The rain had been falling for weeks, and I along with my comrades in arms were bloody soaked---soaked in our trenches, soaked in our dugouts, we either slept in wet clothes or stood with boots full of water.
The Devil's TrapM. Stanley Bubien
"Grin and bear it," our sergeant blurted as he slogged into our trench. To illustrate, he grabbed off a boot and, draining it into the mud, he cried, "Aye! You see?" Which he followed with a belly laugh that rumbled like a Howitzer.
It was a most ludicrous sight, our sergeant, boot in hand with yellow water spilling forth, swaying as he made mockery of our situation. It was too much for the men---and myself as well. Pointing fingers or nudging our nearest mate, we let go a torrent of laughter that echoed the length of our trench.
This had to be more than poor old Fritz could take---his enemy across the field drenched in misery but guffawing as though sharing an ale with his pals down at the corner pub.
"What's this?" the sergeant squinted as he staggered to replace his boot.
Above the German parapet, a plank raised, upon which had been scrawled "The English are fools!"
The sergeant grunted, "not such bloody fools as all that!" and he waved myself and two others forward. We pressed our chests against slimy trench wall and, aiming over the top, we made quick work of smashing the sign to splinters with rifle fire.
"Jolly good! We've shown them!" the sergeant said too soon.
Another plank appeared, this time bearing the words "The French are fools!"
"Loyalty to our allies, men." And we destroyed this board as well.
"Bullocks," the sergeant said. He shook a bout of slime away and pointed across No-Man's Land. There rose yet another plank.
On instinct I fired, and these words I made out just as it disintegrated: "We're all fools! Let's all go home!"
The gunfire had silenced only moments before some of the men chuckled. They repeated the message and began talking amongst themselves.
"There's a deal of truth there. Why should this go on?" one said.
"The fighting men have no real quarrel with each other." another agreed.
And a riflemen who helped me extinguish the signs replied, "Bloody right! Let the old men who made this war come here and fight it out themselves."
Nods of ascent spread, and mine was one of them.
"Bloody right!" the sergeant broke in. "But who will go home first?" He glanced about, looking each man in the eye. "Will it be us?" He raised his chin toward the Germans, "or Fritz there?"
The question struck the men dumbfounded. I, however, peered over the trench in hope that the Germans were actually making a retreat. But alas no. I sank back down. We were, each side, caught by the same question---it was a trap, a devil's trap from which there was no escape.
The sergeant slapped me on the shoulder with a mucky hand. "Grin and bear it man," he said and marched away through the trench.
Partially excerpted from "Realities of War" by Phillip Gibbs.
Copyright ©1998 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.
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