The broken poppy, p.8
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       The Broken Poppy, p.8

           Alice Catherine Carter
 
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CHAPTER FIVE

  Langemarck, Belgium, 1914.

  22nd October 1914.

  Day Fifty Six,

  The past couple of days have been brutal and my eyes saw some of the worst images that man could be held responsible for. I lost count on the amount of times I looked at death straight in the eye, or at least a few feet ahead of me. I had never heard so many agonising cries or seen so much blood in my life. It was something I never wanted to experience again, but this was just the beginning. War has only taken its first breath and it had been welcomed into the world. A world of pure destruction. I have not slept in about 48 hours and the last time I slept a full night was back in England, which must have been about two weeks ago. My body though has got to the stage where it can run on about twenty minutes sleep, but even that is hard to get. The Germans continue to fire at us, day long and night long. Since we left the trench a few days ago, it became almost impossible to advance, even with the new platoon we had joined. Eventually though we managed to leave the trench in the early hours of yesterday morning and we continued West to our new position.

  This was not achieved without bloodshed. When we reached the previous trench we had about ten men from our platoon that had survived. Now there were only seven of us including myself, Matthew, Rob, Johnnie, Tim, Roger and Paul. Since Albert’s death, we have been able to work together at least to save each other’s lives when we can. This does not mean in any way that we have forgiven each other and become friends, no, I don’t think that will happen but it has just made us better soldiers. If we are not talking about war decisions, then we simply do not talk for fear of annoying the other person. We are working together because we have to. Apart from Albert’s death affecting me more than I expected it to, I do not know who is watching over us – but we have an extraordinary amount of luck on our side. The only disadvantage we had among us was the loss of Johnnie’s helmet. That though we could cope with, for he could replace it soon enough. We have been walking for the past twelve hours or so and keeping an ever watching eye out for enemy attacks.

  In the past six hours alone we have walked about ten miles. The boots they gave us are good for keeping most of the rain and mud out, but not however for keeping the blisters at bay. My feet feel as if they are falling apart, about to crumble at any given moment. Yet still we carried on walking until we finally reached a town I believe is called Langemarck in Belgium. According to Roger and Lieutenant Helling [who had arrived with the other platoon] our next position was just East of the town, the nearest British Trench. For the past half an hour or so, the artillery fire had subsided and we were almost able to walk freely, but I stress ‘almost’. Nobody was in the mood for even light conversation and after the horrors we had all just witnessed it was not surprising.

  For the next ten minutes we walked in silence, through the surrounding corn fields and then all of a sudden the air erupted in the sound of bullets once more. The Germans were launching another attack. We were an open target and the problem was we could not see exactly where the Germans were firing from. After quickly evaluating this Lieutenant Helling ordered us all to get down. We tried to hide behind anything that would give us some protection, but the current terrain was working against us. The land was completely flat, with only a few trees here and there. The stalks of the corn were our only immediate answer for protection. This obviously, was a disaster. The shells began to start and soon enough more cries of men were heard, limbs and blood where sent flying through the air and our only source of weak protection was destroyed. We were completely on our own and there was no apparent reinforcements. I kept waiting for some instruction from the Lieutenant but nothing came. I scanned the field to make sure Rob and Matthew were still with us and I spotted Rob scanning the horizon – Matthew was next to me on my right hand side, also safe. Rob was clearly looking for the enemy. Eyes on full alert.

  Soon enough he must have spotted them because his eyes became fixed on one point. His eyes did not move as he shuffled his way over to the Lieutenant. Before I could see his next action, a shell landed about twenty feet in front of me and one of the men was thrown into the air and blown to pieces. I somehow, managed to survive all intact and I looked around for Rob, who was shaking violently, out of shock though and not pain. He thank God looked unharmed. I looked to the right of me and saw Matthew, Johnnie and Timothy were all still intact. I really don’t know what we had done to deserve this amount of luck, but I was not complaining. I knew Rob had spotted where the fire was coming from and I carefully, dodging bullets along the way reached him and managed to stop him shaking.

  “Rob! Rob where are they?” I pressed, shouting.

  After he had calmed himself down he told me what he had seen.

  “They’re over to the North, just between those two trees!” Rob shouted.

  Following his instructions I scanned the horizon and just as Rob had said I saw them, pocking out behind the trees. Like a lion waiting to pounce on its prey. I could tell there was about fifty or more of them, whereas we must be down to twenty men, even with the other platoon. We would not survive this attack, we had to retreat.

  “You need to tell the Lieutenant!” I shouted.

  “I tried! He’s dead! His leg’s blown off” Rob replied.

  “Then we need to tell Roger! Can you see him?” I asked in a raised voice.

  I saw Rob’s eyes look around and his gaze stopped just behind me and to the left - I knew he had found him.

  “Over there! You’ll have to tell him Thomas, you’ll get there quicker!” Rob shouted.

  I did as I was told and crawled my way through the damaged corn field, mixed with torn off limbs and dead bodies until I finally reached him. Roger was hopelessly firing his gun even though the bullets were not going to make an impact. Well not enough impact to help us anyway.

  “Roger! The Lieutenant’s dead! Rob’s seen the Germans, they’re over to the North between those two trees. There’s no way we will survive this, in my opinion, we need to retreat!” I shouted.

  Roger listened to me, found the enemy with his eyes and looked around at the remaining men who were also helplessly firing their weapons.

  “You’re right Thomas” Roger said.

  “Retreat! Retreat!” Roger shouted at the top of his lungs.

  Slowly, we began to make our way back out of the target zone and this was not an easy feat. It took us hours until we were able to reach real shelter. Finally about five hours after the attack, just as it was about to get dark we were out of full range - of this specific attack anyway. Roger was now back in charge of the platoon once more and he counted the numbers. Now with the two platoons joined together there were only thirty two men left, out of a group of ninety men. After Roger took an account of the men left, he looked around the area and decided the only way we had a chance of getting to the next British trench alive was to take the long route, by walking South and then turning West to get to our new position which apparently was near the Polygon Wood.

  We were all able to breathe again and the only injury among us was a twisted ankle on one of the men. He was determined to walk himself, but about four hours into the walk his leg gave way and Rob managed to stop him from falling just in time. With Rob’s help I managed to help the man continue on the walk and I found out his name was Henry Brown. We were not going to leave a man in the face of death, with only a twisted ankle to blame. Roger was hesitant at first, seeing as the standard command was to leave the wounded behind, given that they only held up the operation. Roger though was out voted and in the end, he himself ended up helping Henry. It was just before the turn of the day when we reached the British trench and we attempted to get some sleep. I was physically and mentally exhausted.

  As predicted though I only managed about three hours of sleep and we were still under heavy attack from the Germans all night long. It was about three in the morning when things became dangerous and I was informed that the Germans were only fifty yards away from us. This time yesterd
ay I would have been nervous but now we had better odds on our side in terms of numbers, weapons and defences. Several platoons had reached this trench and there must have been about a thousand of us, probably more. This time it was our turn to switch the battle around. The Germans would be nervous. Our combined platoon acted as the reserve army again. We were called to action just before day break but it was an easy win. We were only fighting for about twenty minutes or so until we won and the Germans were destroyed. This time they had got too close to the Great British Army for their own good. Now, I can get some sleep.

  Yours,

  Private Thomas Millward.

 
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