To end all others a grea.., p.1
To End All Others: A Great War Trio,
TO END ALL OTHERS:
A GREAT WAR TRIO
* * * * *
To End All Others:
A Great War Trio
Copyright 2011 by Michael Seeley
* * * * *
Table of Contents
I. Another Dream
II. An Era Recalled, a Sorrow Relived
III. The Mandate
IV. Historical Note by the Author
* * * * *
To End All Others:
A Great War Trio
Starlight and rain-rutted dirt, and the musk
Of dying tears; these drag you back in the dusk
Towards marred France and broken Gallipoli.
To field stations and dressing stations
and the blackened visages you see
When close you your eyes once more,
Letting starlit-silence fall.
As the shades of Past crawl through your dark -
Waiting, writhing for Time to show its mark -
Know once more you will
That dreams, those tortured dreams, remain ever-present still.
The bullet flies. And the dream ends.
Through disconsolate dark fields of wheat
You see them again: Their mud-clasped feet
Churn the sodden ground
With halting, singing voices hauling their sound.
Each wades through weighted thoughts,
Through dreams and loss and forgone desire.
Within some tired peasant barn
You watch them tiredly drop their arms.
Each pack slides down, dripping rain.
The filthy bodies follow, clothed regally in pain.
But then the bayonet bites ...And the dream ends.
You're watching their marred and gritty leers; young Fredrich
Glances at you through the mire, his teeth dull and thick.
He waits. He knows, but does not say
How came you amid their world of grey.
They can grin, for time may yet be kind.
But your lips never part; no, that was only another dream.
Soon each man stands.
All around, they shake hands.
For who can know that fated sign
When each takes their hated place upon the Line?
And yet the shells scream when the dream ends.
You can never hear their calls, but still you see their war-worn eyes
Never can you call to them, despite your cries.
Alone in your bed, years past peace, another thought
Shrieks - why have you fought?
For the old soldier wakes; then the horrid dreams start once more.
After Siegfried Sassoon
An Era Recalled, a Sorrow Relived
The following pages were retrieved from a sealed chest, offered for purchase during an extensive estate auction:
September the 8th, 1894
My Dearest Caroline,
I experienced a most singular event today. While ambling through Trafalgar Square, I happened to overhear a conversation from two young bankers, traveling, like me, to their establishments. Normally, I would not have listened uninvited, but I caught the first words, and I became determined to hear the last. One mentioned his recent marriage and was overjoyed that his wife was expecting. My love, I tell you that my mind softly turned to you. Smiling even broader, I delighted in the strange, albeit, wonderful notion that we are the very new parents of twin, dashing, young boys! Ah, but I digress; forgive me.
Having heard this happy news, I entered the conversation with my congratulations. This banker, by the name of Greene, or so he said, was happy to make my acquaintance. In the midst of his excitement, he was planning a wonderful surprise for his wife. The idea struck me as profound, and I intend to follow his example. "My brother purchased his wife a glowing necklace upon the birth of my nephew. Yet, by the time three months had gone by, she rarely wore it. Indeed, I have not seen the shine of that sapphire for ages; it seems she has forgotten her wonderful gift," he spoke, his mustache twitching in the breeze. "Thinking on this and the superficiality of gems, gowns, even money, I resolved to present my wife with a treasured gift. To be certain, I shall buy her a flowing dress for the actual occasion, but in secret, my true present will form." Caroline, I listened to this man, transfixed by his plans. "I will write to my Annabelle once a week and secret the writings in a diary. Thirty years from now, that diary will contain our joys, sorrows, laughter, tears, and the glowing story of our lives. By then, our sons will have sons of their own. The nation will have embarked upon a new century, and my love for my glowing bride will be ensconced upon the flowing pages of my journals. She will read our story and be pleased; truly, I am resolved." Having spoken, this Greene laughed, a flowing, youthful sound. Instantly, I was taken with the wonderful idea. Indeed, I am so enthralled, I shall make it my own!
Thirty years from this moment, we will sit in our salon. I will hand this book to you, flippantly. You will not suspect its importance at first; my surprise will be complete. Your eyes will glance upon the first entry, and a story, our story will flow from the pages like a pub shanty. You will read and read. Eventually, you will laugh. Likely, you will cry, for I will omit nothing, not even sorrow, from our story. Though your forthcoming tears sadden me, even now, I am resolved to present you with an accurate tale of our life together.
In this first entry, I have told you my plan. Now, I shall tell you of yourself- the self I glimpse in you. At this moment, you sit, unawares of my designs, knitting amidst the sunlight of a dipping sun. John and Sydney, our glowing boys, rest in the crib beside you. Your black tresses hang, momentarily forgotten, around your pallid, beautiful face. You glance now at our sons and smile; kindness radiates from those lips. Now, my lips part in a grin as well; you have looked back towards me.
Truly, my love for you and our family swells within me.
Truly, the King's England holds no man happier than your William.
A man hobbled through the strife of the Boer War, a man horrified by the Anglo-Zulu war, I had no right to receive your love. Yet, through your care, my dragging leg is forgotten, and I am whole in your love. As for home, our fond England, she too is relaxing into a world of peace. For dear England is all powerful; she holds the scales of power in her hand, and for now, she desires equilibrium. Because of this, Europe is peaceful, and our sons shall, God willing, grow up amid a continent of tranquility. Having dominated through imperialism, England is finally slipping into a new century. Maybe now, she will be able to offer freedom to all of her colonies. Maybe, eventually, all the world will be able to know the peace my family now cherishes. For now though, my Caroline, time calls, and I will leave my writing and return to you, the present you. I shall write again on Sunday, before Mass and before you awaken.
All my love,
September the 12th, 1914
My loving wife,
Can it honestly be two decades since I undertook this endeavor? The very notion leaves me breathless. Indeed, I could trace the winding course of my pen-strokes through time, and the tale of our lives would unfold. Our sons are men now. Indeed, one is married. Furthermore, his glowing bride carries our first grandchild. Caroline, we have known such joy. And yet, my previous, peaceful yearnings have fallen asunder. Europe now plunges itself through carnage, through the very smoke of Hell.
Dear England is at war.
I fear for her, even
Still, this embittered soldier feels no patriotism rise within his breast. I have seen the arid prairies of Transvaal. I have stood in the line; I have bled for my England; I have seen the animalistic cruelty men of war unleash upon each other. No, I welcome no conflict anymore. Yet, it will not be my generation that is called upon. Instead, I feel we may have to endure our sons' suffering; they are ripe for military service. The war has only lasted a month, blood flows, and already, the pressure for recruitment has risen. I walk to bustling Charring Cross only to find images of war awaiting me. They call upon our young men to join at once and slay the enemy, represented by a dragon in one particular romantic image. War is absent of all romanticism, however. The gilded age of love and adventure is distant when the dying grit their teeth to avoid screaming.
Caroline, I promise you, I shall not let my sons join this foolishness willingly. They deserve the chance to live unscarred by war. Yet, their father's words may fall short. John is sensible; his duty to his wife and expectant child will, I hope, stay his hand. But my love, I fear for Sydney. Younger by minutes, he is impetus by nature. He is unattached, and this war may prove to be the dashing adventure he eagerly seeks. He certainly wouldn't be alone. Every time I travel to and from the bank, cheering crowds of young men race through the streets. In this dark and dangerous business, I feel no pleasure. How are they so flippant? I am angered by all the celebration. We shall see if the cheering continues when the bodies of our men return home unseeing, eyes closed in eternal sleep.
September the 19th, 1914
Truly, and tragically, it is as I feared. Young, rash Sydney has enlisted. Caroline, you, at least, cannot say I haven't tried my damndest to prevent it. I am afraid I quite spoiled our family gathering this week, did I not? Not only did I harangue him with reason and implore him with concern, but I shamed myself as we walked through London's fog-strewn veil. At one point, I grabbed him roughly by his shoulders and spun him around to face me.
"Boy!" I cried. "We have no place in this fight. England has not been harmed; our honor is not shamed. This is not some superfluous adventure to later relate to your grandchildren over tea. You will be irrevocably shaped, forever changed, as was I." By this point, we had attracted quite a crowd. Others did not share my views; their drawn faces and hostile sneers made this evident. Indeed, fathers were among them, sons by their side. These men foolishly, proudly displayed their offspring, bedecked in crisp, new uniforms; they are proud of their supposed accomplishment. I ignore them, for the most part. I hear their unashamed mocking. They despise me for my lack of courage, my traitorous leanings, my absent patriotism. I wheel on them, rage now enveloping my soul as well. "You fools!" I seethe. "Your sons you now uplift will soon be gone. There will be nothing to love once the wooden lid shuts him in burial." Knowing his face will pain me, I turn once more to face Sydney, our loving, younger son.
My Caroline, I do not feel I will ever forget his betrayed eyes. Indeed, he does not even deign to speak.
I view his back as he enters the recruiting office.
He misses the tears that gently grace my countenance like a morning dew; I walk amidst the mist on a wandering path leading nowhere but home. Caroline, what shall become of us? Will God allow us to survive this war unscathed? I fear not. For this war will be different. I have heard rumors of great artillery guns. These monsters lob up shells the size of boulders, belching up their flame and deadly hail. Their sound reverberates across the fields and seas of England. It leads one to believe it's Judgment Day, but even now, they are only practicing! If this is how we play at killing, how terrible will the true firing be? Their whistling death will end many a life in the days to come. Indeed, it haunts me to think it, but perhaps Sydney will be one of these number. Eventually, I have found my way home. Perhaps you will recall our meeting when I finally present you with these wretched pages. Disheveled, soaked, and sick at heart, I tramped into our kitchen. You glanced up. Words did not even pass your lips. Our connected soul, our transfixed unity gave you your answer. Your Love's efforts were in vain; our son had become a number, a statistic, and an example of nationalism.
Yet, we wait in Him. Perhaps God will save us yet.
Thy loving husband
December the 8th, 1914,
The world revolves, yet all we bear are the troubles of life. Our son [if he cares to be called by that moniker anymore] arrived home on his first leave today; finished with training, he awaits deployment. Although I rejoice in his homecoming, had I not loved him, the boy and I would have come to blows. I do not believe dinner has ever been a more martial occasion. John, his lovely Helen, and their new daughter, Elizabeth were in attendance. Laughing gaily, we hardly even heard the door open and clasp shut. However, we did hear heavy clicks upon the polished floor as a soldier's boots tread into our tranquility. Silence descended like a mist, as each of us took in Sydney; not even the infant disturbed the solitude. For his part, Sydney waited, a cocksure grin upon his face.
"Well. Father," he spoke gruffly, clipping each word off. I rose from the table; rash as the boy was, he remains my son. Striding forward to embrace him, I was cut off by his palm, thrust forward for a formal handshake. Taken aback, I gripped this stranger's hand with sadness. John would have none of that, however. Rushing towards his brother, he brushed aside another proffered hand and wrapped Sydney in a great embrace, his arms tightening around Sydney's shoulders much like a python. Yet, John's smile held no serpent-like viciousness; he was elated to have his brother home. Sydney only smirked; to me, it almost looked a scowl, but, at that moment, I could not fathom why he would be upset at John. You, Caroline, are blessed for covering his awkward entrance; dragging him to a newly-set place, you heaped food before him. And always growing, the soldier obliged by eating it all. Yet, I wish our conversation had remained as silent as Sydney's entrance. What followed was a fiasco.
"So, Sydney," spoke John between mouthfuls of porridge, "Tell us of your new career."
I am certain my frame stiffened; I had little wish to discuss the boy's foolishness. But I certainly tried to remain amiable. Sydney simply chuckled, then spoke.
"I love it. I am respected and honored. England has need of men to defend her, and I have answered that call!" Pride swelled from his voice as he straightened in his chair. "Granted, it has been trying. Carting a full pack and heavy rifle, I have waded through muddy fields. I have kneaded a pair of boots so tough you could beat an enemy to death; they felt like silk afterwards, and my hands ached for days. But I have made it through; I am a soldier now, and no can take my glory away. I only wish others held such patriotism." Now I saw the reason behind his previous apprehension as Sydney threw a balefully vicious glance towards John; loathing clouded the soldier's countenance. I could not hold my tongue any longer.
"Son, I care for you, but your mind is gone. "In this island, the ocean protects us. We have the safety and leisure to make for ourselves peaceful government, whose power helps keep Europe safe. Much of continental Europe lacks that liberty, and we degrade ourselves and any chance for future democratization by entering this damned war! By leaping into this conflict, a war which England should have no part in, we are tearing our future apart." Spent, I collapsed into my chair, unaware that I had even stood. Sydney turned cold, calculating, pale eyes towards mine.
"Your time has come and gone, father." He spat the last word, rose, and quietly exited the house, taking his cursed pack and rifle with him. The only sounds in the room were th
Tua vir doloris,
December the 28th, 1914
My darling Caroline,
Happy Christmas, my love! Snow falls gently like teardrops upon London and the crisp, dawn air invokes a feeling of solemn tranquility, in spite of the carnage across the Channel. I awoke this morning, slipping from our bed unnoticed. Feeling a sense of melancholy descending, I donned my overcoat and retreated to the streets, seeking anonymous solitude among the throngs. Yet, everywhere I traveled, it seemed that Christmas joy was still ongoing. Carolers strolled, in spite of the early hour, looking for listeners to cheer; dogs barked gaily amidst the falling snow, and the trolleys churned along, on schedule as always. Festive decorations dotted windows and happy shoppers seemed oblivious in their wanton glances towards the latest merchandise. Looking around me, I felt a smile finally crease my countenance. It froze momentarily as I spotted yet another enlistment poster, only slightly covered by a festive garland. Preying on the recent fear of looming air raids, this poster simply read "It is far better to face the bullets than to be killed by a bomb at home."
In spite of the joy surrounding me, a harsh, guttural, mirthless laugh escaped my lips. Drawing my muffler closer against the chill, I strode on; did Government think the populace fools? Bullets are not something to be faced lightly. Rather, bullets are not something to face and return home from. Christmas or not, many families would currently be and continue to be in mourning. Sons, brothers, even some daughters would never again sing carols of joy, gathered together with loving family; this terrible war had stolen all songs from their lips. Yet, for all the sadness that had again enveloped me, my journey into the morning air did provide some levity.
I strode into the Little Corporal for a bit of breakfast, rather famished, truth be told. Seeing some acquaintances, fortuitously gathered for breakfast as well, I wandered over. Pleasantries exchanged and an order made, I settled in, quietly listening to their conversation. Truly, my heart swelled with recent news from the front! It seems that in spite of the barbarity of war, humanity can indeed emerge.
John Foxe, an clothier, was explaining a magnificent event in France. Apparently, during the recent holiday, men from both sides had laid down their arms in brotherhood! Taking a drink from his flagon, despite the hour, Foxe continued. "It's true! Not only did our boys lay down their arms, but the Huns did as well! I couldn't think of a better Christmas miracle! "Near Ypres, German troops began singing carols; next, they put up a Christmas tree too! And in answer, our own boys began to sing too! After that, each side cautiously climbed out of their trenches and met in the middle. How I'd like to have been there!"
Softly, I muttered "Indeed, God is alive this Christmas."
Foxe proceeded to tell the awe-inspiring story. The men, killing each other only hours before, were comrades, if only for a day. Apparently, the soldiers exchanged gifts of chocolate, cigarettes, and food-tins. Next, a rousing game of football was had amid the churned earth of No Man's Land: joviality side by side with butchery. Yet, perhaps these few, crystal moments of peace bonded the men. Perhaps their cries for friendship will soon be replaced with cries for peace. I pondered this festive thought the entire journey home.
May the 5th, 1915
In Africa, I killed men with my bare hands. For colonialism's sake, I ended the lives of innocent men, unwilling to bow to a foreign, British king. I love my country and our monarch, but those days turned me against the sanctioned murder of war. You must know, my wife, that I seldom mention these times. Indeed, I am crippled physically and emotionally from these dark days. Feeling a Zulu spear sheer my leg ended all my support for expansionism and "Rule Britannia." Yet, in that conflict, men saw their opponents; men struggled together against their common, perceived foe. The fight our dear England now faces is a war of pervasiveness and anonymity.
Months ago, I mentioned rumors of massive guns rending soul from flesh. By now, those horrid rumors have become a sickening, commonplace reality. Not only do we receive the coffins of our fallen, but husks of humanity, once men, are returned to us. They call it "shell-shock," a mental condition caused by the deplorable conditions of the trench and the harrowing fire of death from miles away. In my days in the military, we met with the cowardly, but this is radically different. These men, reduced to hysteria, have been turned into ghoulish specters without suffering physical injuries of any kind. Their jaws clench and unclench; many cannot speak or simply mumble incoherently; they jump at the slightest sound; mania takes over at the merest provocation. It is terrible to behold, and I fear these men will never be whole again.
Yet, this danger at the front is not our only concern. For, even today, it is by the grace of God that I am alive to write at all. I mentioned the pervasive nature of this war. In all honesty, civilians are no longer safe from the ravages of violence. Our sleep is broken by shrill sirens calling out the arrival of balloons of destruction. In the previous months, Zeppelin raids over southern England became commonplace; they've killed hundreds, and we of England huddle in fear. London herself has become a battleground. I wander the streets seeking peace, only to see sandbags piles high and signs warning of air-raids.
This war is total.
This war is everywhere.
This war is staggering.
Indeed, this conflict has nearly taken our lives. Last night, after the enclosing veil of night shielded us from our pained reality, the hated war broke into our lives once more. The incessant sirens began, trumpeting the arrival of more German Zeppelins. Yet, the air-raid watchers were lax this night, and the alarm was sounded only just ahead of the balloons. We had no time to take shelter, and it nearly cost us our lives. Explosions shook the foundations of our home, as chance placed the bombs of our enemy upon our very doorstep. Caroline, I held your terrified frame as you wept, hot tears coursing grooves down your beautiful face. Although shaken, we survived. By the merest chance and the will of God, we were saved. Our poplar tree was not so lucky. Thankfully, this was the only life killed on our estate.
As for Sydney, our wayward son, we continue to receive almost no correspondence. That brief note regarding his arrival in France, as well as the quick, jotted "hello" from weeks past, are the only indications that we have a son in this misguided war. Perhaps he will come to see its futility; perhaps this revelation will even come before it is too late.
In His hands,
September the 9th, 1915
It seems that we simply cannot escape this war. In fact, our supposedly blissful night of dinner and entertainment turned into a fiasco of martial restrictions and pomp. Indeed, I am continually reminded of the danger my son endures and the political, bureaucratic foolishness that drives my homeland into war. Chez Napoleon is generally the finest establishment for le cuisine française. Yet, the war has deprived the establishment of all sense of normality. Nearly every luxury dish was struck out of the menu due to shortages. The governmental limitations on food is coupled and worsened by the naval problems we face. Naval problems, indeed! The men of Royal Navy have been the lords of the sea for centuries, and now we are losing our grip of control. Another state has finally developed a notion that trumps our nautical superiority: the German U-boats. In fact, I only recently read that the Germans have sank nearly half a million tons of our shipping in the last month! A month! The logistics of this new war continue to be staggering and nearly incomprehensible. With the loss of those ships, our economy suffers as well. Shortages have occurred, and rationing has even been implemented. No longer can we gain items, like French Tartiflette, from the continent. It angers me!
I realize I sound a prude complaining of the lack of French food when thousands die on the fields of battle. Yet, I simply protest for the purposeless nature of this entire ordeal. I continue to maintain that En
In short, this war, this great and terrible conflict, is rending the world from all previous tranquility and norms.
And yet, the lack of fine dining did not encompass the night's problems. Sydney's absence and lack of correspondence, communication, and general warmth has left you deteriorating in stressful agitation. I'm sorry to say, but you haven't been yourself lately. I resolved to lighten your mood this week. Thus, we adjourned to the city for excitement and a luxurious meal. Our dining experience ruined, I had hoped that the cinema would prove to be more promising. Alas, it was not to be.
The general populace of London has raved about Charlie Chaplin recently. An Englishman, he recently moved to the United States and has been acting marvelously for the silver screen across the Atlantic. His works have since trickled back to his homeland. As such, I had hoped his newest set of short films would be just the remedy for your melancholy. We settled into our seats, and the film, A Thief Catcher, began. Momentarily, I thought my plan, despite the botched dinner, was working. The uproarious antics of Chaplin had you nearly crying, my dear! Indeed, I was chuckling heartily myself.
But then it came time for the reel to be changed, and calamity ensued. I knew a problem was arising when they raised the lights and an official looking man strode onto the stage. While the reels were being changed, a Four Minute Man entered and exhorted the audience to join the campaign of conservation. I learned his title later, but at the time, he looked governmental from head to foot. Additionally, his words were highly irksome. He cried upon all of us to conserve and sacrifice for the soldiers. We were to give up our luxuries and provide monetary support for the government. His imagery painted glorious strokes, but managed, somehow, to evoke images of our soldiers' deaths. This troubled you; your set jaw displayed your mood to me. Furthermore, you remained pensive, and we returned home in silence, our night ruined.
Indeed, this war has managed to destroy yet another peaceful, potentially enjoyable evening.
October the 12th, 1915
My dearest wife,
My rage is so keen I may explode. To be opposed to carnage and the debasement of society as a whole should never be construed as cowardice. Indeed, is my supposed crime so heinous that I should suffer slander and insults? Or rather, is my determination just a different form of bravery? While I see other men, young soldiers, enlisting in droves, John and I have abstained. I am a veteran of Her Majesty Victoria's army, and cowardice does not run through my veins. Conversely, sense does. Thankfully, this intelligence is present in John as well; his new daughter and glowing bride are to thank for that.
Regardless of our collective intellect, it seems propaganda and Government's sickening will has intruded upon our lives once more. This Sunday past, John and I took a stroll after church. Indeed, the day was beautiful, so beautiful that we decided to enjoy it more fully amid a bustling open-air cafe. By faith, the experience was rather pleasant. The war was absent from all conversation, and John and I simply discoursed upon fatherhood. We downed an entire kettle of tea and filled the street with our raucous, joyful laughter. Topics came and went, but we remained aloof to all unhappiness. That is, until John returned to our original discourse.
"I wonder," he spoke, a pensive expression clouding his countenance, "If Sydney will ever have a child."
I had opened my mouth to offer a hopeful declaration, but words failed to appear; they were interrupted. Two finely dressed, young women stormed forward, causing a scene with their frantic movements alone. It appeared they were driven by a furor, and their faces appeared piqued and agitated, as if by some illness. Thinking back upon the incident, I suppose propaganda-induced patriotism is a type of disease.
Again, these women bustled forward with a drive. One leveled a finger at John, and I somehow knew our day would be turned to rubbish. "You!" she shrieked, a piercing, unpleasant howl. For his part, John looked simply confused and taken aback; I believed I knew where this was going and attempted to diffuse the situation.
"Ladies," I whispered forcefully but civilly, "If you'd care to take your mission elsewhere, we'd appreciate it, and you'd gain more success." My commanding voice did not dissuade; indeed, I believe it only angered. "We'll come to you yet," the other woman snapped, her golden curls bouncing in her agitation.
The first woman continued her tirade. "I don't believe it; Martha, I simply cannot comprehend." She turned to her compatriot for support and then resumed. "How can you possibly be sitting here amidst comfort and luxury? England is in dire need! We exist to remind those deaf or indifferent to our country's need that are men are fighting and dying across the channel. Apparently, you know no shame. Your father has not brought you up respectably. Enlist and help, you coward." She practically spat the final word in her accentuation. Actions followed words as each woman thrust a brilliant, white plume into John's protesting fist. Without another word, they strolled off, arm in arm, apparently satisfied with their condemnation of my brave, peaceful son. In a moment of blind rage, I dashed my teacup against the table, shattering the white china. John put a comforting hand on my arm.
"Father, be still; I know no shame at their debasement," his utterly calm tone belied his stricken expression, but he simply tucked the feathers into his coat and stood. "I feel quite ready to go home now." As we wandered back through the foggy streets of a capitol I once loved, my mind could not help but dwell upon the blasted proceeding.
October the 19th, 1915
"I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking."
It seems that the great poets always return me to a sense of calm. Indeed, Maesfield's work seems almost idyllic when our own seas rumble with the sighting of U-boats and sinking of shipping. Yet, this tranquility is exactly what we seek.
For the war has again intensified. Truly, this conflict is quickly becoming a war on global proportions. Now, we continue to fight amid the sands of Asia Minor along a forsaken coast called Gallipoli. News of the latest reports flood London, and all of the populace is abuzz; I find it maddening. Indeed, the news is grim; by all accounts, the invasion of the Turkish land was a debacle. Our boys failed to surprise the Ottomans, and given the enemy's high ground, we were blocked and pinned down to toeholds in the sand. This greatly annoys the London populace, who feel our gallant youths should have no difficulties in eradicating those Easterners; how easily the mob forgets the lengths men will go to defend their homelands.
Regardless, Caroline, we escape, as Maesfield did, down to the sea. Our trip results from several factors, all relating to the infernal war. Most importantly, our Sydney continues to remain aloof. Indeed, his correspondence rarely comes. Our other acquaintances receive letters from their sons almost weekly; yet, Sydney rarely deigns to write at all. Furthermore, when he does write, the words are vague, the sentiments seemingly false, and the tone condescending. Truthfully, I enjoy reading his shallow letters so little that I would rather he not waste the post's time in sending them. Amid the Western Front, as the static line in France is now called, our son fights for his life. He could easily be killed; thousands of deadly fates wait for our soldiers amid the trenches. However, the boy cannot even be troubled to provide decent communication with his parents. This, along with continual shortages, air-raids, and the news of the struggle at Gallipoli have driven us to travel on vacation. Perhaps a few weeks along the seaside, protected under the walls of our summer home, will do your troubled nerves some good, my Love. <
Yet, even as I recall "Sea-Fever," another snatch of lines drive themselves into recollection. These, however, are more recent; I read them from a tattered piece of paper, posted illicitly along a London alleyway. It seems even poetry can occasionally trickle through official censors from thousands of miles away.
The lines have originally been scribbled by a Gallipoli soldier, and I fear they will haunt me as I stare into the pale, lifeless North Sea:
"O Grecian stars, how oft
At home in the grey sea,
I longed to know the lands ye guard!
Now death, propitious, speeds
My soul on those dark tides
Whose foam ye lit when Helen fled."
December the 30th, 1915
The sea gently laps in, laps out. The rocks are smoothed over, and gulls gracefully glide towards their resting spot. Out on the waves, a small dingy floats along, oblivious to blockades, unaware of dreadnaughts, ignorant of U-boats, unconscious of water-mines. Perhaps peace is momentary. Perhaps peace is only an escape from the tempests of life's storms. For the occupants of that distant dingy, peace is in the waves and winds, the freedom to sail without fear. For you, Caroline, peace remains allusive.
We've resided among the happy people of Jaywick for weeks now, without the slightest change to your disposition. Nothing seems to cheer you, and that sight saddens me as well.
All are to blame. I sit by your side, our hands interlocked. Words of love, reassuring poetry, sighs of sorrow for you all escape my lips. Your eyes remain transfixed on some distant, imaginary point out at sea; I cannot break you from this reverie, and the notion is frightening to me. Sydney is always in your thoughts. Regardless of his distance, physically and emotionally, he is loved. I see this clearly in your eyes; the feeling resonates within my heart as well. Yet, for the moment, this affection remains unrequited.
That denial pains you like a wound. When God sentenced Eve, the mother to us all, to painful childbirth, perhaps the pain suggested was love - the deep, cerebral pain of loving another to the point of agony. In your haunted eyes, Caroline, I see the horrors of war. Not only do you imagine what terrors befall Sydney, but your disposition itself is a casualty of this war. Our vacation home amid the rocks of the North Sea has done little to heal, little to rebuild. I hold you, and your body warms to my touch, but your mind is still elsewhere.
We will leave here soon. The winter has settled in along the sea, and your cold soul gains nothing by exposing itself to the frigid winds of Jaywick. I suppose we are to return to London. A retreat again to the Zeppelins, the haunting, enlistment posters, the wounded veterans, the bustling, patriotic streets, the food shortages, the propaganda, the sorrow, and the rage.
This London is not the London I once loved. This city to which we shall return has been transformed, as we are transformed. I have come to see the totality of this war. Not even the home-front can remain peaceful; indeed, the term "home-front" speaks directly to it. We are upon a battlefield. Our enemy is ourselves, and the casualties are our souls.
Sydney has been gone nearly a year now. One year, five letters, later, and the war continues. I do not wish harm upon my own son, but perhaps he will be wounded enough to come home for good. Perhaps he will live. Indeed, I long for him to avoid the label of a statistic; I pray he is not a number, a solitary box in a row of death. God willing, our son will be home in this new year. God willing, he will not be "home" as an apologetic telegram from the War Office.
For now, we return to London, seeking serenity as always.
August the 15th, 1916
My darling Caroline,
As always, rain sheets against our London windows, even as summer draws to a close. Lightening clothes the glass, and it seems the martial turmoil of Europe has transcended the earth into the skies. This storm is just another tempest of conflict, like the great war playing out upon Europe's furrowed fields. Indeed, the city has been bathed in rain for days now, but I would rather dwell upon the weather than other, more painful, news at the moment.
For, it appears that tyranny follows swiftly upon idiocy.
Having stopped into the Little Corporal for a bite last evening, I, like normal, was happy to find old comrades among the pub's seats. Shaking hands all around, we quietly began to share stories and relive our younger days. Yet, these tales did not last long before the conversation shifted to the war. Indeed, it is truly a rare occurrence when I can engage in talking without that blasted topic rearing its foul head!
Having been away in Jaywick, our family had apparently missed a pivotal act of legislation months previous- conscription. Now, men who have kept their wits about themselves and remained aloof from this pointless bloodbath are no longer safe. Having massacred their hundreds of thousands of volunteers, Government now sees it fitting to impose compulsory service, rank conscription, upon any man of fighting age.
Although I knew of this, my friends shared some distressing news. Previously, bachelors were only eligible for conscription; now, however, married men could be torn from their families as well. Most of my comrades shared my distain for such measures. Furthermore, two of them had received notice that their relatives were to be forced into active service. One man's son and another's nephew would soon be amid the mud and grime of the trenches. My heart, further burdened with this grave news, pounded in my chest as I wandered back along the misting streets. What if John found himself in this horrid situation? How would our family cope with two sons in the war?
These particular thoughts plagued me as I rushed home. We had neither seen nor heard from John or Helen in almost a week. A grim notion entered my mind as I deftly and briskly walked through the crowds. Such a notion was as unshakable as it was horrifying: perhaps John had been unwillingly conscripted.
I found my answer. It was followed by my rage, a burning anger full of sorrow.
Entering the house, I heard weeping. Sweeping through the rooms, I came to the salon. My dearest, you held Helen as her frame heaved, tears racing down her flushed faced. John stood resolute and distant; he stared absentmindedly out of a window, smoking.
"Well then?" I cried, knowing fully what the answer would be.
John couldn't speak. He simply indicated a crumpled paper sitting amidst other clutter on the room's coffee-table. Opening it, I glanced, embittered, through several rousing political statements. They called the new conscript to rejoice in his chance to serve his King and country. Furthermore, he was to report for training in one month's time. Any attempt to allude his country's call would be swiftly dealt with, and the notice indicated severe punishments would be leveled.
"We can fight this." I said simply. Since Helen had stifled her tears, my words fell slowly into the grave silence of the room. I continued. "I am quite sure that others will fight this! Truly, Government cannot overreach too far This conscription spits upon our democracy and snatches the people's liberty from their very grasp; it cannot be tolerated long."
John turned to me then, and I saw the full extent of human suffering, the full measure of horror depicted in his once-kind eyes. The lifeless orbs that looked into my face were devoid of hope. He started to speak, paused, and then forced himself to continue.
"There's is nothing. Nothing. Nothing to do! I am for the trenches; I will likely kill, and it is likely that I will be killed. God save the King indeed." While his voice was quiet, the tone dripped with wrath and bile. Furthermore, considering John's resolute character, the outburst was unexpected, and having said his piece, he left, exiting the salon, grief embodied. My love, we locked eyes, and even then, our grieving began.
June the 6th, 1917,
It is the worst of times. It is the worst of times. Not even Dickens could be optim
While John has been gone for months, a blessed curse will, thank God, be returned to the shores of England, the streets of London, and finally, to our house this month. As terrible as it sounds, I am thankful that Sydney is wounded. While the nature of the boy's wound is vague, he is coming home soon! The War Office has been far less than communicative in his disposition, but we know that he is returning; the foolish lad I love, our own Biblical prodigal son, is finally coming home. I only pray that his condition is not life-altering. Hopefully, his limbs and spirit will be intact. But, for now, we cannot know but must only wait for the day when he arrives. As much as he and I feuded about the war, I long for that homecoming day.
Regarding John, we do not glean much news from him; his movements and any telling details, of course, are stricken from his letters. Yet, it is nice to receive some correspondence from him. While his harrowing mood and fatalistic outburst in the salon was unexpected, there was nothing to be done. The War Office is granting many reprieves to conscripted men, including reprieves for conscientious objectors. Yet, John's reprieve was, surprisingly, not granted. Thus, he was sent to the Western Front last February, amidst another winter month of carnage and cold. Yet, we have already received far more letters from him in his relatively short absence than from Sydney's entire overseas stint. Indeed, Caroline, you will have read this already, but I feel I must enclose a portion of his latest letter. It struck me as tragically comical:
I suppose I cannot complain. Because I hate seeing the censors scratch their hateful black ink through my lines, I cannot tell you where I am. Or what I'm doing. Or how we do it. Or anything of real importance, really. Do not worry, I am alright.
Your loving son,
I can almost see him rolling his eyes in frustration. Previous letters contained some minor details about his movements and life, but they were snubbed out. We mentioned this in our return correspondence, and since, dear John has kept to generalities and niceties. While it is nice to see his handwriting and even gauge his spirits, these paltry letters are not much. I miss the days of freedom, when war did not affect everything within our lives. Given the scope of current destruction to our men and land, such a time may never return.
Helen fears for John even worse than we do. She now lives with us, their home abandoned with John's departure. She simply could not stand to reside alone, and we welcome them joyfully. And you, Caroline: I love to see you playing with your granddaughter Elizabeth. Caroline, such levity brings joy to my heart. Perhaps the child's father will return to us unscathed. Time will tell, but the odds are grim. Constantly, we see mourning.
Streets are filled with dread as neighbors die. Wails pierce the night. Tears drip in the marketplace. Sadness is enveloping our beloved England, and as the sun sets each night, the drawing-down of mourning blinds sweeps across the land as more fall to this senseless waste.
Sometimes, I cannot stand it. Truly, either the world will break or God himself will end the madness. No other option seems forthcoming. For now, though, we wait for Sydney. We pray for John. And we long for peace.
July the 26th, 1917
A son is returned. A husk of a boy is with us again. For, indeed, Sydney is wounded; Sydney is hurt; Sydney is no longer Sydney.
He arrived, escorted by two men. One was in uniform. The other possessed a medical coat. Neither smiled as they thrust our wounded boy upon us. Then, following an incredibly brief, cold, uncaring, and unsatisfactory description of his condition, the two men left, leaving our family with Sydney.
Caroline, ever the mother, you searched the boy for any sign of physical injuries. Yet, what the doctor had related was altogether true. Sydney possesses all of his limbs; his body is not wounded. However, his mind is shattered.
He has become one of the animals of which we heard rumors; the boy is shell-shocked.
Sydney, having been delivered to our house, barely greeted us before he retreated into the darkness of his old room. Caroline, you followed him, desperately seeking his love and hoping to help. Having seen men such as him among the battle-plains of Africa, I knew little hope endured for normality any longer.
We can hear his screams in the night. During conversations, he suddenly becomes frantic and tries to flee. Gone is all of the bravado of old; gone is all joy; gone is life.
Rarely, he speaks. Even then, the war is a topic he will not broach. Once, however, he did open up to us in a rare moment of lucid thought. During dinner, the boy suddenly dropped his fork and glanced at Helen. She, not noticing, kept eating for several seconds. Then, noticing the pointed silence hovering around the room, our daughter-in-law glanced up. Their eyes locked, and she smiled reassuringly. Strangely, this seemed to have an effect on Sydney, and he proceeded to mumble the following, his eyes now returned to his food: "I'm not mad, you know."
Before I could protest at the term, he continued. "I am not insane; I simply see nightmares as reality." Glancing up, his horrified eyes transfixed on a distant, unknown point. "Right in the middle of our conversations, the poor, haunted face of some enemy I have stabbed races into view. Or, I hear the screams of our own boys dying. And the horrid smells! ...I can hardly bear to see meat on the table anymore." Looking at his plate, I noticed that he had not even bothered to touch the beef Wellington. What horrors had our son seen to drive him to this?
Other moments are more frightening. Once, Helen accidently dropped a pan while washing it after dinner. A blur of motion whipped through the room as Sydney leapt to the floor, covering himself under the table. Instantly, he started screaming as well; the sound of the pan had frightened him so much that he reverted to an animalistic state. Caroline, you tried to comfort him, climbing down under the table with him. Yet, he snapped at you - not with words, though. No, our once-whole son used his teeth, defending himself against your loving touch like a beast at bay. I nearly wept to see him there. Finally, he calmed down, and we coaxed him out, the crisis averted, momentarily at least.
What did our family do to warrant such suffering? I cannot fathom the answer to that question. I must only trust that no more tragedy will befall us.
Desperately seeking serenity,
January the 12th, 1918
When hope dies, does life truly endure? Does the end of all happiness signal the end of true living? These questions present themselves over and over again. A little more than a year ago, our sensible son was snatched from us to serve in a tyrannical army. Months after his solemn departure, our boisterous, once-proud Sydney returned home, a mere shell of his former existence.
Now, screams of memories issue from the mouths of our young veteran, cries of mourning escape your lips, Caroline, and the whisper of silence that once was John is ever-present.
For John is dead.
Our dear boy, the conscientious objector whose bravery was in defying the martial world around him, has now gained his true and just reward. He fell into a world of pain and agony, and his death sparked only the merest hint of concern from the government who tore him away from his family, lover, and pacifism. Indeed, a trivial letter of condolence arrived from the War Office a few days ago. I simply discarded the note and told you the news as gently as I could, Caroline. The life drained from your face and, truly, I have never seen such agony. Even among the dying soldiers in Africa, pain was never more visible than upon your face. Truly, I long to never see such a haunting visage again.
Soon, however, another letter arrived. In place of an official, uncaring, governmental tone, the writer of this correspondence seemed to actually care for our loss. It was a chaplain - a man of God amidst the hell of war. He wrote kindly, saying:
Dear Mr. William Tash and Family,
I am very sorry to have to tell you of your son's death. Several days ago, he
Yours very truly,
Church of England Chaplain
The note has been read and reread dozens of time; it is now the only connection we possess to our boy's last days on this earth. As much as you and I grieve, Caroline, there is nothing that can console Helen. She walks through the house aimlessly now. Her voice is constantly parched, and her tone belies any life remaining in her soul. Elizabeth, their daughter, is too young to understand, but she clutches pitifully at her mother's skirts all the same.
Sydney, shell-shocked though he may be, understands perfectly well. Although he refuses to ever converse about the war, our soldier knows how the dead die. He understands what it means to fall amid the mud of the Western Front. Therefore, tears glisten in his eyes as well.
For myself, my loss simply underscores the need for this barbarity to end. How many countless fathers weep for their sons? How cruel this situation is. In peace, sons are forced to bury their fathers. Yet, to add one more cruel notion to the absurdities of conflict, fathers must grieve for their sons during war. Maybe, England and the world will learn this terrible truth soon enough. Four years of war, millions of lives, and countless tears have separated us from another world.
May God bring that world, that existence of peace, once more.
November the 13th, 1918
One word echoes through grieving hearts, resounds upon all lips, and drips like mourning tears across England: peace. Indeed, the world has finally seen sense. Years of blood, carnage, and insanity have finally passed. Passing through the fire of this Great War, my family greeted the news of peace with solemnity, celebration muted through our losses.
For this war has taken one son, destroyed another, robbed the tranquility of a daughter-in-law, and ended all hope of normality for our country.
How can we cope? How will the world enter this new peace? Truly, can it escape the horror of war on such a magnitude? The answers to this painful series of questions remains unknown. Personally, I long to forget. I desire to overlook every wrathful thought, every mournful sigh of the last four years. I will never clutch my John, my Sydney, amid the sunlight of a peaceful day again. Glancing back on what this diary is for, my soul cannot but gasp.
A quarter of a century ago, I promised myself, and you Caroline, that this secret journal would be a marvelous present. These pages would display a joyous story of our lives and relate a happy tale of the growth of our sons. Now, four simple years have ended all joy. Truly, I do not believe I can present you with this work. Years ago, I spoke of your smile as you leafed through the pages of our lives. Now, those pages are lacerations - deadly wounds that can never heal.
No. While the lucky celebrate their unscathed escape from the war, our family mourns. I will not offer this diary to you; no such gift would be welcome. To make you relive these horrors, Caroline, is something I cannot bring myself to do.
Perhaps I will burn these pages. Perhaps I will lock them away. Regardless, no other shall read them while I live. This terrible chronicle of a terrible war shall be forgotten. But, for my sake, I must direct one final accusation towards a world I once loved: when the faces of the dead are long buried, what will you do? Will you solemnly offer a prayer, or will you remember? Will you remember and never move on? Swear by the dead of this war that you'll never forget.
Although I long for my grieving to be lost, may the world never forget the needless sacrifices of this war. May we never fail to cherish the memories and affection of a brother, a son, a lover. One day, may this world rest, finally and fitfully, in peace.
A Soldier, A Father, A Griever.
by Michael Seeley / Sequential Art / Comics / Graphic Novels have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on37 votes