Ba-dom. Ba-domThe drumming of the guns continued, tearing through all of my senses.
There was so much intensity in the air surrounding us; you could’ve cut it with a knife. There was hardly a word spoken as the men were deep within their thoughts. Suddenly, someone further back jostled the man in front and sent everyone of balance.
I cursed as I hit my neighbour.”Walk on your own fuckin’ feet an’ not mine!” someone shouted. A ripple of laughter spread through the men, but not me. I took a small drink of tea but it wasn’t warm. Nonetheless, it helped take the gummy dryness out of my mouth.
I shivered slightly.It’s the cold, I thought. At least, that is what I’d like to believe.The mist came descending upon us and was everywhere, gripping us with its clammy hands. It condensed on our tin hats, the serge, our eyelashes; everything. Worst of all, it intensified the scent in the air, the scent of rottenness and the staleness of the men.
Suddenly, there was an eruption and my shivering increased.It’s just the cold, I thought once more. The men became tenser. Some shivered. Others sobbed ever so slightly. In the end, we were all afraid. My eyes met with Shem’s, and an understanding seemed to come between us.
I knew his thoughts, just as he knew mine. I next glanced in Martlow’s direction. The boy stood with his head bowed. Waves of pity and affection instantly spread through me in one instant, and was gone in the next. Martlow looked up; his lower lip quivered.”Just stick it out,” said a voice behind me, almost pleading.
“I don’t care a fuck,” came the bitter reply.” Alright kid?” I managed to ask. Martlow merely gave a nod. I shifted my weight to the other foot and felt my knee tremble.It’s the cold.If only there was something to do. The worst part it was waiting. Doing nothing and waiting.
At least, when I’d been preparing the ladders, my mind had been on the task. But now, there was nothing to do but wait. Waiting froze the mind, until the order to go shattered it completely so that you were going on your base instincts.
I and Shem looked at each other once more.”We’ve stuck it out before,” he said. I supposed we could help each other. That is, until the moment came and all our efforts would be smashed aside by a force we could not fight.
The noise of the shells reached its pinnacle of fury and we began to fix bayonets. The run was passed around.”Three men, don’t spill the bloody stuff you won’t get no more.”Shem drank some and passed it to me.” You can have it all, Kid,” I said to Martlow. You’ll need it.
“I don’t care whether I have any or not.””Don’t want much,” Martlow replied and after taking a swig returned it to me. I emptied to mug and handed it back to Jakes. The alcohol was definitely rousing.”It’ll soon be over,” said Martlow. The fog rendered sight useless.
All we could do was hear were the sounds of movement. We shook hands with each other, then those near us. I knew that most of us wouldn’t see the next day. Good luck chums, good luck.Badoom. Badoom.
I could feel my heart thumping as I made my way to the ladder. The seconds where I reached the top seemed to last for hours and everything went still. Then everything suddenly rushed my senses.I slipped. At the same place where others had, with the sucking mud and the slippery slope.
I could feel the fear in me, icy and cold, like winter’s javelin. We were drawn into lines, and a shell tore behind us, roaring in triumphant fury as it took some men. The call came for stretcher-bearers.
Lucky buggers.Part of me felt envious and my dread grew but I could not turn my mind from it. My emotions were in turmoil and my endurance reached. Everything seemed to melt away before the fact that I was here and that was that.It wasn’t long before we finally moved.
It seemed that my mine was in a haze, but I felt this rage fill me up. We were going too slowly. But then; it seemed to me that I was the one who was slow. Suddenly, the barrage fell and men fell, broken and bleeding.
Jakes and Sergeant Tozer roared at their lot in a sea of demoralisation and managed to get them moving, but it seemed like every bloody gun in the German Army was pointed at us. Someone charged at Jakes, but the man simply smashed the butt of his rifle into his attacker’s jaw and shouted something as he charged forwards.We struggled on, even though it seemed like some of the others would break. The attackers are always at a disadvantage, but nevertheless, we tore through the wire and the bombs. The force of one threw me in the air where another man landed on me. Suddenly, there was a dead German at my feet.
We found two more in the trench, where we forced them to run through their own barrage, through the same hell we’d endured.As we moved on there were few of us left. Martlow was a little ahead of me when he trembled then collapsed. I quickly grabbed hold of him and checked if he was alright. His helmet fell away to reveal the hole where the bullet had left his skull.The next few moments were dim.
A red rage filled me as I screamed my defiance. I remember killing a German, spearing his liver with my bayonet and when it got stuck, shooting him off. I also remember the joy it gave me.My senses returned with Seargent Tozer .”Steady ol’ son. Steady. Have you been hit? You’re all over blood,” he said.”They killed the kid,” I replied.
Now that my mind was clear, an overwhelming sadness filled me. I pushed it aside for now. “They killed him.
I’ll kill the fuckers.””Steady, you stay by me. I want you.
Mr. Finch ‘as been ‘it, see? You two come along as well. And where’s that bloody bomber?”We searched for groups of Germans and we engaged in an ineffective skirmish with one. It seemed as if Jakes’ group had done the same, and they fell back to our position. We knew it was useless to go on. There were no other companies ahead of us and the German machine guns were all ready for us.
There was a tense moment, when we were aware of people approaching, but luckily, they managed to identify themselves as Gordans before we blew them to bits. They were good fellows who’d gotten lost from their company. I was aware that Tozer and Mr. Finch were making a decision.”Sergeant, we shall retreat,” said Mr. Finch.
The sergeant seemed to agree. We tried to figure out who was missing and I told them of Shem.”Lucky bastard always seem to get away,” said Sergeant Tozer.”Well, when I checked ‘e was gettin’ away on ‘is ‘ands and knees,” said Minton.
As we prepared to depart, I thought of poor Shem and how plucky and friendly he’d always been. And of the kid, of how he’d died so young. It was a mingling of pity and anger, which did not abate even when we reached our trenches.Shut the fuck up, I thought.
Of course they die young.