Inkster of the Week: Sam Ussher

Thursday 30th June 2022

Sam's writing was inspired by the Wilfred Owen poem 'Strange Meeting' and if you read carefully, you'll hear a few echoes of other World War One poems.

The crackling shouts of gunfire, the piteous cries of dying men, the shrill screams of shells as they fly through the air and the roaring shout as they land - this is the demented orchestra that we walk out to, onto that hellish field, that forbidden field, that field of torment. 

Across that desolate landscape we trudge. A company of a hundred tired men, slowly and steadily picking their way through the field of mud, soaked with the blood of the men who fell and never got back up, barbed wire cradling the bodies of the deceased in its thorny embrace.

Pools of disease ridden water bathe the bodies of the fallen. 

All around us, men fall to bullet, shrapnel and mine but on we march. All fears of death or injury  were left in the trenches when the whistle blew. Death  - we do not fear it.

We fire back, slaying many and condemning many mothers to a long-lasting unquenchable pain. Once we reach these thorny fences of barbed wire, we each have to pick a careful path and step carefully lest we feed those grasping limbs. 

Through at last! I leap into the trench, my rifle up and fire, hitting a German soldier in his left arm. He yells something in German and twists around just in time to parry my bayonet with his rifle, the tip of the blade digging into the wood of the stock of his rifle with a dull thwack. I pull back and lunge forward again, this time driving narrowly under his otherwise staunch guard and into his stomach. 

The world seems to shrink until it encompasses just the two of us. There is nothing else, just me, the dying man and the bayonet. He gasps and falls to his knees as I pull the blade out of his stomach only to drive forward again. 

This is the first time I’ve killed another human being. I look at him and he looks at me. He can’t be older than sixteen years. He stares right into my eyes as the light fades out of them and I look right back. He breathes his last and goes still. 

I look down at the body of this broken boy, wondering what life he would have had if this war hadn’t happened. 

My contemplation is cut short as I hear a loud crack behind me and my body erupts in pain. I fall to the ground, still soaked with the blood of the boy that I killed moments earlier, and a perfect calm falls over me. I am going to die and there is nothing I can do about it. Peace washes over me as fear cannot exist without hope, and I have none left. 

The German soldier digs his boot under me and rolls me over as if he is too disgusted by me to touch me with his bare flesh. He stares at me with nothing but pure hatred on his face. He spits at me and puts his rifle between my eyes. “Gehe zu Hell Bastard.” He pulls the trigger and the battlefield disappears, replaced by a titanic cave filled with bodies.