Sat, 04 Feb 2017
There is laughter to be had in the trenches, dark humour, perhaps, but you have to find the funny side of things else you’ll go mad.
There’s hope too, though this is usually restricted to wild hopes that the war will end, speculation about forthcoming leave, or simple practical desires for new boots or a hot meal.
But pride is a rarer commodity, perhaps you’ll see it in some of the engineers who have worked a cunning solution to a practical problem, or a gunner or radio-operative with a well-kept kit, but amongst the common soldier, there is little to take pride in, just well-polished boots and another day survived.
But I saw pride there, in Archie Jenkins’ eyes, that day he had his poem published in Muddled.
Muddled was mostly a satirical magazine, produced against the odds by a group of soldiers with a captured printing press, poking fun at the war, at the people supposedly running it, and full of trenches humour. But it also contained some serious prose and occasional poetry, which is where Archie’s poem was given pride of place.
Archie was 18 when he signed up and was not much older now, he still looked like a pup, though inside he’d grown up as we all had, quickly. He poem was dark, full of canny observation, tinged with the fear we all felt, but amongst the bleak description of war, his humanity shone through.
A few days’ later Archie was hit by a stray bullet. There was nothing that could be done, the wound was fatal, though his death wasn’t quick.
“Send this to my mum,” he said, passing his Muddled to Tommy Dee, who was with him at the time.
“Of course, I will,” Tommy promised, “I’ll write her a letter.”
“Page six, the poem’s on,” Archie said, “Tell her page six”. I guess he didn’t want her reading the rest of the magazine, some of it was a bit, well, trenches-humour.
I’m sure Tommy fully intended to send the magazine, he was a good man. But paper is an under-available commodity out here and war does strange things to a man’s bowels: terrible food, crippling fear and disgusting hygiene all contributing. The runs come to all men, as unpredictably and inevitably as a gas attack, and Archie’s beautiful poem was last seen somewhere up Tommy Dee’s disgusting arse.