Half an hour later, I was sitting back in our trench, with Will, David, Thomas and another soldier named Pete. I didn’t know him all that well, but we’d trained in the same group.
The battle had fizzled out- for the moment at least- and countless soldiers were being carried on stretchers, or lying lifeless covered by sheets. The bombing had ceased, leaving an eerie silence behind.
David dipped his hand into his pocket, revealing a pack of cigarettes. He passed them round, lighting up his own. I’d never smoked before, but, to avoid certain teasing from the rest of the group- who already knew I was underage- I took the lighter from William, holding the orange end of the cigarette between my lips. I just about managed not to cough as I exhaled a cloud of swirling smoke.
Thomas was very quiet, and none of us blamed him. He’d just lost a brother, and we all knew they’d been very close.
“I’m getting some sleep after a bit of food,” announced William, breaking the silence. There were a few grunts in reply.
“I can’t even remember the last time I had a good few hours sleep,” David said, tapping his cigarette to rid the tip of ash. “Must’ve been at least two days ago.”
On no-man’s land, there wasn’t time to think about my tiredness- there was always something to look at, an attack to avoid. But now that I was back in the trench, I realised how shattered I was. My head swam with pain and dizziness, and every limb felt stiff and achy- not to mention cold- and my left arm was throbbing from the wound. I hadn’t slept decently in days, and struggled not to drop off on the spot.
I’d be lucky not to get an infection in these conditions, I thought, almost hopefully; a bad infection was a ticket to hospital, as well as sleep in a warm bed, and three meals a day. It seemed an impossible luxury, not to be surrounded by constant death.
We ate some bread, and even got some omelette from a nearby pub. It was a huge relief to eat something- I felt less dizzy, and my stomach didn’t hurt so much.
We took it in turns to sleep lower down in the trench, and I was pleased to be one of the first, though the sheets were and slightly muddy. As I lay there, giving into the temptation of letting my eyes close, I thought of home, of Charlie, of the German I’d killed, and knew it had barely begun.
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