I’ll always remember that night, that wonderful night, so peaceful, so quiet. That was the last night I ever sat round the charred oak table drinking a few with William. It started of with a simple acutance; our shifts would crossover every Tuesday and Thursday, every night at 11 pm exactly. One night I started my shift a little early, got to know each other a bit. Turned out to be that our dugouts where right next to each other, and the next thing you know we where having whiskey every night, even on duty.
I remember one night, specifically actually, because of what he said to me.
“… Yea I know, talk about stench, we thought Mickey took his boots off or something and what did it turn out to be, a Charlie Fogger, stunk the whole trench out.”
“Yea I’ll say, it blew into our dugout, couldn’t get the chlorine smell out for days.”
“Anyway Pete, I gota go”
“Well you see, I’m going away for a while”
“What, what do you mean?”
“They’re moving me to Dawson’s bay, they’re holding a colonel meeting, and might be sending forces into no-man’s-land.”
“When are you coming back?”
” Well, depending on what the outcome of the meeting is, I might not”
I don’t know what happened after that, I couldn’t remember, or maybe I didn’t want to remember. Just the following morning, I remember waking up finding a bottle on the oak table. After I examined the half empty bottle of whiskey that we where drinking last night I noticed a poorly written note beneath It.
“Dear peter, I hope this is the last note I will ever have to write you, I hope that we can talk in person one day, I hope that we could finish this bottle, but don’t count on it, enjoy it while you have the time.”
Many days past before I took into account what happened, I still started my patrol a little earlier as usual. I tried making friends with some of the people in his old reg, it was ok at first, but after a while the conversations we had where all about war, booze, food. Not like we used to, not like we used to talk about. We would talk about the small thinks in life the stuff that kept you going through the night, the thinks that warmed your blood or fought away the daemons.
We would always have silly games or have races. Knowing that I had someone to fall onto made the world seem to be a better place, the front line would seem to be only words and no longer a threat, the trench would seem like home and no longer a rat infested gully, I would see the bottle as half full not half empty. But know my life seems to be occupied by death and despair.
One day I was awakened by the faint smell of whiskey and voices, one louder than the rest called to me.
I was paralysed, I couldn’t move, I didn’t know what to do. There where so many thoughts and emotions running through my head, every muscle in my war-wounded body where contracting, my eyes opened the sun through the doorway blinded me but I didn’t care. I leapt out of bed rubbing my eyes, and then when I removed my hands, he was standing there with the half filled bottle of whiskey with two glasses in his other hand stretched out in front of him.
“So you kept it then.”
“I’d know you’d come back.”
“No you didn’t, you where hoping.”
“Does it matter?”
“Yes, as you where drowning in your own tears you failed to notice that the trenches are thinning out with people. You cant structure your life on hope, you need to know the situation, you where putting yourself in danger.”
” I don’t care as long as you’re back and your back for good.”
“How did the meeting go?”
“The meeting was fine, but the “forward March” wasn’t”
“What do you mean?”
“After we penetrated German forces they moved forwards pushing us back. They where using our trenches as veins and arteries to lead them to here, that’s why people are leaving”
“When will our regiment be called out of here?”
“You’re getting pulled out tonight along with me. Where travelling south east towards Cradles Cove”
“String neck, it’s the only one that hasn’t been infested with Germans, well not yet”
“Isn’t there a part of it that runs parallel with Trench Dovetail””
“Yes that will be the point in which we will be most vulnerable at so we need to keep sharp. Come on, you need to start packing.”
That day we just talked with the rest of the regiment, drinking whiskey as always. Things where finally as they should be; William was back and where getting out of the dugout that we’ve hated for so long. My bag was packed and stood next to the others in the arch. Now that he pointed it out, the trenches did seem a little silenced, there where no sounds of laughter, shouting or the occasional glass bottles being smashed. Everything just stood still. Everything was fine that day until than one night on the 22nd of April, disaster struck.
“How many of those have they got?!”
“What’s the hold up up there?”
“Trip wires” a faint voice said
“Where disengaging them as fast as we can”
“Will, I thought you said they haven’t infiltrated String neck yet?”
“Obviously they have”
“We’ve got problems, Germans are coming round the corner “
“Get behind me, feed me bullets”
“Tripwires disengaged, move em out” the guy said
“Move Pete move”
I remember running about five metres along and looking behind me and seeing Will trapped on some barbed wire.
“Hang on Will, I’m coming”
“Go back about ten metres there should be some wire cutters”
I ran back and located the wire cutters and started to run for Will.
” Hang on Will I’ve got the wire….”
There was a horrific bang that forced me onto the muddy wet floor of the trench.
The smoke cleared and there was nothing left, where Williams’s body once was there was now a smoking crater.
I got up and ran towards the crater but someone pulled me by the shoulder dragging me back.
“Get up Private Murphy, get up!”
Everything was a blur to me for another hour, after that I remember that we where all in a cabin or house singing, or at least they where.
Even up to this day our regiment keep in touch, visit Will’s name on the statue. I miss having games with William, talks with William. I miss having whiskey with William.