The broken poppy, p.9
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       The Broken Poppy, p.9

           Alice Catherine Carter
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  Zonnebeke, Belgium, 1914.

  24th October 1914.

  Day Fifty Eight,

  For the first time in weeks our platoon had a day of rest. Well I say ‘rest’ in the simplest form of the word, we were not on the battle field at least. The German’s were still fighting hard every second of every day and they were bombarding the walls of our trenches but the walls held strong. Firm and hard against the enemy. I managed to sleep for six hours last night, which really at this point is a miracle. About two minutes ago at seven o’clock in the morning on the 24th October 1914, we had just been given orders that we were to advance between towns called Langemarck and Zonnebeke. Roger told us the orders and we made our way out once more onto open land, and we began walking to our new position. For about thirty minutes or so we managed to advance at a steady pace. In total our platoon, mixed with others of course, now have about four hundred men, if not more. We are nearing a large wood which is apparently called Polygon Wood and things were going well, when suddenly but almost expectantly we came under severe German attack. Sergeant P. Turner from the 21st Brigade of the 2nd Wiltshire’s was giving us the orders and he ordered us to get down.

  We fired back as much as we could and the bullets coming out of my gun must have ended the lives of at least ten of the enemy, if not twenty. I could tell that our only option was to go into the wood and hide behind the trees, hide like a deer being stalked by a hunter. One by one, the men dropped around me and about two hours into the attack we were getting slaughtered by the Germans. We were given no direction, and so we continued firing at the Germans but then they came out of their holes. The Germans were running towards us in their thousands and at a superb speed, surely we had to run.

  It seemed my thoughts were correct because Sergeant P. Turner raised his voice to the top of his lungs and ordered the men to go deeper into the woods and we ran. We flew through the trees, almost like birds. It was not an easy task of course, the bullets were still hounding towards us and the German’s were still chasing after us waving their weapons. Men inevitably lost their lives in their escape to get away. Quite ironic really. I was running forward, not concentrating on firing back when I just turned around to quickly assess the distance between us and the Germans and I saw Matthew fall to the ground.

  I did not think twice and I found myself running back through the trees – he was my brother and I couldn’t lose him to. I managed to reach Matthew, but I was too late. I arrived just in time to hear his last words, his last words that left his mouth as his eyes turned hazy and distant.

  “Love Thomas, love.” Matthew mumbled.

  Just as the second love in his sentence left his mouth, his eyes closed and he took his last breath and died. I was beside myself with instant grief, almost forgetting the war around me. The word love seemed distant like his eyes, and almost like a dream. It’s not surprising when all around me I could only see and hear no love - no love was in this world. Just the sounds of men killing each other, the sounds of bullets firing and for really no reason at all. Love? My brother must have been dreaming, already losing sight of reality when he said those words. I would have stayed where I was but Johnnie pulled me away from my brother’s body and urged me to run, there was nothing I could do for Matthew now – he was gone.

  About five hours after what had seemed to be endless running and firing our bullets the battle subsided and we reached the Western part of the wood. We found the ‘reinforcements’ of the British army who were completely unaware of what we had just been through. Our platoon got out of the wood but we were unable to defeat the Germans. I had to tell Rob that Matthew had been killed and we were both overcome with grief, we were the only Millward’s left now.

  We settled just outside the town of Ypres and it had been a long and tiring battle. We were exhausted, mentally and physically. We were unshaven, unwashed and with full awareness that the Germans had double if not triple the amount of men we had. Needless to say this knowledge casted a shadow of despair over all us and the disease of doubt began. Doubt and grief were not a good combination and in my dreams when I had them, it was always the same one. The sight of Matthew’s body being left behind in the woods, slowly decaying into the woodland ground beneath his bones.

  We stayed in the same position for the next couple of days and there was acceptable shelter. We did not have to fight and that let us breathe. We wanted to continue fighting because we had to, even if every inch of our minds and bodies were telling us to stop. Roger was almost surprisingly very considerate when he found out about Matthew’s death and I suppose in some ways we did feel some connection, because he had lost his cousin Albert. Most people easily noticed that Albert had been more like a brother to him than a cousin, and now we both had one brother left – Rob and Paul. According to Roger we weren’t moving because we were unable to move, surrounded by the Germans on both sides and headquarters were unable to send us reinforcements. Looking at the battle ground like a chess board, we were currently in a military check mate.

  I don’t know why but instead of telling Paul any inside information, Roger told me. Our luck of war seemed to change on the 26th October 1914 when Roger heard that the Allied forces were planning to stop the German advance by flooding the canal and waterways of the Yser. Being the reserve infantry this would not be our job though and we were getting restless. With nothing to do but wait we were bored and were looking for something to do as entertainment. Rob was clearly bored too and although I could not see him, you could hear him. He had an extremely powerful singing voice and it filled the entire trench and you could tell that everyone was listening. There was almost no other noise coming from the men, well apart from the impact when the occasional German shell landed near the trench. You just heard Rob’s song, one that he sang over and over again, so much so that everyone knew the words off by heart.

  “When you think, my dear

  That you are close to breaking,

  Think back to that cold winters day.

  And please love,

  Remember my words when I said you are loved.

  Where a thousand poppies grew,

  Row upon row.

  I picked one for you in the hope that,

  When you think you are breaking

  You will my love,

  Remember my words when I said you are loved.

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