There is a task that can come up in coursework or exam and it is where you are asked to use the title of a poem in the anthology and use it as the basis for a piece of creative writing.
Now, if this was me sitting there in the exam, my creative juices would start to flow like mad, so I share now a story from my family history. My Great Great Grandfather served in the British Royal Navy as a Stoker in 1853 and was awarded the VC, the highest medal for bravery. But he was a German [or Swedish, we are not sure] which makes it possible that I may have German relatives now called Johannsen or some other such surname living in Germany. Using that knowledge and an idea that has sat in my mind for some time, I created this piece that follows, within the time limit for the exam. Enjoy. Watch how it unfolds until the sucker punch at the end. That ending is designed to make the reader think “oh I did not expect that!”
FUTILITY – A MONOLOGUE FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF A SOLDIER IN THE TRENCHES IN WW1.
At the heart of mankind there is a sadness now for we are at war for yet another Christmas, yet another moment when man pits himself against man, when hatred and dislike appear to be more important than love and peace. Oh, we imagine a time when once again we will walk tall, rise up out of this muddy trench and sing our songs and anthems once again, but that day seems a long way off now, like some ethereal existence that eludes and evades us. This is the life that we are resigned to, the futility that we expect, hoping to be able to sit out this horrible war without getting shot, or worse.
The rats are the biggest danger now. They seem to be everywhere, rummaging around the dead and decaying corpses, hunting for that morsel of meat that will last them yet another festering night. We see them on a daily basis now, since the last barrage of artillery landed and blew everything to hell. Now, where there was grass and flowers, rises only the ruby red poppy in the summer. They seem to reflect the blood that has been shed. Other than that, nothing grows here any more, not even the hope that used to exist within our hearts.
Oh the Generals come round and they say how well we are doing, how good and fine a soldier we are, how smart our uniforms look, considering the hell that we live through each day. They ask us about how the enemy seem to be withering under the onslaught of daily bombardment and we give out our stock response of how proud we are to be here, fighting this battle, but what we do not tell them is that really, truthfully, we want to be elsewhere. We want to be home and as far away from this bloody mess that we can. This is a war that will never end.
It is Christmas now and so we sing our songs of when the Christ child was born, to help us bring back some semblance of normality to these trenches. We sing of a Saviour and hope that sooner, rather than later, the shelling will stop. And when it does, the sense of relief is palpable. We hear from across No Man’s Land, the faint strains of the enemy as they join in the song. We cannot remember who began this song of hope, this ode to a child, but we know and understand each other in this time of woe.
What is this all for, we ask, as we sit under the moon, sharing the frozen frost that glistens on every breath. What is it all for, this war to end all wars? Is it for the land that we so crave? Have we become so entrenched in a land locked battle that we cannot see the woods for the trees any more? Trees, now there is a thought, for many of them are now decimated under the barrage of shell and the shock to the ground. There is not a piece of land left with a tree round here, for miles. All we see is desolation. All we see is despair. All we see is death and decay!
But wait, what is that we hear? Across the barricades we hear the sound of a soft trumpet and it is not one used to sound an attack. No, this one is softer, more harmonious, more melodic, like the strains of a bird on a spring morning, singing its marvellous tune to its creator. No, this is better than that. This is greater than any song. This, in this time of war, is a symbol of hope, a metaphor for living, a truly beautiful sensation that drifts across the land between us. This is their song of Christmas, their words, not ours. This is the embodiment of what it means to have a silent night and there is not a thing I can think of but how beautiful those words sound in another language than mine.
I wonder sometimes, who might be in those trenches across from me. I remember my father telling of his Grandfather and how he served in the Navy. I remember how he stayed there in that country and brought up a family, how that family prospered and now, are relatives of mine. I think now of the possibility of one of my cousins being perched on that opposing trench and I do not want to fight any more. I do not want to be the one to kill one of my brothers. God forbid that I should be the one to do that! After all, I do have my pride in my homeland. I do have my family to think of and I do have the pride of the whole German people resting on my shoulders!