I Remember …
I’d lost track of how long the fighting had been going on. The noise and carnage all around made the passage of time meaningless, our only clue to its passing being the sky getting darker or lighter with the setting or rising of the sun, though fire and smoke from the bombardments often made a lie even of that.
Another deafening blast from an exploding Jack Johnson artillery shell sent us all scrambling for the nearest slit trenches, diving headlong in regardless of the presence of however many others might already be taking shelter. Bodies heaped on bodies, complaints and groans of yet another landing atop those already there. But no one complained too loudly. And why would they? Another layer of flesh and battledress provided added protection from the countless flying shards of torn metal from the discarded guns and tanks strewn about the battlefield. And even away from the abandoned weaponry, the landing of each additional artillery shell would hurl deadly stake-sized splinters from the shattered wooden fencing that dotted the national borders of the blood-soaked mud and ground for which we were dying, mostly to clutch a few more feet from the enemy. And though the trenches provided some physical protection, they were useless against the billowing black smoke from the shells and even less so from the stomach retching effects of the dreaded gas attacks. The one followed the other as surely as thunder followed lightning, the first to completely confuse and frighten us, making the donning of gas masks all the more difficult after the second.
“Are you okay? What’s wrong?” A voice was asking. I couldn’t make out the exact words; the noise all around was way too loud.
“I’m okay; really I am. See to the others,” I answered weakly, not knowing to who I was talking, or indeed if I really was ‘okay.’
I continued to huddle in the little area of space I had found for myself.
“It’s okay, Granddad, it was the local kids letting off some bangers and fireworks,” I finally heard a familiar voice telling me. It was Patrick, my 15-year-old grandson. I became aware of him taking my arm, helping me rise to my feet from the doorway in which I’d crouched to take shelter.
“Children? Fireworks?” I questioned, still a little dazed and confused.
“Yes. They were playing at being soldiers, pretending the fireworks were the sound of bombs and artillery fire.”
I nodded. Yes, it was making sense now, though I admit it takes me a little longer to grasp things these days. My mind isn’t as sharp as it once was, but my memory sadly is in this case.
It was coming back to me now. All that was a long time ago, November 1915.
It was still November but the year was different now, 1985 I think.
It wasn’t just the children, it was the people too. Some of them like to start their celebrations a day or two early to coincide with the weekend, Patrick was explaining to me. He’s a nice lad, kind to me, you know.
His gentle patience was helping me to remember and understand. Yes. It was the same last year, and every year as far back as I can remember.
It was Bonfire Night …