Brookswood Secondary student Christine Kline, Grade 12, sent along a piece created for Socials 11 on the First World War, a piece taken from the perspective of a soldier at the front:
How Could I Tell Them?
My feet ached terribly as I stood there, shivering in the rain. I could see the discomfort in the faces of the men around me, not only because of the physical conditions, but also because of what we were watching take place in front of us. Lawrence Clark, a fellow soldier working with our unit on the front lines was penalized with death for deserting. I was there. He had broken down, shaking terribly, and speaking things we couldn’t understand. He didn’t make it far from the trenches in his attempt to get away before collapsing and being hauled back. It was well know among us that he was suffering from shell shock.
Now Clark stood in front of us, blindfolded and tied, his head hanging. The firing squad took aim. There was an unsettling moment of silence, then four shots. Lawrence Clark fell motionless to the ground. He was only 19. He was not the first. He was, in fact, the second soldier guilty of deserting this month. None of the men really talked about it, but there was some kind of a deep understanding of what we were all going through together. This understanding was not something that we could expect our families at home to relate to. Nonetheless, we were encouraged to write letters to our wives and children often, as they would generally write to us quite regularly. Thoughts spun in my head as I sat down to write. What could I say? The letters were censored, so I chose my words carefully:
To my Dearest Patricia,
Today has been an encouraging day. We have made much progress along the Western Front, something I feel hasn’t happened in quite some time. We have also received some good news from two of the other units on their progress. I am doing well and my chest cold seems to be dying off for the most part. Many of the men complain about the conditions here; but I have found, that it is, perhaps, the little positive things that we must look for and be grateful for. Little things like the sunrise in the morning, or the kindness of some of the men, or even the way a wound has healed up. I do sincerely wish that we could be together again. I miss you and the children dearly. Give my love to Jim, Alice, and Henry. You are all continually in my thoughts and prayers.
How could I tell my own children and wife of the horrors of war? Most everything that I had just written was a lie. Should I tell them that there had been no progress along the Western front for weeks? Or that we had just watched one of our own men executed for deserting? Should I tell them that I had been assigned to run messages because I was no longer capable of shooting having lost most of my hand to a shrapnel wound? How could I tell them that there is no sunrise here because of all the smoke, fog, and gas? Or that I watch men dying around me or losing their feet to trench foot? The pain, the gore, the hopelessness. Yet I could never tell them any of this. It would break my wife’s heart. No, it would be better that they never knew. Even if the letters were not censored, I could never bring myself to tell them any of this. My job is to protect them against it, not to burden them further. I can help them to see the positive in life even when I find it hard to.