Life in the trenches

I search frantically through the mud for my rifle which I feel naked without having on hand. It is my one and only lifeline and I feel a wave of relief sweep through me knowing that it is safely within reach. I cling to it like a child would to their mother. It gives me a sense of security and it is the only thing that protects me from the horrors of my surroundings. The ongoing artillery fire is unbearable and I am living with the constant shadow overhead of not knowing whether today will be my last. In addition to the continuous thunder of artillery, the pounding rain has flooded our trench with mud. I fear tripping, falling into its depths and failing to emerge. There is also no escaping the putrid stench of rotting corpses which seems to diffuse its way across the front. We are tired but war does not wait. There is no choice but to kill or be killed.

The food rations come out and our animal instincts settle in. Our dilated cat-like eyes do not so much as glance away from our fellow soldier’s hands as he carefully removes the food items from the sandbag and lays them out onto the rubber sheet. The preparation of food is always orderly as if it is our last supper and for all we know it could be. There is however occasional trouble with the distribution of the rations because no matter how large the portion size, it can never truly be enough. The young soldier begins to break up the bread but before he can carry on with dividing the yellow cheese the soldier to my right claims his piece is smaller than the rest. The young soldier, avoiding confrontation, continues with the distribution with his eyes facing downwards. This proves too much for the soldier to bear and he dives past me, lunging at the young soldier. It is like watching an alpha male lion attack a defenceless cub. As I watch in utter disbelief at him inhumanly punching a mere teenager, I think of how I knew this soldier before we enlisted. I once knew him as a respectable, hard-working kindly man. War had changed him. War had made him this monster.

With great difficulty, the rest of us finally pull him away. His eyes are bloodshot and trickles of sweat weave through the infuriated wrinkles of his forehead. The young boy is completely submerged in the mud. We sink our hands into the depths of the thick mud, searching for the soldier but by the time we find him and yank him out it is too late. We stare at the boy’s motionless, lifeless body in shock with saddened eyes as if we have lost a son of our own. I suddenly hear a weeping sound and I turn around to find the soldier who had attacked him sobbing. His eyes have an eerie empty look about them and I recognise it to be guilt. Anywhere else in the world we would have been storming with rage but here, at the front, we sympathise for him. We have all felt that unknown external force take over and it isn’t a state from which one can tune in and out. I continue mechanically to distribute the food rations and hand everyone their share. It is not enough to satisfy our hunger but it is enough to keep us alive.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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