At 11 in the morning of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 the guns fell silent on the fronts of the world at war. Turn your minds to that event and write a strict 500 words to catch the moment.
That was the instruction for a writing competition. I have entered only one writing competition before but I gave this one a go. What would I have felt on that day? An empty sickness I think for all the slaughter and then a relief that it had stopped. Then you have to work at the peace for peace is not the absence of war, it has to be worked for, contacts must be made, some attempts at reparations, communications, alliances and re-establishment of civilized links and diplomacy. These things were not done well after WWI and just 20 years later we found ourselves at war again.
We handled things much better after WWII but now, seventy years later, international links are being broken once again.
Here is what I wrote, not a happy piece but I hope it may be thought-provoking and moving. The judges thought so because I won the competition. Where did I find inspiration? The poems and writings of Seigfried Sassoon and I once looked after an old man who had fought at Vimy Ridge.
Ian Travis was shaving when the phone rang.
‘Sister Jones here. You should come in and see your Grandfather. He has had a disturbed night, I fear the end is not far off.’
Ian took a last glance around his grandfather’s room. By the bed was the familiar photograph of two young men, Grandfather had a waist in those days, his oversized trousers and tunic gathered by the regular three-inch wide belt. The other boy was Charlie but he knew nothing of Charlie.
From the top drawer, he took the war medals, Pip, Squeak and Wilfred and the Royal Artillery cap badge. Grandfather did not boast about his medals, all soldiers got those three, but they represented a job well done.
Grandfather lay in his bed staring at the ceiling, picking, pulling and kneading at the bedsheets with his hands and mumbling incoherently. From time to time he would thrust some imaginary object before him. His slippers, drinking cup and a newspaper had already been thrust off the end of the bed.
‘They say the war will end soon. Let’s hope we make it to the end, Charlie.’
‘Stop talking Travis. Get those shells unloaded. Put the shrapnel shells nearest, we won’t need the high-explosive.’
‘Here they come, Charlie, hand me one to put up the spout, ready.’
They could hear the distant rattle of rifle fire and the rat-a-tat-tash of machine guns. The advancing grey line was within range now.
‘Hold your fire, men. Wait for the order.’
We’ve got to fire, they are getting close, within rifle range now. They could hear the flick and crack as bullets passed by. They say you never hear the one that hits you. The men crowded closely behind the shield of the 18-pounder.
‘Sustained fire, reload as quickly as you can, keep firing.’
Bam, Bam, Bam. Charlie handed shells to him and as soon as the breech was open, he rammed a shell in. ‘Loaded,’ he called. Breech closed, fire. He stepped back to avoid the recoil. BAM.
After a short flight, the shells exploded and sent 374 bullets ahead in a cone.
‘That’ll stop ‘em.’ The Sergeant Instructor had told them at training camp.
But it didn’t, they kept coming.
‘Quicker, Charlie, bring ‘em quicker. Charlie, a shell for God’s sake.’ He held out his arms but no shell came. Charlie lay bleeding, his right arm missing.
‘You’ll have to get it yourself mate.’ Said Charlie.
Lift, carry, load, BAM; lift, carry, load, BAM. The enemy was getting closer. He was aware that he had lost control of his bowels but he had to continue; lift, carry, load, BAM.
‘Cease fire, cease fire, the war is over. The order just came down the line.’
The hollow-cheeked, unshaven old man grasped Ian’s arm and sat up in his bed.
‘Ceasefire, it’s over.’ He cried and sank back. In his mind’s eye, he saw the smoke clear and Charlie lying still.
Ian pressed the medals into the old man’s hand and wept.