An Adagio in olive-drab...
David's thoughts were of death, his own death and the death of his friends. As he sat scrunched down in the dodgy sandbagged excavations of the young unfortunates with whom he now shared a grimy sanctuary (n., pl. –aries: Place of safety for a fugitive; place where animals or birds can live undisturbed; holy place; part of a church nearest the altar.) David had been taken beyond the forward slopes of Twe Pa Wejo: The Sleeping Dog Hill, through a trench network which spidered along a narrow spur that pierced the Burmese frontline, to a heavily bunkered knoll three or four hundred metres down and away from the summit.
David now sat perched in silent awe on the lip of the trench, with the incredible beauty of the panoramic vista spreading out from the summit of this mountain stronghold David could see for countless miles over and through three mist shrouded valleys. He rolled a cigarette with quivering dirty sweaty fingers; moaning and reticent, David began puffing away with dry cracked lips. With the beautiful colours of the early morning fading to a shimmering pale blue, the curtain was now rising for the squillionth absurd, pointless, disgusting, monotonous time on man-kind's tragic-comedy: War.
Glancing up at the atmospheric alchemy of the colours and clouds of a new day, the rumble of artillery echoed like distant thunder across the fragile sky and down through the trench. As the bombardment begins, David is consumed by remorseful introspection…
A moment later, from beyond the canopy of the jungle on the opposite ridge line across the steep valley, artillery rounds screamed down slamming into the ground along the trench-line amid the young warriors: White-hot shards of jagged steel were spinning and whining through supple flesh submerged within a monstrous howling roar. The tumultuous metallic thunder-claps of high explosive detonations electrified deranged young faces - the weird, twisted, giggling humour of these mannish-boys being thrust into the crucible of combat gnawed at David's frayed nerves. Cringing down beneath the zip and whiz of the reapers scythe of shrapnel bursts David clawed the scruffy littered floor of the parched narrow clay furrow; the anxiety of total sensitivity - momentary premonitions of bodily violations and the thought of his own shredded flesh; wrought by indifferent technological breakthroughs: Faster, cheaper more accurate brutality. Lead, steel and brass, configured for success at point-of-sale, high velocity entry wounds: 'More bang for your buck!' His mind skewed - 'TILT' - Breathless, he panicked. Not again, not again! Screaming he cast a rapid glance through the circular entrance to the bunker. The sky was a pale blue vignette the size of a dustbin lid. David was reminded of a Chinese proverb, "What does the frog in the Well know of the immensity of the sky"?
The presence of the Reaper struck the adolescent warriors humourless; David's thoughts became increasingly savage. "Dumb little fuckers you're all dead meat".
He tumbled legless with fear along the zigzagging trench back up towards the forward slope of Sleeping Dog Hill, his cameras bashing together as he bumped annoyingly into intense olive-drab little automatons busy with the business of destruction. "Get a grip, get a grip"! His conscience demanded. WHAM! His head was knocked backwards with brutal force as shrapnel tore a flap of skin across his eyebrow up over his forehead. Deafened and blinded by the hot blast of a rocket-propelled grenade that shrieked into the tatty sandbags on the edge of the trench; with his face in his hands, contorted by his clawing fingers he howled loudly "MUM! DAAAD! OH MUM OH SALLY I'M SO SORRY PLEASE I'M SORRY I'LL CHANGE I'LL CHANNGGE!"- Unable to hear himself above the noise of battle, he began to laugh hysterically as he patted down the divot of flesh on his forehead; he could taste salty tears blood snot and mud in his mouth. A sudden barrage of rockets and bombs exploded in, on and around the trench, scattering limbs and corpses with vicious disregard.
Startled back to reality he slumped weakly with his back against the trench wall, his arms sliding out sideways as his backside dropped into the mire on the trench floor. The forward slope of the hill had been pounded so relentlessly with rockets and siege artillery that in places they were only ill defined rubble paths. Up again on jelly legs he continued down the line passed battered stacks of ruptured sandbags and shrapnel scarred palm logs which excused themselves as bunkers - these were inhabited by wretched peanut butter coloured stick insects with terrified bulging eyes and emaciated frames draped in filthy tattered rags bleached by sun and rain, stained with the salt-sweat of a thousand unwashed days and the fertile red ochre soil of a war-exhausted agrarian mountain paradise.
The bombardment suddenly ceased.
The tension was palpable; the bizarre chortled tooting fanfare of a lone trumpet limped pathetically across the valley accompanied by an unidentifiable grinding hum. David became aware again of the carnage in the trench. Wounded men and boys writhed amongst corpses and debris and were crying out in a lingering chorus of trembling falsetto, the trench-line resonated with this lilting refrain of death.
A wounded Medic with a damaged stretcher was stumbling around a macabre pile of tangled squirming bodies as David sat motionless; a scrawny old sergeant crawling away from the terrible morass, his hair matted with drying blood, rolled over onto his back; exhausted by his efforts to distance himself from death, he fixed a comrade with a piercing stare, opening his mouth - no words came, save for a gurgled reproach which spluttered from a gaping maw torn down the length of his throat.
The assault was beginning...From the impenetrable mist of the jungle below; high-pitched whistles screamed encouragement to an unseen host. As though being disgorged from the jungle floor like a poisonous secretion the Burmese infantry could be seen clawing their way up the sides of the spur. Frantic - David scraped away the pulverized lip of the trench to create a safe vantage point from where he could videotape the attack. The stench of burned flesh, faeces and urine turned David's stomach, he wished for the cacophony of a barrage to smother the terrible serenade that sound-tracked the silent emergence down the steep sides of the hill, as hundreds of tiny flashes twinkled like fairy-lights below. The terrible cries of the wounded were now becoming lost amid the staccato rattle of machine-gun fire as it chopped at the trench-line. Like a swarm of hornets; bullets snipped and buzzed around David’s bruised and bloodied head.
David's throat was raw from screaming and his hard-rubbed eyes were sore from crying. A shell exploded nearby: Suddenly aware of tumbling upside-down whilst simultaneously huge orange and white flashes lit the entire battlefield - the hill the spur and the swirling grey clouds above were lost in smoke and flames as rippling explosions detonated so loudly his upside down world seemed for a moment to be silent and frozen.
David crumbled down where he had landed, into a filthy muddy bunker, which suddenly and violently shook as though a giant was inspecting the contents of a box by rattling it. Through the dust and cordite David saw a blinking red LED, the battered little Canon Hi8 Video camera was still rolling tape.
The madness raged.
Exhausted and languid, David gazed blankly at the trench wall...Numb with regret.
End Part Four: Part five - Prelude to the Crucible.
"TO THINE OWN SELF, BE TRUE!" Quote: Polonious from HAMLET by William Shakespeare.
As a chapter in my Novel "Deliver us from Innocence" this work is an attempt to sugar the unpalatable pill of war reportage: Dedicated to a few great writers and journalists: Timster, Penny, A Peasant, Les Visible, Goon Squad and Nobby.
All images apart from the portrait of the Author in a fox-hole (©1992 Philip Blenkinsop) were created by the Author; all rights reserved.