141 Days Of Battle

July 1st 1916
Day one 5:26 am:
“Come on lads” The Sargent McGomery shouted, “We haven’t got till Christmas!”
“If we last that long…” The man next to me mumbled his face inscrutable.
All fell silent as we walked through the trenches.

7:20 am:
The communication trench erupted in sound as the explosion happened. It rang in my ears for what seemed like forever…We were prepared for the sound but not for the horror…

7:25 am:
The explosion had given the enemy 10 minutes to get to their positions.

7:27 am:
Three minutes.

7:30 am:
I heard the general call the order. I watched as the men climbed over the top of the trench. I smelt the rotting flesh. I tasted the horror…

Day 2 1:12 pm:
“I’m glad that wasn’t us yesterday” said Jimmy a scrawny looking boy with bright young eyes who looked under the army’s minimum age said to me “Because…” he carried on “We all would be in our coffins.”
Another older, more experienced, soldier that was listening to our conversation laughed a dark laugh and said
“There are no such things as coffins.” I could see in the boy’s eyes he understood.

Day 15 3:42 pm:
“My Maria didn’t want me to come out here and fight you know.” Jimmy nattered.
We were now 28 trenches away from being at the front line.
“My Maria said that I was too young.” I was dreading the front line. “I am going to marry her when I get back.”
The front line didn’t seem to bother Jimmy. “I am going to make sure she has the perfect wedding in a church with all the family and friends! You’ll come won’t you Johnny boy?” He clapped me on the back.
“Of course!” I replied.
“I am going to marry my Maria!” Jimmy said again proudly. Charles Woodland Laughed,
“Don’t get your hopes up boy, you’ll be dead before you say, ‘I do’!”
Charles turned back to his cave men counterparts, so I sneaked a look at Jimmy, he had his hands curled into fists with his eyes to the floor.
“So you might need a replacement!” Charles threw over his shoulder “And I would happily oblige because the way you talk about her she must be pretty, although,” He went on “I don’t know why any pretty gal would go for someone like you!”
He sat back down with his companions. Normally Jimmy would retort something clever or witty back, but he just looked deep in thought. I wished I could read his mind or just know even a piece of what he is thinking…

Day 32 11:48 pm:
17 trenches to the front line.
The home sickness is always worse at night. It strikes when everyone is pretending to sleep but no none can, over the noise of the shells and the flares lighting up the sky. When you’re so cold you feel like you could snap. When you can’t close your eyes because of the rats but you can’t keep them open, that’s when you think of all the people you have left at home and all the people that you have left on earth…

Day 78 3:45 pm:
“Do you ever think of home?” Jimmy asked.
“No.” I lied. We were now 4 trenches away from the front line.
“I do, I think of my Auntie Nora. When I told her I was going to war she laughed and said I was a stupid fool but then she hugged me so tight I thought I was going to burst and I knew she didn’t really mean it.”
Jimmy smiled to himself.

Day 93 4:52 am:
We are now 1 trench away from the front line and my stomach is in knots. Instead of butterflies there are ants, hundreds of ants. They crawl over my stomach and when I think that’s all I can fit another set of larvae boil over.

Day 124 3:20am:
“Waiting is as much a big part of war that fighting, isn’t it?” Jimmy muttered to himself.
We were now on the front line expecting the dreaded order.
“My Maria would tell me to twiddle my thumbs.” He said smiling.
“You really love her don’t you!” I said.
He turned to look at me, his face serious “I would do anything to make her happy.”
His face turned back to the Jimmy I know “How about you Johnny boy, are you married?” Jimmy asked.
“No no. It’s just me…” I said quietly. Jimmy nodded.
“Why not? If you don’t mind me asking?”
The question shocked me so much it took me a while to answer.
“I haven’t met anyone I feel that way about.” I managed to shove out.
This was unusual, we didn’t really talk about things back home. Jimmy would only really talk about Maria.
However, Jimmy was still not finished with his questions.
“If you had to pick your dream wife what would be her qualities?” He asked.
I thought about my answer “She would have to be kind, considerate and have dreams as big as mine. You see I want to be an archeologist.”
Jimmy laughed, “Knowing you Johnny boy, you’ll get there!” And we laughed together.

Day 124 4:40 am:
“Over the top lads!” The Sargent shouted.
Both Jimmy and I braced ourselves and climbed over and there was a cloud in the middle of no man’s land. The cloud snaked its way down the field like and inky black finger grabbing men into its clutches. We tripped and fell over things we didn’t want to know. We ran rudderless with no place to go or head. As we reached the ragged low clouds men scudded past. The smell could knock you off your feet if the bullets didn’t’. I heard a scream next to me
“Jimmy!” I shouted.
Jimmy had been hit, as I fumbled trying to get to him I felt a sharp pain in my shin, knowing I had been hit too, the fear kicked in. The pain was unbearable, but I knew I had to get to Jimmy.

When l found him, he had been hit in the chest “Jimmy, Jimmy l am going to get you back to the trench.”
He winced in pain as I carried him, running my leg was throbbing so much I could have screamed but I carried on.
“No you won’t mate, you won’t get me back in time.” He said wheezing “Which is why I need you to do something for me.”
I could see the trench in the distance, but he carried on speaking, though I saw it caused him pain “Do you remember when Charles Woodland said I would need a replacement for my Maria?”
I nodded but said nothing.
“Do you remember the fact that Charles Woodland is an imbecile?” Jimmy laughed.
“I know but he had a point if I didn’t survive the war, I wanted her to be happy and I couldn’t think of a better man that you Johnny boy, will you marry her for me… will you make her happy like I should have? She is kind, considerate and she has dreams as big as yours, she wants to travel all over the world, in her room she has a scrap book of all the places she wants to go to like to the Americas. You will marry her won’t you? You will make her happy? You will make me happy Johnny boy?”
Suddenly the pain of a bullet implanted in my leg was nothing compared to the pain of seeing my close comrade’s life slip through my fingers, to see the spark in his eyes slowly flicker and fade and those curious, young eyes close slowly.
“I will Jimmy.”
Jimmy nodded. “Thank you” He replied.
Then he fell silent, then he said, “And one more thing…” he said smiling “I would like a coffin.”

Day 141 2:59 in Maria Church’s perspective:
I feel numb. It was supposed to be my turn to look after the family shop, but I put the closed sign on and sat in the corner and cried until I had no more tears left. We got a telegraph saying he had died in battle. There was no sympathy in the harsh words of the writer, they stated that he got shot in the lung which caused him to collapse. I wept more when I thought of him at war. There was a knock at the door, I cleared my throat and called “We’re closed!”. There was another knock, more urgent now – so I got up, wiped my face and opened the shop door. There was a man around my age with a bandage around his shin standing there looking nervous.
“Are you Maria Church?” He asked.
“Yes.” I answered, “What can I do for you?”
He looked into my eyes, went down on one knee which seemed to cause him intense pain and said
“I am Jonathan Flattern and I was asked by the best man I ever knew to do this , Jimmy Thomas, I was with him in the war and I held him when he died and his last dying wish was…”he smiled took my hand and said “Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”

Orla Jackson