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The following is a transcript of a short diary, found in an excavated trench in the forward German line in France, from the era of the First World War. The use of the trench was not accounted for by equipment, and most of what was described was evidently cleared away for burial, as few bodies remain. The soldier is nameless; no identification was found on the diary or any of the few British corpses that remained in the trench. There may be other incidents similar to this, and if any arise I will make transcripts and post them.
January 15th 1915.
We trudged on through the mud. It filled our boots and coated our legs. Its splashes marked our jackets and dotted our faces. Rifles in hand, sacks shouldered and multiple tools strapped to us, we marched. Our group was sore and tired, our legs ached and our feet burned. Marching and writing is hard, but then again so is staying alive in this travesty.
January 16th 1915.
We came across an abandoned enemy trench network today; we were marching and we stumbled upon it in a forest in the early morning. There was a thick fog and its discovery was pure accident. One of our fellows dropped down seemingly into the ground and landed with a dull thud, having landed on a pile of semi-decomposing corpses. We decided to hole up for the day in the clear parts of the trench; the parts that were not clear were piled high with German bodies. This war will hopefully end soon. I have no clue as to why I signed up.
January 17th 1915.
We are staying in the trench for the time being. Heavy shelling started recently and stopped us from progressing further into enemy lines. The problem that resides though is that we have forgotten our orientation, and as such we do not know from which side the shells are falling from. And to make things worse our compasses seem to be acting up; spinning in all directions, wobbling nonsensically, one even exploded. A fog has also set in thick, and with it has set in an unwillingness to get moving.
January 18th 1915.
I happened upon a commander’s dugout while exploring the trenches. I was ordered to scout around the unexplored trenches about us by my units’ leader, captain Darlington. I was surprised by what I found in the dugout, an officer, lying sprawled on the floor, fingers literally dug into his throat, having torn it. What could convince a man to do such a thing surpasses my imagination. I can only suppress the image in my mind lest it drive me to distraction.
January 19th 1915.
Fights are breaking out among the men, punch ups are happening every few hours. I put it down to the fact that we have not moved in several days, and we are tired, cold and restless. What may have been petty bickers elsewhere have escalated in the close proximity we have to inhabit. Captain Darlington managed to keep everything at bay for the time being by firing his gun into the air, but many of us will not be able to stand each other for much longer. I only hope the fog and shelling lift long enough for us to travel.
January 20th 1915.
We’ve been hearing strange noises overnight, sounds of troops flooding over the parapet, gunshots and screams. Holing up in this trench is far from good for the mind, we’re paranoid and afraid. I reckon it’s the constant shelling; our ears must hurt from the noise. That and collective hysteria. That’s all for now, I was just ordered to scout out a further line in the trench we’ve discovered. I may write another entry today depending on what I find.
January 20th 1915.
My findings were strange. The trench I investigated was piled knee-deep with German dead. All had their fingers forced through the soft flesh of their throats. I nearly vomited on the spot; it was a vile sight. There is something not right about this trench, something unnatural happened not so long ago.
January 21st 1915.
Fights are becoming more serious, arguments are now more personal. Multiple men now have had punishments for their actions, though even the commanders are acting irrationally. My friends and I are not sure how long we can go without simply deserting into the maelstrom of artillery and wire and fog. All of us now have a feeling of being isolated. Believe me, this is not a good situation to find ourselves in. Luckily captain Darlington is still level headed, our battalion in check. He is our sole source of clarity in this muddle of violence.
January 22nd 1915.
Someone died today. A fight turned into a small shootout, and it resulted in one poor man with no involvement having his brains blown across the firing step by a stray bullet. Tension is high; everyone is staring at each other, as if daring one another to start something. Everyone jumps at the slightest human noise; we are used to the shelling, so our company became absolute chaos when the noises of battle invisibly waded across us for the third or fourth time. We cannot live like this for much longer. Another captain came to his senses in the chaos today, and that is the only good thing to have happened today. After the shooting he came round and rationed our ammunition, saying something along the lines of, "Now you have little enough to fight off just the Gerries, but not each other, calm the bloody hell down."
January 23rd 1915.
I think someone may wish me malice. A misplaced and unnecessary bullet glanced the side of my helmet this morning. If someone had a grudge against me, the pot-shot may have been understandable in these unbearable circumstances, but I cannot think of anyone I may have wronged. I now know that the fights have no meaning, they are simply mindless aggression. What I do not know, however, is why this is the case. I am simply perplexed.
January 24th 1915.
I have begun to watch my back. I receive shoves and sometimes kicks when I walk around the men. Mindless is all that I can call our predicament. We have not moved, we have not communicated, and none of us can stand each other anymore. Even those I would consider my friends seem to have no regard for me. The officers are the worst though; they go around waving their revolvers in the faces of anyone who dare to question their authority or leadership. We need to do something soon.
January 25th 1915.
Someone wants me dead. I know it. Someone barged me over and stamped on my chest, sprinting off before I could see who it was. I ask the others who it was, but they refuse to tell me. We are all going crazy in this hell hole and we need to leave. We are at each other’s throats and stuck in close proximity; that alone is an awful situation to be in. We all constantly glance over our shoulders and check that our guns are loaded, the enemy could come from any angle, German or otherwise.
January 26th 1915.
Shrieks and gunfire were all that could be heard today. We all know it is not real though. It has happened before and as long as we stay here, it will happen again. These phantom battles are happening more and more often. The sounds of bayonets crunching bone, the sound of guns firing, screams of agony as men are torn apart by shrapnel. We know it is simply our imagination, but we cower on the ground nonetheless. Fear is rising and we do not know what to do.
January 27th 1915.
The men started dropping like flies today. Many simply fell to the ground. Others choked and gagged and clawed at their throats. Most of the men have begun coughing. Like some terrible disease it is starting to spread. We are all terrified. This mixed with our hallucinations of battle are destroying our minds. I cannot take this for much longer. If the commanders do not move soon I may simply desert.
January 28th 1915.
I began coughing today.
January 29th 1915.
Shadows appeared at the top of the parapet today, accompanied by the phantom noises. They loom over us, shaped like men, heads angled as if staring at us. I have had no other option than to shut my eyes and curl up in the mud, hiding from reality, or rather unreality, during these irrational encounters. We cower, afraid of nothing, and yet we do not move; we stay, terrified in this trench of illusion.
January 30th 1915.
More deaths. Those of us who remain; we are tired. Captain Darlington is among the dead. I am tired and weak, though I still keep watch. It is a futile effort, as I have barely enough strength to walk, let alone fight. The shadows are constant now, and they have begun to whisper; their voices long, hissing and understandable to no ears. Occasionally we will all choke, usually simultaneously, and blood will rise from our itching throats. I feel that history may be repeating itself.
January 31st 1915.
I am sore. I am tired. My throat itches. I am on one side of the trench, the far side, and the rest are on the other. All but one of them is dead. He has refused to claw himself. The others did it and looked as if they had a few final moments of relief, as they had no throats left to incessantly burn. He claws, so his neck is lashed and infected. I want to help but I cannot move. I wish I could help
February 1st 1915.
The hiss. I’ve figured it out. All along it was so simple. We overlooked it. It never seemed to have a place in our minds ... [DESCENDS INTO SCRAWLING FOR SEVERAL LINES] ... our masks, OUR MASKS, IT FLOWS ... [SLIP MARK].