An Excerpt – Arrival at Folkestone “The Last Step”

March 19, 2013

The Mad Game Newsreel

Soldier

The orderlies were bringing out stretcher cases when I first arrived on the scene. There were probably sixty lined up along the quayside, enlisted men like those of us all standing there. Most were amputees, single and double. Arm or leg. Many had parts of their bodies shot away. One poor chap had lost his lower jaw completely. He was in a bad way. A handsome young man I am sure, cut to pieces from the blast of a shell I expect. Some waved in our direction vaguely but none of the new lads so eager for news moved forwards. They stood as a petrified tree, motionless and numb like me.

Over to the left of the dock were some men who at least were able to walk and shuffle. Many had blindfolds on. At the time I did not know why they were blindfolded. They had on our uniform so they were not wounded enemy. I asked a soldier near me if he knew. “Gas cases, you fool”. I nodded in new wisdom and felt my stomach churn over. The Germans had used gas in January on a small part of the front. It looks like they were testing a new weapon. Apparently 150 had been killed outright and here were some 100 others damaged by the gas. Worse was to come in April, as I was to find out. Some of the walking wounded were also missing parts of their bodies, but the wounds were less serious. Perhaps they had “Blighty Ones” and would see their service over.

From within the ship came what seemed like an endless line of wounded. These seemed much less damaged than the others on crutches and on stretchers. Some had bandages and slings but many seemed to have no wound at all save for a grey empty faraway expression. Two or three seemed very unsteady on their feet and wobbled around almost comically. Some of the lads here laughed nervously assuming that they were fooling around, but the orderlies were not laughing. One of two were roughly manhandled onto the waiting trucks, but most were gently shepherded towards the transport lines. Oh my god, was this the war I was going to? Nobody told us about all of this.

None of the wounded wanted to talk about anything much. One or two pressed a palm to the ground when they disembarked to touch home soil again. One or two called across to us. It must have been a joke for he said, “Hey you lucky bastards all of you. This is all that’s left of the 4ths. All the others are propping up the wire in Wipers, hurry up and get over there to mop up the stragglers ha-ha”. He surely could not have meant that? Every man gone? Every one of his battalion dead all at once? We were told things were quiet and settled and that our attacks were pinning the Germans back and moving them ever closer to their borders again. It must have been a terrible joke.

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