Battle of Gazala; my Story


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2. The First Memories

 

 

I shivered, as I reached the beginning, I could see the memories like it was being played before my very eyes, back even before my birth, back to my father’s prime. My father had been a war veteran, a great one at that. He had fought through the First World War gravely and strongly, a feat only a strong willed man could achieve. At least that was what my mother had told me, having not the chance to even start to understand my father due to his untimely death. My mother had always said that my father was a good man, one of the best; he fought through a whole war to just be reunited with his love, my mother. I envisioned the scene, the world around appeared like it was hell on earth, the grass no longer showing due to the caked mud, torrential rain, and bombs and shells attacking it through the day and night. The clouds were hating, they seemed to always be closing in, suffocating, both natural and the poisonous that travelled along in hazy clumps. The ‘grey suffocation’ it was called, it suited the monstrosity perfectly. It would come with no warning, there would be no warning, no announcement, there was barely any time to put on your gas masks. Even if you did have one on, the sight of the shadows of spasming people in the gas was enough to scar you bad enough.

 

       I was named after him, my father that is, just like he was after his father, ‘Charles’, a name I neither loved nor hated, but to me it had always seemed a bit too posh. I would always imagine a main in tails and a top hat, sipping a cup of tea or a rich glass of port, completely unlike me. My father had been badly injured and disabled by the war; he had to have a whole leg amputated after getting it caught on the barbed wire being on the first line in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. He had been stuck in the wire for almost a day, not being seen alive due to the unforgiving mud that encased him in his trap. The rain poured down, his helmet useless against the torrential and remorseless coldness. He couldn’t move, or else the wire would cut deeper. No one came to help, no one assisted him, it was everyman for himself out there, he was a lost cause to them. He heard a charging noise, and looked up to see a platoon of men running towards him, heavily armed for battle. They were wearing gray-green, the colours of the opposition.

 

       He crouched, as small as he could, not moving, trying to camouflage himself, conceal himself, looking dead. The group successfully passed him with minimal kicking. He heard shouting and heard bodies fall, he saw a man fall down in front of him, only a few metres away, and he saw his chance. He saw attached to the man’s belt was a pair of wire cutters, they looked pretty blunt, but he was sure he could reach them if he stretched. He gasped in pain as he felt the wire tear down his leg, almost shouting out but not wanting to alert the opposition he kept it in. He struggled to move in the thick mud that was keeping him captive. He grabbed a hold of the man’s boot, trying to grip onto the trousers. He took a deep breath in and pulled, hard. He pulled himself slightly out of the depths, exposing some of the wire as well as dragging the body closer to him. He slowly managed to pull the man closer, and closer towards him, before finally, after what seemed like hours of trying, he had reached the man’s waist. He unhooked the clippers, and looked at the man lying dishevelled in front of him; he was pale, even after the splattering of mud. His eyes were blank and had lost all its energy and light. He struggled for a bit, before lowering the man’s eyelids, so he looked asleep.

 

       He quickly pushed the man away from him, and turned to his leg which was slowly turning the mud around him red. He made quick work of the clipping, even if his hands were getting ripped and bloodied. He soon had removed enough wire to slightly move his leg. He grabbed a hold of the random branches around him, and pulled him up, with much trouble. He couldn’t help and whimper as his leg started to free itself. As soon as his leg was no longer being held prisoner, he pulled himself through the mud as far away from his trap as he could manage. He felt tears run down his check, clearing a path through the mud, tears of joy, sadness, pain and relief. He lay there for a while, losing blood all the same, not daring to move an inch. Once his energy and confidence had grown, he stretched out his arm, digging his fingers into the mud in front of him. He dragged himself forwards, his stomach sliding along the slippery surface. He took another deep breath and stretched out his other arm, again grabbing the mud, and pulled himself forwards again, his clothing being ripped by the sharp stones underneath him. Who said army crawling wasn’t helpful? He slowly made his way to the area which he had come from, back to the trenches where his side had covered. As he heard shouting, he knew he was getting close. People were crying out, screaming even. His arms trembled as he got closer, the trenches were in sight. ‘Charles? Charles? Is that you?’ he heard a man call out, he couldn’t reply, not physically nor mentally, the last he remembered was falling over the side of the trenches, into the arms of men that had surrounded him, then he saw the world get black. He had been lucky to escape, let alone survive. He was one of the lucky ones. Not like the 3000 allies that fell in front of his very eyes.

 

        Watching the deaths of your platoon, your group, your friends, does something to a man. Breaks him down. Rips his soul apart. He hears it everywhere, screams, shouts, the very noise of a stick along a fence would send the man into a frenzy, thinking he was hearing the machine gun fire all over again, that he was back in hell. They just wanted to be swallowed whole by death, so they could be taken to their final place of peace, the place where they would finally be able to rest. This is was my father experienced every day, when he locked himself into his room, putting himself in solitary confinement, cutting himself off to the world. Mother didn’t want to go to the doctors, she said that they would have just locked him away, like they had done with all the other veterans that had gone through the same, there wasn’t much pity for the shell shocked men that had saved their lives.

 

       I was born in 1921, 2 years into my father’s isolation. I never knew him. I don’t remember him. I can barely picture his face any more. All I have is my mother’s old stories and memories, which she would refuse to let go of, even though they killed her inside and pained her with the very thought. He died before my very first birthday. I had lost my father before I even knew who he was. The doctors tried all they could, but they couldn’t save a man that was already dead. He had died long ago, with the war he fought so hard in, the war that had killed him. My mother said he couldn’t hold on for any longer, he couldn’t take any more, every time he closed his eyes he could picture the screams, the falling of bodies, the helplessness of the men who could do nothing but lie and wait for their deaths. He hadn’t been the same since; it wasn’t possible to forget something that had scarred so bad. I took peace in knowing he was now in a happier place now, a place free of the hellish ways of the earth, a place where he could be at peace, a place without worries, and the only memories was those that kept him going through the hardest times.

 

       It’s hard to imagine how a death can change someone, whether it is 1, or 1000. For my mother, a single death changed her world. Yes, my father wasn’t the same when he died anyway, but he was still there. It was still him, somewhere inside of him anyway. But the death of someone so close can rattle your life. Change your view of the world, like a bright day turning to a stormy one, life can change as easily as the weather. My mother broke down, a little like my father had done. I was so young, that my mother couldn’t properly take care of me; a single widow looking after a young child was difficult in those times. We moved in with her own mother, a bitter woman who had always been horrible to my mother. She thought it was disgraceful that my mother couldn’t even take care of her own child, but she didn’t understand my mother, what she was going through, what was happening to her, what was eating her up from the inside out. My mother started to isolate herself, like my father before. She blamed herself for my father’s death, though I don’t know how, she was the one who allowed him to continue for as long as he did. It was a crowded and unhappy household, but we didn’t have anything else, so what could we really do. It was only when I was 11 when my mother had fully recovered. I was surprised she lasted 11 years when my father had only lasted 1, but grandma wouldn’t let her give up, I actually have suspicions that if it wasn’t for that woman’s continuous mumbling and complaints, my mother wouldn’t have actually survived, it’s funny how the world works, isn’t it?

 

       So, at the age of 11, my mother just packed our bags and left, taking me with her. She didn’t listen to grandmas protests; she just got up and left. Her and me both. By this time it was 1932, and life had became pretty difficult, England and Britain had lost a lot of power after the first world war, through the crippled financial problems the country was facing to the weakness of the traumatised people that lacked willpower and strength, especially with dealing with their overseas empires. Britain looked pretty weak, and so in turn the economy had taken a huge dip. Even then, years after the war, food was still fairly scarce and there was a lot of debt hanging over everyone’s head. 

 

       I shivered, as I reached the beginning, I could see the memories like it was being played before my very eyes, back even before my birth, back to my father’s prime. My father had been a war veteran, a great one at that. He had fought through the First World War gravely and strongly, a feat only a strong willed man could achieve. At least that was what my mother had told me, having not the chance to even start to understand my father due to his untimely death. My mother had always said that my father was a good man, one of the best; he fought through a whole war to just be reunited with his love, my mother. I envisioned the scene, the world around appeared like it was hell on earth, the grass no longer showing due to the caked mud, torrential rain, and bombs and shells attacking it through the day and night. The clouds were hating, they seemed to always be closing in, suffocating, both natural and the poisonous that travelled along in hazy clumps. The ‘grey suffocation’ it was called, it suited the monstrosity perfectly. It would come with no warning, there would be no warning, no announcement, there was barely any time to put on your gas masks. Even if you did have one on, the sight of the shadows of spasming people in the gas was enough to scar you bad enough.

 

      I was named after him, my father that is, just like he was after his father, ‘Charles’, a name I neither loved nor hated, but to me it had always seemed a bit too posh. I would always imagine a main in tails and a top hat, sipping a cup of tea or a rich glass of port, completely unlike me. My father had been badly injured and disabled by the war; he had to have a whole leg amputated after getting it caught on the barbed wire being on the first line in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. He had been stuck in the wire for almost a day, not being seen alive due to the unforgiving mud that encased him in his trap. The rain poured down, his helmet useless against the torrential and remorseless coldness. He couldn’t move, or else the wire would cut deeper. No one came to help, no one assisted him, it was everyman for himself out there, he was a lost cause to them. He heard a charging noise, and looked up to see a platoon of men running towards him, heavily armed for battle. They were wearing gray-green, the colours of the opposition.

 

       He crouched, as small as he could, not moving, trying to camouflage himself, conceal himself, looking dead. The group successfully passed him with minimal kicking. He heard shouting and heard bodies fall, he saw a man fall down in front of him, only a few metres away, and he saw his chance. He saw attached to the man’s belt was a pair of wire cutters, they looked pretty blunt, but he was sure he could reach them if he stretched. He gasped in pain as he felt the wire tear down his leg, almost shouting out but not wanting to alert the opposition he kept it in. He struggled to move in the thick mud that was keeping him captive. He grabbed a hold of the man’s boot, trying to grip onto the trousers. He took a deep breath in and pulled, hard. He pulled himself slightly out of the depths, exposing some of the wire as well as dragging the body closer to him. He slowly managed to pull the man closer, and closer towards him, before finally, after what seemed like hours of trying, he had reached the man’s waist. He unhooked the clippers, and looked at the man lying dishevelled in front of him; he was pale, even after the splattering of mud. His eyes were blank and had lost all its energy and light. He struggled for a bit, before lowering the man’s eyelids, so he looked asleep.

 

       He quickly pushed the man away from him, and turned to his leg which was slowly turning the mud around him red. He made quick work of the clipping, even if his hands were getting ripped and bloodied. He soon had removed enough wire to slightly move his leg. He grabbed a hold of the random branches around him, and pulled him up, with much trouble. He couldn’t help and whimper as his leg started to free itself. As soon as his leg was no longer being held prisoner, he pulled himself through the mud as far away from his trap as he could manage. He felt tears run down his check, clearing a path through the mud, tears of joy, sadness, pain and relief. He lay there for a while, losing blood all the same, not daring to move an inch. Once his energy and confidence had grown, he stretched out his arm, digging his fingers into the mud in front of him. He dragged himself forwards, his stomach sliding along the slippery surface. He took another deep breath and stretched out his other arm, again grabbing the mud, and pulled himself forwards again, his clothing being ripped by the sharp stones underneath him. Who said army crawling wasn’t helpful? He slowly made his way to the area which he had come from, back to the trenches where his side had covered. As he heard shouting, he knew he was getting close. People were crying out, screaming even. His arms trembled as he got closer, the trenches were in sight. ‘Charles? Charles? Is that you?’ he heard a man call out, he couldn’t reply, not physically nor mentally, the last he remembered was falling over the side of the trenches, into the arms of men that had surrounded him, then he saw the world get black. He had been lucky to escape, let alone survive. He was one of the lucky ones. Not like the 3000 allies that fell in front of his very eyes.

 

       Watching the deaths of your platoon, your group, your friends, does something to a man. Breaks him down. Rips his soul apart. He hears it everywhere, screams, shouts, the very noise of a stick along a fence would send the man into a frenzy, thinking he was hearing the machine gun fire all over again, that he was back in hell. They just wanted to be swallowed whole by death, so they could be taken to their final place of peace, the place where they would finally be able to rest. This is was my father experienced every day, when he locked himself into his room, putting himself in solitary confinement, cutting himself off to the world. Mother didn’t want to go to the doctors, she said that they would have just locked him away, like they had done with all the other veterans that had gone through the same, there wasn’t much pity for the shell shocked men that had saved their lives.

 

       I was born in 1921, 2 years into my father’s isolation. I never knew him. I don’t remember him. I can barely picture his face any more. All I have is my mother’s old stories and memories, which she would refuse to let go of, even though they killed her inside and pained her with the very thought. He died before my very first birthday. I had lost my father before I even knew who he was. The doctors tried all they could, but they couldn’t save a man that was already dead. He had died long ago, with the war he fought so hard in, the war that had killed him. My mother said he couldn’t hold on for any longer, he couldn’t take any more, every time he closed his eyes he could picture the screams, the falling of bodies, the helplessness of the men who could do nothing but lie and wait for their deaths. He hadn’t been the same since; it wasn’t possible to forget something that had scarred so bad. I took peace in knowing he was now in a happier place now, a place free of the hellish ways of the earth, a place where he could be at peace, a place without worries, and the only memories was those that kept him going through the hardest times.

 

       It’s hard to imagine how a death can change someone, whether it is 1, or 1000. For my mother, a single death changed her world. Yes, my father wasn’t the same when he died anyway, but he was still there. It was still him, somewhere inside of him anyway. But the death of someone so close can rattle your life. Change your view of the world, like a bright day turning to a stormy one, life can change as easily as the weather. My mother broke down, a little like my father had done. I was so young, that my mother couldn’t properly take care of me; a single widow looking after a young child was difficult in those times. We moved in with her own mother, a bitter woman who had always been horrible to my mother. She thought it was disgraceful that my mother couldn’t even take care of her own child, but she didn’t understand my mother, what she was going through, what was happening to her, what was eating her up from the inside out. My mother started to isolate herself, like my father before. She blamed herself for my father’s death, though I don’t know how, she was the one who allowed him to continue for as long as he did. It was a crowded and unhappy household, but we didn’t have anything else, so what could we really do. It was only when I was 11 when my mother had fully recovered. I was surprised she lasted 11 years when my father had only lasted 1, but grandma wouldn’t let her give up, I actually have suspicions that if it wasn’t for that woman’s continuous mumbling and complaints, my mother wouldn’t have actually survived, it’s funny how the world works, isn’t it?

 

       So, at the age of 11, my mother just packed our bags and left, taking me with her. She didn’t listen to grandmas protests; she just got up and left. Her and me both. By this time it was 1932, and life had became pretty difficult, England and Britain had lost a lot of power after the first world war, through the crippled financial problems the country was facing to the weakness of the traumatised people that lacked willpower and strength, especially with dealing with their overseas empires. Britain looked pretty weak, and so in turn the economy had taken a huge dip. Even then, years after the war, food was still fairly scarce and there was a lot of debt hanging over everyone’s head. 

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