He’d been standing watch for hours; his legs aching from crouching and from stumbling over shell shattered duckboards and wading through thick, squelching mud, when his eyelids started to droop and his world go black as he slumped forwards and fell asleep on the wet, muddy firestep, drifting beyond the stench of rotting sandbags and the musty grass smell of gas; beyond the feeling of his clothes drenched through to his skin from wading chest deep through a cold, water logged trench; drifting away into the twilight above the thick clouds of phosgene
A woman sang a strange music hall song;
“Meet me tonight in dreamland”
under the silvery moon;
Meet me tonight in dreamland,
where love's sweet cannons boom”.
He was looking down now, through giants eyes, upon a different battle; a battle on the moon.
It was a grey, dusty moon, zig-zagged with trenches and pocked with deep craters caused by flying whizzbang shells.
And little soldiermen were fighting and yelling frantically in moonbabble.
The tiny, tin hatted Moon-Tommy’s were fighting against the pointy pickelhaube wearing moon-huns; their faces like gas-masks and their body’s small and shrunken like Christmas puddings beneath their uniforms due to a constant diet of bully beef and mouldy biscuits; the only food that the soldiermen ever ate.
“What are you fighting for?”, he asked one of the moon-tommy’s who peered up at him in surprise, trembling at the sight of his gigantic form.
“Boiled beef and carrots”, replied the soldierman, “That and the mighty panjandrum”.
“Panjandrum?”, he asked.
“The lord high panjandrum of San Fairy Ann”, said the soldierman, “He of the immense walrus moustache”.
“I see”, he said, “And what about the moon-huns? What are they fighting for?”.
“For Plum jam and scrambled eggs on Tuesdays”, replied the creature.
None of it made any sense to him but then a flying hun bullet hit the little soldierman right through his tin hat and he fell down on the ground wriggling before being dragged away by a gang of red uniformed rats into a crater.
“Shirker! Coward!”, shouted a tiny suffragette with a whirring propeller on her back flying about next to his left ear and poking it with a white feather.
“Get away!”, he shouted, trying to swat her like a fly.
She prodded the white feather up his nose which made him want to sneeze.
Fortunately, a maxim gun snouted creature peering over the parapet of the moon-hun trench spat out a barrage of bullets in german, hitting the flying woman in the bustle and knocking her out of the sky.
“Agg-hhhh!”, she screamed, falling onto no man’s land before being dragged off by more red coated moon-rats into a crater.
But then a little shell exploded against the side of his face and he heard a moon-hun commander order, “Kill ze giant!”.
I suppose I must do something, he thought, taking off his own tin hat and running it under the enemy trench, scooping up screaming moon-hun soldiers into it.
All across the Moon-tommy trenches he heard little soldiermen cheering and then a tiny red coated general climbed an enormously tall ladder to pin a tiny medal upon his giant chest.
“By order of the lord high panjandrum”, said the general while one soldierman played a bugle and another soldierman rattled on a drum, “I hearby pin upon you, this medal of courage”.
But then, in the corner of his eye, he saw more trenches appear with more Moon-Tommys inside.
“Thanks to your courageous actions, lad”, said the general, standing on top of the enormously tall ladder, “The number of moon-men joining the fight has quintupled”.
“But I didn’t intend for that to happen”, he said, feeling guilty and sad for the little baby-faced moon-men who he now saw pouring into trenches , some still in nappies and sucking on dummy-tits, “In fact this whole war of yours seems loony. Boiled beef and carrots. I don’t want any part in it”.
“What!”, yelled the tiny general, angrily, tearing the tiny medal back off of his chest, “Why, you’re not a hero. You’re just a giant coward and you will be shot as a coward, by gad”.
The general started to climb back down the ladder but now he was buried up to his neck in mud while, in front of him, a tiny firing squad made of rats were aiming their rifles at his head.
He laughed looking at the tiny, matchstick sized rifles in the hands of the rats.
“Those guns aren’t going to harm me”, he said to the general who was now only a moving picture upon a poster being held up by two faceless soldiermen, “They’re too tiny”.
“Good point!”, said the poster and then, when the two soldiermen holding it up had turned round to face the firing squad, it ordered, “Bring in the giant flamethrower”.
Now the rat firing squad rushed out and, soon after, were returning, pushing a giant flame thrower on wheels.
“You can’t do this!”, he said, frantically, seeing the flame thrower being rolled towards his left ear, “It’s inhumane. It’s madness”.
“Perhaps”, said the General, overjoyed, “But there will be boiled beef and carrots for everyone!”.
And now they were all singing; singing mad words as they danced round his head;
“Boiled beef and carrots;
boiled beef and carrots
that’s the stuff that they eat in hell;
it makes the most atrocious smell
we make it out of soldiermen
and, their blood, turn to claret
so join the fight; you’ll get a bite
of boiled beef and carrots”.
The noise of an exploding shell made him shudder back into consciousness.
“Mad dream”, he thought, remembering the moonmen and the insane general, but then, feeling the water of the flooded trench all around him and remembering where he was he added, “Mad world”.