Diary of a Soldier

This is a series of diary entries I wrote following a soldier in World War 2 called Gerard Barker.


1. Diary entries

Welcome to the diary of Gerard Barker.
When you read this, don’t read it as just words, read it as my emotions, my pain and my thoughts. This is not a story; it is a raw extract from my mind.

Date: June 11th, 1945
Dear diary,
After a tiresome journey through the early hours of the morning, land is now in sight. The sea is rough and the waves are like grey monsters, rising and dropping in a ferocious instant. France is concealed in a thin grey mist but the nearer we get the more details emerge through the haze. I didn’t sleep a wink last night and neither did many of the other lads on the ship. The constant motion of the waves churns even the strongest of stomachs- I don’t think that there is a soul on this vessel who hasn’t vomited.
At the moment I stand on the bow of this gigantic iron ship, the cold air on my face feels refreshing and beats the tired nauseous feeling out of my system. I’ve been stood here for quite a long time now. Just writing and taking in the sea air. The sound of gun shots bounce back and forth in the air from the distant coast but I don’t feel scared because it doesn’t feel real; it feels like a dream. I’ve been training for this moment for so long now and the only thing I’m scared of is if I forget what I’m told, if I forget to shoot. My gun feels heavy in my belt, I feel like a criminal in my own job. It’s not long now.
The reality of the situation is sinking in and I fear that this may be the last diary entry that I ever write. Everyone on board is stood on the bow now, assessing the horror which we approach. We are so close now that I can hear screams; the kind of screams which can’t be faked, the kind of screams which signify death and Satan himself. Also, I can smell the smoky air which is being wafted from the shore- it’s coming from the fires which penetrate the coastline. It’s a strange sight, fires on the sand; it looks ugly and unnatural.
Planes hover above us, in spear formations. I can see their black silhouettes under the orange sky, glowing with fire and shaded with smoke. They creep in the air, insidious and ready to drop bombs. I try to ignore them though; danger is coming at me from all angles. Ships glide past us like metal giants; they pollute the ocean and blacken the horizon. Some of them have cannons leering out of them; occasionally they shoot with a nodding motion. Every ship is anonymous, silent and has a number instead of a name. Their passengers are masked by the iron, dehumanised by the numbers and forgotten in the fleet.  I wonder if people look over at us and only see the ship, lost at sea.
Tommy is stood next to me, a friend I’ve known for so long but I hardly recognise him. His face is pained in fear, his face hollowed and his shoulders are hunched over which makes him look so small. His forehead is covered with a sheen of perspiration which even the harsh wind can’t blow away. War has stripped away the strength from his soul. Not one us look like killers, the guns we hold look harmless at our hands.
I’ve just seen a man throw hurtle the anchor off the side of my ship, it’s suddenly become real. Oh God, it’s time. Let’s hope that my prayers are answered and this damn war ends soon. My hand is almost frozen on this pen. They are already shooting at our vessel. People are dying in front of me. They’re dropping down like flies. I must go.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Date: June 12th
Dear diary,
Waking up was painful. I have just had the most impossible sleep; it’s so loud in here. I can hear the most disturbing sounds, screams slash the air whilst cries ring in the background and silence is but a foreign concept. Rows and rows of beds sandwich me in. Every one of them is occupied with a body; it’s hard to tell whether some of them are still alive. I don’t recognise anyone and I’m scared. I just want to go back to England; I’d do anything to be back at home. My mind is fuzzy and my thoughts clouded, I need fresh air and space but I’m confined to this bed which I fear will become my coffin. Why won’t they let me out? They want to inject me again, I don’t want drugs. I just want them to leave me alone.
I apologise for my last entry, it lacks immediate sense. After a short sleep, my thoughts are clear and the drugs they inject me with wear off as surely as the clock ticks above my bed. Instead, a wave of pain reaches my every cell. I’m in agony. My body is covered with yellowed bruises and I feel as if every bone in my body is broken. It hurts even to write these words. My arm feels raw and burns like acid. I feel as if someone is gauging the flesh out of the wound constantly, it’s the most excruciating pain. I wish they’d just give me some more painkillers.
Currently, I lie in an uncomfortable bed which is one of many in this canvas ward and I assume I’m still in France as the Doctors all have a strong French accent. Every bed in the hospital is occupied and they say that the conditions were rough that we fought in, the worst they’ve seen for a long time. The good news is that I’m not in a critical state and I do not need my arm amputated (thank God!). On the bad note, I have to go back to fight after the doctors discharge me. This news has really got me down. I feel as if a cold hand is grasping my frail heart, if I go back there the hand will tighten- I’ll die for sure. I’d rather stay in this dire place any day. However, I must carry on. Hopefully this war will subside soon, they say only a few months now but they’ve been saying that since the start. I still hang on to that thought though as I have no other means of hope.
I realise that they is gap of time missing from this diary, a vital one too. What caused me so much pain? Why am I here? The memory is fresh in my mind and the noise in here is as quiet as it’ll ever be so I will follow on from yesterday’s entry, arriving on land.
When our commander signalled, we poured out of the ship. The only instructions we were given were to run North to the base and shoot to kill. We had to run through the shallow sea to get onto shore; my feet felt as if they were iron pounding through the salty water. It splashed up onto my face, on my lips, in my eyes. My eyes stung and streamed but I couldn’t bear to shut them- if I shut them I would be blind and then I’d have no hope at all for survival. My only thought was to run; I didn’t even register how cold the water was. It was all just a blur. I remember shooting and shooting my gun but never seeing if it hit anyone, I forgot all that I had been told about aiming. Fire burnt either side of me, exploding and spitting as I ran past. There was an acrid smell of smoke, burning flesh and metal in the air. Smelling it felt like having a knife stabbed up my nostril, it was really that pungent. I must’ve fallen over a few times on the way because I remember being trodden on and having my face pressed hard onto the sand. Every time I managed to pick myself up, the words ‘just get to the base and you’ll be safe’ were ringing in my head. The sand seemed to go on forever even though everything moved so quickly. I’d made it, I was about a metre away from a tree which marked the start of the woods and relief gushed through me, I could almost touch the bark when suddenly- bang! A bullet sliced straight through my arm. The impact from the shot made me hurtle forward into the tree; this must’ve knocked me unconscious because that is the last I can remember. It all happened so quickly, one minute I was unstoppable and the next there I was, on the floor without sense or movement.
And that brings me up to the muddled entry this morning. Oh, how war scrambles the mind. Writing has rather tired me out, my eyes feel as if they are about to drop at any second. Goodbye for now.
Date: June 15th
Dear diary,
The days pass so slowly in here. What is a man to do when there is nothing to occupy his mind? There is no one to talk to. Well, except from the doctors who buzz around, never stopping at one place for more than a minute. They speak bad English and can’t hold even the smallest conversation. As for the patients next to me, they find it hard to breathe never mind talk. I suppose it’s a good sign though that I’m getting bored though because that means I’m getting better, the first couple of days all I felt like doing was sleep.
During my days confined to this bed, I have seen hundreds of people come and go. Different soldiers occupy the beds what seem like every couple of hours. I was giving up hope on ever seeing anyone from my regiment ever again but guess who suddenly appeared next to me- Tommy! At first I was happy, I even smiled but then I saw what condition he was in. The doctors didn’t even bother to try to save him; he was beyond cure. His had been shot through his neck and the bullet had hit his trachea. Every time he inhaled, he made a clucking noise like a hen. The bullet wound spurted out blood like a tap; he looked like a victim from a horror movie. It hurt me to see him like this, I still remember when we were young and we used to play silly games together on our street before this stupid war. I despise it. What good comes out of it? Is power really worth this many deaths? I can’t even begin to imagine how much pain Tommy went through, I just wish that he’d come back and everything would be alright again. Damn this war.
There is not much to say of what I did today because I did nothing and it felt glorious. It’s strange how secure I feel under this thin canvas, I feel hidden and untouchable. What I cannot see cannot harm me. I fear that they won’t keep me here for much longer though- I’m growing stronger every hour. I don’t want to leave; the thought of going back into the war terrifies me. Besides, I have grown rather fond of the quick pace everything moves at. I like seeing how the doctors work; they spread their knowledge and help like flowers spread their pollen. It must be so rewarding when they treat someone, all the pain and suffering they deal with would all be worth it for that one smile of thank you. Of course, out here it wouldn’t be so rewarding- treating someone just to send them back out to be injured again but if I ever get back to England, I’d quite like to become a doctor.
Date: June 16th
They’re discharging me today. They think I’m ready to fight again, how wrong they are! I can’t even walk. I doubt I’ll last even a minute on the battlefield; I’ll be walking into my own death. It’s like hell out there, the constant feel of guns pointing at you, the vulnerability of your own skin, the voices in your head telling you to shoot.
Of course, there is a possibility that I’ll be lucky and live but that seems almost impossible. I hope that when I do die, this diary will be found and people can start to understand what war is and always will be. It’s not a game, it’s not something that will never happen to you- you’re never far away from its raging mouth. But I hope, most of all that I will never be forgotten. In centuries to come, as long as these words are still being read my soul is still alive and I remain undefeated.
War can kill many things but can never kill memories.
Remember us. 

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