The noise has been constant for several days now. Never a chance to sleep, always somewhere the sound of explosion. The closer ones waking us into renewed terror. The place further down where the trench is a bit wider, and there are rumours that there are bone fragments embedded in the wall of mud behind the boards there come from the boys killed in the explosion when that shot landed right in the trench. We all avoid that section, even though there is more space there.
We do try to sleep, but are constantly jerked into wakefulness. My whole body seems to jangle all the time. I am so tired. Then a few days ago when it all suddenly went quiet, we heard the boys from the 72nd being ordered up for a recce. The horror of the man who stumbled and fell into our trench with his mouth frothing and him gasping with blood seeping from the gas. That is the devil’s own work. I will never forget him as long as I live.
Now it’s quiet again. Could we sleep? Just once for a few hours, peacefully. I’m sure I’ll stop jangling if I can just get a few hours of peaceful sleep. Even if it is just here on these boards on the floor, separated from the cold mud, would be like heaven.
Someone is shaking my shoulder. It’s Corporal Jones, he’s yelling at me. The others have gone up to crawl forward to see if the Bosche can be dislodged from that trench ahead. I must also go. I stand up, my legs don’t seem to work too well. I crawl up the side using the ladder. Slide onto my stomach and begin the crawl towards the gap in the wire.’
I’m coming up behind one of the boys now I can see his boot bottoms facing me in this almost dark.
FLASH, they have launched one of those flares. It floats downwards, casting its eerie light over us all, outlining any raised head. Face flat against the mud, safer that way. BANG, that was close, I’m splashed by runny mud. Some seeps down, I lick my dry lips and they taste salty.
Another FLASH. Now we are caught like butterflies in my brother’s collection, pinned to the paper, never again to move.
This is all too much. Those boots that were ahead have gone. In their place are two little hollows. I put my hands in these hollows as I crawl forward. Darkness and silence. Crawl faster. If I can just reach that trench I’ll speak to them, tell those Bosche that their families are waiting at home, they must go back to them. This is all madness.
I stand now, walking towards them. If I just get to the trench we can sort this whole thing out and all go home. I could be there in time for spring ploughing. No earlier still, and be in time to help dad with the lambing. I used to hate that, lying on the cold ground helping the ewes. Now I know that is the ultimate, helping new life be born. I’ll never complain about it ever again.
FLASH, I can see everywhere by the light of this flare, our boys lying, some still crawling forward, some with that ghastly stillness you know means they will never crawl again.
I walk on.