owns the Voyager characters. I own the story. History owns the rest.
Two points about this story -
1) the people are based on Voyager
2) the men are all British unless
If I've got any details wrong, please
email me warpspeed, and I'll try to fix them - email@example.com
Thank you once again to Danielle
Feedback would be great.
This story is for the soldiers of
WW1. I know I don't do them justice. But maybe you'll go away with a better
understanding of what they went through.
Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria
(‘tis a great and glorious thing
to die for one’s country)
by Lay McDaniel, 2-7-00
At dawn the ridge emerges massed
In the wild purple of the glowering
Smouldering through spouts of drifting
smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and,
one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to
The barrage roars and lifts. Then,
With bombs and guns and shovels
Men jostle and climb to meet the
Lines of grey, muttering faces,
masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going
over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy
on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and
Flounders in mud. O Jesu, make it
Attack by Siegfried Sassoon
23:07, October 9th, 1914
I cup my hands together and blow,
trying to get them warm. Not that it’ll do any good. Every part of my body
is chilled to the bone. I shift uncomfortably against the wall of the trench,
drawing my knees to my chest in an effort to conserve body heat. Opposite
me, Paris smirks, as he sits cleaning his rifle with a two-by-four.
“Ants in your pants?”
I glare at him, but he gives me
this innocent, puppy-dog look, and I can’t stay mad for long.
“The ground’s too muddy,”
I complain quietly. “And my feet are swollen. I need to take my boots off.”
“No,” Paris says quickly,
catching hold of my hand as I lean forwards. “You do that, you’ll never
get them back on again.”
I pull my hand away and sit
back with a sigh. Beside me, a Negro man called Tuvok is slumped against
a sandbag, dozing. How he can sleep with the bombs going off around us
is beyond me. When I first arrived at the front line, I didn’t know how
I’d stand it. The noise, I mean. The constant drum of artillery fire and
grenades falling. It’s getting a little easier to ignore, but it still
keeps me awake at night.
Tuvok’s a strange person.
He doesn’t talk much. Doesn’t laugh, doesn’t smile. I know he’s been over
the top three times. Paris says it’s only natural that he shows no emotion.
Sometimes, he said, the things you see are so awful that you remain traumatised
by it, and clam up.
But Tom isn’t like that. He’s
been at the front line for a while now, yet he’s forever making jokes and
kidding around. There’s something about him, though, that makes me thankful
he’s on our side.
“Hey Harry,” the man himself
whispers, breaking my trail of thought. “How long did you say you’d been
at the front line for?”
“Week and a half.” A week
and a half filled with utter boredom and misery. According to my commanding
officer, we hadn’t made a frontal assault in weeks. “But we’ll be advancing
soon, right?” I ask hopefully.
Paris shakes his head. “Harry,
going over the top isn’t exactly a picnic. It’s not something you should
be looking forward to.”
“I’m not looking forward to
it,” I lie. “I just want a bit of action.”
My friend rolls his eyes.
“A bit of action,” he repeated, mocking me. “I bet you believed Field-Marshal
Haig when he told us that the war would be over by Christmas.”
“Well, won’t it?” I say indignantly.
I didn’t like it when Tom made fun of me.
He groans, slamming his head
backwards into the wall of the trench. “Were you born yesterday? You just
don’t get it, do you.”
He sits forwards suddenly.
“The war has being going on for three months now. Christmas is not that
far away. So far we’ve gained control of only seven German trenches, and
even those have been taken from us again. I doubt if we’ve advanced more
than a couple of miles. The war won’t be over by Christmas, Harry, I can
promise you that.”
I stare at him in shock. “But
the army officers in England said – “
“What they said was a load
of rubbish.” He’s so angry that he forgets to whisper, eliciting
annoyed comments and prods from the other soldiers.
I don’t know whether to believe
him or not. Christmas isn’t for another two months. Re-enforcements are
arriving every week. By this rate, our battalion will have grown so much
by Christmas that victory will be inevitable. I won’t give up that hope.
Sometimes Paris is just too cynical for his own good.
I watch as he glowers at me, then
lays down on his side, turning his face towards the trench. Further down,
I hear the sentry being relieved.
I should try and get some sleep.
18:34, October 10th, 1914
We’re on a dinner break right
now. It rained pretty heavily in the early hours of this morning, and the
trench turned into a swamp. We’ve spent all day shovelling the mud out,
trying to remove the water.
Paris sits down beside me,
offering me a plate of potted meat and a mug of weak tea. I thank him and
take them eagerly, wolfing down the meat quickly. It’s the first real meal
we’ve had all day, breakfast consisting of only a couple of pieces of toast.
According to Sergeant Zimmerman, another load of rations won’t be delivered
for another couple of days yet, so we just have to “tighten our belts and
stop complaining.” It’s all very well for him – he’s at least two miles
behind the front line, in a pretty little French village.
“Ah, Harry,” sighs Tom, who’s
eating the food with significantly less enthusiasm than I am. “Do you remember
the Sunday roasts we used to have?”
“Shut up and eat, Paris,”
I tell him with my mouth full.
But he continues. “A succulent
fat turkey, potatoes, cabbage, yorkshire puddings, gravy… those were the
days.” His voice is so wistful that I can’t help but remember my own family
lunches. Every week, without fail, we’d come back from church to the smell
of the turkey wafting through the house.
The meat in my mouth doesn’t
taste as nice as it did before.
21:00, October 10th, 1914
I’m on sentry duty at the moment.
Captain Chakotay told me earlier today that it was time I learnt how to
keep watch. He paired me up with Paris, who’s been on sentry duty before,
so that he can show me the ropes.
Tom is in the process of showing
me how to load the machine gun. “Put the clips in this slit here,” he instructs,
“make sure the cord’s not tangled, otherwise the gun will stall. Do you
“Good.” He pulls out the round
of clips. “You do it.”
I finish loading the gun,
and move back slightly so that he can inspect my work. From the look-out
post, I have a clear view across No Man’s Land. It seems incredibly calm
and serene, parts of it lit up occasionally by the odd bomb whistling in
“Great job, Harry,” Paris
remarks. “Looks fine to me.”
I flash a relieved smile at
“Now you just gotta know what
to do with her. As soon as you hear gunfire from the Jerrys’ trenches,
pull the trigger and move her from side to side slowly. That way you’ll
mow down as many of ‘em down as possible.”
I swallow hard. “Mow down…they’ll
die that easily?”
Paris gives me an exasperated
look. “Harry, this baby’ll do five hundred rounds per minute. They’ll have
no chance. They’ll be dropping like flies.”
“How can you talk about them
in that way? They’re human beings – men, just like us.”
He surprises me by grabbing
hold of my collar and pulling me close to him. “They are not like us!”
he whispers fiercely, his blue eyes blazing. “You are to show them no mercy.
Destroy as many of them as possible, because believe me Harry, they’re
doing the same to us.”
He releases me just as suddenly,
and starts fiddling with the machine gun. I stare at him, hurt and embarrassed.
“Tom, I – I’m sorry,” I stammer.
My friend takes off his cap
and rakes a hand through his sandy-blond hair. “No, I’m sorry,“ he apologises
softly. “It’s just… going over the top. You’re running towards them, towards
their guns, and you hear the hammering of artillery fire and the screams
of the men who are being torn apart, and they don’t let up. It’s no use
pleading or talking with them. They just want to stop you from taking their
trench. They show no mercy to us, and we can’t show any to them.”
I don’t know what to say.
It’s the first time he’s really talked about the war like that. So I clap
him on the shoulder, and we just stand there in silence, keeping watch.
18:50, October 17th, 1914
We’re going over tomorrow!
Finally, after weeks of waiting, we’ll be crossing No Man’s Land and capturing
the enemy trench at precisely 08:30 tomorrow morning.
The men are all pretty keyed
up. At the moment we’re packing up our supplies, cleaning our rifles, that
sort of thing. Captain Chakotay is walking through the trench, stopping
to talk with each soldier, giving them words of encouragement.
I have a great respect for
the Captain. Although I’ve only spoken to him twice, he’s the kind of man
that you trust instantly. He’s about late thirties, I should guess. I know
he’s been in service for a long time. On his left brow is an ugly scar
running from his forehead to his ear. Tom said it was a piece of shrapnel
I can hear him speaking with
Tom now. I think they’re arguing - they tend to do that a lot. Maybe it’s
because they’re both complete opposites. Tom is impatient, loud, sarcastic,
restless. The Captain, on the other hand, is calm, patient, quiet, and
somewhat… I don’t know, centred. Maybe he’s a praying man.
No wonder they don’t get on.
The Captain turns to me, and
I automatically snap to attention.
Chakotay grins. “At ease,
Private, before you sprain something.” Behind him, Paris smirks at me.
I ignore him.
“Harry Kim, isn’t it?”
“First time over the top tomorrow?”
“Yes, sir,” I say again.
Chakotay nods thoughtfully.
“Well then, Private Kim. Remember that whatever happens out there tomorrow,
whatever you see… keep focused on your mission. And your mission is to
capture that trench. Even if you’re the last man standing.”
“You can count on me, sir.”
He studies my face. “I know
I can,” he says at last. “May God be with you, Private.”
* * *
It’s been a couple of hours since
my talk with the Captain. Dinner’s come and gone, the artillery and supplies
are all packed up. Now there’s nothing to do except wait for dawn.
Strains of “Jerusalem” waft down
the trench from a gramophone further down. Suddenly that song’s become
immensely popular among the troops. I join in softly, but notice that Tom
isn’t singing. Instead he’s looking at a photograph.
“Can I see?”
He looks up. “Sure.” He hands the
picture to me. It shows him standing with a young girl – a brunette, his
arm round her shoulder.
“She’s pretty,” I remark.
Tom grins at that. “I think so too.”
“What’s her name?” I ask, handing
“Belle-Anna. She’s French.” He looks
down at the photo, and smiles fondly. “My beautiful Belle-Anna.”
“How did you meet her?”
“I was working as a mechanic in
a garage in Marseilles. She came in to have her automobile fixed.”
I whistle. “She must have been rich
to own one of them.”
He nods. “Her family was one of
the wealthiest in the town. Anyway, we got talking, and I discovered that
she knew nearly as much about mechanics as I did.”
He shrugs. “She’s an unusual woman.
Anyway, she kept visiting me, and we began having lunch together every
Saturday at Sandrine’s – a bistro in the middle of Marseilles.”
“What happened to her?”
“She evacuated the area along
with her family. I don’t know where she is now. But one thing’s for sure.
As soon as this crazy war’s over, I’m going to track her down and ask her
to marry me.”
He folds the photo up and
puts it in his breast-pocket. “What about you Got anyone special
waiting at home?”
I smile shyly. “Sort of.”
“Sort of?” Tom leans forwards.
“Her name is Elizabeth. She
sings in the church choir.”
He looks at me expectantly.
“And? Have you kissed her or anything?”
I blush just thinking about
it. “Only once. When I left England.”
Tom grins wickedly, and punches
me on the arm. “Way to go, Harry.”
“There’s nothing between us.”
He shakes his head. “No, no,
of course not.”
“You just wait until you get
home. She’ll be all over you. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and
As my friend chunters away,
I notice the kind of language he’s using. I may be green, but I’m not stupid.
“You don’t really think we’ll
make it home, do you.” It was a statement, not a question. “You’re just
trying to make me feel better.”
Paris looks to one side, and
sighs. “Ah, hell Harry, I don’t know. Men are dying in their thousands
each day. Why should we be any different?”
I frown. “How long did you
say we have to serve at the front line for?”
“A month, I think.”
“So we only have to stick
it out for a few more weeks, right? Then there’ll be a rotation. We just
have to survive until then.”
Tom smiles at me. “Harry my
friend, what would I do without you and your youthful optomism?”
“Do you really want me to
answer that?” I say, dead-pan. He snickers, and we lapse into a comfortable
A thought occurs to me. “Why
were you working in France? Did you have family out there or something
Paris shakes his head. “Or
something. It’s a long story, Harry.”
“Then you’re lucky that the
man you’re talking to has a lot of time on his hands.”
He looks at me for a moment,
but is apparently too tired to offer any resistance. “All right.
I lean forward to hear him
over the sound of the bombs.
“I left school at an early age because
I was fed up with the system. My father was furious, but nothing he said
or did changed my mind. I just wasn’t happy spending all my days learning
how to calculate maths equations, or speak German. I wanted to get out
and do something. So I began training as an engineer in London, only…”
He shrugs, looking sheepish.
“I was young, Harry. Pretty woman,
plenty of tavens. I developed a taste for liquor and ended up getting drunk
most days, until one day, I killed a man.”
I stop him sharply. “What?”
He smirks at my shock. “Don’t
worry, Harry. It wasn’t intentional. It was a stupid, drunken brawl, that’s
all. Thankfully, my father stepped in at my trial, and I got off lightly.
After I’d served my sentence, I went to stay with an uncle in Marseilles
and got a job in a garage. My father thought that it would give me a fresh
start. Then when the war started, I enlisted so that I could kill people
legally, without getting thrown into prision for it.”
I frown at him. “Very funny,
He doesn’t smile, though.
“I’m not being funny.”
I decide not to pursue that
one. I think he enjoys playing with my mind just so he can get a kick out
He’s got an interesting past, I’ll
say that for him. But in these trenches, everyone has a past, and it doesn’t
matter zilch if you’re an ex-con or a vicar. The shells don’t discriminate.
Oh boy, I’m starting to sound like
Paris. That can’t be good.
08:15, October 18th, 1914
There’s a strange atmosphere
in the trench – and I don’t mean the rats. Everyone’s moving about in a
morose kind of state. Even Paris is a lot quieter than normal.
Lots of men are sitting down
reading their bibles or praying. Perhaps they’re trying to get right with
God before they die.
I’m starting to get butterflies
in my stomach. The troops are acting as if we’re all going to be killed
Then it hits me. Maybe we
I feel a hand on my shoulder.
I turn around and it’s Paris.
“How are you feeling?” he
I try for a smile, but fail
miserably. “Jumpy. Nervous… Scared.”
“That’s to be expected. You’d
be a madman if you weren’t feeling any of those things.”
The man’s making sense, but
I’m too keyed up to answer him. Instead, I begin pacing from one side of
the trench to the other. All of five foot. Funny – I always thought he
was the restless one.
“Harry, before we go over.
I have to tell you some things.”
“Uh huh,” I say, not really
listening to him. My pacing quickens.
“Harry?” He reaches out and
snags my arm, forcing me to stop. “This is important.”
I run a hand over my face.
“I’m sorry. I’ll listen.”
“Good. Here’s the first thing.
As soon as you go over, drop to the ground. That way you’ll be a smaller
target. Got it ?”
“The second thing. The longer
you’re out in No Man’s Land, the more chance you’ll have of being hit by
a bullet or a shell or something. So if I’m injured, don’t stop for me.
Just keep going.”
“Tom, I’d never leave – “
Paris holds up his hand. “Shut
up and listen, Harry. Here’s the third thing. If you manage to get up to
the German front line, take out the gunners first. That’s your priority.
If men are dying around you, let them die. Just take out the gunners.”
I’m surprised at how cold
Tom can be towards his comrades. Would Tom really do that to me? Leave
me behind? I couldn’t do that to him, I know that much. We’ll see out the
* * *
We go over in five minutes.
We’re standing in a row, our rifles at the ready, waiting for Captain Chakotay
to give the order.
It’s ominously quiet down
at the German end of things. Maybe they know that we’re going over.
Tuvok is on one side of me,
Paris on the other. I glance sideways at the coloured man, and he’s standing
at attention, barely moving. But the expression on his face… he’s absolutely
terrified. His eyes are bright and unblinking, and he’s trembling.
I can hear someone reciting
Psalm 23. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
Others are saying the Lord’s
And Paris? He’s holding the
photograph of Belle-Anna, holding it so tight that the skin on his knuckles
has turned white. He’s whispering to her, but it’s in French, and I can’t
Suddenly the sound of a machine
gun breaks the silence. Paris jerks his head up, as do many of the men.
All eyes are on the Captain, as he raises his hand and blows the whistle…
We scramble up over the side
of the trench, and I’m met with the flat ground of No Man’s Land. It’s
so noisy that I can’t think straight, and I freeze. All around me, I hear
the screams of men who’ve been hit. Something slams into me, and I fall
to the floor.
“Keep dow !” Paris shouts
in my ear. I’m breathing hard, and the ground is littered with bullets,
barbed wire and shrapnel.
A shell goes off to my left,
and I see four men suddenly shoot up into the sky.
We crawl along in the dirt,
Paris’ hand clasping my arm, pulling me along. I see Tuvok standing in
front of me, frozen in place just like I was, only he’s got no one to pull
him down. Before I can shout out to him, he starts jerking and convulsing
as if someone’s shaking him like a rag doll. Then he falls limply to the
ground, and half his head is missing, and there’s the pounding of machine-gun
We continue crawling, but
there’s barbed wire in our way, and we have to stand up to climb over it,
so Paris gets up first and holds it out the way so that I won’t get tangled
up, and I can see others who are lying skewered and dead over the wire,
and then I dive for the floor again, and Paris climbs over, but then another
shell explodes, and suddenly his chest is ripped open and he’s on the floor
next to me and he’s still conscious, and I can see the tissues and the
veins and his organs all leaking out and there’s so much blood, and I yell
his name, and he looks down at himself in shock and picks up his intestines
which are hanging out, and then he throws back his head and starts screaming,
and I try pulling him along with me, but his boots are caught up in the
wire and he’s still screaming, so I lift up my gun and point it at his
head, but my hands are shaking so much, and it takes three shots before
I’m tempted to stay there
with him forever, but I keep remembering his words, so I take one last
look at him and I throw up so that my vomit is mixed with his blood, and
I begin moving towards the enemy trenches, and I think I’m crying but I’m
not sure and I can’t hear anything over the roaring in my ears.
I pass men along the way who
are lying on the churned-up ground, and some of them grab hold of me, but
I shake them off and keep going. There are only a few soldiers left moving
now, and as we near the trenches, we take out our grenades and throw them
into the enemy front line, and then suddenly the rapid gunfire stops, and
we’re at the trenches.
We jump down, and are met
with the bodies of German soldiers who lie in heaps. Some are still alive,
though. I see one German with a shock of ginger hair, who is cowering against
the wall of the trench, and I walk towards him. I kneel down to his
level and ask him in my stilted German that I learnt in school “Wie heibe
“Ich heibe Niels, Niels Ixenstrauff,”
he replies quickly.
I stand up again and raise
my gun to his face. I don’t know what I’m doing. It doesn’t feel like me.
All I can see is his uniform, taunting me, showing me that he’s the enemy.
Tom’s words echo in the back of my head.
His eyes grow large, and he
starts shaking, putting his hands in front of his face. “Bitte (please),
nein (no),” he cries, “ich ergebe mich (I surrender), ich ergebe mich (I
surrender), bitte (please), bitte tote mich nicht (please don’t kill me).”
I can’t understand what he’s
saying, and that only makes it worse. I shove the end of the gun in his
mouth, and pull the trigger. For Tom. For England.
His head explodes from the
I hear someone behind me declaring
the trench “British Territory”, and as the remaining men cheer, my surroundings
whirl and I pitch forwards into the dirt.
11:14, October 19th, 1914
I awake to someone mopping
my brow. As my vision clears, I’m met with a young girl in a nurse’s uniform
kneeling in front of me.
“What…” I manage to say.
“Sssh,” she chastens me softly.
“You have a nasty head wound.”
I don’t remember that happening.
“How did – “
She interrupts me once again.
“A piece of shrapnel. You fainted from blood loss.”
“Tom?” I shift myself up to
look around the trench. All I can see are wounded men with nurses tending
to them. “Where’s Tom? Have you seen him?”
The girl looks at me in confusion.
“My friend, Lancecorporal
Tom Paris.” And then I remember what happened out on No Man’s Land. All
The nurse is getting concerned.
“I haven’t seen a Tom Paris here. Do you want me to ask one of the other
I shake my head, wincing at
the pain the action causes me. “Don’t bother. Do I have to go to hospital?”
She gives me a sympathetic
look. “I’m sorry, but no. Your head injury is a minor one; you’ll have
to stay in the trenches.”
I feel oddly pleased about
“My name is Kes,” she tries
to tell me, but I ignore her, and after some time she moves away.
* * *
It’s dark now, and raining
softly. There aren’t many of us. They’re bringing re-enforcements in tomorrow.
There’s a boy sitting next to me – Gerron, I think his name is. He can’t
be more than seventeen. And he’s weeping. No-one’s comforting him, though.
There are no words to say.
I told Paris we only had to
stick this out for a few more weeks. I don’t think I can. Even if I do
survive, I can’t face going back to my family. How can I sit there with
them and say my prayers when I know that I’ve killed people in cold-blood?
That I’ll continue to do so?
I can’t sleep. I’ve got a
strange ringing in my ears, and there’s a nauseating smell of decomposing
bodies wafting everywhere. Normally I’d talk to Tom to pass the time.
But Tom isn’t here.
I should be feeling sad. Hell,
I should be feeling anything over what’s happened. It’s as if the cold
is making every part of me numb. Even my soul. I don’t like it.
04:50, October 24th, 1914
Word came in yesterday from
one of our spies that the Germans will attack today. They must want their
front line back.
Not much has been happening.
Mainly trench restoration. A few days ago we dug graves and buried the
bodies of our men. Tom included. When I went to fetch his body, I almost
couldn’t recognise him. The rats, flies and maggots had eaten away most
of his flesh. It wasn’t Tom. I had this image in my mind that his body
would be all in one piece, that he’d just look as if he was asleep. Ever
since we went over the top, I’ve been trying to forget what he looked like…what
I did to him. How naïve I am still, after all that’s happened.
Anyway, I managed to salvage
his photograph of him and Belle-Anna. I look at it when I go to sleep and
when I wake. It reminds me what I’m fighting for.
A desperate groaning starts
up next to me, and I turn to see who it is. Joe Carey is sitting with his
boots off, trying frantically to shove his bare feet back into them. I
swallow my rising bile at the sight of his disfigured, frost-bitten toes.
The swollen soles of his feet are green and gangrenous. They look like
cheese – the kind with holes in. There’s no way he’ll be able to walk without
his boots, which means he’ll get to go to hospital if we survive the German’s
latest offensive. Lucky man.
One of the men hands me a
round, and I begin threading the round of clips into the machine gun expertly,
making sure that the cord is flat.
The troops stand with revolvers,
grenades and shells at the ready. Every eye is turned towards the enemy
trenches. Watching for some sign of movement. The Captain is using field-glasses
to detect –
Wait, his hand is going up…
That’s our signal. I pull
down hard on the trigger and start sweeping the machine gun from side to
side. My whole body vibrates as the clips are fired. In the distance, I
can make out lines of Germans coming towards us.
A shell lands right in the
middle of the frontal line, and suddenly soil, shrapnel and flesh are scattered
over the battleground.
They keep coming at us in
waves. But my gun is cutting them down as if they were stalks of wheat,
and I am the sheath. Somehow all other noise fades from me, so that I cannot
hear the bombs and the screams and the gunfire. I am focused on one thing
– mowing down as many of them as possible.
The clips are used up, and
instantly I load another round in, hold down the trigger and keep firing…
* * *
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling
Flounders in mud. O Jesu, make it