In the following fictional essay entitled Through Courage and War, 15-year-old (Year 11) student, Olivia Wilson, writes a touching perspective on life on the front line. The first in an eight-part series in which Olivia portrays the emotional and physical hardships – and the devastating lasting impact – of trench warfare, each chapter tells a human story, astutely crafted to evoke the wartime period. Read the remaining seven chapters Through War and Courage – Parts 2-8
Through Courage and War, by Olivia Wilson
The soft, gentle moonlight cascaded down upon the harsh, solitary trenches where a young boy of 18 remained. No gunfire could be heard; just the effort of his young lungs breathing deeply during this unsettling calm. A menacing smell of gunpowder and blood filled his nostrils and his distress showed as a single cold tear trickled down his pale cheek. He lifted his tired hand and patted his breast pocket. He still had it; his comfort, his security.
This certain young boy had been put on night duty; there was an uncomfortable, eerie feeling about his desolate surroundings. He had been ordered to repair the barbed wire and trenches. This meant venturing out into the most perilous zone, no man’s land. The only light that separated objects from the obtrusive darkness was that of the studded hat of stars that rested in the velvet sky and the imposing bleached moon vaguely disguised behind a patchwork jacket of clouds. He let out a sigh as he crossed his arms, sinking into his rigid and rough uniformed jacket. “God be with me on this long night”, he muttered.
This is where our story begins. It is the war to end all wars and the Cabinet are desperate for men. Tearing families apart, as if they were just paper, they scavenged for every able male to join the death trap of the army. Propaganda implies that you must ‘support your country’, but everyone knew it took more than support to survive; every soldier needed strength, determination and masses of courage.
His regiment was here in northern France, the year 1916 and they are under the command of Captain Johnson. Johnson was a tall well-built officer, known for his neatly trimmed moustache, a facial embellishment all the more remarkable considering the unsanitary and mud-laden conditions in the trenches. He was a man of experience and everyone knew he was exceptionally tough. He had the courage of a lion and backed down in nothing. Captain Johnson was respected and trusted, an essential prerequisite when death is a daily companion and his next order may be all that could save you. His regiment was built up of both the newly recruited, with the nervous faces of young boys who were ready for everything but not for what lay ahead, as well as those with tired war-torn faces, marked with the scars of battles, heartbreak and loss.
The young boy is Private Jim Blake, a tall lanky lad with dark brown shabby hair. He has large meaningful eyes, an open face and a mouth that only ever spoke of truth. He had been brought up poor and his only experiences of war were that of death and trauma. His own father, Lance Corporal Jeff Blake, had been reported missing in action the day before Blake had been conscripted. He had had to leave his widowed, weeping mother and journey into the game of war with the knowledge that his father had done the same and was now lying soulless, alone, in a field of brutality. Even before entering the filthy, rat infested, harsh cruelty of trench warfare, he had understood that the bayonet and rifle others had received and held with pride would do little to save them from the constant shellfire and disease that lay ahead.
Photo courtesy of www.gwpda.org/photos
Find out more: There are many online resources and exhibitions documenting World War 1, including:
BBC Schools http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/0/ww1
The British Library http://www.bl.uk/world-war-one
The Imperial War Museum, London http://www.iwm.org.uk