I Can Hear the Guns

By 5th November 2011December 9th, 2019No Comments
(Flanders: Western Front WW1)
I can hear the Guns, Sarge. Can you feel the thump and hear the crump?
I can, son. I can.
I’m scared, Sarge. I covered my ears to block out the sound and dropped my rifle to the ground.
You must pick up your rifle, son; see the barrage through. Stand fast, that’s the thing to do.
I’m shaking badly, Sarge. All I want to do is run. My heart is in my ears, beating like a drum.
I know, son. Chin up, the first time under fire is the worst, waiting for a shell to burst.
I’ve lost all my pals, Sarge; everyone in my platoon. I can’t help thinking it’s my turn very soon.
Steady, son. A few minutes more and the gunfire will stop, the whistles blow and then we go over the top.
Better to die up there, Sarge, among brave men, than in this trench amid the rotting corpses and the stench.
‘Appen so, son. ‘Appen so, but up there the Maxim machine guns are being fed, who’s to say who’ll next be dead.

What happened, Sarge? There’s a burning pain in my side, it feels like fire-brands. There’s neither feeling in my legs or feet nor feeling in my hands.
We’ve been hit, son; shrapnel from an incendiary shell that’s targeted our bit of hell.
Sarge? Sarge? I’m lying on damp ground. It’s dark, so dark and there is no sound.
Hush, now. We’re no more than memories, son. For us eternity has just begun.
Sarge, my life has ended far too soon, but at least I’ll rejoin my old platoon. I couldn’t bear to be alone; do you think they’ll send our bodies home?
Don’t worry, son. They’ll gather us up, bit by bit and someday, somewhere, someone will record the day we died and perhaps we’ll be buried side by side.

Sarge, I’ve drifted for what seems an age through time and space and find I’m in a familiar place. I’ve been here once before, I recognize the flagstone floor. Yet I’m surrounded by English oak and lie on Ypres earth; it’s my grave, but in Westminster’s Nave.
You carry the Nation’s pride and you can be assured your duty’s done.
None will ever know your name, save me. . . . My son . . . my son.

John Johnson

Author John Johnson

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