The shrill, sharp blasts of a thousand whistles signal their plans, a bureaucrat’s war cry, announcing their intentions. “Once more into the breach, old friends, once more.” The flickering, devil-red flares explode amongst the stars, flooding this man-made Hell lying far beneath these new, temporary suns. Casting their light into the darkness – revealing below them the machinations of opposing generals, sworn to honour and to do battle far behind the front lines. The smell of cold, of those foreign farmsteads ravaged, metamorphosed into vicious scars carved deep into the flesh of this now alien world – a world painted not long before in the colours of a summer’s day, now painted in the greys and the greens of that all-conquering mud. Everywhere, it was. Covered a man’s body, drowning the inevitable swarms of lice, penetrating to his soul. Overwhelming him.
Destroying men to replace them with beasts.
The whistles blow, calling the men from their trenches, like ants clambering over the earthworks. The whistles blow, calling them out – calling them into the mouth of Death. Calling them to die in the teeth of machine gun fire in another man’s homeland.
Will can no longer count those new friends found then lost, cast beneath the wheels of the war machine. He had left his village behind, left his mother weeping on the doorstep. He had joined up, the day war had been declared. He had signed up – for King and for country. For the Fatherland. The dead earth shook beneath the footsteps of the advancing artillery, the thunder of the guns answering the whistles’ harpy cry. He fought here for his people, for his mother, for his younger brother. His brother, still struck by the romance of the soldiery, envious and left behind – two more years until he turned eighteen. Two more years before he too could be devoured by the war.
Forgotten by his sweetheart after six months in France, six months already half-buried in the mucous of the battlefield. She had kissed him, on the morning he enlisted – the baker’s son had married her, allowed to remain at home, “essential to the war effort.” Allowed to stay at home without wearing a yellow flower, without wearing a feather in his cap. Will knew regret now, as he had read his mother’s stilted handwriting, her letter revealing what passed for news in their small town. His letters never made it home intact. They were checked and vetted, removing information that may fall into enemy hands. Thick black bars scattered liberally over his own copperplate hand, transforming it into a collection of fragments, telling half-truths as to how he felt.
Will pulled his mind from the small pleasures of reminiscence, before he could remember the warm flames of the hearth warming their little cabin. Before he imagined the cold kiss of beer against his lips. Before he remembered the other boys from his village – before he remembered the bitter taste, the inhalation of mustard gas that had seeped like a witch’s fog across the battlefield.
The officers again blew their whistles – he could hear them echoing above No-Man’s Land, he knew of their boasts that they would “be in Berlin by Christmas!” Wilhelm moves to his machine gun nest – those damned Australians were coming over the top again.
It was ANZAC Day here in Australia on Wednesday – a day supposed to be about remembrance but now more about drinking in excess and rampant jingoism. When one of the main causes of both World Wars was jingoism. This story is meant to show the true meaning of ANZAC day, not to cause offense. More than 180000000 men, women and children died as a result of war in the 20th century, and both World Wars were fought by young men who sacrificed their innocence atop the altar of war. ANZAC Day, as it is now celebrated, seems to demonise and dehumanise our opponents in those Wars, and the price we will eventually pay for that is more war. Your enemy is not human, and therefore does not deserve to be treated as one. Anyway, I’m rambling. My image of ANZAC Day was tarnished as I drove to work the morning after. Peroni and Heiniken bottles littered the footpath, surrounded by empty kebab wrappers – I’m not sure they quite grasped the irony…