to know any of the details.
I am glad you have company for a while, Rosie. It will do you good to not be alone.
How are Jo and Timmy? Give them my love. I do hope Jo is all right and her pregnancy is going well.
How are you, Rose? How do you feel, despite being so far away from me?
I wish I could simply take away all of the pain you feel. I wish I could be there with you, to feel our baby move around inside of you and to soothe you through this time.
Write back as soon as you can. I wish to be updated with every little thing, darling.
I love you-never forget that.
April 2, 1918
All is well, my love. I have felt the baby kicking non-stop since I told you the news. Maybe it is just anxious to meet its father.
My spirits have been somewhat lifted. Breaking the news to everyone at the theatre was wonderful. They all were very kind and I have already gone on my maternity leave. Tom was around here the other day, painting the spare room as the nursery, and we joked endlessly.
He has been good to me Jack. He is a good man. Everything seems to be sinking in now that we are to be parents. Everything seems perfect, darling, so please hurry home.
Jo and Timmy are both well and send their love. No one will make better parents than those two. Abigail has been a godsend. She helps me around the house and such.
I have a rather large bump now. Every time I look in the mirror and see it I cannot keep the smile from my face.
I just wish you were here, Jack. I miss you endlessly. It has been six months since I have seen you, spoken to you, and touched you.
The doctor has told me my due date is the twenty-first of July. The thought of giving birth scares me a little, but I will make it through with your help and love.
I have to go now.
Please write soon.
April 15, 1918
Six years ago to the day I fell in love with you. I have loved you since. Six years since the Titanic sank from under us, and now, here we are, involved in yet another tragedy.
Thierry died in my arms yesterday. He was shot in the stomach and the arm. His final words were "God Bless America." I felt as though someone had ripped out my heart and I had died with him. His beloved family will now receive a telegram informing them of his death.
I have never felt so much anger in my entire life.
Matthew, too, was injured again. He was shot in the forearm and was taken to a hospital in the city. I fear I will never see him again.
This war is enough to make anyone want to just give up and surrender their lives to the Germans, but not me, Rose. Not me.
I will return. I will see my child be born. We survived the Titanic disaster. We will face anything together, and battle it.
I am a survivor. I will not let this damned war beat me. I will not give into the damned fear I have been feeling.
You and I were meant to be together, and nothing, and I mean nothing, will ever stop us from being together once again.
We will meet again one day, Rose.
Until then, keep safe.
That was the last Rose heard from her Jack.
It was April thirtieth when things went horribly wrong. The day had started out as usual for Jack. The loud, heavy sounds of explosions and gunfire blasted across the land. The battle still raged heavily on this, the last day of April.
Jack had gone about the day as usual. It was at mid-morning that things suddenly changed. There had been a lull in the sounds of fighting from the trenches, followed by a series of explosions. The day was clear and still, allowing the sounds to carry for miles, right up into town.
It was a mustard gas attack.
The still and clear day had given the perfect opportunity for the Germans to launch the attack. The lack of wind meant the gas would not be blown back to those who had launched it.
The hospital in town was small and filled with injured men. The effects of mustard gas had been seen a few times before in men brought to the hospital on the train, but this was the first time it had been used in the area. The results were horrifying.
Some men stumbled around, blinded by the gas. Others lay on stretchers in agony, choking and moaning from the blisters which covered their body and the effects of the gas on their lungs.
Doctors and nurses rushed to tend to the patients. Most had already died, but some still lived and struggled to breathe. The gas masks had been little use to the soldiers.
The doctors and nurses knew, as they tended to the patients, that they would not survive. They were too gravely ill and the effects of the gas were too powerful.
Nurses did their best to help the men, tried to comfort them the best they could, but they knew that soon their time would come.
On the end bed lay a young man no more than twenty-five. His head was bandaged and he was unconscious, or maybe just asleep. His breathing seemed difficult. His chest rose and fell violently.
A large bandage was wrapped around his legs and elbow. Blood stained most of his body and a few blisters were visible on his stomach.
He, too, had been a victim of the mustard gas attack, although it seemed he hadn't been affected too badly by it until he took a turn for the worse.
Even in his unconscious state, he coughed and struggled to breathe. He even coughed up blood.