By Olivia King
Exhaustion. The emotion that kept coming back. The boy - not yet a man - had experienced hell. And every time the adrenaline, the anger, the fear all faded and the exhaustion returned. He just wanted to give into his body’s desire. He hadn’t wanted to go to Belgium but his mother signed him up and shipped him off, saying it was his duty. She thought her son would be back in a month. He has been in Belgium for three.
The chugging of the train would have lulled any normal person to sleep but not the teenager. It kept away the exhaustion and fuelled his fear. The noise reminded him of the galloping of the horses hooves, the rain hitting the wooden planks in the trenches, but most importantly, the discharge of a gun. The images kept replaying like a movie but on a constant loop. The nightmare would not go away- it kept getting longer. The longer he stayed in Belgium the more scenes haunted his dreams.
Three fellow boys from his hometown didn’t last but one month. It wasn’t a spray of bullets that took them but the weather. The rain wore down the ground turning everything muddy and unsteady. Even the horses were occasionally gripped by the devil and pulled from one hell to another. The sight was almost as bad as seeing those who were pestilence ridden release their last breath. Except this was faster. Those boys were the first to occupy his thoughts, their cries echoing in his head until the sun rose.
A sudden whistle from the train sent a rush of adrenaline through the boy’s body. He felt his muscles tighten and his pupils dilate. He looked around and shook his head, but to no avail. If he did not watch the horrifying loop in his brain he was afraid that he would certainly fade away. He clenched his eyes shut and attempted to cover his ears in the hope of lessening the memory without drawing attention to himself. His uniform already made him stick out. And for that he kept his guard up.
That whistle... forever ingrained in his mind. It is what put the boy through unspeakable terror. The thing itself was rather harmless-just a small piece of metal-but the man who wielded it was not. Everytime he blew the whistle more men died. The rain had inhibited the effectiveness of their attack but that didn’t stop death. The sounds of the bombs, bullets, and cries of his comrades richoted around in his head. The blood turned the ground slippery once more. The last moments of his commanders life parades through the boy’s brain. The man fell lifeless next to the cowering soldier, his eyes clouded over.
The boy slowly regained his senses. His eyes flickered open and he brought his shaking hands down, quickly brushing over his tear stained cheeks, before falling into his lap. He could feel the exhaustion slowly seeping back in. He shifted in his seat, a stabbing pain was sent up his side. He rested his head against the cool window, the contrast in temperature providing little relief. Maybe just maybe, he should give in. It would give the boy the relief he craved. It would be better than returning home. The boy closed his hazel eyes, allowing the exhaustion to take over.
No one noticed the soldier until the train arrived at the station. By his uniform they could distinguish that he was an Englishman- Corporal P. Thomason, his name-tag stated. The passengers and onlookers didn’t know if they should send word to England, for the boy had deserted and would be branded a coward. The train conductor and a few other men helped move the sixteen-year-old to a back room of the station, where a blanket was placed over his body.
It was the 28th of October. What everyone at the station and on the battlefield didn’t know was that the battle would end nine days later. The British were able to capture Passchendaele and end the third battle of Ypres, but within those months two hundred and seventy-five thousand troops died.