It oozed and corrupted between the wooden floorboards. It caked the faces of the khaki ghosts trudging by. It painted the shoring boards which held back the earth and stopped its inevitable slide into the soup at our feet. It splashed and sucked at our feet which were always sodden; and when the rain came, as it always did, rivers of the stuff ran like wild brown horses through the lines. It was all we could do then to heave ourselves above, and every movement, except under orders, was lost.
The thump of artillery, crack of the snipers, the groans of the dying filled our waking hours and somehow this seemed apt accompaniment to the wretched sludge; as if perhaps a conductor arranging for the scene would order the boom of cannon and howitzers added to capture the despair.
Tommy had a penny whistle, a gift from his mother, the high notes from that whistle seemed the only things not sucked down by the cloying mud. The simple tune drifted down Regents Street to Piccadilly, turning heads and breaking grim smiles on the smeared faces of the huddled host.
Above our heads, the wire, the craters, the gore, the rats and the ever-present mud stretched onwards towards them.
The only landmark was a blackened tree stump we called ‘the finger’ which rose above the stench of the dead and pointed at the sky as if accusing God of forgetting this mired field and its twisted humanity.
[ A sense of place course at ICE Cambridge just to create a sense of place in a short piece.]