Katie Harwood En3: Original Writing 7th December 2009
Think only this of me
So this is it. This is how it feels to wait in line to die, to await slaughter like cattle. But they are there for a reason; they suffer a natural, unnatural death; to die so that others might live. In that way, I suppose we are the same, or at least we should be, and in the propaganda dream world of enrolment officers we certainly are. But I know otherwise. I know that if I obey orders, and if the thousands of men lined up beside me like a single monstrous killing machine obey orders, then killing machines will cut us down with no more difficulty than cutting cheese. And I know that our untimely, 'tragic' deaths will only strengthen the resolve of people; fortunate, unaffected people, to continue this madness.
As always, the mention of these 'men' makes my fists clench and fills my recently-idle imagination with sinister thoughts of the things I would love to do to them if they ever have the misfortune to run into me. How dare they preach and warn us against the dangers of cowardice, when the most cowardly men it has ever been my misfortune to hear vocalize their opinions, cower behind polished desks! Where do they find the audacity? Why can they not accept that their tactics are outdated and utterly ludicrous prior to throwing away millions of men! Now, because of their mindless stupidity, I am ordered to charge at a machine gun. I am dispensable.
I begin to laugh hysterically, laughing in the face of death. I think, how clichéd. Perhaps I am merely being melodramatic. Perhaps today will be another lucky day. Perhaps I will live to see my darling children and Maria again. I am not dispensable to them. Perhaps…no. Even if by some miracle I survive today, I will still have to live through the muddy, blood-drenched hell of tomorrow, and the next day. This could continue for another year, or even another ten years, for it certainly shows no sign of ending. Nothing like this has ever happened before. The countries involved cannot cope with the widespread devastation. Right now, I am tempted to stick my head up and shout for peace, for humanity and for human life. If it wouldn't have been separated from my body almost immediately. And if by some divine miracle the guns targeting me were to miss, I know my own 'comrades' would be forced, under military law, to kill me themselves. I am dispensable.
Look at what this is doing! This stupid, pointless war is forcing innocent, unprepared schoolboys to kill and maim and fight for their lives every single day!
I am screaming with the injustice of it, but my jaw is locked tight; in an already doomed attempt to hold back tears.
All around me our big guns are booming, tearing gaping holes in the Hun trenches, in the hope that we infantrymen will meet no resistance, but we've been assured of that before, and none of us are under any misconceptions about the outcome of this attack. It will fail, as the next attack will fail, and as we fail, the failures that our generals have become will be encouraged to design more plans for attacks destined to fail with horrible consequences. After all this time, every beat of the ongoing cacophony still sends a shudder through my body.
Searching for something, anything to distract me, I search the face of the man beside me; he is obviously a new recruit. Youth and innocence shine in his face. He will soon learn. I remember my own training; woefully inadequate. At the time it aggravated me, I wanted to be out there fighting! Isn't it ironic? Now I would give anything to see my homeland. There is no room for drills and marching here. I am sure he has been sold the same glorified vision of battle I was. What is his name again? People come and go so quickly here, as if they never existed. I can barely remember my old friends…But there is no time to honour them now. I must concentrate on trying to survive, for my family's sake.
The thought of never seeing them again, of never being held safely in Maria's warm embrace, or telling stories to my two little children and tucking them in, kissing their furrowed brows and wishing them goodnight again is unbearable. It unleashes a torrent of anguish so violent it is a miracle I remain on my feet.
Searching for something to distract myself, my eyes drift to the other side. My neighbour's face is utterly devoid of emotion. What can he possibly be thinking? I wonder if he has a family of his own. A ghost of a smile flickers across his face. I guess he is thinking of happy memories. At least someone can think rationally and appear calm in the face of…well it's best not thought about.
I shiver with either fear or cold, it is nearly impossible to distinguish between them now. Lakes of freezing, filthy water saturate my worn, dirty boots, squelching slightly as I adjust my position to be ready. Ready and waiting. Rats scurry beneath me while their dead companions lie festering, trapped in menacing scraps of wire. Wooden boards, once supposed to make marching through the trench vaguely possible are rotten and deadly. They lie slippery with mud, ice, and filth, anticipating soldiers missing their footing, and plummeting into the deep quagmires of slime below, from which they cannot escape. I have seen many a soldier drown in those mud pools, screaming and slowly suffocating. That feeling of uselessness and despair devours all conscious thought. It is one of the most terrible things I have ever felt. I am dispensable, just as they were.
Today the sky is so thick with smoke it is difficult to recall what a clear, bright sky looks like. Smoke effortlessly devours the feeble sunlight, and chokes the dirty, grey clouds in poison, as countless men have choked on poison in the hell that is this place. If the war even reaches the heavens what hope do we have of ever being safe and happy? Why?
I know there must be a reason for these horrors, murder and torture in the name of justice. To balance out the terrible suffering of so many, there must be a remarkable goodness at the finishing line, just hiding out of sight in excited anticipation of the firing of the final shell and the curtains going down.
This thought makes me feel slightly better, less afraid. Dear God, if you are up there, if you are prepared to listen to a dispensable infantryman, please let me see my family again, or if I can't survive, please make take care of them, let them be safe and happy. If I should die, let Maria think lovingly and kindly of me, and my children grow up always being proud of their daddy.
The whistle sounds. I am going over the top.