Heroes are defined not by the bad choices they make but the good; can one accident make you a hero? When is a hero not a hero? I find myself asking these questions more and more often. Over and over again I replay the event in my head that branded me a role model; an idol; a hero. Am I a hero or a coward? Should I relinquish my hero status or embrace it as who I am and accept that I did do something heroic. To make my endless question make more sense I should start from the beginning. My story starts 16th November 1916 the day I turned eighteen, the day I was made to join the army.
I woke up 4am sharp; the sound of generals shouting orders reached my ears. The night guards weary from the long endless night, straining their eyes to see oncoming attacks. Of course there were none. The walls surrounding the trenches supported the thick brown mud. The grey sheets of metal rusted due to age. The colours earthly browns, oranges and yellows twisting together to form the only colours we were used to seeing, apart from the dark greens, browns and greys, a welcome change to the grim colours we were used to seeing. Rats the size of cats paraded around gorging themselves on the flesh of the dead. Their long sharp teeth, almost razor like stood out from their grey faces.
The place we had been sent 'hell on earth' was just that. We were condemned men, condemned to die for king and country. Conscription made sure of that. That's not why I did it though, at least… I think not. I was fearful; yes defiantly that, but brave, im not too sure.
The sounds of the latest machine guns and shells reached my ears. In the far off distance the latest weapons were being tested, on the enemy; the opposing side; those with a different view to us. Mangled barbed wire made the terrain even more impossible to cross. Explosions of fiery reds, oranges and blues lit the night sky signalling the shelling had begun.
I have seen many men die throughout this war, each new weapon, inflicting more damage than the last. Is this the price we pay for a disagreement? With our lives!
27th august 1918
I've been in the army two years now; to survive this long has been the greatest achievement, or the worst of luck. The 27th started like any other day. Our guards up, anything that moved our orders were "shoot to kill". Movement, just for a second, out the corner of my eye alerted me to the movement of the German army. Just a brief glimpse but enough to raise suspicions that there was to be an attack, midnight came around and still nothing. We were still on high alert three days later watching for an enemy attack. The invasion came swift on the Sunday morning around eight in the morning. Thousands upon thousands of men swamped our platoon.
Three of us! That's all they left alive, just three. We were "hess…corted" to there "Gefängnis" there prison, where we were to be tortured for either information or fun. We found out later it was for the former of the two, information.
Hours upon hours of endless questions followed. I could not distinguish between night and day they seemed to blur together in there effort to distract me. Greys and blacks littered the walls, a single light hung in the centre of the ceiling, emitting a light so small you could barely tell that it was even on.
5th September 1918
The three was now down to two. We still have not broken. We have not betrayed our king or country. Although I had a plan, a completely ingenious plan, a plan that would work… I think. At least I hope. As this would be our last chance to escape this nightmare. But first I needed a distraction, a decoy. To make sure we were not seen trying to leave and we would not be caught. My plan was simple really, find the keys; unlock the door: avoid detection and run. In theory it would work but one can only hope that it does in practice. My German had been improving greatly from living in the prison, I could now talk with a German accent and I had learnt some simple German which would come in handy when fleeing. Just 5 hours and we should be out of here, hopefully.
As I am writing this account of my time in the prison you understand that I escaped. My friend however was not as lucky and had been shot. This is why, why I received a silver star, I carried my friend and managed to escape with a few other British prisoners while carrying him across barren landscapes with little water and no food. Although we got to him through my "bravery" he is and will now always be paralysed for life! If only we could have been quicker maybe he would not have been injured, for this is the reason I despise my hero status. My friend will never walk again. If only we would have been quicker. If only we were never forced to join the army. Maybe things would have turned out better.