They Died In Hell, They Called it Passchendaele

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

One bullet can kill one man, and when thousands walk across open fields, only the rats cheer them on, waiting for the bullets to kill their feast.

They Died in hell, They Called it Passchendaele

By: Ian Wolf Joost


It was five minutes until zero hour.


Just five minutes until us Tommies and Doughboys would be going over the top. I gripped my Enfield tightly and stood, bayonet fixed, foot on the first rung of the wooden ladder… I was not scared, I was not exited... I was empty. I wondered if I was to perish on the field in front of me, and if too would be food for the worms… I had sat in the mud and rain long enough that I didn't think I cared.


It was the other men I was worried about, some sat crying, others stood transfixed, others staring at pictures, and others just like him, grim faced, somewhat stoic?


The leftenant walked up the line and kicked at the crying individuals,


“Get up lads! We got a war to bloody win!” he shouted. The men got up. Why did they get up? Why was I here?


“ONE MINUTE” the leftenant shouted.


It was at this moment I felt a sort of twinge of fear, but it didn't last long. it was dashed away by a man standing straight up with his hands clenched in front of him,


“Dear lord, please bless me to-to be a man, and to make the right choices as I walk through the valley of death, thank you.” he said, he then closed his eyes and stood shaking, holding the barrel of his rifle.


Although I didn't believe in god, I nodded an, “Amen.”


The last minute seemed to stretch an hour... and then came so suddenly,


“TEN... NINE... EIGHT... SEVEN... SIX... FIVE....... FOUR........THREE.......TWO..... ONE” there was a pause


The whistle blew, then another, and then another.


I exhaled, and I sort of felt like an automaton. My feet fell into place on the wooden ladder rungs, and soon I was over the top, rifle in hands… jogging forth. Why?


We walked, then jogged, we all did, silently over the rotting corpses of horses and men, crater holes and trench water. Mud caking to our boots, the smell of decay and burnt things filling our noses more than ever. It was all quiet though, save for the footfall of the men.


Then the bagpipes began, their call echoing through the flat horror-scape.


I felt a chill run down my spine as I looked around.


It was strange, Mr. Atkins, our main character, for remembers that it was quiet... then it wasn't, the air simply blew up… all hell broke loose was the only thing that came to mind.


The Hun opened up, they sent forth hellfire and lead.

 They came, the bullets did, those hissing fiends. From great cylindrical barrels the bullets were fired, and into the men, the bullets tore, turning mind and matter, to flesh and gore.


I now ran foreward, not caring that high command asks you to walk foreward “Boldly and confidently” as far as I was concerned, a single bullet killed a man… This was no parade with Poppie flowers.

I dove into a shell hole and found the rotting corpse of a man, he was so decomposed that I couldn't tell which country he fought for… until I saw the black leather hobnailed boots. 


The skull and groin area of the man disturbed me, so I wished to be in another shellhole. 


I got up, regained my composure in this hellscape, and peeked over the top, I saw orchestra of guns opening up all along that horrid German line.


I made it to the top, took a few steps towards a new hole, but a man was hit thrice with lead… he toppled into me, his left arm falling off.


We fell together back into the divot.


His bloody arm gouted blood onto my coat and face, but he hurriedly rolled over, got up, screamed at nothing it seemed, then looked at me… 


It was a crazed and sorrowful look I tell you, it was complete and utter confusion. My gaze must have been too much, he turned and charged forth with no weapon and with his lump of arm spurting blood.


The poor bastard was gunned down the instant he rose from the shellhole, he only took a few steps.


The noise was terrible, it didnt let your eyes focus or ears stop twitching.


Two men then jumped into the shellhole with me and crouched low, I looked at them both, they nodded and one looked over the edge and took a stray one to the skull.


Description is not needed when a bullet the size of a grown man’s thumb meets the head of a twenty four year old. His corpse jumped up, then fell backwards onto the decomposed german, then into the murky puddle without a sound. I looked at the other man next to me, another soldier I had seen around the trenches, idly smoking and standing watch. He looked quite scared.


“Name?” I asked over the din

“Peter Thomson!” he shouted, 

“...Good luck Peter Thomson” I yelled, getting up and running foreward, I never laid eyes on that man again, and i'm sad the bullets spared me for some reason.


I dont know why I left that man there with his now faceless dead friend, alone. I was glad I didn't say my name to him.


I could hear the cries of men, the meeting of bullets and flesh…It was a crescendo  of horrid proportions, you coulndt make out each individual shot. It was a continuous barrage of unnavoidable horrid noise that assailed each and every single one of your sences, writing cannot describe such a noise.


 But I managed to peep ever so slightly over my new shellhole, and saw that around thirty yards away from the German line there was a sort of dip, and many shell holes before the dip… that was the only form of cover, so I picked my path quickly and crawled forth, men collapsing only a few feet behind me. I was ten yards away from the dip. 


I saw figures emerging from some holes in front of the German line, some of them had advanced, almost to the dip, and were now throwing bombs.


A german potato masher landed right next to me, and I looked at it blankly for a split second. I grabbed it, and hucked it back from whence it came. But just a second after, it exploded.


The pressure slammed into me, burying my face in the mud and pounding every single ounce of air clean out of me. My head was slammed  into the ground and shrapnel bounced off my helmet… I was confused.


I rolled over and practically lost consciousness. I couldn't move, I thought I died, but then a slow ring began in my ear, and my lungs slowly began to work again. 


 Then I felt rumbling in the wet earth, I knew what that rumbling was, the Germans had started up their barrage of artillery.


I still couldn't move however… every fiber in me screemed for air, so I laid there regaining my strength for around five minutes, a body even fell on me, shot clean through the heart.


When the young boy fell on me, his weight jolting me back. I broke my stupor and took a deep breath, another one, then another one.


I rolled the body off me, then streched out and reached for a rifle and grabbed the poor boy’s.


I rolled over onto my hands and knees, and slowly got up. I could see that some of the Tommies were streaming into the German’s trench at key points, and I blinked a few times, the din of battle could still be heard in front of me, but no Tommy or Doughboy made it to their place yet. A man bumped into me, and my legs gave out and I fell over into yet another shell hole.


An artillery round blew up… and the man, propelled by the force, was sent careening past my vision.


While flying, I saw his guts falling out, his legs dangling, and his body flying into a shellhole.


I looked at the hole he disappeared into, then another few artillery rounds blew up near me and the dirt showered me inside my hole. I got up… I felt as if i had already been fighting for days, climbed out of my shell hole and began to run foreward, but yet another artillery round exploded near me. I faltered, tripped and fell into yet another shellhole, there were so many god forsaken holes in the earth.


 I rolled over, clutched my rifle, and noticed a chunk of metal had embedded itself into it, almost rending the thing in two pieces.


It was then that I felt terrified, where was I?


Where was i!? Why on earth was I here, I was just a tool maker, a humble tool maker in Fulham, and here I lay, blood, guts and tears all over me…. Why on earth was I here , I thought. 


I then noticed a body in the presence of me… he is a 19 year old…and he was still alive.


He was ripped from his shoulder to his waist due to shrapnel. The sight of the boy sobered me up almost instantly. He looked at me with sad, lonely, and bloodshot eyes. 


One must understand… A bullet wound is clean, it goes in one side and out the other. Shrapnel is dirty, it will rip you all to pieces and keep you living through it, feeling each piece of metal inside you as you intake and exhale breath...


He was laying in a pool of his own blood.


I looked at him, and he looked back.


I was startled then, truly startled, here like a boy, perhaps an oxford boy, with guts hanging out his military coat, blood and viscera visible all along him… and the occasional twinkle of metal pieces in his large and small intestines. 


What had this world come to. Boys killing boys? I thought.


I stopped, and it seemed like all the firing and explosions stopped as well, it felt like the din was just fazed out. 


“Shoot me,” he said, his voice filling my head.


This poor boy was beyond all human aid. 


He raised his left hand slightly, I glanced at my rifle, useless, and closed my eyes for a second. I had to shoot him, I knew he would just suffer if I didn't. 


“Use mine.”


I grabbed his rifle, blinked a few times, I had to do it and I knew it would kill me inside.


I bolted a bullet into the chamber, and pointed it at him.


But as the boy was looking down the barrel, he said something that either haunts me or comforts me, I really dont know…


There we were, one lying in dirt and blood and guts, and the other crouching.


And the boy said just one word… “Mother?”...


What puzzled me was that it was not a cry of despair nor of sadness… it was that of surprise and of joy.


I looked around at the small dent in the earth and an artillery shell blew into the poor soil. I closed my eyes and felt peace, and although I know i wasnt allowed to see her, i am absolutely certain the boy’s mother was there, waiting in the next place he went, waiting for him with open arms... and the boy who wouldn't know what it would be like to grow old knew it.


I pulled the trigger.


He died then, leaving me in that shellhole with only the slightest of glimpses into what true humanity was… i was allowed to see only that, no more… and from that day foreward, i shall remember that cry… and i shall remember that death, no matter how gruesome or scary we go into it, is not the end.


*journal entries taken and embellished from the many Pvt. Tommie Atkins, who was found with half his head blown off on october 14th, 1918.


Cause, german sniper.


Submitted: November 21, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Ian Wolf Joost. All rights reserved.

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