The broken poppy, p.6
The Broken Poppy, p.6Alice Catherine Carter
18th October 1914.
Day Fifty Two,
Again I have not written but it has been chaotic and I am still getting used to this way of life. My first battle will commence tomorrow. We have been deployed on our first mission to a town called Ypres in Belgium. By the time we had travelled from Calais to Ypres it had taken us about a week, and we travelled largely by foot and train. We had little sleep, with so much land to cover and little time to get there, but these were the orders and the people at the top, clearly wanted more men in that region, for some reason. The trenches here are, well feeble and they can’t be more than three feet deep. They offer almost no protection and most of our heads reach over the top. Roger is not the only one in ‘charge’ of our regiment, thank god. We have several Sergeants and Corporals, all of whom seem to be decent men and I don’t mind fighting alongside them in war.
The weather is getting colder by the day and I am not looking forward to the coming winter. Rob and Matthew have adjusted to the war and the reason for the war of course, but I for one still cannot make sense of any of it. I think the whole war in its entirety just goes to show the barbarity of the human race. We are killing mankind, day in, day out and nobody seems to react much, simply because we are at ‘war’ and it is acceptable. Acceptable to kill another human. We have always been killers; it is in our nature and one of our most primitive instincts. The instinct to kill if necessary in order to stay alive, there’s war beneath our skin.
We are sneaky creatures too. We hide, we spy and we keep an ever watchful eye on our prey waiting for the next attack. It is how we’ve survived, but what happens when the prey is ourselves? Brothers of a kind who sneak up behind you and attack. Without a single warning, well maybe a couple of warning bullets here and there. We are hunters. Not a single moment in a day, week, month or a year goes by without some form of evil taking place somewhere in the world. Doesn’t that make you wonder what the human race has become?
Thankfully, however not all things about the war have been terrible. Since being in the trenches I have met two other men who have become good friends already, or ‘war buddies’ as they call it. Private Timothy Perkins, a very religious man who despite all the violence, anger and hatred that surrounds him on a day to day basis, still believes that God is the one that can help us out of this mess - something I cannot seem to grasp. Private Johnnie Bellman on the other hand has similar beliefs to me as to how we got ourselves into this mess. I will never forget our first encounter.
It was four days ago and we had only been in the trenches for a day. Lieutenant McDougal who was taking control of our Platoon announced we were going to come together with a group of men from the Manchester Division. I was off duty, which was a rarity and I was allowed to rest. So I managed to find Rob and Matthew who were sitting in a small bunker and I joined them. We had light conversation and everyone was trying to get a bit of sleep. It didn’t last long though as around the corner I could hear a man rather loudly and openly expressing his opinion about the war. He was having a go at the war and why he was in it. He moaned about the human race too, but boy did he swear.
“I don’t know why I joined this bloody war. I have to live with the lice, rats and mud and I’ll probably end my life in a bloody muddy ditch. You know, we all have blood on our hands. I’m surprised they haven’t turned red!” he said loudly, turning into the bunker as he finished and I knew then that we would become friends.
“You alright lads?” he asked.
“Not bad. Better than you by the sounds of it” I replied.
“Fair point.” He held out his hand and I stood up from the wooden box that I was sitting on to shake it.
“Private Bellman, but you can call me Johnnie” he said formally introducing himself.
“Private Millward, but call me Thomas. You probably shouldn’t say that too often, your opinion of the war I mean” I replied, nodding as I spoke.
“Why? Everyone deep down thinks the same thing? But you’re probably right” Johnnie replied with a smile and I went to introduce the others.
“My brothers Rob and Matthew” I said, while Johnnie shook their hands.
“That’s Timothy. A war buddy, who likes God to much for his own good” Johnnie replied in a sarcastic tone.
Timothy replied with a sigh and jokingly rolled his eyes. It was clear that this was an argument which had occurred between them many times. Timothy held out his hand and I shook it.
“Call me Tim” Timothy said and I replied with a nod.
“Mind if we share this humble abode. I must say you’ve done a great job with the decoration” Johnnie asked.
“Sure” I replied laughing.
“So where are you lot from then?” Johnnie asked.
“Originally from Little Hadford, but we’ve just moved around a bit lately” I replied, making it sound better than the truth.
“I’ve never heard of Little Hadford” Johnnie replied.
“That’s not surprising. I’d be surprised if it was even on the map” I commented.
“What about you? Where are you from?” Matthew questioned.
“Originally Cumbria - I won’t bother pronouncing the name of the village though, it looks like they just picked a bunch of letters and made a name” Johnnie said.
“You sure you don’t live in Wales?” I asked.
“One hundred percent” Johnnie confirmed light-heartedly.
Conversation continued but then I was put on Sentry duty along with Rob. Sentry duty is when we have to stand up on the top steps of the shallow dug outs and watch across no man’s land, the unclaimed territory. The battle field. We simply had to watch and wait, wait until we could see any signs of enemy advance. Then we would attack. Everyone had a turn of sentry duty, you were picked at random and it was basically an unorganised rota. It wasn’t hard work, apart from dodging the occasional shell, which came from the hands of an ill-mannered German and often landed several feet away. It was tiredness that was the trick of the job. At a turn we were given about 24 hours of sentry duty, with no break or time to sleep. It was exhausting.
It was clear that the Germans were going to fight hard in this battle, although the word is it would be an easy win for Britain. So much so many of the reserve armies had not been sent for and we were one of the few. Like Germany, Britain is preparing for battle.
Private Thomas Millward.
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