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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Boyhood Memories (From Dreams)

Here are several posts that I mentioned recently from a couple years ago. These are the Great War Short Stories that I've mentioned that I've written that are actually straight up recollections from my boyhood dreams. I went back and located them and am going to share them here in one long post. The originals had images but they did not transfer well so I am going to them this without the original photos. You can search for the title of each post and it will take you back to the original.

It's cold, very cold and my body hurts all over. I cannot see much....visibility is limited by the fact it's pre-dawn and I'm cuddled round a corpse in a half frozen shell hole, reeking of rot and Mustard Gas. It is so quiet.....that at this moment that very silence seems deafening. Then I hear the thumping of my own heart.....well I'm pretty sure it's my heart beating hard and not the heart of a German corpse I've been sharing this hole with since the shelling started. I have no idea where the rest of my patrol is.....out here somewhere I suppose though I haven't a clue if any of them is still living or not. I mustn't shout out....I need to be...silent, still, alive.

The shelling had gone on for 3 or 4 minutes or so but God it seemed like a fucking eternity. Now in it's aftermath I can't focus. My soul has been knocked out of kilter and my brain is scrambled. I see only brief images, in my mind, smoke going by, flickers of movement...light in the darkness. But I begin to think my friend the corpse (I allow that now he is dead that he isn't really a German, or an English or Frenchmen for that matter....he is just another rotting corpse now, in the end.) I feel wet all over but the warm wetness in my crotch suggests that I pissed myself during the shelling....It doesn't matter really, it isn't the first time. I'm just grateful to be alive to notice.

As the minutes pass, sound comes back to me. Some where south of High Wood is the crump, crump of distant shelling impacting the sodden ground. I keep hearing a whistle, chirping in the night until i realize it's just my ears continuing to ring. I'm hungry, confused and I have to shit but I don't dare give my position away...I can hold it though it's mostly liquid and will leak out if I don't find away to....voices, several voices from out there. What language? German...a patrol? I pull a Mills Bomb out and wait....they are no longer speaking but I here the squish/crunch of boots breaking the semi-frozen mud....and then nothing.

I begin to move...west, south west back to the line. Never standing, crawling, hunched walking just a step or two at a time...connecting shell hole to shell hole. Since the lines haven't really moved much in the last several months rare is the shell hole out here that isn't occupied by the dead or pieces of the dead. Hollow empty eyes, pleading for...what? Their mums maybe? The silence, deafening silence has returned and every step I make seems like an explosion of sound then...a whisper. Sgt Millar...the patrol or what's left of them have gathered in this collapsed outpost with the dead and the rats as well. Seems three of our patrol took a direct hit. The Sgt. believes we were unlucky in moving into an area scheduled for a pre-planned sporadic box-barrage...non of us detected any movement from the German trenches though we never really got close, not even to the wire before the shelling dispersed us. The Germans routinely follow pre-planned barrages with a follow up patrol which all of us managed to avoid. 

 Corporal Lakey took some shell fragments to the face and left shoulder but can walk with help. Adams legs are mangled and we carry him back to the trench....Smithy crawls forward to alert the sentries that we are coming in. The trench line further south took a beating from the shells and they have casualties as well. The Captain meets us as we come in and seems less then pleased that we didn't at least get a look at Fritz's wire and hardly reacts when informed of our dead and wounded. As we move quickly down the line to a reserve trench our mates pat us lightly as we pass....we have all been out there...outside the wire.

By Thomas O Davis

It's hot...the dust from the road rises in a light brown cloud covering everyone and everything. This includes my my mouth, my nose, brain. Yes, it invades my every thought, it holds me, suffocates me. Water is a most valuable item right now. Every break in the march brings an urgent search for water.

The scene is one of controlled chaos...horses, wagons, men, mules. Every kind of imaginable transport moving all at once...mostly, to the East. Long lines of men on the far as the eye can see. The very air contains an urgency hard to explain.

Perhaps all these visual distractions are a good thing. They keep us occupied, to busy to ponder what this may all mean to us. Because deep down we advance. An attack, a full scale attack on the German main line the East. And soon, very soon.The Germans know it to...their aircraft are very active above us. Our aircraft are active as well trying to prevent them from observing what is happening in our rear.

The sound of the men marching, the horses, motorized transport, teamsters cursing, officers shouting, men singing....creates a symphony all it's own. A soundtrack, "The Prelude to Hell..." perhaps. The entire scene...sound, the sight, the smell it...energizes, lifts us up to another place. Prepares us for what is next. Or maybe it doesn't.....


Suffice it to say that it is no longer hot and is now just wet, very wet. The dry weather gave way to torrential rains two days after the Big Push began. Some one in the Heavens must have a sickened sense of humor because just as we were gaining some headway in breaking the German lines...the rains came and everything slogged to a standstill. Now both sides are digging deep again.

Not that things were going really well before the rain......every single yard we gained was paid for in blood...our blood. Fritz did not want to give up that series of trench-lines and out posts. There would be a short, vicious bombardment of their line and then we'd rush the trench...hurling Mills Bombs as we jumped into the front line. Any survivors we shot or ran them through with our bayonets. No mercy...a nightmarish fury of shooting, stabbing, punching, kicking, screaming horror...then, it was quiet. After a short while, the Germans would shell us, counter-attack and the furious hand to hand combat would begin all over again. We would go back and forth like this, hour after into night. I thought it would never end. 

And then we began to hold...and the counter-attacks weakened, then stopped. We started to advance a few hundred yards at a time. Word was that the Front Line had been broken a couple miles to the south and the Hun were in retreat. We almost began to have hope again...hope that maybe, just maybe, this time, this nightmare, this war might end. We could push the enemy, pursue them, destroy them and maybe, just maybe end the war. For the first time in years we were in open country and on the move. Then the Germans turned back to fight, to hold their ground. And the advances started to a crawl.
We continued to attack, hour after hour with minor, insignificant little gains, an advance of a hundred yards here....200 yards there. But the casualties were incredibly high...then the rains came. And every movement and everything just stopped, bogged down in deep mud, mired in a land torn and shredded by incessant shellfire. Moving forward was out of the question though for awhile, orders to continue the attack were given until the slaughter...our slaughter became so great that there were not enough men left in the Division to continue. We had become a Ghost Division. So we waited for our relief and dug in as best we could in the heavy rain and prayed for someone, anyone to have mercy on us..... 

I'm here still, I think. The sound, the noise is incredible...I can't hear myself think. I realize the funny taste in my mouth is...dirt. The last series of bombs from Fritz blew in part of the trench block and buried several fellows alive...including me. From the noise, the incredible fury of sound I realize that the fight is still on. The incessant hammering of rifle fire, bombs going off one after the other...a mixture of other sound, human made sounds..shouts, screams, the yelling, crying....

I shrug off the last of the dirt and push through the destroyed block to find myself alone...where are my Pals? Through the haze of smoke in the last light of day I begin to see snippets of images....a body here,German, unmoving...a man, one of ours on his knees, struggling to crawl away..with an arm missing, marking his path with blood. Now many corpses litter the remains of the trench floor, I move cautiously round a bend in the trench and I'm face to face with my enemy. I see him first, run him through the throat and he remains standing, frozen in time with a silent scream staring intently back at the man who just killed him. After a while of gazing back into the dead mans eyes, I remove the bayonet, he crumples to the ground. I stick him again, then again....dead. I pause, take a deep breath then begin to move again down the trench only to deflect a swinging trench shovel w/the butt of my rifle at the last second. Shouts from behind as lads from 3rd Welsh Fusiliers come up, over and through the broken and battered trench block. The Welsh lay down a sheet of rifle fire and a barrage of bombs on the next series of strong-points in the trench system. The German with the shovel dies in the onslaught. Systematically they bomb there way down the trench, eliminating dug outs and surviving Germans as they go. As quickly as the appeared, they were gone, lost in the smoke, lost in time like ghosts from Hell or Avenging Angels....

A cold shiver passes through me as I struggle to remain standing. I am confused by my weakness until stretcher bearers come through....In the chaotic confusion of the fight I failed to realize I'd been shot through the left thigh and am now missing parts of two fingers on my right hand. Seems it was my hand on the rifle butt that deflected the Hun shovel..

Suddenly I see a man from the Medical Corps, his face right in front of me and he is talking, his lips move but I don't understand what he is saying. It doesn't make any sense to me then I realize that I feel faint. With much help I am moved back through the trench we have just taken from Fritz. I can't begin to describe the horror of what I see: a private window into a small piece of the underworld. Bodies, parts of bodies, once human gobs of goo, chunks of stuff along with equipment strewn everywhere. In a large junction of several trench avenues I wait with other wounded to be moved back, behind the line to receive medical attention. I lay on the cold, hard packed dirt of the trench and slowly the intense noise of the previous hours begins to fade. I relax, I urinate where I lie but I feel OK yet I swear I hear a familiar voice...soft, comforting...Is it, no!? How can that be? is my Mother.

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