The Middle East, 1915. A short story set during the First World War told from the perspective of a Turkish officer defending a trench from a British attack. Based on characters featured in my published novels Kingdom Lock, and For Kingdom and Country.

Barjisiyeh Woods, near Basra, April 1915

The Turkish officer took a long drink from his canteen. He was burning up, feverish, and feeling light-headed. He had been stuck in the trench since the British had first been sighted crossing the sandy plain nine hours earlier. But it seemed an age to him, and the afternoon heat was making matters worse. His vision was blurred, and, if he stood up too quickly, he felt he would black out at any moment. At least the shelling had stopped for the time being, bringing some relief, albeit only slightly, to his pounding and throbbing head.

He sighed as he leaned back against the trench wall and took a packet of cigarettes from his breast pocket. They were severely crumpled, but he found an undamaged one and lit it. He suddenly winced and doubled up. His guts had been playing up for two days now, which wasn’t surprising since he’d had nothing to eat in all that time but porridge. He glanced across to the fire-steps. They were lined with humble Turkish soldiers doing their bit for the glory of the Ottoman Empire. Then his eyes fell back to the trench floor. It was dry and littered with spent shells, equipment, and, worst of all, the dead.

They had nowhere to drag the bodies, so a Corporal had been designated to move them over to one side. It was odd looking at those corpses now, sitting with their legs outstretched and their heads lolling to one side as if asleep. Only their bloodstained tunics gave the onlooker any idea as to their state. But if they were to look closer, they would see that most of their faces were hideously disfigured from bullet wounds. The majority had their kabalaks pulled down over their faces. It hid the true nature of their fate and saved the soldiers who were still alive from any further distress.

The officer let out a long sigh and took another heavy drag on his cigarette. It was Egyptian tobacco, sweet and aromatic, and it reminded him of home. That depressed him further. He looked in the packet again. Worse still, he only had four left. He put them back in his tunic pocket, glanced up at the thin strip of blue sky, and tried to blank out the sounds of war. For a moment, he imagined that he was lying in a meadow, the smells of summer tickling his nostrils as insects buzzed around his head. But the foul stench of death, sickly, bloated, and sweet, soon swept him back to reality. Then there were the flies, the endless, filthy flies.

He carefully put his cigarette stub away as more bullets peppered the sandbags above. Suddenly there was a deafening explosion. One of the soldiers on the fire-step cried out as he fell backwards into the trench. He was screaming; half his face had gone. A medical officer grabbed the wounded man and dragged him out of the way as the rest of the soldiers manning the fire-steps jumped down into the trench for cover.

The officer looked up and was momentarily blinded as another explosion ripped apart a sandbag, showering him with its contents. He coughed and spat, choking on the sand, as he clawed the ground behind him in search of his observation periscope. He cautiously stepped up onto the lower fire-step and pushed the periscope above the line of sandbags. He could see nothing. His eyes were stinging. He squeezed them shut momentarily, then strained again at the reflected image.

Another explosion shook the ground above him. Odd, he thought, they were not Artillery shells. They were too small. Something caught his eye. Was that movement he could see through the smoke? He yelled out suddenly and fell back into the trench. A bullet had shattered the mirror of his scope.

He wiped his eyes, fearing the worse. But there was no blood, and, though slightly blurred, he could still see. Another explosion went off to his left, and two soldiers fell screaming, their faces embedded with nails. The officer quickly salvaged a large piece of the broken mirror from his damaged periscope and jammed it into the top. Then he quickly and cautiously pushed the twisted periscope back up above the line of sandbags.

The view on offer was limited because of the size of the broken mirror, but it was enough to send a chill down his spine. Enemy soldiers, dozens of them, bayonets glinting in the sun, were advancing behind the smoke their bombs had created. They were almost on top of him. He quickly jumped back down the fire-step just as another explosion, this time off to his right, hit the sandbags and filled that section of the trench with a blinding, choking cloud of sand. He looked to his left. His men were crouched down now. Their rifles were at the ready, but they could not move. The British would be on them in a matter of seconds.

He drew his Beholla 7.65 automatic from his holster, and waited, listening to the crack of the gunfire above and around him. Then another explosion, this time in the belly of the trench itself, boomed to his left, and again sand and dust billowed up to create more blinding smoke.

As the officer looked about him for his men, he suddenly realised that he was isolated and alone. He shook with fear as cold sweat ran down his back. His bowels began to loosen, and he suddenly laughed uncontrollably. He spun to his right. The sounds of gunshots, screaming, yelling, the thump of body blows, the clang of metal and the clash of steel against steel filled the air around him. The British were in the trench, he knew it, but he could still see nothing.

Another explosion, extremely close, went off to his right. More smoke and gritty, choking sand billowed out. A muffled cry was suddenly cut short. The officer raised his pistol and fired blindly into the smoke. But the shouts and the screams continued. Panic overwhelmed him as he spun his head from left to right. But there was nothing to see but smoke.

He paused, debating his next decision, then moved quickly to his left and headed towards the noise of close combat. He fired again in panic, oblivious to the fact that he could be shooting at his own men. He stumbled. Something was lying across the floor of the trench. The dust cloud cleared momentarily, and he could see that it was a headless body. The officer whimpered, raised his arm and fired into the smoke again. He wanted to scream, to run, to weep. But the shouts and the gunshots came from every direction.

Another explosion jolted him, the flash illuminating the trench a few yards ahead. He could make out figures close together, running towards him. A shout from behind made him turn, but no one was there, only more formless smoke.

A blood-curdling cry from within the blankness ahead made his skin crawl. He slowly raised his automatic and stood, hand trembling, waiting to meet death face-to-face. As he stared into the smoke, it swirled and gradually thinned. The explosions had stopped. He could make out two, no three figures heading straight for him. He had no idea whether they were friend or foe, but he didn’t call out. What was the point? He was already dead, and no sound would rise from his throat. As the figures got closer, he felt a sudden overwhelming calm wash over him as if he was being cleansed. Then, as his finger tightened on the trigger, there was a blinding flash, and he was blown from his feet.

The officer’s ears were ringing when he came to a few moments later. Groggily he pulled himself upright again. He had now lost all sense of direction. He steadied himself against the trench wall and slowly raised his head. He remembered the approaching figures. He looked about, but they were no longer there. He coughed and winced as he raised his hand to his face. His automatic! Where was it? He knelt down and began to fumble on the ground beneath him. A shoe, a body, a broken rifle butt. His gun! He grabbed the cold metal and turned to the dense smoke again.

The rifle fire was sporadic now, and the cries had ceased. Was it over? Had they lost? Were they overrun, or had they repelled the British dogs? He wiped his mouth. Something warm coursed down his face and trickled into his left eye. His head was bursting. He raised his hand to clear his eye, and when he pulled it away again, his fingers were covered in blood. Still no sounds would come to him, only a dull tone somewhere ahead of him. It was as if he was underwater and a steamboat was passing overhead.

The officer staggered forward and kicked his automatic ahead of him. He blinked. Had he dropped it again? He could not remember. He bent down to pick it up once more and held it in front of his face as if he was unsure what it was.

He became aware of a voice calling to him. It sounded far off, removed and alien. He blinked again and turned. Standing behind him, enshrouded in smoke like a ghostly apparition, was an enemy officer. Not British, but Australian, judging by the distinctive khaki felt slouch hat he wore upon his head.

The Turkish officer blinked again and frowned. The Australian officer was mouthing words to him, but he could not hear them clearly. He frowned again and stared at him, suddenly transfixed by the officer’s strange, arresting eyes. One seemed to be a different colour to the other. He blinked again, shook his head and looked down at his automatic. Finally, he looked back up at the Australian officer, who now had his hand outstretched as if in offering.

The Turkish officer raised his gun and pointed it at the Australian officer’s heart. The moment seemed to be frozen as if in a dream.

The Australian officer’s face fell as the Turkish officer pulled the trigger. But there was no click of the hammer. He pulled it again. Still there was nothing. No kickback, no sound, no bullet. He frowned. He looked from the gun to the Australian officer’s chest and frowned again. There was a bullet hole in the officer’s tunic, but it was old. The Turkish officer looked back up at the officer’s face. He seemed to be shouting something at him.

And then all of the breath vanished from his body.

The Turkish officer coughed, and his mouth filled with the metallic tang of blood. His arm weakened, and the automatic fell from his hand. He looked down at his chest. Four inches of steel were sticking out of it, and blood, his blood, was oozing from the same place. He tried to raise his hands to touch the foreign object but could not move. Then the metal was gone and…

‘No!’ Lieutenant Kingdom Lock screamed as his faithful sidekick Lance-Naik Siddhartha Singh thrust his kirpan into the Turkish officer’s back.

But it was too late. Singh had not heard his commanding officer’s cry. All he saw was a Turk pointing a gun at Lock's chest. So Singh did what any good soldier, any good friend, would do. He killed the enemy and saved Lock's life.

‘No!’ Lock gasped again. The Turkish officer stared back at him in surprise, then collapsed, dead at his feet.

Sepoy Ram Lal appeared from the smoke, rifle raised. He quickly glanced at Lock and Singh and at the dead Turk on the floor, then pushed on. Singh looked down at the Turkish officer, patted Lock on the shoulder, and made off down the trench after Ram Lal.

Lock stood where he was and stared down at the lifeless body of the Turkish officer. Blood was pulsating from the man’s chest and was beginning to pool around his torso. Lock's eyes fell on the officer’s Beholla sidearm. He bent down to pick it up. It was smaller and lighter than his Webley. He turned it over in his hand and studied it for a moment. Then he stretched out his arm, aimed into the trench wall, and pulled the trigger.

It fired.


Submitted: August 16, 2022

© Copyright 2022 I.D. Roberts. All rights reserved.

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Comments

HOUDINI

The fog of war, the dust, the dirt, the noise, the stench, the primer that needed hit twice to send the bullet on its mission. The madness swirls and randomly picks who will live and who will die.
All brought out very well in this story. Well Done!

Tue, August 16th, 2022 9:29pm

Author
Reply

Thank you, again, Houdini. The fact you have read and commented (twice now) means a lot.

Thu, August 18th, 2022 1:27am

charlamaye

Good job mr. Roberts I have some short stories that you might enjoy (-:

Wed, August 17th, 2022 12:55am

Author
Reply

Thank you, charlamaye. The fact you have read and commented means a lot. I will take a look at your stories. Ian.

Thu, August 18th, 2022 1:26am

charlamaye

they're called the montian women and the ears

Wed, August 17th, 2022 12:58am

Damon Nomad

Nicely written, a vivid recreation of battle in the trenches.

Wed, August 17th, 2022 1:10am

Author
Reply

Thank you, Damon. The fact you have read and commented means a lot.

Thu, August 18th, 2022 1:25am

charlamaye

Thank you Ian (-:

Thu, August 18th, 2022 6:12pm

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