The Battle to End All Wars
by Daniel Schuller
(Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)
It is a sunny day, there are barely any clouds in the sky, the birds are chirping away. My friends and I are trying to relax, before we all have to go back to work. We only have this one day off.
Joe, who gets the newspaper every day, is quietly reading. Me, well... I’m just playing black jack with Alex, John, Matthew, Darrell and Jack. “Guys Jimmy is dead” said Joe.
Every one stopped in their tracks, “How did he die”. “He was swimming in a river in France; he tried to get up to the bank to get out but was caught by a strong current. He lost his footing; hit his head on the rocks, fell unconscious and drowned”.
Every one was stunned; they would never see their beloved friend. Jimmy was born the 24th of April 1895 and died the 3rd of July 1914. “I think we should at least do something for Jimmy, like make a rock shrine for him” I said. "Well I think that is a very good thing to do Billy. I’m in" said Matthew. “Me too” said the others “alright let’s mark out a place shall we?” I said. “I’m going to find some rocks.”
I went down to the river. I knew that there were lots of big rocks. When I got to the river I sat down and started crying, at first it was a tear or two, I could not stop myself. The tears just kept coming and coming down my face. I did not stop for a while. I thought of wonderful memories of Jimmy and I playing in the fields on horses having races up and down the fields. I really wanted to see my dear friend again.
I picked up some rocks and went back down to the others. They had already made a pile of rocks
I could see that most of them also had had a cry. When we had finished we all just sat down on the grass and said nothing. I knew that they were still grieving, I was too but not so much now.
It was getting dark, we said our good byes, I stayed back for a while longer, then went home, had dinner and went to bed. I was thinking about how Jimmy’s family would feel about Jimmy’s death I thought I should go and see Jimmy’s father and mother and his little sister.
It was morning... I got up late; it was about 11 in the morning. I went down to have breakfast and mum had cooked us some toast and a cup of tea. I went down to Jimmy’s family's home and knocked on the door. After a while his mother came to the door and she let me in “I won’t stay long. All I came here to say was that I’m very sorry that Jimmy has passed away. He was a very good friend and was like a brother to me”. “Thank you. I really appreciate that”.
One month later... I was on my way home when I passed the notice board. I saw in big bond letters "join up to save our country it depends on you". I went off home and told my mother the news. She said I should join I went over to Joe's house and told him that the war had begun. That very day we went to the military head quarters. “I would like to enlist”. “Can I see your birth certificate please” Billy handed the officer his birth certificate, the officer look at it for a while and then gave it back to Billy
Generally, new recruits were sent to a Regimental depot, where they received basic marching and disciplinary training. This lasted about 3 months. Then they were sent off to a main training
Camp, where they learned tactics. The first three months were in England, and further training was seen to in France. During training, demand usually outnumbered supply, so many men ended up training in their own clothes. Sometimes, old uniforms were issued. Some men wore emergency uniforms.
We’re here, supposedly, to support the Marine army we're forced to spend the night on an airfield. The ferry that is supposed to take us across to the peninsula does not move by night but only in the semi safety of daylight. I settled in, between steel barricades we felt safe... for the moment.
The distant thuds and thumps of incoming mortars do not immediately concern us since they are a familiar sound of the war, until they seem to get closer. I could hear an 81mm mortar gunner. The sound of gunfire was getting closer to us. There was no immediate concern until the incoming gunfire was coming toward our area, and then it was too late. A while later bombs came at us from every direction. I was scared. It was the first time I was in a battle.
Deadly shrapnel from the mortar rounds are bouncing and ricocheting off the smooth hard walls. I'm blinded by a brilliant and deadly explosion, my ears are ringing from the sound of the explosions going off, but it is not enough to cover the sound of sizzling hot metal balls bouncing off steel walls.
Suddenly, there's a muted explosion, almost distant, as my hearing is nearly gone, and I feel my vision graying as my mind struggles to understand, and I scream, "This CAN'T be happening to ME. I can't die!" I land on a body of a medic trying to crawl back to the trench. He reacts immediately to a cry of, "I'm hit!, I'm hit!" and I wonder who’s hit. He pulls out a flashlight from his bag. His flashlight is a fading yellow light of half-dead batteries, I see blood shooting from a artery. Oh, so he must be the one hit and I follow the squirting blood to its source and until the medic rapidly applies a bandage and yells, "Put pressure on it, NOW, and don't let go!" I don’t understand. The medic rips off what's left of my tattered and bloody shirt. Puzzled, I try to point with my arm that won't obey. Hey my shirt. The medic ignores. It is night but there are lights shining where mechanics were working, and I can see my still bloody shirt beside me, and wonder, That's my shirt... so that's why my back stings so... and if I could just use it as a pillow I could... close my eyes... and... sleep.
As he tends my wounds and burns on my back, he yells at me to hold still and keep pressure on that artery. Another mortar round lands nearby and the medic groans in anguish, but accepts the offerings of his enemy's attempt to do away with us all. He slumps against me and our blood mingles... the warmth tempts my mind to leave this place of so much destruction.
For a brief moment, my mind wanders and I'm somewhere else. In this world that my imagination has brought me to, I see my loved ones around me but just as fast, I'm brought back to reality by the sounds of the madness around me.
Blood is everywhere and I can hear the muffled sounds of wounded and dying, as if from the bottom of a well yet all around me. Blood... brothers. And I think that we will forever be considered brothers after this baptism of fire and blood. Dream-like, I'm moving again and I find myself in a jeep that is picking up scattered wounded and broken bodies lying everywhere, the medic is helping me... but that's not right, he's still not moving... and we pile on top of each other to get to an aid station. My mind is playing games with me for lack of blood and I think how ironic it would be for me to die of this lack of blood, when it is flowing so freely all around me.
A field of clean white uniforms with helping hands are upon us, not caring that we are soiling their uniforms with our blood and I allow my mind to go into that soothing sleep that it is craving. I suddenly retch awake to the smell of ammonia and look up at beautiful faces of round eyed women. These must be my angels that have come to get me, their soothing and heavenly voices tell me that I'm being moved to the main hospital because of my need for immediate surgery. Can I let go of the bandage now? I try to say, but my mouth seems filled with cotton and refuses to convey my thoughts.
I'm manhandled onto the back of a deuce and a half beside two Air Force men that only moments earlier had taken their last breaths of life. Death's touch has finally caught up to me. My hearing is sort of returning, yet it's quiet again, and I think that all the confusion and mayhem is behind me... behind us, as we drive down a bumpy road. I try to hold on to one of these men with my one obedient arm, and I wonder if a mistake hadn't been made because he's still so warm, and in the darkness, seemingly full of life.
I look upon, and I'm drawn to, the peacefulness of the men beside me. My mind is again pulled towards that demanding wistful sleep that craves attention, and as though through a mist I join them willingly in their serenity. I look at them in awe and acceptance... That's not so bad... I can do that... maybe I already have... maybe I am like them.