Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Imaginative essay

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Robert watched the rats as they scuttled around the dismal trench. He threw one out of the way as it sniffed around the ears of a sleeping soldier. He thought of Sarah. She had kept Robert strong for all the time he had spent in the trenches. He was fighting to keep his wife safe from the Germans and that thought had kept him going for almost seven months. For them it had been love at first sight. Her smile had lighted a thousand candles in his heart and even under the cover of the blackest night, lying in a rat-infested trench, her picture still gave him a sense of warmness that only she could offer him. He had been trying to sleep for hours. He had finished his duties and was exhausted. He shivered under his layers of blankets.

Come on Rob, he whispered to himself, get to sleep. If youre not alert tomorrow, you know what will happen to you. And he did know. He knew all too well for a man who was barely twenty. He had seen what happened to those who lost their vigilance and he just could not allow himself to be one of them, for Sarahs sake. He carefully placed his photograph of his wife in a small, metal box that he kept in his bag. He tried to block out the ear-piercing noise from the shells and stopped his mind from racing by imagining he was at home with Sarah. Feeling slightly calmer, Robert eventually fell into an unsettled sleep.

A shell struck near the trench, forcing debris towards Robert. He awoke with a start. His friend laughed at Roberts startled expression.

Are you still not used to that? Dougie said wryly, knowing that no-one could ever overcome the shock of the trenches.

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Here I saved you these. He handed over some biscuits. Robert thanked him. He tried to break the biscuit to see how hard it was. He found it very difficult to snap so he wet it and smashed it to small pieces with a brick. He had learnt the hard way that biting biscuits could very easily break teeth.

Young Tom died Dougie said nonchalantly, whilst picking lice from his head. Robert watched as he threw them into the flame of a candle. Dougie had been in the war since the start and found it easy to not get affected by the sort of things that went on.

Oh. Robert and Tom were fairly good friends. They had spoken days earlier about how they were looking forward to seeing their wives. A lump formed in Roberts throat. He spoke with a choked voice. What happened to him? What affected Robert the most in situations like this was that they reminded him that his life was virtually meaningless to the country and that he was in serious danger all of the time. He knew that he could very easily be dead within the hour.

He was shot on his side, about here, Dougie pointed to his lower back. He fell down and couldnt get back up. He drowned in the mud. A shiver tickled Roberts spine. He had heard many of injured men drowning in the swamped ground. He had always considered it to have been the worst way to go. Sinking in the mud. Feeling your mouth fill with the slimy, watery soil. Having it in your throat. Not being able to breathe. Knowing that you could stop it all by standing up, but not being able to. Passing into unconsciousness. Dying. Robert checked the rota. He was on sentry duty. His body ached. He was eating poorly, having little sleep and working too much. The conditions in the trench added to his bad health immensely. Fleas covered his body and his frustrated scratching had meant that there were areas on his body where he had clawed his skin off. His open wounds were often infected because he very rarely had the opportunity to wash. His formerly youthful skin was as grey as a gravestone and his face echoed the pain that he had witnessed since he came to the trenches. He missed his wife and longed for affection.

The sergeant stamped his foot loudly. Robert and a group of other men went quickly to sentry duty. The smell of rotting flesh filled the air of the battlefield, a pungent reminder to Robert that he could be the next man to be killed and left for weeks to decompose in the thick, flooded mud. Left dead...

He waited silently for four hours. He stayed completely still. The enemy trench was equally quiet. He thought of Sarah. He wanted the war to end so he could have a normal life. He wanted to have children; he knew that he and Sarah would make brilliant parents. He wanted to be able to go for picnics in the park with his family. He imagined feeling the warm sun on his neck rather than the cold and damp he had grown accustomed to. He imagined that he watched his children play together on Sunday afternoons. Instead he watched men get blown apart. All Robert ever wanted was a simple life.

You will have all that, he thought just stay alive.

After another hour or so, Robert and the other men were granted an hour of free time before the had to return to sentry duty. Robert wrote to Sarah. He tried not to mention the really awful parts of his life. He told her that he missed her, but he was well and was certain that the war was nearly over. He was sure that Sarah had known him too long to be fooled by his letters. She could always see through him in the way that only a wife can. Robert kept up the lies because even if she knew that he was not telling the truth, at least she would no know what the terrible truth actually was.

When Robert finished his letter, he was told to replace the wooden planks that covered the ground of the trench. He was only working for a few minutes when the noise suddenly erupted. The enemy was bombarding their trench. He ran to fight.

He kept his finger held on the trigger of his machine gun as he waved it from side to side . An enemy shell hit the sandbag in front of him, spraying sand all over his grimy face.

The German soldiers ran towards the English trench in their thousands. Bullets poured out of their rifles as the men pushed forward. The English swept down the enemy in their masses. Machine guns roared, smothering the sounds of the me crying out in agony. Metal assassins ripped through the bodies of dozens of men every few seconds.

An explosion wiped out twenty attacking soldiers. Twenty sons, fifteen of whom were husbands, nine of these husbands were fathers. One explosion had ended twenty lives and ruined over seventy others.

Another man yelped as his stomach was hit by a bullet. He fell. He saw his brother to his left who tried to help him up.

David, leave me, the wounded man pleaded.

I cant just leave you to die, David had to shout over the noise from the explosions.

Please. Leave me here or well both die. David let out a sob. He knew that his brother was right. He laid him down and took one last look into his eyes before charging along with the rest of his men. A second bullet hit the wounded mans chest. He gasped for air, his whole body feeling the effects of the wound. David turned around again, just as his brother took his last breath.

Robert stopped to reload his gun. He felt something brush his leg. He looked around to see a man dragging a dead body away. Robert gagged as he saw the hole in the dead mans throat. He threw up when he saw that the man was his friend, Dougie Yates.

A few hundred miles away, in a quiet village in Yorkshire, Sarah was reading a letter from her husband. Sarah did recognise the danger Robert was in and because she had no idea what was happening there, her imagination sometimes ran wild. She often had nightmares about what awful things her husband could be going through. She also knew that the war could last for another year or even two. Sometimes she lost control of her mind and a voice inside would tell her you know hes going to die. Hell, he could be dead right now! Although this frightening style of thinking did not haunt he too often, if she was perfectly honest to herself, she was doubtful that Robert would return. So many of her friends had lost their husbands in the war. Surely it was just a matter of time before she was the next to be widowed. She clutched the letter to her chest, not wanting to let it go. When she received letters, she felt closer to Robert. They acted as a reminder that he was real.

Whens this blasted war going to be over? Sarah said, using anger to hold back her tears. To keep herself occupied, she put her letter with the others under her bed. She loved Robert. She wondered if he knew just how much she cared for him. She had not told him that she loved him since he left for the war. Did he know that she still loved him? What if he died before she could tell him again? Sarah looked at her wedding photograph. She whispered gently, as if to Robert, Please dont die.

Back in the trenches, the English were celebrating. The enemy bombardment was unsuccessful; a mere ten metres had been gained and the enemy had lost over eight thousand men. However, they had destroyed the protective barbed wire, and it was Roberts job to replace it. There was a group of men who were new to the war, and Robert had to take them along with him to show them how to put the barbed wire up safely.

Robert was reluctant to work that night. He was still very shaken up from Dougies death, but he had been given an order. He knew that he was worthless to his side if he refused to work, and a sergeant would not think twice about shooting him for such an offence.

The sky was a witchs cloak and it covered them all. The troops were safer in the dark. On clearer nights, men were not so well hidden.

The important thing is to keep quiet. If you make a noise, thats your life gone. Now, follow me. Robert led the group of men to the barbed wire. He gave them instructions as they hammered the wooden spokes into the ground. One skinny man stood and watched with a bored expression on his face as the others worked.

You, Robert pointed to the skinny man, get hammering now. Robert was firm with him without being aggressive. The skinny man snorted with disgust and mumbled,

Or what.

You get to work now and thats an order, Robert was worried. He had never led a group before but he knew that those who had no respect for their leaders could be a danger to others. The skinny man snorted again and turned his back to the workers. He took something out of his pocket. Robert walked quickly towards him, unsure of what he was doing. The skinny man turned around when he heard Robert behind him. A cigarette hung from his mouth.

Put it out! Robert cried out. He knew that the light from the cigarette would be seen from the enemy trench, it had happened before. The man sensed his urgency and looked surprised.

Put it out now! Robert was panicking. He dived on the skinny man just as a bullet was fired. The workers ducked down and ran to the safety of the trench. Robert and the skinny man stayed in a heap on the wooden boards as a further cluster of bullets were fired.

I think Im okay whispered the skinny man once the shots had stopped.

My leg, Robert gasped, Ive been shot!

Roberts leg was bandaged up but he was in excruciating pain. He had been told that he always have a limp when he walked, but he was happier than he had been for months. He had been told that his injuries had made him unfit for action and he was free to go home! His thoughts were focused on Sarah. He had been desperate to see her for so long that when he was told that he could finally go home he could hardly believe that it was really happening. He was free to spend the rest of his life with the one he loved.

Robert woke to the sounds of his own cries. Other passengers exchanged puzzled looks. In his dreams he had been on the battlefield again but this time he had been alone, dodging bullets fired by invisible soldiers and tripping over the corpses which carpeted the floor. He held his head in his hands whilst he got his breath back. He had witnessed many terrible moments in his time in the trenches and those images would never be forgotten. However, he thought to himself, he was one of the lucky ones. He had survived and was on his way home to happier times.

The warmth of the train, the softness of the chair, the dryness of his clothes - all these things Robert appreciated so much. A pang of guilt struck him - why should he be enjoying himself whilst there was still a war to be fought? He began to worry about whether he would be seen as a hero who injured himself saving the life of another or a contemptible soldier who wrangled his way out of his duty as an Englishman.

Robert shook these thoughts for the train was approaching the station. Sarah was the only thing that mattered enough to take a space on his mind as he stepped onto the platform. The nightmares would always come at night, the images would never completely leave his head. However, the most important thing was that he was coming home.

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