The infamous horrors of the trenches have been immortalised, but, lest we forget, this short story aims to portray the human suffering of the trenches
There was a man there, the Sergeant realised, just off to the left of the roughly
constructed wooden duckboards he and his battalion were marching along.
The trenches were treacherous at the moment: sticking your head above the
parapet was an invitation to have it blown off; going to relieve yourself was suicide; lighting a cigarette was a beacon for a sniper and stepping from the walkway was impossible. Because of the mud.
How the man had got there, Christ only knew, but he had. And now he was stuck.
Raising a hand the Sergeant called his men to stop. They were desperately needed further up the Ypres Salient – the enemy, sensing weakness there, had been battering them incessantly with shells – but here was a comrade in trouble.
Up to his waist in the mud that oozed through the trenches after heavy rain, he was
stuck. Fast. His uniform was spattered in mud and blood trickled from a large gash on his forehead. Some of the blood had clotted and formed patches of unavoidable gore on his harrowed face. Part of his jaw had been blown off and his splintered cheek bone made his face sag. This broken gargoyle was slowly sinking into the thick, viscous soup. Calling two men to his side, they all heaved at the man’s limp, unresponsive arms. He didn’t shift an inch. After tugging in vain for for ten minutes they gave up. It was futile.
Adjusting his helmet, the Sergeant called to ‘quick march’. Like lice scurrying through the hairline fractures of the French countryside, now bombed beyond recognition, his men followed him; stealing glances at the slowly drowning soldier.
The noise is intense. The lights burn even when the lids are squeezed shut, and you
cannot do that in battle. Noises made by the men mingle with the noises made by the guns, forming an impregnable wall. You reel back as your eardrums shatter.
Wave after wave of enemy attack crumples under fire. And still the battle
rages, cold, unfeeling. Men fall, their last act to grapple for a weapon or to clutch, screaming at a wound. As one side falls and retreats, the other falls and advances. And you drown in the noise, in the blood and the mud.
At last it is over.
At last it is quiet.
An opaque moon swims across the murky sky. It illuminates the muddy trenches, the
bodies and the blood. So much blood. For war creates monsters, monsters that kill.
They were the walking wounded. Barely living. Moving, only on command. Eyes, livid red from the smoke and the gas, wide with the horrors they had witnessed. And helped create.
The enemy had not broken through. Fortified by an influx of reserves from the rear lines, they had held strong.
The Sergeant led his men through the catacombs of the trenches – his arm guiding
one of his men left blind by shrapnel. Others staggered behind him, some fell to the ground. It felt so nice, so soft, after the hardships of war. They could almost go to sleep on it. But if they did that, and some did, they wouldn’t wake up. And those muddy holes cut into the butchered countryside would be where they lay, stiff with death and cold and caked with blood, until there was a respite. They would be identified, they would have ‘died heroes’ and their family would weep and question the point of war. Some bodies would never be found under avalanches of churned up and bloodied soil. Would their families weep for the missing? Where the Sergeant’s right ear had been was a gaping mess of tissue and crusted
blood. The mangled ear had been trodden under foot as he charged forward, adrenaline masking the pain. It was only later he felt it.
This time the man was to the right as they staggered home along the same route
they had marched out along. He was now up to his neck in the mud. Slowly and ever so gently it was sucking him to an early grave. But it was not a grave – not really. Just an endless tomb of mud.
His skin was stretched tightly over his face. A thin layer of matter was all that
covered his skull. And his eyes – they were dead. They were just waiting for the rest of his body to join them. His spirit had been sapped by the endless shelling and artillery fire lighting up the horizon. The noises they created were deafening when you could not move, could not cry out, could only stare straight ahead – dead inside. He was drowning in the mud and his thoughts.
Did he have family, children? They would have no grave to cry over, just a faded
photo, that would one day be crumpled and lost.
Moving on, the Sergeant decided, was best. There was no hope for the man. Only a
dread and a slow, sinking feeling as the mud entered his mouth. Later his nose. Later, he wouldn’t know it though, his eyes. Until…nothing.
The Sergeant decided he would not walk this way again.
By Sophie, Year 12