RoYds Part 23 - Remembrance Special

Heav'n's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

1 July 1916 - The Somme - 07:15

The crescendo was building all around them. The artillery barrage, which although constant of late, had increased dramatically in the last few hours.

Stanley Thomas Birch tipped back his head and stared into the heavens straight above him. A light mist broke to reveal a clear blue sky. It was going to be a beautiful summer’s day. He permitted his mind to float home and pictured his wife cradling their son. He longed to return.

If only he could greet the next morning with his family and a dawn chorus of birds rather than flying pigs*. He longed to take a deep breath of fresh air, have a proper bath and wear clean clothes. He wished he had his life to live over; he would have done things differently. They had to win this war!

Amidst the jostling of bodies around him there was an urgent pulling on his shoulder and his attempt at peace was broken. It was Archie looking wild and frantic. The tension was even getting to the best of them. Stanley knew he did not have a hope in hell of being heard above the constant bombardment, but nevertheless he lowered his head and shouted as loud as he could, “We all feel the same way, Archie. Have no fear, we shall face this together!”

He glanced at his watch, 07:25. Only five minutes left. He nodded to the whistle hanging by a lanyard around Archie’s neck and reached down for his own.

Glancing to both sides he dived into a sea of smiling faces. If you had to be in a place like this, on a day like today, there was no better company than friend and neighbour. Placing the whistle in his mouth he faced the harsh reality that this would be the last morning for some of them.

Forcing himself to smile broadly he turned towards Archie and smacked him playfully on the back.

“This is the moment we have been waiting for! It’ll be just like a walk in the dell,” he yelled, and taking a deep breath they blew their whistles together.

*slang for mortar bomb

***


Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou, who changest not, abide with me

The rat was larger than a cat. The rats back home would never grow to be even a quarter of the size of the one he was looking at; they were not as well fed. It was the worst type of rat too, a brown one.

It stood still, staring back at him and they both knew he was going to kill it. He was going to butt stroke its rancid, stinking body with a Lee Enfield rifle a thousand times and smash it to a bloody pulp. He was going to smash it, smash it and smash it some more while all the time it squealed in agony. He freaking hated rats!

He hated frogs too, the way they croaked all bloody day and night from the shell holes, it drove him crazy. He hated all rats with a vengeance and the frogs, slugs and horned beetles that slimed their way over the entire trench, into his food and over him! Christ, he hated them all! He was filled with murderous hate and fear.

He preferred the hate to the fear. The fear gnawed and chewed away at him like the rats gorging themselves on the corpses of his comrades. Like the rats gorging themselves on Stanley...

He freaking hated rats!

This big bastard was going to get it and then some! He wasn’t going to give it the opportunity to feast on him next, or crawl over his face if he ever got the chance of sleep. He clenched the rifle tight, frozen in time like all the other bodies lying in the shallow graves around him. It was hell on earth but it was better than what was waiting for him on the other side of the parapet. Anything was better than becoming another feast for the vermin. He freaking hated rats!

In seconds it would all be over. The rat would just be another indistinguishable stench amidst the nauseating stink of rotting flesh, shite, cordite and stale sweat. Not that it would make any difference to the rat population though, Mr and Mrs bleeding rat could produce 900 of the bastards in a year alone. Maybe he wouldn’t have a year to see them, maybe he would be dead himself in a few minutes. He was a dead man walking and he knew it. They all were, even the freaking fat, about-to-be-dead, cocksure bastard of a rat!


Wouldn't you rather walk out of here alive


Freak! The rat was talking to him! Well it wouldn’t get the chance to say another freaking word! With a frenzied scream, he ran forward, lurching at it with his rifle. The demonic laughter continued.

“Die, you freaking bastard! Die!” he screamed.


I’m going to eat you from the inside out


He shot the rat. After the first shot, there was virtually nothing left of it apart from a pool of blood, clumps of fur and mush. The macabre laughing continued. It was coming from the vermin all around him: other rats, frogs, slugs, beetles and even the corpses of his colleagues. It was coming from inside himself, from the blood-soaked head of the rat chewing its way out from behind his eyes.

“I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” he screamed hysterically.

"It will be alright, Archie. I am here beside you," answered Stanley.

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15 Comments:
  • At 7 November 2009 at 17:12, Blogger Miladysa said…

    Apologies if anyone is offended by the language.

     
  • At 7 November 2009 at 22:01, Blogger Melissa said…

    Not one bit, Milady -- this scene is perfect, in my opinion. The language and descriptions of smells and sights and feelings create the scene with such intensity. You show instead of tell and that is a gift!

    That first scene there is that hope ... the blue sky above and the two friends dreaming of home and going into hell together. Then the hell in the second part ... whew. Another piece that I would highlight in its entirety! Well done!

     
  • At 7 November 2009 at 22:13, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Bimbimbie said:

    "... I was reading faster and faster, holding my breath and looking at that bloody rat and at the same time being thankful to never know and experience the horrors of such a place and wish with all my heart that those that did hadn't either. "

     
  • At 8 November 2009 at 00:59, Blogger Miladysa said…

    Thanks Melissa :) I try to keep RoYds as expletive free as possible but there are times when you have got to use colourful language and this is one of them. There was no way Archie was going to curse that rat without a bit of Anglo Saxon thrown into the pot :)


    Bimbimbie - "those that did hadn't either."

    Me too. Every time I write about Stanley and Archie I'm remembering my Grandfather Donald and my Grandma's brother Nathaniel.

    Grandad went right through WWI with the Manchester Regiment - the Bantams - they were only little guys but they were scrappers. Ypres, Somme, Passchendaele etc. he served in them all.

    Nat was buried alive in a trench for days. I remember he visited once when I was a child and I was a bit off with him because when he slept he screamed out loud and shouted. Dad told me why - he was still having nightmares 60 years later!

    Let's hope we never forget!

     
  • At 8 November 2009 at 15:51, Blogger Charles Gramlich said…

    Trench warfare must have been the worst form of warfare ever. You capture it well here.

     
  • At 8 November 2009 at 17:01, Blogger Jannie Funster said…

    No prob on the "language." We're all grown-ups here,right. :)

    I think this is my favortie RoYds yet. It did move along quickly, I was with him in that trench as you led me through the horror. Very compelling with the rat scenes. That was one hellish war, well they all are, of course. I am grateful I've never had to go through anything like that.

    Oh and I really appreciated your clarifying the flying pigs -- for a minute there I thought I was back on my own nutty blog. :)

     
  • At 8 November 2009 at 22:09, Anonymous Miladysa said…

    Charles - Awesome :) Ta very much!


    Jannie - Pleased you enjoyed it :)

    "We're all grown-ups here,right. :)" LOL You'd think so ;)

     
  • At 12 November 2009 at 23:22, Blogger laughingwolf said…

    wow! i was there!

     
  • At 12 November 2009 at 23:29, Blogger Miladysa said…

    Awesome news Wolfie! :D

     
  • At 15 November 2009 at 16:02, Blogger pink bagels said…

    Gruesome, and no doubt accurate, description of the trenches. I like how you used the imagery of the rats.

    Stanley is especially empathetic here, I think. Calm and strong.

     
  • At 15 November 2009 at 23:48, Anonymous Miladysa said…

    Pink Bagels - Thank you.

    I'm very pleased to hear that Stanley comes over as calm and strong :D

     
  • At 25 November 2009 at 17:03, Blogger Vesper said…

    I've been trying for a while to get a comment in here and for some odd reason I haven't been able to do it until now.

    This is a particularly powerful chapter. Miladysa, there's no need ever to apologise for any kind of language that brings such truth and intensity to a scene like this one. Extremely well done!

     
  • At 25 November 2009 at 19:07, Blogger Miladysa said…

    Thanks Vesper :)

    Would you believe I once lost a male reader because of this chapter? He took offence at the lanugage. Eh um!

     
  • At 30 May 2010 at 19:36, Anonymous @howiehippobum said…

    A very good description of 'life' in the trenches during World War 1 - shades of Wilfred Owen! I'm amazed at how accurately you depict the different timelines. You must have done a hell of a lot of research.

     
  • At 30 May 2010 at 20:39, Anonymous Miladysa said…

    Thanks Howie :)

    I did do quite a bit of research but the majority of it came from listening to my father when he spoke of his father's (my grandfather) experiences of life in the trenches during the Great War and also the experiences of my grandmother's brother Nathaniel. (See my comment in response to Bimbimbie above).

    Strangely enough, my grandfather was in the same Regiment as Wilfred Owen. It's a small world!

     

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