Candice Holloway Article
The ground wavers beneath my feet as if it could collapse within seconds, The low mumble that had risen up is gone, filled with a deafening silence Instead. I turn to George expecting to hear an outcry of noise and queries; his lips are moving but no sound escapes his lips. could it be that there is so much noise that there is none? like when it’s so cold it’s hot? It can’t be, otherwise I wouldn’t be hearing the shrill ringing shrinking. George frantically and desperately stares into my eyes as if that will make my hearing return. It doesn’t. His eyes continue to question me as I begin to take in my surroundings: I’m not the only one who seems to look as though they have become mute. My peripheral vision starts to blur and I have to hold onto the ground below with my hands and feet, I decide to focus on my breathing and stop my thoughts from flooding my body. As soon my initial panic subsides, I notice the ringing, that rests on one note, seems to have started to diminished. The ringing is dying at a faster rate as the outside world comes alive again in my ears. My ears tune to the familiar voice next to me; “That was our one, it’s gone up. Tommy says it went up as far as your eye can see. Loads of ’em Jerrys will ‘ave gone up with it.” I stand up cautiously assessing the Damage on the other sides’ trench. Seeing whether I’m still able to see the earth falling back expecting and hoping to be disappointed. I’m not. The earth is starting to settle back on itself burying bodies and trenches as one. Even from my position I can see the grains of dirt descending with parts of bodies or equipment tangled with them. Occasionally a whole body falls back down.
When the shock of it recedes, the flurry of men preparing kits and checking guns launches Itself back Into action. As if that kind of thing happens to them every morning. I stand up preparing to see officer McLachlan to report on how it went. We’ve known ours would be the first to go for weeks and that as soon as we could we would have to report back. George, Tommy and I had always been on the same shifts together when we had been building that tunnel. George was always at the front digging further, I would listen to the walls for Germans next to us and Tommy would steady the tunnels roughly with beams. Ten months of underground grovel for an explosion blowing up unsuspecting men. Not that that’s what we weren’t anticipating, it’s just that once you see it, it hits your heart like a bullet. We’ve probably killed more men than a machine gun could with a whole magazine except we didn’t let them say their goodbyes.
Officer McLachlan praises us on a job well done. How can somebody so high up with so much information still be so clueless of the cruelties we had written into other people’s fates? He is clueless to the cruelty and inhumanity which we have set onto them. He is the kind of person who sees war as politics, countries, numbers and money not people and families. Him saying that we had done our country proud was small talk and we all knew it, what he really wanted to know was whether we need to go back into the other tunnels to pack even more explosives into them. The answer didn’t need to be said, it had been felt in the tremors that we felt. There are many men like McLachlan that I’ve met but he is by far the cruelest and the most devious of those, he is the kind of man who has several gun collections in his stately home just for show and a shed full for when he goes hunting.
We are dismissed swiftly and sent to Second Lieutenant Henderson’s office to check fuses and connections for two and a half minutes. As we march to his office we see men lined up in vertical rows ready to climb over the wall and face the unknown. They are all either praying in solidarity or writing letters back home. But they have nothing to fear since the German trenches will be like no man’s land – dripping in blood and full of corpses because no one can withhold a whole week of artillery fire without dying or being injured. Our troops are just going to be walking through a mass burial when they get there.
One burst of power from Tommy’s hands creates a sound so loud that brings us to our hands and knees and brings back the shrill note that plays in my ears. The mines go up in canon, the only way I can tell is because with every wave another item from Second Lieutenant’s desk falls. Tommy starts to weep in a ball and pressing back on the switch he pressed as if he can take back the mines which he helped to blow to shreds. Second Lieutenant’s arms go around Tommy’s shoulders to comfort him, we all end up encasing Tommy with our arms and listen to Second Lieutenant’s wise words which calm us all. He says that had we not done it to them, then they would have done it to us. Tommy is only 19; he can’t fight with the other soldiers because of his limp. His friends are out here, we’ve seen them preparing their guns, write to siblings and occasionally not come back from the other side of our defence line. I return to reality with the realisation that Second Lieutenant’s tears are now sliding onto his pristine uniform and medals; he is probably reminiscing of friends he has gone to wars with but not returned with. He carries on soothing Tommy with words he doesn’t subdue the guilt he just justifies it.
I feel like writing to my wife and telling her that I’m safe and helping more than I thought I would with the war effort. we manage to get back up and remember where we are as we step outside.
It’s a massacre. It’s the exact picture of what dominoes do: tumble one after another as the machine guns find their next victim to bite through. Blood is spilling onto limbs. Men are being fed more and more to the machine guns.
There isn’t even a sense of emergency or fear of the soldiers who climb out of the trenches. As if they have been waiting for this and are completely prepared for it. We drag the soldiers who might survive back to the communications lines. The nearest doctor, swamped in blood and fuming with annoyance grumbles that if only the first explosion had been done at the same time as the others, then this wouldn’t have happened. Our explosion that blew up first. That is the reason for this colossal loss of life. Tommy’s guilt can’t be covered up anymore. He curls into the corner crying over a corpse’s body muttering “I’m sorry” over and over again.
By Candice Holloway