This morning I read a post by Sally Cronin from Smorgasbord Blog Magazine about the War Poets. Sally shared this lovely post in anticipation of Remembrance Day which is on Thursday, 11 November. You can read it here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2021/11/08/smorgasbord-blog-magazine-podcast-in-remembrance-the-war-poets-in-sawnlees-once-and-can-you-remember-edmund-blunden/
Remembrance Day was first observed in 1919 throughout the British Commonwealth. It was originally called “Armistice Day” to commemorate armistice agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.—on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
I am currently writing about the entrance of the USA into WW1 in April 1917. I thought today would be a good day to share a small extract of what I’ve been working on.
Enlisting in haste, repenting at leisure
The diary of Jake Tanner
16 October 1917
It’s raining. It’s always raining in this godforsaken place miles away from home.
I’m sitting propped up against my bulging backpack with my inadequate covering tucked around my shoulders. The rough grey wool of the army-issue blanket reeks of mold and feels clammy to the touch, but these small discomforts ceased to bother me days ago.
The light of my small piece of candle flickers and dances in tribute to the icy wind sidling through the gaps caused by the ill-fitting tent flap. Fat droplets drum steadily on the waterlogged canvas exterior of the tent, and I shudder at the thought of the icy rivulets I know are streaming down its sides. The trenches Mike and I dug to stop the water from flooding our sleeping quarters were already full to overflowing last night.
The five other inhabitants of the tent are still asleep. Their noses, closed eyes, and greasy hair are poking out of the tops of their rolled-up blankets. Heavy breathing, punctuated by occasional snorts, blends with the rain into a dull and monotonous duet.
Pigs in blankets. That’s what they are.
Hands clenched so tightly my ragged nails dig into the soft flesh of my palm, I choke back the laughter.
They’ll be really pissed if I laugh and wake them.
I would prefer to be asleep. When I’m asleep I don’t feel cold or hungry, but this morning the rumbling of my empty belly dragged me reluctantly from its comforting embrace.
We have been here for six days already and most of the fellows are anxiously waiting for the order to entrain for Southhampton Docks.
“We want to get to France. We’re missing all the action sitting around here waiting for transport,” they cried.
I don’t mind being here. There are a lot of British ‘Tommies’, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand troops convalescing at the base hospital. They are happy to share about their experiences at the front and how they were wounded.
There was also a young man from South Africa. He was in the Somme offensive last year.
“I was part of the infantry brigade which captured Delville Wood on the 15th of July. I lost some good friends in that battle.” His dark eyes stared unseeing into the distance as if he were watching out for the return of his fellow combatants.
“I survived unscathed but took a bullet in the leg in West Flanders. My leg is healing well, and I’ll be going back when my convalescent leave ends in three weeks.”
“Where will you be going?”
The disconnected look returned, and his strangely dead eyes sent shivers down my spine. “Back to the Western Front I expect.”
The South African would say no more about his experiences in either Delville Wood or West Flanders, but he did confirm that France is also muddy and cold.
“Very different from South Africa. The sun shines most days in my home city of Pretoria, even during the winter.”
The Australians are friendly, but they do exaggerate. Their stories about life in the trenches are dramatic and we don’t believe it can be that bad.
The downside is that we are billeted in tents and this place is a sea of mud.
“This is typical English October weather,” one of the Tommies said. “It’ll be the same in France so prepare yourselves.”
We are wet and dirty all the time and I’ve become used to going to bed in my wet, muddy clothes and sleeping between damp blankets.
There is also a shortage of rations. We’ve explored several of the nearby towns looking for more food. We don’t have a lot of money, but the people are willing to trade our small trinkets for food, so it all works out well.
Yesterday, I gave my food away to a kid on the side of the road. His tired, hungry looking face tugged at my heart and I gave him what I’d managed to barter.
My buddies laughed: “You’ll be sorry”.
I’m hungry this morning, but I’m not sorry.
This beautiful cover reveal picture was created for me by Teagan Riordain Geneviene who designed the cover.