There are so few of us left.
Crouching as I move so my head never rises above the parapet, my body smoothly glides through the zig-zag reserve trench toward the communication trench. Discarded fragments of ammunition boxes, compromised ration cans, torn pieces of rotting blankets, components of discarded molding hobnailed boots, and occasionally a random blown-off body part litter the flooded trench floor. Only infrequently do I run into another soldier. We are so few and far between.
It’s quiet now.
Just one shell from the Brits, answered by one from our artillery, every few minutes to remind each other that the war is still on.
No one left to fight; so few left at all. How much longer can this continue?
Sargent Weiske looks at me askance from his dugout under the front face of the reserve trench.
Twelve men shared that dugout early last Spring. Then we had the offensive, and now the sickness.
SSSHHIIIRRRFFFFFTTTSSSSS - KAASSSHHEETT - A shrapnel round passes by, exploding innocently behind the reserve trench.
The wet, dank heat of summer melded into the frosty, chilling cool of fall.
“Sargent, do you believe the war will stop at 11?”
Stretching his arms and legs so he looks like a fully flexed starfish, Sargent Weiske does not rise to greet me, but instead turns his pale dirt encrusted whiskered face in my general direction.
“This war will never end. It’s just an armistice. Both sides have temporally run out of men stupid enough to die.” He then pulls at his helmet before shoving his full frame out of the dugout. Rising to 3/4 his 1.8 meter height, Sargent Weiske raises his right arm, pulls his sleeve back, looking at his watch for a moment.
SSSHHIIIRRRFFFFFTTTSSSSS - KAASSSHHEETT - Another shrapnel shell.
Even after over three years at the front, I still hear each individual shell pass overhead. Today there are only a few. Fired far off, so they won’t do damage.
Few shells, few soldiers, few minutes left of war.
Sargent Weiske regards me for a moment, his eyes catching mine in a knowing look, before he places his bone and tendon wrapped in tight-skin hand upon my left shoulder.
“It’s over for us.” He says in the most gentle voice I’ve ever heard uttered from his mouth.
From below my helmet I look up at his fatherly face. Scarred, streaked with dirt-filled wrinkles, blue eyes, and tufts of brown crust of hair protruding from under his helmet frame a sincerely caring visage.
Thank you! Thank you for guiding me these three years, for keeping me alive, for saving my skin in the Spring Offensive by pulling me out of that shell hole, for harping me to write to my mother, for comforting me when I received word my father died, for giving me some of your meager ration when you saw I was hungry, for picking me up out of the fetid water my first day in the unit when I fell in, for kicking my butt to stay fit, for easing the loss of so many of our men by honoring their sacrifice, for everything. Thank you for EVERYTHHING!!!
“Thank you Sargent.”
He turns from me to head toward the field goggles. They are aimed at the British lines.
SSSHHIIIRRRFFFFFTTTSSSSS - KAA
What is that?
Where did I go?
Why is it dark?
Opening my eyes, I can’t make anything out.
Everything is fuzzy.
Blinking rapidly, I’m able to focus enough to recognize that I’m laying in the bottom of the trench, fetid water cooling my cheek.
I must have been knocked out by the concussion of the shell.
Surveying myself, I can’t see any wounds. My observable world expands beyond my body to where I can see the trench around me.
No one is around.
I keep looking.
Where is Sargent Weiske?
As I look, I turn the corner of a zag in the trench line where I encounter the remains of Sargent Weiske’s dismembered body. His left arm rests over his broken face, guarding it from the shrapnel that tore through the rest of his flesh. His sleeve is pulled back, exposing the metal faced watch on his left wrist.
10:48 a.m. November 11, 1918.
A German Sargent who had been with his unit since 1915 was killed at 10:48 a.m. on November 11, 1918, just 12 minutes before the Armistice between the Central Powers and the Triple Entente went into effect. He was not the only soldier killed that day. In fact, on several fronts battles raged as officers in the Entente were ordered to take as much territory as they could before the fighting stopped. In this case, a shrapnel shell took the life of a man who had endured three years of bloody war and survived until the last moment. The shell was a throw away shot by the British in response to throw away shots by the Germans in response to throw away shots by the British, and so on. Everything in war is thrown away. That is the definition of WAR: To Throw Away.