On the Courtrai: The Final Battlefront

     As I find some time to sit and reflect on the past four days, it can be put, simply, as continuous fighting, holding our position, keeping the German menace from advancing into our territory, and trying to avoid death by sickness. The artillery warrants acknowledgment, but I fear the illness manifesting itself poses the greatest threat to us here.

The Royal Newfoundland Regiment fought superbly, despite their depleted numbers. Even with all the death that we endure, it is an honor to share these trenches with honorable soldiers such as them.

 There is a paradox to war, and it is disheartening to admit to myself; there is comfort in the thrill of battle. It is when I am sitting in, and surrounded by, absolute silence that I experience anxiety and terror. It is as if I am sitting within the eye of a storm. I am anxiously awaiting the calm to pass and bring about the roaring destruction of battle to bring me comfort.

Destruction without death would be ideal, but sadly this is not a reality. The destruction here is always accompanied by death, even if it is a small number. This forces me to reflect on the deaths of a few of my brothers in arms, which took place not far from me. Men of the UVF, who had been with me from the start, were not blessed with the fortune of seeing this war through to its end. And for them to be taken by a random grenade is unbecoming to say the least.

I witnessed the heads of my comrades being almost removed by sniper’s bullets, while he takes aim behind his parapet. I witnessed men get caught in the barbed wire and shot to death by Maxim Guns, left to hang like butchered cattle. At least that death was personal, not only intentional, but executed with intention for him. But some disconnected grenade toss, which happens to land in the proper vicinity and luckily finds an individual on which to inflict its wrath, is not deserving of the satisfaction it brings. It left nothing for us to bury; only the memory of the gruesome ordeal to attempt to purge with no such luck.

This water and mud are rotting the feet right off the body of men. Four years of this is too much for anyone to be exposed to. I have more wounds on my body than I can count. I have no doubt in my mind, I will feel the remnants of these wounds for the rest of my life. The mental and physical pain, along with the stress, revealed to me how much the human body can endure without completely failing. The lack of sleep has subsided for now. Perhaps, I was too exhausted not to rest after the fighting.

I hope, after positioning ourselves in Saint Quentin and holding steady against their bombardment, considering their nearly-exhausted resources, the war comes to an end soon. It is quiet tonight, so perhaps this is indicative of the remainder of our time here. When I think about the rich history of the UVF, I feel accomplished and honored to carry on our rich tradition. With the French Army exhausted, and the late entrance of the Americans to the battlefront, I wonder what the Western Front would look like without us.

Soldiers are restless. All any of them seem to talk of is going home. The number of letters they are sending to their loved ones increased tenfold, which is indicative of the restlessness spreading throughout the ranks. This restlessness is, without a doubt, spurred by the illness spreading through the trenches. I hear of men frothing at the mouth. This is accompanied by savage coughing, which produces blood, and soon after, death. Death finds the infected very quickly.

This only adds another element of danger to these Godforsaken trenches. Not only are we battling the rats, lice, water, mud, decomposing bodies, and artillery of the enemy, but now this impending biological disaster is nipping at our heels. The consequences of this illness are more exacting than a bullet, and there is nowhere I can go to escape it. I am certain it will cross no man’s land and enter enemy territory, because things such as maladies do not have to fear death from artillery or anything else.

I can only hope what I write finds my wife somehow, so that she will know what I have endured to keep her safe. If I am not overcome by one of the many faces of death before I see her again, it will be the sweetest stroke of fortune that has befallen me yet. If I am embraced by death, just know that I love you more than anything in this world, and know that you are worth every ounce of suffering I endured during this war. Until we meet again, my love. Slán leat.

 

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