The Great War

March 6, 2017

People say war is hell. I fully agree with those people. The artillery guns boomed, sending explosions in the enemy trenches. I heard screams, shouts in German I will never understand. Our commanders were screaming at us as well, giving orders, cursing the Kaiser and promising to push the Jerry’s back to Berlin. I, just a lowly foot soldier on that gray June day, was in the thick of the combat, gripping my rifle like it was a newborn child, my dented metal helmet firmly strapped on, like I actually believed it was going to help me survive the German onslaught. I stood in a trench, the only scars that, in my mind, would tell the story of this war. Then, I heard the dreaded sound no soldier wants to hear: The Death Order, as me and my fellow combatants called it.
“Alright boys! Fix bayonets! Full charge!”
We did as told, and at a high pitched blow of his whistle, sent me and friends, young, ignorant, off to die. We jumped out of our trench, bayonets forward, running full speed and screaming bloody murder as the German line erupted with gunfire. Whole groups of men fell, twisting around like they were dancing, twisting and turning as each bullet smashed into them,  screams in their mouths as they fell, like grotesque ballerinas in a painful, everlasting ballet.
I, and everybody else, would have helped them, comforted them, saved them from their pain. But, in our fear of ending up like them, our rage of what happened to them, and our disgust of being anywhere but home, we kept going, walking over corpses, over comrades. When I got close enough, I jumped behind cover, catching my breath behind what looked like the ruin of a small house, now reduced to a small wall with a little broken window, still seeing white wallpaper and polished wood in my scramble to reload my rifle. I didn’t remember shooting it, implying that in my blind charge, I wasted a whole clip full of ammo. I peeked out the window.
All was chaos. The men who arrived must have ran out of bullets, because them and the Germans were engaged in bloody hand to hand combat. And believe me, it was horrible, to bloody and heart-wrenching that I can’t even find words to describe it as I’m writing this. Then, I heard a voice:
“Hilf mir… bitte…”
It sounded weak. I slowly inched over to it, looking behind me every once in awhile, hoping that nobody came up behind me and, quite literally, stab me in the back. There, next to the wall, I found where the voice came from: A wounded German, groaning in agony, blood from a unknown bullet hole staining his gray uniform, and at his side lay the unmistakable german helmet, it’s dull point pointing to the sky. Quickly pointing my rifle at his head, I went to finish him. But, remarkably, a feeling came over me. The one that said that I just couldn’t kill this man. I lowered my rifle slowly, and dragged the German behind the cover of the wall, much to his protest.
“Come on Fritz, work with me here. Can’t you see I’m trying to help?”
He groaned in response.
“The name’s Rolf, ya blasted Tommy.”
His English was rough, with a hard accent, but I heard what he was saying nonetheless. As I looked in surprise at him, he smiled a bit, and was then interrupted by a fit of coughing, blood dribbling down his lip. He winced in pain, and groaned again, slow and forced, a sound only a man who is dying, or soon to die, will make. I helped ease his pain as best as a guy like me can, pouring water on the bullet hole, adding pressure to the wound, all during the heat of battle.
“This isn’t working…,”
Rolf gazed at me, perplexed, “Why… why are you helping me?”
I didn’t respond, because, really, I didn’t have a response. I will never know why I helped Rolf on that day. Maybe it was because I’m too selfless. Maybe it was because I felt pity for him.
I looked around the battlefield, trying to find a way to help him. It was hopeless. Our men, British troops, only wore tan uniforms. The Germans wore gray uniforms. If I called for a medic, they would take one glance at Rolf and shoot him on sight. Me, being me, had a bold, yet quite stupid idea.
“Give me your jacket,” I told Rolf, who I will often call Fritz or Jerry.
“What?” He replied, quite confused at my request. But, he did it nonetheless, slowly, groaning in his effort, greatened by the fact that he did it whilst laying down. He was now reduced to a white undershirt. I quickly threw off my tan jacket and flat helmet and switched them for Rolf’s gray, bloodied wool one, placing his black round helmet on my head, with it’s dull tip pointed at the clouds. I lifted Rolf up, supporting his weight on my shoulder. I grabbed his pistol, and me and him started walking, my pistol in hand.
Rolf, frowning, gave me a weird look. “Are you insane? This is going to get you killed!”
I laughed. “Great way to die, am I right?”
Rolf didn’t respond. We slowly made our way towards the German line, scared out of our minds, but still confident that we would survive. But, the things I witnessed... it made me doubt. I saw things that could be only described as savagery, seeing men at their most desperate to survive. People were in fistfights in the mud if they lost their weapons, although they found other ways to kill each other.
I saw a British soldier, young, looked full of energy and would be kind to talk to, pick up a rock in the ground, that seemed like it weighed fifteen pounds, and proceed to knock the brains out of a German soldier, who was defenceless to his onslaught. Blood splattered on the young boy’s face as he screamed, hitting the German over and over. That German soldier might have had kids, family, a house back home, dreams even… dashed, because of a young Brit, at my guess only twenty years of age, killed him because he wanted to survive, and just go home to his family.
It disgusted me, so I focused on staring at the ground, walking as fast as I could go with Rolf, glancing up once every so often, to see how close I was to the German trenches, the Jerry´s, the people that was supposed to be the scum of the Earth… and I was walking to them. It nerved me, walking straight into the enemy trench when we finally hopped (more like fell) into the German trench, hitting the soft mud. That was when I realized my first problem: I spoke no German, although I was wearing a German uniform, in a German trench, surrounded by people who would kill me if I didn’t speak their language. I quietly swore under my breath.
But, before I could solve that problem, I heard another problem. The rumble of engines.
“Oh, why now? Why now, of all times!”
I push myself and Rolf down, almost getting crushed by the tank that rolled over the trench we were in. Then, I heard a voice. And, unfortunately, they spoke English. That might be the first, and only time, that I ever say that.
I then learned, too late, my third problem: The Germans had been pushed back, and only now I realized I was in a not-so-empty, yet now British-occupied trench. I was too late. But… I recognized that voice. As I stood up slowly, hands in the air, I called back to the gruff voice.
¨Commander Gerald Swanson? Sir?¨
The voice now sounded… confused, which confirmed my suspicion.
¨Is that you Lawrence?¨
I turned around, and looked straight into the face of my commander, who was only a few feet away. Funny, I thought. He sounded farther away… 
I answered my used-to-be commanding officer, ¨Yes sir.¨
I felt hard wood hit my cheek as he smacked the butt of his rifle in my face, and I reeled back at the sudden attack, falling to one knee. I spat out blood (And maybe a tooth.) from my mouth. I looked back up at my commander. He was almost foaming at the mouth in rage.
¨You… You TRAITOR! Helping the enemy, WEARING their uniform? This… this is… this  is treason!¨
¨Sir, look behind me. There is a wounded man lying there, who is close to death. He might be wearing a German uniform, but he was helpless, and if I had to take his jacket and helmet and drag him through “No Man’s Land”, then through the kindness of my heart, I did exactly so.¨
Rolf slowly waved.
Commander Swanson stared at me. He looked at Rolf, then back at me again…
The diary ended there.
The Reader looked at the page of the dusty, yellowed diary, perplexed. It had caught them completely off guard.
They looked at the next page, it’s well preserved yellow pages floating in their fingers as they flipped the page. Nothing. There was only a blank page. Nothing about what happened to ‘Lawrence’ and ‘Rolf’, no last names either, not even a date of when it happened. They looked at the metal helmet that they had found along with the diary, and pondered.
Were ´Lawrence´ and ´Rolf´ even real? What happened to them? It left them… unsatisfied. So they searched the Internet, looking up the two things that were clear: Commander Gerald Swanson and the wartime punishment for treason.
They found what they were looking for, but it made them only more uneasy. And it was nothing pertaining to the Commander. That name was made up.  What they found out was that the punishment for treason against the Crown, in what they suspected was World War 1… was death.
It chilled them down to the bone, like if they had walked outside on a cold day without a shirt on. But there was no info to go by. The diary didn´t say that they were killed.  So maybe ‘Lawrence’ wasn’t killed, and lived to fight another day. Maybe ‘Rolf’ survived, and went back to Germany! But then again, they both might not have…
The reader couldn’t take that kind of ending.
They looked around the house, and grabbed a notebook and pen. And then once the pen’s ink hit the paper they started to write, hoping to give ‘Lawrence and Rolf’ a proper ending, the ending this story deserved. They didn’t even care if this is what actually happened. And the Reader, now the Writer, began their work.

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