Short Story First Prize: Iseabail Duncan (Banchory Academy)
It's raining. We go all the way to bloody Turkey and it rains. Typical.
Sorry. That was probably blasphemous. The ink is smudging anyway; in the unlikely event of somebody attempting to read this, they won't be able to. The onslaught stopped a few hours ago and we were told to catch forty-winks, write a letter before the gunfire opens up again. Well. Too freezing to sleep, raining like Noah's bloody Ark, and I've nobody to write to, do I? I want my real father, but we've been torn apart. So you'll have to do.
The gunfire's peppered my ability to contemplate internally, and I've paper in my hands. So this is my sort of letter. And it's to you, God, because it's all your bloody fault.
Look, I was a good kid. Went to kirk every Sunday, said grace before meals, the lot – I believed in you, right? Even in this bloody hellhole, when I'm heaving mess tins and rusty water buckets, dodging fire, I pray. Beg. Implore. Let this stop. Deliver us: let Death cease to whirl bullet scythes in beauteous wastelands. Let feet no longer chew the famished soil. Let us detach our fragmented selves from incarceration, from inevitable ellipsism; narrow existence, living hell. I could've been a poet. The high achiever of the school-down-the-road; before the bloody war started, Ma said I could go to the Grammar.
Poetry. Battle's not poetic, I told myself as I signed my name. Marched off, became another cog in this suicidal time bomb. I remember pushing individuality from my head, breaking away from clinging ambition. For the kingdom. The power; the glory.
Poetry's not going to win this war.
Still – simple soldier minds, eh? Thick as bricks, conforming puppets, that's all us rookies are. I've gone straight from the one who knew everything to one of many with nothing – I don't even know which day it is any more. Each dawn registers, clockwork, in my head, horrors entrenched in regime. Humanity sputtered out at Eceabat, the town before these trenches. Months ago, when heat still seared the parched land. Suffocating; locals gawping, faces twisted with resent. It’s not just soldier lives destroyed. Someone else's bloody battle on your doorstep can't be fun.
Funnily enough, however, I’m more than a senseless doll. Thoughts hide somewhere in my brain, regretting a childhood of obedience, divine fealty; this war, this so-called 'honour', is stealing my soul. My fidelity. How is that fair? Let my past, my parents, faith and ambition, live on. God. Why won't you? Why can't you?
Father. The one I used to know. Since you’ve started playing your game of lives by callous rules, faith deserts me. I still want to be rescued, but in which way, I cannot even pretend to know.
Terror doesn't stop, nor the game. Others lose. Choke on their own blood, watch hope and memories soak into dust at shattered feet. Impersonal for you, perhaps, with 'all-seeing' eyes and the ability to remain indifferent as bullets bite skin; impersonal for most of us, actually. Bloody selfish, humans are.
But let me tell you something, Father Almighty. When hands shake from recoil, when you're burying best friends. As you scrape blood off dead mens' boots, clean festering wounds, scratch lice, crave comfort, cry. You know the other side is doing the same. And suddenly Turkish snipers aren't the evil ones.
This letter. Rambling. The true effect of war? No food, disease. Flies. So many flies, even in the rain, always there. Like the drilling of disengaging minds. The guns are starting again. I can hear the shrieks of bullet and bomb.
Faith breaks like brittle bones – but there's no time left to question it.
So let's start this last battle like I've ended all my others.
Our Father who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
I wonder how one delivers oneself.
For thine is the kingdom
And the power
And the glory,
Father. With your untouchable, unscarred, infinity.
There’s a lot of time to think while you're waiting to die.
Infinities, eternities. Forever.
I think I've given you enough.
Your Unknown Soldier.
Highly Commended Short Story: Owain Woodman Carr (Tynecastle High)
Tuesday, 23 April1915
Our sergeant has told us there will be a big fight in the next few days. I do not know if I will live through it. If I don’t, please make a better job of herding the sheep back home than I ever did. We have been told we'll be fighting against the
Scots. Sergeant Soysal is always telling us about how fierce and barbaric they are, but they are men who wear skirts and go into battle playing bagpipes! Back home, I never would of thought I would end up on a beach called Cape Helles, sitting in a muddy, smelly trench waiting to fight some men from half way across the world.
Well, our officers are always saying "It’s a soldier’s life!" Huh. They are the ones who eat roast chicken, and fresh food every night, while we get stale bread and murky water. But I suppose it can't be helped.
I went to bed at 2 a.m. last night, and was woken up at dawn by someone shouting at me to get up. We had to march down to the beaches in the dark, and I had to lug a massive machine gun along with me. When we got there, most of our men sat around playing cards to pass the time, but not me, no. You'll never see me gamble a single lira. I usually spend my time exploring my surroundings; I like being near the sea, it's like a baby, so unpredictable. One minute it's quiet and peaceful, the next it's raging and screaming.
My stomach feels like there's hundreds of butterflies flying around in it. Everyone is saying it will be a hell of a fight. This will be the first time I have ever fought in a battle. Me and my friend Kadir have been talking about what's going to happen: he says we will beat the Scots, but I'm not so sure.
Thank God I am still alive to finish this letter. Yesterday morning, when it was still dark, I was woken up by shouting again. Battleships had been sighted. I rushed to my gun, and quickly checked that everything was ok. I was so nervous I almost vomited over my gun cartridges. I was biting my nails too, which is something I never do.
Hundreds of men in skirts poured on to the beach. In the heat of the moment, I forgot to shoot my gun, and Kadir screamed at me "Why aren't you shooting!!!" I came to my senses, aimed my gun and pulled the trigger. My bullet hit a man who was around the same age as me, or maybe even younger; he was playing a set of bagpipes, and as the bullet hit him they fell into a muddy pool and were silenced. I was in shock -I had just killed a man.
After the fight, my tunic was covered in gunpowder stains. Me and Kadirtrudged back to the camp, cold and hungry. The enemy eventually retreated, but I couldn't get that young soldier off my mind. Last night it was hard to sleep, and when sleep finally came I had a strange dream. I was standing on the beach we were defending, and there wasn't a soul in sight. I saw a corpse lying on the ground. I walked over to it and looked down at the body: it was the young Scotsman. I lifted the bagpipes out of the mud and placed them in his arms. Then I woke up; my face was wet with tears. I cried till I had no more tears left.
This is the end of my letter to you. Hopefully they give us leave soon so I can come see you.Kiss Mother and Father for me and send them my love. Please pray for me.
On 25 April, 1915, the first Allied troops landed at Cape Helles on the Gallipoli peninsula, but the assaults against the Turkish defenses made little ground. Among the battalions of the British 29th Division that took heavy casualties were the 1st King's Own Scottish Borderers, a regular battalion, and the 115th Royal Scots, a Territorial Unit. A week after the landing, the British force had suffered a staggering 8,500 casualties among other ranks, and about 400 officers.