Mud and Water

Poppy

by Andrew J. Müller

Mud and water. Water and mud. That was what I remembered from that first week. Water and mud, the kind you lost boots in, deep and sticky and stretching on forever.

At least, I always expected it did, you could hardly stick up your head and check 'cos Fritz would probably blow it off. I used to think about that during the first week when I was trying to sleep at night. I gave up trying to sleep after the second night; the steady crump crump crump of the shelling and the occasional rattle of gunfire wouldn't let me. In the end I just slept as and when I could.

That first week in Flanders it pissed down solidly, day in, day out. On Monday I tried to keep my uniform dry and clean, by Tuesday I welcomed the rain because it washed the mud away. On Wednesday we had to abandon some of the trench because it got waterlogged and Sergeant Rogers had been sucked under. Old Jerry picked a few of us off that day.

I was on duty that night along with Peterson, a rather insipid sort of a fellow with buck teeth and a pair of glasses with one of the eyes patched out. I wondered half the night why that patch was there, perhaps he'd got some kind of disease. He'd been in the trenches since kick off so he'd had plenty of time to get all sorts of charming ailments. I hoped at the time I wouldn't be there long enough to catch anything off of him.

He told me that he had a "sure fire" way of not going over the top when the orders came through, but he wouldn't say what it was. Now that I know what it was I'm rather glad he didn't tell me, but I'll come to that soon. It was a long night that night, the guns didn't stop for a moment and the rain soaked us through several times as we squatted in the mud covered in our standard Army issue capes behind the rusting Gatling aimed vaguely at the east where Fritz was.

On Thursday Captain Knight got the wire from command telling us we were going over on the Saturday. Nobody slept that night at all. Johnson get really screwed up about it and did his wrists on my bayonet. It took me ages cleaning it off and unsticking the firing pin on Friday.

Friday night a gang of squaddies were caught deserting and were shot by our side. Private Peterson was caught that night masturbating in the shower. He was thrown in the brig and managed to miss going over the top because of it, lucky swine. I vowed then if I survived this push and had to go again that a quick wank in the shower and I'd be home to Blighty even if I was in the clink.

Saturday morning the sun came out. One of the men told me it was always sunny when we went over. I almost believed him then, but I realise it's rubbish now. I would tell him, but he's spread across a Belgian field somewhere so I guess I've missed my chance.

The hour before was about the worst. We all milled around with nothing much to do. Ten to two and we lined up behind the scaling ladders.

Private Rudge, next to me, mopped his brow. Jackson, three down the row licked his lips and we waited.

The shelling stopped.

Captain Knight blew his whistle.

Jackson didn't even get out of the trench, a lucky shot from the Hun took half his face away and threw him down on top of the second wave lining up below us. The chap who told me about the sunshine found a mine and took six others in the line up with him.

We kept up a continuous barrage of fire as we relentlessly went forwards. Around me soldiers were dropping to the ground in swathes like those tin ducks at the funfair sideshows. Except these ducks didn't pop back up.

Rudge clasped what used to be his stomach and pitched over into the mud next to me. Already the second wave was coming along behind us. Hathaway on my right went down with one of our bullets in his back. What they call "friendly fire" I suppose.

Even Captain Knight didn't make it to Jerry. His legs were shot from under him and he spent the rest of his life in a wheeled-chair in Bournemouth.

I was lucky really that the shots that hit me only ended my war. I wasn't sure what hurt most, the dull thuds in my legs or falling face down on barbed wire. It was starting to rain again.  Someone, I don't know if they were English or German or what, dragged me into the enemy trench and therein, thankfully, I passed out.

When I awoke all was quite save for a dull thudding which was either mortars firing or my headache. I took my chance and peered over the top of the trench towards the English lines.

Mud and water. Water and mud.

And Bodies.

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Another of Andrew's stories set in World War I is "The Vampire of Thiepval".


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2009


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