This is a longer one. I am working on something and it just sort of happened. I have always been fascinated by the 'Angels of Mons'
The guns have fallen silent for the first time in a day. No pounding noise, no acrid cordite smell, just flat calm. Blissful and yet threatening at the same time. Silence means that something is going to happen.
It isn’t the advance, that was yesterday. We went over the top like racehorses on the jumps. With about as much control over our own destiny as a ridden nag. The guns like a whip on our backs, forcing us onward.
Ordinary Tommy’s, salt of the earth they call us. That is army speak for cannon fodder. Working class boys, an inexhaustible supply because commoners breed like rabbits. Under the command of our betters. All shiny boots: and brass, thirty miles away from the real action.
It is cold and I am damp from the ever seeping trenches. They pour like an open wound. Not water, this place is too far gone in savagery for something as simple as clean healthy water. We get slime, filthy yellow gangrenous slime and mud full of the lives of other people, their waste and their smell. Oh, the smell gets you every time.
The stink of futility day after blessed day. A pungent aroma, unwashed bodies too long dead. The living and the deceased crammed together in a place beyond the imaginings of anyone’s fevered mind. A bit of hellfire and brimstone around here would be a cleansing treat for the soul.
We lost fifteen yesterday including our company commander. He was blown to pieces like so much chaff in the wind. A human life reduced to straw in seconds. We don’t mourn, what would be the point. Tomorrow there will be more and the day after that the same again. Mourning is a luxury.
Staying alive is what counts, keeping body and soul together with limbs attached will do. We all hear the moaning begin. Someone is out on the wire. Ours or theirs it doesn’t matter. A human soul is in torment. No man’s land is aptly named.
It lies between this world and the next. Purgatory for some poor soul who knows he is likely going to die.
When I was a lad the catcher used to hang up moles on a fence for the crows to peck at. Soft little bodies awaiting the attack of a long cruel beak. At least they were blind and dead, this poor soul is very much alive and he wants the world to know that he will not go silently.
He will kick and scream on his barbed wire cross until the very last breath is taken from him. There is no mercy in this place or everyone would be dead. This is a man-made hell, come early for some and not nearly quick enough for him out on the wire.
They say you can see phantoms after a big shout. Soldiers from other wars, come to collect the souls of the dead. The’ Angels of Mons’ we call them, but I suspect they had other names. Ghostly archers lost in battle long ago.
It doesn’t matter where or how. A dead soldier is a life cut short. War is like that. Young men die and women cry so they say, that is how it has always been. The frost is creeping over the ground. Little crystals of ice like frosted sugar. It will freeze the bodies hard like waxworks. I expect it will get to him out on the wire.
Seeping into his bones, nothing hurts like the chill of cold. He moos, long and low like a cow in pain. I expect he will quieten down in a bit. When hope and spirit are exhausted in equal measure.
Here they come, I knew they would. Silent as birds they hover over the trenches. The green of a corpse candle flickering in the dark, lighting a way for the dead to follow. They seek out souls when time on earth has come to an end. I have seen them after a big battle, the souls of the fallen.
Endlessly they march over the frozen ground in a ceaseless column, headed toward eternity. Their boots should crunch on the earth, cracking sticks like bones beneath their feet, but they make no noise. They are done with all that. Sound is for those who have ears to hear it.
Wrapped in blankets where the stretcher boys have covered them. They leave this hellish place to the living. Their work is done and they can give no more. Tommy on the wire has ceased his noise. He waits and listens for peace to come to him.
He is beyond pain, beyond earthly things. Tommy on the wire will join the march tonight, falling into step behind the others.
My dead eyes have seen enough to know that my time has also come. The Angels of Mons are all the mercy in this barren waste and they are calling me. We follow the light to who knows where. Salvation perhaps, or just a different kind of hell.
I cannot say, but I know in my heart that it will not be deeper or darker than the one we leave behind, and I will gladly join them. A band of brothers we go together. Tommy on the wire: and me, and all the other Tommy’s.
Marching out of the cold: and the mud and the blood; behind the angels leading us to glory with their banners waving as we leave this place behind.
It is time to say goodbye.