Hobbling back to his side of No Man’s Land took all night. By the time he had regained consciousness night had fallen and the moon was a giant white disc into which the darkness drained. Just last week he was cursing command for launching an attack on a moonless night, leaving them surefooted only when the flares went up. Now, however, the moon might as well be a German invention for all the good it was doing him.
At first he was worried about running into a German patrol but, after an hour, what scared him more was that the snnk snnk snnk of his feet dragging through the mud would give away his position to an enemy sniper.
As he got closer to the Entente side of No Man’s Land he became more confident and started running openly until he heard a crrk! and the swwp! of a bullet flying past him. Idiot! he thought, realising that for all for all they knew, he could be a German.
He didn’t even know who he was going to find when he got back to the relative safety of the trenches. His best bet, he reasoned, was to find the French, hope none of them spoke English and that he could create enough confusion to get sent back down to line and out of the range of the big guns.
He managed a loping run with his head pointed at the churned up earth, his eyes pointed forward and his arms pointed right at that treacherous moon. “Australia! Australia!” he shouted as he ran, and on hearing another crrk and swwp! he shouted even louder, “I’m a fucking Australian!”
The first thing he saw after he crashed through the barbed wire and into the trench was Robbo and Charlie Eckford. “Shit,” he thought, all hopes of being taken off the line disappearing as he realised he had made it back to his own unit.
After seeing the unit commander, he propped himself against the trench wall and lit a cigarette, one of the few luxuries he’d encountered at Passchendaele. “Not tonight,” called a Corporal further along the trench, “You’ll give away our location.” He shot the Corporal a disbelieving look, gesturing to the people yelling and laughing and crying around them. “Sound comes from everywhere but smoke on a night like this goes straight up, tells ‘em where to look.”
He sighed, crouched against the side of the trench and held his head in his hands until dawn.
Written on Wednesday, 29 December 2010