Peace on Earth

The Western Front, or the Front, as they more often called it, was to Sammy Baldwin nothing short of devastation; it was the only word that he could think of to describe it and he scribbled it down on a wet piece of paper, in a letter that he meant to try and get back to the real world. The real world, he dreamed of it constantly; of such simple, inane things as dry clothes and a warm bed, a hot dog with mustard and relish, or even just a glass of cold milk. He stared with tired, glassy eyes at the muddy trench that he sat shivering in then stood up slightly to see the barbed wire that was spread tightly around poles jammed into the ground just in front of the trenches. The German trenches were, in places, as close as fifty to sixty yards away and almost identical to the enemies’. Baldwin, along with Abe Schmidt, was a Rifleman in the London Rifle Brigade and had been hunkering down in trenches like the one he was in, near Ypres, Belgium, for over three months. He could see dead and fallen comrades’ bodies, strewn all along both sides of the Front. Abe Schmidt appeared in his peripheral vision and he turned slightly sideways to see his compatriot, now hunkering down just a few yards from him. He handed Baldwin a cigarette and Baldwin nodded and reached for a book of matches. Both youngsters had begun smoking, in earnest, on the Front. It was December 23rd, and in less than thirty hours it would be Christmas; there was an eerie feeling floating everywhere, it seemed to be in the air and it got into everyone’s nostrils and when they breathed it into their lungs they became light-headed and insane and they no longer wished to fight but to lay down their arms and refuse, any longer, to kill another human being. It was widespread throughout the trenches, among almost all the enlisted men and even some of the junior officers, usually those who had been pressed into service by the German threat. The higher command, the lifelong military men—of course—were immune, and thought only in terms of winning or losing and their orders were to stay the course and hold the line, at all costs. Sammy Baldwin exhaled a stream of noxious smoke and scowled. “Yah know Abe, our fathers lied to us.”

“Well Sammy they-uz tryin’ tah get us to be where they couldn’t go.”

“Don’t kid yah-self Abe; they din’ wanna go.”

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