Times of Silence

22nd of May 1915 

It is silent, the guns have been dropped and the killing has stopped, but it’s times like this when the silence speaks volumes. The quiet is somewhat haunting. It’s like I can hear and feel the spirits of the dead soldiers lurking about. It’s a feeling that would turn a sane man insane at an instant. I use these moments of peace as a way to regain my sanity but I am completely lost and cannot find myself.

The dead bodies are producing poisonous gases that make their way into our air. The scent is mephitic so we wear gas masks to protect ourselves. It is one of the worst jobs not only because of the smell, but because you are forced to look into the eyes of a soulless body and wonder, “what if that was me?” and “what are his parents are going to do when they find out their son is never coming home?’.

When I waved my family goodbye on that dreadful day at the train station, I saw their desperate hope to welcome me home again. If they ever receive the news of my death, their lives will be shattered forever.

There is not much to do here. Some of us dig deep narrow trenches. The trenches are  crowded and stink; it gets so uncomfortable, especially after it has been raining. The rain causes many of us to fall victim to trench foot, an illness I do not wish upon anyone. We spend some time clearing dead bodies from our trenches. I cry when I remember the warm Sunday afternoons when my mother and I dug holes to plant veggie seeds and flowers. Now I’m digging holes to hide in, and graves for bodies. I like to think that every man I bury is a seed that will bring life and peace for future generations. 

I try to distract myself from horrible thoughts by writing in this diary. It really helps me to express how I feel. The funny thing is, if anyone back home every caught me writing in a diary they’d call me a little sissy. It’s different here though, almost every man has a diary. I also write letters to my folks back home. I wrote a letter to them today. I hope they get it.

 My mate Andy once wrote a letter to his family, he waited months for a reply but he never received one. His letter was never sent because “it revealed too much”, whatever that meant. As a punishment, he was suspended from sending letters. I remember when they told him he could send a letter, he was overjoyed and wrote the longest letter ever telling his family about how much he misses them and loves them, the first thing he will do when he gets home and all sorts of random stuff. His family sent a letter back but Andy had died days before. It broke my heart, so I went to his grave and read it to him. I swear I heard him weeping. 

We like to play cards when we get the chance. We’ve played just about every card game so we invented some of our own. I hope I can teach my dad some of the games. He’ll be so impressed, and it will mean a lot since he calls himself  ‘The King Of  Cards’. We like to talk about what our lives used to be like back home. I told my mates about my quiet and simple life in Queensland. Some say they lived in remote areas where the only thing to do for fun was harvest wheat. Others say they had good jobs and lived in the city. This one bloke called Maxwell said that he just wanted a free trip to Europe. He was a funny bloke, but he died a week ago. These boys who were once strangers became my brothers who saved me and killed for me.  

Everyone I know seems to be dead lately, so every night I hold the cross necklace my mum gave me and pray that I’m not next. It’s a strange feeling to know that I can die at any second. The sad thing is, I’m used to this feeling. 

I try the best I can to preserve the last bit of sanity I have left. But it seems as though I lose a bit of my mind every day. I wish I never came here. I wish I didn’t have to duck every time I hear a loud noise. I wish dead bodies didn’t surround me. I wish there was no such thing as war. If anyone ever gets the chance to read this PLEASE, PLEASE don’t let any more men become victims of war. Learn from our bloodshed. PLEASE, no more blood.

 

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