The whistle blew. I watched as hundreds of men wearing the green uniform of the British army charged over the trench. Some of them I had trained with, others I had merely shared a bottle of whiskey with on a cold night. Some soldiers were being shot as soon as they left the trench, others made it about ten metres before being gunned down. Hastily I picked up a rifle and attached a bayonet to the weapon. I climbed out of the trench.
After running for what seemed like miles, I dived into a ditch to take cover. I couldn’t see where I was. A rat scuttled passed me. I wished I could be the size of the rat, then I could escape this awful place unnoticed. I looked around to see if I could navigate my position, and then I saw another soldier, hiding and, to my horror, the soldier was wearing a German uniform.
He hadn’t seen me, I still had my gun, I had the advantage; I aimed my weapon at his head. As I did this the German saw me. He reached for his pistol, but I was a step ahead. I fired, deliberately missing. I didn’t want to kill the soldier, just to show him who was boss.
‘Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!’ shouted the German and there was terror in his eyes.
‘Throw away your weapons!’ I yelled. The soldier threw his pistol and grenades towards my feet.
‘See. I’m unarmed,’ pleaded the German.
‘Ok! But don’t move!’ I ordered.
We lay, staring at each other. Me, pointing my gun at his head. and him, staring at the barrel in horror. He was only a young lad, about the same age as me and did not look like the evil enemy that we had been trained to kill. After a while I spoke…
‘Where is your platoon?’ I asked
‘I’m lost, my fellow Comrades are missing,’ exclaimed the soldier. I was thankful he could speak English.
The German pleaded, ‘Please do not hurt me! I’m just an ordinary soldier, all I want is to survive this war, so I can get home.’
I sighed, slightly lowering my weapon. This man was just like me; I could not kill him in cold blood.
‘What is your name?’ he asked.
‘Jack Jones. Yours?’ I replied.
‘My name is Friedrich Müller, where are you from?’ enquired Friedrich.
‘London, what about you?’ I said.
‘I am from Frankfurt,’ answered Friedrich,
‘What family do you have?’ questioned Friedrich.
‘I got two sisters, a brother and my mother. My father died of tuberculosis a couple years ago. I got a girlfriend as well, when I get back home I’m going to propose to her.’
‘That’s nice. The only family I have is my grandmother. She was so proud to see me going off to war, imagine what she would say if she saw me now,’ said Friedrich.
I spoke, ‘I left Britain with five of my friends from my home village. This morning only three were left, I don’t know where they are now.’
‘I took no friends with me to this place, although I was good acquaintances with one of my training buddies. He was called Hans, but he died on the first day of battle.’
‘Do you smoke?’ he asked
‘Sure, but I’m out of cigarettes.’
‘Let me get you one,’ exclaimed Friedrich. He reached into his pocket as if to get out a cigarette. Then suddenly, he lunged at me. It took me completely by surprise. As he jumped forward, I felt a blade pierce my skin. It was the most painful thing I had ever experienced. I was in a panic and confusion; I thought this man was not a danger, but of course, we were still enemies.
I would not let this man win, I had been fooled by Friedrich and I would not let him get away with it. I tried to push him away, but it was agonizing with the knife wound. I knew if he stabbed me again he would finish me off. We writhed around in the wet mud. I reached for my bayonet, but I was too slow. Friedrich pounced on top of me, I could only move my arms. His hands were reaching for my throat, and now the two of us fell together. I could feel the breath being driven out of my lungs.
I used my arms to try and reach for something, anything that could get Friedrich off of me. He was going in and out of focus, I had perhaps seconds left. And then, I felt something, it must have been a rock. I clutched it in my hands. With a last gasp of energy, I swung it at the side of Friedrich’s head. His hands released their grasp on my throat, I pushed him backwards. I gulped down as much air as I could before Friedrich could recover. He stood up and moved towards me, the knife still lodged in his hand. He lunged the knife at me, but I was expecting this, I dodged the blade and with all my strength, I pushed him forward and out of the ditch.
I was in too much pain to continue. I lay back. Friedrich stood up, as he did this, a distant whistle blew, we both looked into the direction of this noise, and then, we saw it. Hundreds of British soldiers were charging over the trench. As they did so, the Germans opened fire on them. And then, multiple bullets pierced Friedrich’s chest. I watched as he fell to the ground.
Friedrich had come all the way to France to fight, just to be shot by a bullet made in Germany. The Germans had not meant to kill him, but Friedrich had been caught in the cross fire. I lay back, I was bleeding heavily. I felt a mixture of relief and guilt.
This war had turned people into monsters.
The CARE competition is generously sponsored by Eric Adler, Old Bethanian. The challenge is for pupils in Year 9 to write an essay based on the theme of conflict, and it has to be about 50% dialogue.