I wrote the original version of this piece many years ago for ANZAC day and read it to a crowd of a thousand at an ANZAC day service. I think I was about fifteen at the time. I recently dug it up and, in honour of ANZAC day, I wanted to post it to show my respect to those who fought (including my own great great grandfather who fought in WW2). Forgive its roughness and please spare a moment to remember those who fought, suffered and lost their lives for their country.
The clock ticks on the mantle, the only sound in an otherwise silent room. The old man shifts in his bed, trying to get to sleep. His aching bones scream at him and when he closes his eyes haunting memories flood his mind.
The sound of the ticking clock morphs into planes zooming overhead and gunfire blasting all around. The old man opens his eyes, no longer in his bed, stiff and old, but a young man in the trenches, fighting for his country. On either side of him stand his mates, yelling over the gunfire.
A metal cylinder drops from one of the planes and hurtles towards the ground, exploding only metres away. He takes cover in the trench as shrapnel flies over their heads. His ears are ringing, he can’t hear what Eddie is yelling at him. Eddie points. The young soldier turns to see the devastation in the trench to his left. Peterson, Lewis and Neal are all gone. If the bomb had been dropped a few more metres to the right it could easily have been him shredded by the shrapnel.
Still, he fights on. They all fight on.
The odour of death fills his nostrils. The smell is a constant in the trenches, unable to be eradicated, even when they have a chance to move the bodies. Flies are everywhere: in the food; buzzing around their wounds; around the dead—mostly around the dead. The dead bodies surround them—a constant reminder of what could happen to any of them. The price of war is all too real. Too scary. He pushes the fear aside. There’s no room for fear.
Another bomb hits, closer this time. Blinding light, more ringing in his ears, and pain. Pain! He can’t feel his legs. Is this death? His sight returns slowly, blurry at first. He can still see the trenches, the soldiers, the chaos. He is not dead.
He closes his eyes against the consuming pain. He does not cry. Soldiers don’t cry.
He opens his eyes again, not as a young soldier, but as an old man in his bed. The sound of guns and bombs fade. The clock ticks.
He looks down to where his legs used to be and lets a tear roll down his cheek—a tear that should have been shed a long time ago.
The war gave him many things: pain, sorrow, loss. Thankfulness. Thankful the war is over. Thankful he survived (though broken). And thankful that his children and their children and their children’s children don’t have to experience the nightmare that he did. For him, the horrors will never fade. He will always remember.
“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We shall remember them.
Lest we forget.”