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    Letter to a Soldier – Life in the Trenches Essay

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    To Cousin Nicholas, I have heard whispers of your decision to enter the war in service of our country. I pray that you know how proud we all are of you and your decision. I’d like to share some words of wisdom with you that may save your life and give you hope for the rough and tumultuous months to come. You are going to be fighting in trenches. You will begin to loathe these places as much as I do, if not more. I have spent weeks at a time in these holes in the ground, forced to maintain their constant disrepair and fearing for my life every single second.

    The number of challenges that you will face just from the trenches will surprise you. Often times it is not the enemy fire that threatens your existence and sanity, but it is the quality of the trenches. You will have to suffer through all kinds putrid smells, terrible rotations, constant screams from wounded men, and temporary insanity. The rain is constant and miserable. For months at a time it would rain and we would not see the sun for days. The torrential downpour will not only ruin your mood, but also your trenches.

    The mud becomes a persistent, terrible problem. You will be constantly repairing the falling mounds and digging yourself out of holes you make. At points in the war the water in the trenches rose so high as to prevent us from sleeping for fear of drowning and we would have to wade through a meter or more of water for an entire day. Walking becomes an enormous task as you sink to your ankles or more with each step. You never feel fully rested enough to fight, but fear and adrenaline end up taking over eventually.

    The water also festers disease and bacteria because of the blood and excrements that end up washing away each day. Mortar fire is a constant presence on the battlefield and when a mortar hole is made close enough to the trench you will have to take it over and attempt to dig to your trench. Be wary however because many a man has died in these mortar holes from being sucked in by the mud and drowning before the others know of their whereabouts. One of the primary causes of my constant insanity was the rat infestation. Giant black and brown rats numbered in the hundreds in every trench we had.

    The rats would devour all of the corpses in the most grotesque way imaginable. They would start wherever the wound was and find their way to the intestines and the eyes. I saw movement from one body of my fallen comrades and rolled the helmet off of their face to see what was happening. To my disgust three rats had made their home in his skull and one even crawled out of his mouth. I ended up discharging my entire magazine into the rats out of pure horror and anger. Be sure to save your energy and ammunition when combating the rat plague.

    Use a shovel whenever possible to kill the rats who wander to near to you. During the warmer months a new infestation arises. The flies will descend in the thousands. The sheer number of flies distorts the view of the battlefield and creates a horrendous smell among the field of corpses. The smell is enough to make you sick at all hours of the day and it never gets better. The flies make short work of all the bodies and it conjunction with the rats will make scenes that you will never be able to forget and will haunt you until you die.

    My commanding officer was at one point able to count 78 flies on just one of his arms when he awoke in the morning. After all of that torture that you have to live with, it is hard to imagine still going to war, but you must push through. Guns and mortar shells are constantly firing and eventually start to drive you mad. Snipers and marksman are a frequent concern for every squadron because of their constant presence. Snipers position themselves often before the sunrise every morning and watch the battlefield for the entire day. They have many devious tricks that you must be careful to avoid.

    First of all a sniper will never take more than two or three shots from one location so do not be tempted to track their location after the first few shots they loose. Snipers will attempt to trick you by leaving a helmet barely exposed or a rag to get you to fire at their supposed location just so that they can take you out first. Snipers are also very quick; they will be able to shoot a soldier even though they may only be exposed for a few seconds. Snipers will account for several hundred deaths per day so make sure to be smarter than they are and you will survive them.

    The enemy is constantly firing mortars more so in an attempt to produce fear it would seem than to actually inflict casualties. The fire quickens when an attack is near I have noticed so be wary of that. Mortars will inflict some of the worst wounds you will ever see on the battlefield, not always from the explosion, but because of the shrapnel. The shrapnel from these dreaded shells could lacerate, disembowel, and amputate men in the worst imaginable ways. I have seen men lose the top part of his head and have his brains exposed, get castrated, and have their intestines slide ride out of them all from shrapnel.

    These pieces of flying debris are unpredictable and horrifying. Worse still than any mortar shell or sniper fire are the machine guns. Our commanders often foolishly send up running in massive groups just to be mown down in droves by these terrifying machines. Three Germans are able to operate one of the guns and can hold entire squadrons at bay for hours until the barrel explodes. It is possible for us to lose hundreds of men in a few hours. I do not think the Germans even aim; we just make it so easy by running straight into their field of vision by the dozens.

    We even cut the barbed wire in the places we intend to charge days before the assault and this only makes it easier on them. Our commanding officers refuse to change our strategy for attack and we just keep losing men to these beasts. When not in combat some men will be sent out on patrols. Patrolling is nerve racking because you are out in the open and completely vulnerable. Patrols are not only vulnerable to fire from the enemy, but also to mud and water as I said before. I was on patrol once and my partner was crawling through what he thought was a shallow puddle of water.

    It turned out to be a mortar hole and he was swallowed by it immediately. I did my best to search for him without making too much noise so as to not be seen, but I never found him again. You are very intelligent and I know will become easily annoyed with the officers who think that they know best. You must find a way to prove your worth and talk to some sense into the officers so that you are not lead to the slaughter. The ones that send our men in waves just to be killed in seconds have no mind for strategy, not like you.

    The knowledge I have just shared with you is not what you will want to hear before you are deployed, but it may keep you alive. War is a horrible reality and many men do not make it back alive. The key to staying alive and sane is simply just optimism and keeping good squad morale. The French call the morale élan. The élan will not only help keep you alive, but can make you fight better and smarter. Many men will despair and give up. You must keep thinking of your family and friends. This is the only thing that kept me going.

    I had to get back to see my loved ones and that helped me to fight harder for every breathe I took. I know the idea of going to war is frightening, but you are a brave and intelligent young man. You are doing a great service for your country to fight these dastardly Germans. I hope that you remember what I have told you and do not give up hope. Even in the face of insurmountable odds you can still achieve victory. Nothing in life is without hope, even war. I will pray for you every single day you are away and that you make it home safely. Your family and I love you very much Nicholas. Vince

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