It’ll be Over by Christmas
It’s ironic really looking back, all the cheers, high spirits, the war would be over by Christmas they said! Well, the relentless shelling speaks otherwise, every wailing shriek flying through the air, every sodden thud and the silent prayers it didn’t hit your entrenchment. This wasn’t noble nor valiant, there was no honour here, only frightened young men desperate to survive. The poems lied, the stories lied, they all lied; there is no glory in dying for your country, in peacetime one death is a tragedy naturally but in war? Well, in war a million deaths is just a statistic and that’s the cold hard truth. Of course the sound that chills every man to the bone is not the wailing of a shell nor the sharp crack of a bullet as it whizzes past your head; it is the whistle. When the Junior Officer blows that whistle you say your prayers and climb over the top out in no man’s land, the barren wasteland where your greatest friend is a quick bullet through the brain. Luckily in some respects I’m a tunnel rat, I won’t be going over the top but under it. The name’s Private Hawkins for all it’s worth, I suppose there’s a chance my story might be passed on somehow, these godforsaken words are all I live for anymore, that and the chance to see my wife again. I go in at 1900 hours so best rest and preserve what strength remains.
A thin glow of golden yellow creeps under the door and begins to fill the room. It is warm and bright and fills the heart with joy. From my bed I glance across at the meal beside me, real good food so close I begin to salivate and reach out for it, grasping, but my body feels old and weak and I cannot for all my efforts I cannot. Here I am at peace in this room where the world stands still and there is only life, I see a face close but distant, like a dream, she tries to speak to me but I do not hear, ahh but my mission, my mission I’ll be court martialled where am I?!
I awake suddenly, beads of sweat dripping down my forehead, I can relax I have an hour till the mission, I’ll live a little longer then perhaps. We’ll be heading down under the enemy lines to blow them to hell and back, plenty of power in our satchel charges for that. It isn’t the success of the mission that troubles me but the casualties. No one escaped war without wounds, some are physical and obvious, but every man who sees war is mentally scarred. No soldier however brave can witness their friend blown into chunks of meat before their very eyes and live without fear. You hear them crying out in their sleep, so many tormented dreams, it seems there is no end to this nightmare. Some whisky before we set off, might be the last you ever have, a very sobering thought... I try not to look too long at the bedraggled men either side of me for there’s every chance I’ll never see them again but one lad has such bright fiery red hair and a cheeky grin, looks only to be 18 at most, this one’s a fresh recruit for sure, eager to go out and kill the fritz I suppose, foolish boy, the greatest enemy down here is the ground caving in on our heads. A reassuring word from Junior Officer Stannis and we set off. It’s not so hard for Stannis, sending all the others to their deaths, his face seems unscarred by it all, but then he has that hardy complexion about him, perhaps his inner turmoil is a great as any of the rest of us, and he’s the one that has to live with the atrocities the rest of his life, at least there’s a chance ours will end. Anyway, there’s no assurance I’ll see him again, my attention turns to the young boy, he must survive, too young to die yet, he must.
We set off down into the darkness holding our meagre torch light barely illuminating the path before us and press on for what seems like an eternity. Suddenly, a bright light, a deafening explosion and I am thrown on my back. I try desperately to stand but I realise with horror my legs are gone, shredded in the explosion, a fritz appears over me and looks into my eyes and I see the same pity and hopelessness that haunts my soul; but everything is blackening quickly, I’m losing blood and consciousness, where is the red haired boy? Where is the young man?
“The pills have had no effect sir he cries out every night the same, the red haired boy and his mission. Even in moments of consciousness it’s like he’s in a dream world, the man is virtually comatosed, he has been for years Sir, how much longer can we let this go on.”
The doctor looks down at Mr. Hawkins, the crippled old man, a war veteran, but his legs are not his greatest wound, this man is troubled beyond help, the only words to describe who and what he is, was, are in his diary. ‘It’ll be over my Christmas they said’ he repeats daily, ‘it’ll be over by Christmas, they’ll be an end to the bloodshed’, but Private Hawkins’ war never ends, he can never rest, endless tormented dreams, the mission, the red haired boy, it was supposed to be over by Christmas.