Unit: The Gold Watch
Hope on the Battlefield
By Sarah Ryland
As the evening skies embraced hints of aqua and cobalt, Mark strode through the raw deserted grounds and reminisced about what had once been. Not a day below 60, Mark was rather feeble in his stance, with a house full of memoirs as old as the scars upon his skin. Burying his old, nimble fingers into his trouser pockets, he breathed in the fresh, clean air and turned his head towards the wide stretch of ocean accompanying him. Such tranquil, such serenity – it allowed a feeling of gratitude, or even synchronization between what the shallow shores had seen, and what Mark could remember. But his thoughts were stolen. A glimmer had caught his eye, at the moment where the almost-dead grass met the sandy shore. Walking over and carefully uprooting the object from the soil, Mark became enthralled by what resembled a pocket watch - revealing shades of chestnut, and tiny flecks of gold as he scratched off earth from the ornament. There was no clock on the watch – just a circle full of dirt and grass. Buried in the middle of the Gallipoli battlefield, the watch brought memories of what had happened in that exact spot on that exact day many years ago, and softly brought a tear to his eye.
“Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!” As Mark covered his face, he turned around to see some men still yelling and stumbling – floundering ecstatically through the misty panes and thick olive light. Under a green sea, the brave men choked and drowned. Looking up, the sky was swallowed in shadows of burgundy and copper – or maybe that was just his imagination. War on the Western front had sunk into stalemate. Both sides were peering at each other from fortified trenches as machine guns fired, forced to spill precious blood in futile frontal attacks. The battlefield was a living hell – the inescapable groans were heartrending. The soldiers were constantly the unavoidable victims of the growing fear that they would never see their homes or families again, while fatigue and psychological trauma ruined the brave souls for life just as badly as the mutilation from the gunshot wounds. There were so many gunshots that Mark could not tell where each was coming from. While looking to the left, he could be struck from the right and vice versa. There was a reason they called the ground between trenches ‘No Man’s Land’. A young man who played ‘footer’ was shot when running out. He started trying to crawl back to our lines and was so close, when he was hit again. He was dead within a few minutes.
Mark had a gut feeling it was not safe to be where he was. He knew that he had to move. Shouting out to his fellows to stop firing to allow him to travel, he lifted his weapon from his side and prayed to God he would survive. Chaos and confusion menaced his mind as he imagined the possible fate of his actions. Stepping out of his harbor, he made a mad dash to the next trench. As he slid into the dirt and watched dust rise past his face, an excruciating burn encompassed his left side – pulling all thoughts to an abrupt halt as blood spilled out and clung to the material of his uniform. He suffered a splinter of a bullet in the side – deeply slicing his torso. Breathing through the seamless agony, Mark turned around to see he was joined by another solider by the name of Lex. From what Mark could see, he was suffering horribly with open wounds, blood-stained bandages falling from his head, leg and shoulder and a struggle for air. Mark knew he had to help, or else Lex could be just another number for the death count to feast on. No one else was there, and no stretch- bearers of any sort, so he threw the poor soldier’s arm around his neck and helped him down the ridge. With a swollen knee – either another splinter of a bullet, or cut by the rocks, Mark could hardly walk. He passed Lex on, to other soldiers, as he wiped the sweat…