Suicide in the trenches [GCSE English Creative Writing piece]

This was a piece we had to write for GCSE last year, it was inspired by a poem of the same name and, as suggested by the name, it's depressing.

This is largely unedited, so there are places the grammar is a bit weird and there are things I would change.

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A mistle thrush sings, its song fills the air in the early morning chill. Beautiful notes stream from its open beak, a torrent of sound submerging my ears in a heavenly bliss. I look up at the bird, putting so much energy into this one small act of kindness. As dawn approaches, I feel a welcome sense of relief. The lonesome dark is pushed, shunted away by the morning light. This one bird tries so hard to make a difference, to lift our spirits in this hell, a hell that no one can leave alive.

 War.

I arrived here early yesterday morning, after a four day trek over devastated and dying land. There is no colour anymore, just mud, sludge and khaki, the entire landscape an accidental mix of brown and beige. As I arrived in the trench that would be my isolated home for the next three months, I was greeted by Private Jack Collins. He told me to expect the worst, but to try and do my best for my king and country. I could see the loss in his face, no emotion, just scars and submission, he had lost someone, a friend perhaps, he had seen the horrors of this brutality. No one ever takes that away from you.

I met Sergeant John Clay later on that day, his stern face scrutinised every inch of me as I answered his numerous questions. He didn’t seem strict, but it was obvious that it would not be advisable to cross him. After this intense interrogation he took me outside, I got my first look at no-man’s land. A desolate, hollow expanse of mindless destruction, craters so numerous that it appeared that the entire area had sunk slightly with the constant bombardment. Just one tree remained, if you could call it a tree. It was more like a claw, ripping through the earth, reaching in vain for the sunlight of the morning. Dismembered corpses littered the field, twisted limbs of dead comrades buried over time by the frantic boots of frightened friends. A little further away a tangled barbed wire fence could be seen, lifeless men draped over it, still a picture of panic and fear. An overwhelming realisation hit me, the futility of this whole war, we are all dead from the beginning, but for what? We are lambs to the slaughter, but no one wants the meat.

Now as I sit here I think about what I have achieved, what have I really done? Through the deafening noise of guns and explosions, I survived, knee-deep in mud and cowering in a small depression in the ground, I survived, terrified, but alive. I saw new friends go limp as I ran away, their once laughing eyes glazed over and empty. Yet, I ran, cowardly fear overtook my body, I ran and hid, I survived. I came close to death, stray bullets whistled past my ears, but I kept low, pressing my body to the floor, ignoring the icy cold touch of stinking bodies that were once as scared as I. Yet in the end, I survived to hear a lonely thrush sing its song. Why? Why must I suffer the lonesome dark alone, my head full of bullets, empty eyes and telegrams? Why must I remember my dear home and my family, so blissfully unaware of the horror that I am living through? Does it really matter whether I live or die? My old self, cheerful and optimistic Tom Smith, is long gone, he died 3 months ago, when I left my dear home and family. Maybe it would be better to die now, before I cause too much pain and suffering. I look up at the thrush, it has stopped singing. Maybe it’s time my song ended too…

///

Why did he do it? We found his body early that morning, I was surprised when I looked at the shattered face to see Tom Smith’s eager smile, hollow and empty. I’ve known loss before, but not so soon, sometimes after a week in this hell it gets too much, but after a single day? So unfortunate, it seems his exterior optimism was just a cloak, shielding the rest of the world from his sorrow. Maybe that’s what I’ve learnt to do, after two years of charging at enemy lines, watching my friends fall left and right as another shot ends their hopes of peace and safety. Living out here is hard, I have become a different person, the old John Clay is gone, masked by the insincere, emotionless shell that remains. Sometimes I can understand what would make someone do something like that, but never I. I have no room for sorrow; I have become detached from my humanity. I am free from fear, I have seen many dawns in this bleak and desolate world, I have seen many deaths, watched, helpless as my comrades bled dry, saw the last of their life drain away on the field. We fight so hard, so many men for so little gain. But I am free from fear; I can never be the same again.

///

Why did he do it? I heard the shot ringing out at dawn; I clambered towards the sound, through the vile, putrid cess pool that makes up our floor. I stopped when I saw it; I was frozen, paralysed with shock. Tom Smith. Dead. His head was blown apart, only his face was recognisable, there he was, lying on his back, limbs contorted, buckled under his weight as he lay, staring endlessly at the tree. He seemed content, accepting of his fate, his mouth still turned up in a hint of a smile, this last emotion will soon be gone, along with all our youthful days. He had been so unselfish, he carried me home, carried me in a rain of bullets and shells when I had no strength. Away from the threat of machine guns, we sat down on the battered helmets of the dead and talked. He told me about his house, a small cottage in the country, fields of greens, yellows and reds, like a patchwork of colour he said. A small winding path leading to his door, a brass lion knocker greeted him every afternoon as he returned from the printing press. A beautiful, ornate fireplace - always smouldering and flickering with tongues of flame. The mantelpiece held two porcelain doves, one for him, one for his wife. But, now the mantelpiece holds just one dove and one slip of paper, a telegram. In a lonely trench in a French field, he ended his hopes and dreams; I understand now why he told me, unimportant Private Jack Collins, about his home.

Hope.

///

Why did he do it? I was the last to know. I woke late that morning, I looked around and realised that no one else was here. The sun was low, piercing through the mist and dazzling me for a second as I made my way down the trench to find my colleagues. I saw his hand first, reaching, fingers outstretched, brushing the boot of some other unfortunate soul. The dirt did not mask its pale tone. I looked along his arm, rigid, motionless. Then I saw his face; pale, smiling, empty. Flecks of red tainted his creased cheeks. The earth was soaked in his blood. He lay there. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It suddenly hit me – the futility of this whole war; man after man, boy after boy, love after love, hope after hope they are destroying us. How can we keep in spirits when our deaths are certain? I haven’t been here long, a week at most, and already I have witness the brutal murder of my two brothers and the suicide of a new friend. This whole thing is messed up, this whole war is stripping us of who we are, removing every last strip of Fred Michael and replacing it with a cold, heartless killer. There is no glory in killing, no fun in seeing a foe’s legs give way. There is no reason to continue fighting, no purpose in death. I know why he did it. He was trying to keep the last shreds of himself from being lost. We are all dead from the beginning. It’s just a matter of when.

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