Living In Lies and Graves
Martin Yates was just one of thousands of men waiting for their turn to race towards certain death. They stood in the darkness of a storm at midnight. The heavy clouds of the storm raging above their heads erased the moon and stars from the sky. Torrential rain had turned the trench into a rising river. Its murky waters were saturated with blood and clogged with the floating bloated bodies of dead rats. The muddy ground beneath their feet was slowly swallowing them, and one couldn't walk without tripping over water covered corpses.
The flashes of lighting cast long and twisted shadows over the cratered moonscape of no mans land. The barrage of guns was beginning to fritter out into ever more sporadic volleys of fire. The attack in the rain was another ill-convenience plan thought up by high command. It was based on a simple premise, that the storm would blind the enemy while their own boys would somehow effortlessly navigate their way through the stifling darkness and blinding rain into their trenches.
Martin and his comrades were probably far more shaken by the deafening roar coming from the choir of guns at their backs than the men they were being fired at. Who were most likely now waiting with their machine gun sites fixed on the field in front of them, ready to flatten any line that emerged from the darkness, but on the plus side the rain had temporarily dispersed the stench of death that hung in a haze over the trenches. The artillery fell silent. Lieutenant Lancing in his military poncho and helmet was distinguishable from the lowly boys under his command only by his fiery red mustache. He was trying to convince the cannon fodder there was somehow honor in this mass suicide that was about to take place. “God gives nothing for free!” He shouted. “If you truly love your country if your heart truly beats for England than almighty God demands you pay your tithing in blood!”
Martin's mind was too preoccupied to listen to the Lieutenant's nonsense. He had arrived at the end of his life's journey, and he was desperately trying to figure out what he thought, if anything was waiting for him on the other side. He cared little at this point about the wider war around him, the outcome of which now seemed inconsequential. He thought about the impersonal template that served to notify the families of those massacred on the battlefield. He knew there was one somewhere in an office waiting for an administrator type his name across it.
They would make sure to tell his family that he fought bravely, and to let them know it was something they should be proud of. If only they knew the real truth. Martin wished he could rewrite it. He wished he could tell them that the only motivation he had to serve was the threat of imprisonment for not reporting for duty after the draft announcement. He wished he could make them understand being torn up by a machine gun and left to rot in the mud was hardly anything to be proud of. This idea of soldiers being martyrs who were nobly sacrificing one's life for king and country was a lie that was making far too many orphans and widows.
Martin had been weary of the attention and fanfare that was lavished on them as they were paraded through the streets of London to the fanfare of an oblivious population that cheered them off to war. He was suspicious of the dignitaries and generals that smiled and waved as they packed them into transport ships like human sardines.
Their “admiration” for the unknown men they were sending to be butchered by the mass produced tools of industrialized warfare was as much a lie as the line about the valiant service in the death notice. As miserable as they were, Martin had an appreciation for the reality in the trenches. He hoped it might be a wake up call for the boys who were being served up on a platter in a vain attempt to satisfy the insatiable hunger of the war machine.
In these trenches there were no adoring onlookers, no cheering children, no women waving goodbye as they dried their eyes with their handkerchiefs. There was no band playing the patriotic hymns of the nation for them to march to. The show was over, and it was probably for the best. They no longer looked like a battalion of finely tuned soldiers. They were a pathetic mass of unwashed boys, their shivering bodies withering from hunger and disease barely filled out the tattered blood-soaked remains of their uniforms, nothing more than meals for the lice and rats that were flourishing in the trenches.
The men were reacting differently to the knowledge that death was waiting for them just over the wall of dirt. Some clung desperately to the delusions of glory in battle; others overwhelmed by fear convinced themselves their commanders would save them. Some relied on the futility of prayer. They called out to a divine creator that was either deaf, indifferent, or simply not there.
Everyone had their own ways of trying to find comfort before they found themselves removed from the only existence they knew. For those who had accepted reality the trench was simply a form of hospice.
“A truly just God would not allow for a noble people to sit idly by while a force of evil as vile as the Hun burns civilization to the ground, a truly just god would not permit his children to turn a blind eye to the pillaging, the raping, and the murder.....
As Martin waited to die he became even more resentful of warfare’s myths. The only patriots who dreamed of victory were those who sat at home far removed from the nightmares of the battlefield. Again his mind turned to his waiting death notice. It was a lie on top of a lie.
He knew it wouldn't tell those who would receive it that he never really wanted to fight in this war and that he was at best indifferent to his country’s crusade. He had no stake in the outcome. He wanted it to include an honest account of his death as well. When they stepped out into the open, fate would spin the roulette wheel and sooner rather than later a bullet would find him in the darkness and send him to the ground.
He would most likely be trampled by the stampeding heard as it grinned itself down to nothing against the enemy defenses. He wanted everyone to know his last moments on Earth were nothing but a mad dash across no mans land.
He felt someone nudge him, and he was taken away from his thoughts. He looked up at the man next to him. He leaned in close to Martin,
“When the order comes we're going to charge the lieutenant.” The man whispered hoarsely in Martin's ear.
Martin was taken by surprise. He never thought it would happen but just like that a mutiny had been born. He wasn't even sure if he knew the name of the man that was trying to include him in this conspiracy that was punishable by death, but he figured if it had come to this than desperation must have really taken hold.
Martin didn't know what would happen if he followed the conspirators, but anything seemed preferable to following Lancing over the top. Martin listened for the Lieutenant who was still trying to stir in everyone the motivation to die.
“ Its not nearly as bad as how hard they would let your wives and daughters have it! They would probably use their goddamn bayonets to make new holes!” The rabid Officer screamed as he waved his service pistol around in the air.
No one here wanted to die for this. That was the sentiment that seemed to be spreading quickly among the ranks. Martin looked around and could see men everywhere whispering to each other, presumably plotting against Lancing.
“We're going to charge him?” Martin asked.
The soldier nodded his head.
“None of us wants to die out there. We're going to take Lancing hostage and demand they get to making truce. Now are you in?”
Before Martin could answer a shrill scream interrupted The Lieutenant's speech, and everyone watched as a lone soldier charged him with his bayonet. Lancing was caught by surprise but was able to regain his composure quickly. He pointed his service pistol and fired a shot at his would be assailant hitting him in the shoulder. Everyone watched in silence as the mutineer fell into the water.
“What the bloody hell is this?!” Lancing shouted practically frothing at the mouth. “Is this a mutiny?! Which one of you other twats wants to try that?!”
Time came to a halt. No one said a word. The nervous men looked to each other with darting eyes waiting for someone to make the next move. No one did.
“Cowards!” Lancing screamed. “I'm standing right here! You have your opportunity what are you going to do?!” No one dared answer. He walked through the crowd of men. His booming voice sounded devoid of fear, but his bulging eyes told a different story.
“If insurrection is what you want, if what you want is to abandon your country, the country your fathers built to the fucking Germans well now here's your chance!” Martin could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing up as the mad Commander moved ever closer to him. His stomach tied in knots, and he struggled to control his breathing.
“No takers?!” Lancing cried out. Martin's worse fears had been realized. His maniacal officer was now standing right in front of him. He stopped and looked Martin up and down with his bugging bloodshot eyes.
“You,” he said as he pressed his pistol between Martin's eyes. “Do you want to mutiny or do you want to fight like a man?” Do you want to do your family the service of dying a warrior or would you rather the army shipped them home the body of a disgraced coward?”
Martin swallowed hard. That's what it had all comedown to. In a moment, he would have to choose between the truth and the lie. He could stand against Lancing, die, and make his personal declaration of the truth, or he could go over the top and give his legacy to the military. He could let them send his family the notice of his death in the course of duty, and let them continue believing the lie. He weighed the options carefully and wondered how much did any of it really matter to a dead man?