For Harold

25th of April 1915

Today holds memories that I shall never forget. 

Memories that will haunt me until the day I no longer exist. What I witnessed today, if I admit it, is devastating in comparison to what I expected the war to be like. They told us lies, lies that would affect us more than they know. We left our mothers, our children, and our lovers to come to a place we thought would be paradise. But frankly, it’s quite the opposite. There’s hardly any space in these bloody trenches to move. The smell of dead bodies and infected feet suffocates me! The food tastes like bricks and there’s hardly any water. Oh, how I long to be back home to the smell of mum’s homemade apple pie and the sound of Edith playing the piano. At least I have Edger here with me. 

Today was my first battle. All the training would be tested, and I wasn’t sure I was ready. It’s funny because during the training I thought I would be prepared for anything. But there are things that not even training can prepare you for. 

Edger was so ready to fight, on the boat, he stood like he’d fought in 3000 battles already! He held his gun pressed against his chest and carried the look of a warrior on his face. I, on the other hand, was shivering like an eight-year-old girl!  My palms were sweaty, my face blushed red. I was pretty sure that when it was time to run out of the boat, I would faint. 

I heard one bloke next to me whimpering. He looked older than 14 but younger than 20. I didn’t want to ask him what was wrong because that was obvious, plus we were on the same boat, literally! Instead, I asked his name. Harold Thomas Bell was his name. That boy was just 16 years old.  

When the time we all dreaded came, I prayed like I never had before.

‘Oh lord, creator of the earth, stand with me as I fight. Empower me with strength, provide me with guidance and let Edger and me live, for mum’s sake.’ I repeated this prayer until I heard the commander’s shouts for us to run ashore. For about five seconds my legs transformed into concrete. It was like everything went into slow motion. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t move. I was then brought back by the deafening sound of gunfire. Suddenly, my legs began to move. They then broke out into a run and then a sprint. I couldn’t stop myself. I just kept moving and moving until eventually, I made it to shore.

I turned to my right for a split second.

And in that second, I saw bodies on the floor.

Lots of them.

I dreaded the fact that one of those bodies could belong to Edger. 

How in the world did I end up here? Like many of the boys, I was a victim of their lies. As I ran up the hill, bodies were tumbling down. On the top were the bloody Turks. Boy did they have an advantage. I decided to retreat unless I wanted to be next. Running behind a rock I shot aimlessly at the Turks. I hated them. I hated them and wanted to kill every last one of them.

Behind the rock I heard a familiar voice crying beside me. I turned to see who it was, and it was Harold.

He had his left arm blown off and his right hand holding his stomach. I heard him mumble words that I couldn’t understand. He kept leaning his head towards his stomach, so I lifted his hand and saw a hole gushing out with blood.

He knew he was dying but for some reason, I didn’t want him to. I only met the kid on the boat and now there I was hopelessly trying to save his life by pressing a dirty cloth onto his wound. He knew it was hopeless, so he kept moving my hand away as I insisted.

Eventually, his hand grew limp. 

While all of this happened, the battle continued. The Turks were shooting Aussie and Kiwi soldiers left, right and centre. It was like they didn’t care that they were killing someone’s dad, son, brother or husband; they were just shooting anything that moved. 

Harold’s hand began to shake, I was losing him, his head was slowly shifting to the right. 

I kissed him on his forehead; twice, one for me and one for his mother. God, he looked so peaceful down there. 

Now, I cleanse myself of blood. 

The river feels warm against the coldness of my heart. 

My boots and uniform are clean.

Ready for the next round of bloodshed. 

As I close my eyes washing away visions of today, I picture him, lying peacefully on the ground while soldiers were slaughtered around him.

God, I hate it here.

 

These stories were written in our Factory Feedback program, which was created with, and generously supported by, the Dusseldorp Forum.