1916

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
A summers morning on the Western Front.

Submitted: April 19, 2016

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Submitted: April 06, 2016

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It was the silence that I found the most unsettling. War was not a quite business. It was an apocolpse heralded by the chatter of bullets and by the roar of combustion engines. On that sunny morning in 1916 I found the guns had ceased their relentless ploughing of the soil of flanders field. The forwards trench was full of silent men, gripping their enfields with white knuckles. The quite was broken briefly by a chirping bird but as if it sensed the mood and what was about to happen it took flight after seconds or perching on the wire between barbs. This deafening blanket of total and utter silence 

I took my place at the base of a ladder. I had done it before, going over the top, but it didn't make it any easier. Mankind was not built for the violences of war, we bags of skin and bone bleed- easily and feel it when we do. Death itself did not frighten me, I had made my peace with that shrouded skeleton with sickle a long time ago- I had been fighting a war for over two years and it had a numbing effect on it. 

I remember my first days in France, when the era of King Edward was not clearly over, when we on a great adventure, fighting for King and Country, huzzah and hurrah! we were going to give the Hun a whipping and send him back to Berlin- tail between his legs, all in time for Christmas! We were fresh faced recruits just out of army training, too late to fight in a colonial war but just in time to remind the Kaiser who was the superior cousin.  

We were simply horribly wrong. By the end of the year war was no adventure, it was a struggle for survival, as harsh as the coldest winters, as dangerouse as the most corrosive of illnesses. Of the boys who marched too war in Summer 1914 all but a handful were dead and the survivors could hardly be called boys, we were young in apperence but inwardly we were old men, already veterans. We found ourselves cycling through the trenches weeks in weeks out, they were our workplace. I trudged through, taking it day by day, it felt like it was an eternal wheel going round and round and round with my generation attached to one of its spokes, powerless to stop it, only able to watch as we fell off one by one and were crushed.

I began to rise through the ranks- I wasn't doing anything special- I just happened to be alive after months of attrittion warfare and as I rose those around me fell. I stopped befriending my new comrades. Most were dead in weeks if not days or even hours- once they were dead in seconds of me getting to know their name- courtesy of Herr Kannone and his stage partner Herr Shell. 

That does something to you. Death loses meaning as I say. So I did not fear death as a shook slightly. I feared pain. What man wouldn't? I did not want to be sliced apart by razor sharp shrapnel- that is not cowardinice. 

It was almost time. I took a step forwards and unbuttoned my holster with one hand whilst clasping my tin whistle with the other, The infantry behind me shuffled forwards as well. I fought off the urge to vomit and my teeth chattered slightly. 

I raised the whistle to my lips, waited for a heart beat and then blew it, a shrill blast of air turned into a symphony as one of many. Then I was up the ladder, webely revolver in hand and I was staring down the German trench.

The silence was shredded in a hail of lead and the thump of high explosive shells landing. Dirt was thrown up all around me, several hundred men lay dead in seconds. I hated artillery with a loathing. 

We had been instructed to walk and not to run. It made sense- if you ran you'd be tired out by the time you reached the enemy wire and if you ran you more liable to trip and if you tripped up in the middle of no mans land you were dead. 

By the time I reached the trench on the other side of the man made mire piles of corpses lay behind and beyond me. I don't how but I got through their coils of barbed wire and dropped down into their trench. Immediately somone came at me with an improvised mace, a piece of wooden panking with rusty nails hammered through the end, I dodge his first wing and then his second before getting inside his swipes and jamming my revolver to his jugular and pulling the trigger. 

I knew I was low on ammunition and the webley took for ever to load. I glanced around and grabbed a G.98 rifle. It wasn't too dissimilar to the lee enfield- or at least they were both bolt action. I noted a bayonet already attatched to the end.

Some other German came barreling out of the end of a communications trench and pushed me backwards, his fists pummeled my face. Suddenly he stopped and fell backwards, I looked around and saw one of the newest boys on the front holding a smoking rifle. I nooded my thanks and levelled my G.98 at another German coming up from the rear lines. I pulled the trigger and worked the bolt repeatedly until the weapon was empty and then charged the next German I saw and speared him through the stomach. The soldier fell away gurgling and clutching his torn flesh, crimson spreading over his hands.

Dropping the German rifle I picked up a fallen British one with just one bullet fired. Some sixth sense made me duck and felt a German bayonet scraping the top of my helmet. I went to hit him the gut with the butt of my gun but he wasn't there. Then the soldier came at me again, going for my chest. I pushed my enfield up with both hands, parrying his stab up and away from me. I kicked him in the legs, tripping him up and making him drop his rifle before raising the gun, ready to bring it down to crack his skull like an egg. 

I stopped, the soldier in front of me looked up at me with tearful eyes, a resignation behind them that this was the end. He didn't even try to plead for mercy. I whacked him across the face, knocking him out cold but not killing him.

Turning I found the barrel of a G.98 levelled at my face and I stared down the cold dark barrel. There was nothing I could do. Time seemed to slow, the carnage around me slowing and then the German's trigger finger tightened and I was gone from the earth forever.

 

 

 

 


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