A letter to my wife, an outlook on my life

By
Dearest Leslie,
I’ve been anxiously longing to get in touch with you and my parents , and today more than any other day writing this letter feels like a duty that I cannot escape from; for I think that I will not be bequeathed another opportunity to write to you anytime soon. Les, to the average person the events that I am about to tell you about may come off as surreal, at times I don’t even believe this is all real, it’s as if I’d gone to sleep and walked straight into my biggest nightmare, a nightmare that I cannot awake from until I fight off all my enemies, target them at impossible angles and strip them of even the slightest fraction of space to escape to. This may seem unethical, but at times such as this one our survival instincts are more intact than ever. My ordinary life has been temporarily halted. It has been only a few hours since we fought the Germans in the Second Battle of Ypres, the casualties for this battle have left everyone silent, unable to swallow what just happened. I was left stunned by the ruthless and cruel way that the Germans fought this battle; they unleashed one of their more hazardous weapons, intended for instant and complete demolition, poison gas. The only way to escape from this attack was to wear urine soaked masks or handkerchiefs because it neutralized the poison; we tied them across our nose and mouth area. The odour coming out of it was something that could not be easily ignored, it held a strong presence, tainting our lips with its bitter taste, and filling our nostrils with a queasy aroma, but nevertheless its presence reminded us that we are still alive and that our senses where there with us. I saw the poison gas taking its course through the lungs and eyes of many of the soldiers in my frontline, it was devastating to witness this, even more so the death of the only true friend I made since my enrolment in the army. His name was Joe, he was a decent fellow. He talked about his wife and his kids a lot, about he was going to make it home and take his family on a vacation to somewhere peaceful and warm. He could strike up some interesting conversations; his mind was always fresh with a torrent of ideas and thoughts. Joe couldn’t survive the aftermath of the poison gas, they put him in a bed trying to save the remains of him, but within a couple hours he stopped fighting and his heart stop beating; died from asphyxiation, he was a swell guy, I’m sure you would have liked him too Les. Each day is typically a resemblance of the previous one. Our officer awakes us, and we get prepared for another day of warfare, we get our rifles set up and we have to stay on guard ready to rebuttal at an enemy raid. Every time this happens our officer always tells us "just try to stay alive". Breakfast comes at unofficial times; food is very scarce. We share loafs of mainly stale bread because it takes so long to get to us, and gulp it down with some tea. Hot food is a luxury of all sorts because we can`t cook it in the line, so when it`s present we savour it. Sometimes when the hunger becomes unbearable we light up the rats that roam our trenches, the danger of this however is that because many dead bodies are dumped into the trenches the rats feed on the dead bodies, they become so large due to the consumption of human flesh and can potentially be infected with different diseases. But what have we left do? It`s hard enough to endure fighting, with an empty stomach it doesn’t get much easier. It`s been raining for awhile now, I really hate it when it rains. The water always makes its way into the trenches, makes everything all muddy and worse than it already is. My uniform got dirtier from the rain mixed with the mud, it`s really damp, it`s pretty hard to keep warm in such conditions, and cleanliness is completely out of the equation. I haven`t been clean for days, I bet the lice are really getting a kick out of it... I just hope I get the chance to get my haircut and get rid of these fellas. I got to tell you Les, it certainly feels like everything is conspiring against us, the weather, food, rats and the lice. This war has been the root for the growth of the insanity within the brain of the sane man. At the rare times when we get the chance to sleep, a soundless or peaceful sleep is seldom achieved. The sounds of gunfire and bomb explosions are always vivid in our heads; even in the unconsciousness. When I look around me sometimes, I notice that there are soldiers who aren`t sleeping at all. They wear wary expressions, they fear the enemy that may attack at an unexpected moment, death is always at such proximity that it`s become an inevitable fear. Some soldiers are emotionally stronger than the others they hardly acknowledge the commotion that takes place inside their heads. Unfortunately the ones of feeble emotional strength yield to it and release paroxysms of rage. The doctors here call the tantrums "shell shock". When my attention is not focused on war, my brain slowly disconnects itself from my body, travels elsewhere, somewhere rather pleasant. It wanders back to the earlier days of our marriage, to the birth of our beautiful son. How`s the lad doing? I reckon he`s probably taller than you by now, you`ve always been the shortest (laughing) give him a tight bear hug and tell him dad`s coming home real soon. I miss you guys far more than you can fathom.

With love, J. Hopkins.





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