Omne Telum Morte Timendum (Death is the one weapon all should fear)
By Katelyn Hillary (12), Collinstown Park Community College, Clondalkin, Dublin
Photograph: Westhoff/Getty Images
Thomas J Delaney 4/7/1916
I tip-toed through the zig-zagged trench and gazed at the stars. I couldn’t sleep, every night I could hear rustling and whispering. It either meant that there were animals nearby or that I am slowly going insane. I tried my hardest not to wake my fellow soldiers up but the trenches were small and cramped. I didn’t necessarily know where I was going, I needed to walk and I needed to clear my head.
I don’t want to sound like a whiny teenager but I want my family. I want to hold my baby, I want to kiss my wife, I want to have the night with my brothers where we drink, laugh and have arm-wrestles. All these things I have given away.
I thought war would be easy. Load, aim, shoot, but it is never that simple. Every time I take a life, a part of me is slowly turning dark, corrupted. We are all men fighting for something that we think is important. I was 23 when I joined this war; I was full of joy, happiness and dedication. Now age 25, in this short time, I am sad, alone and afraid.
The things that have kept me going are the letters my wife sends me every week. She tells me about my parents, my brothers, my sons and my daughter. Sometimes I like to close my eyes and imagine that I am in the living room reading the paper, while my wife cooks the dinner and the kids play outside in the garden during the warm summer. The smell of the flowers that my wife grows in the kitchen on the windowsill above the sink, the lavender-scented candles she lights on the kitchen table during the harsh winter.
I sometimes even smell the flowers and the lavender candles but they soon fade and all I smell is sweat, mud and gunpowder. I continued to struggle to keep quiet, I snuck my way through the sleeping men and found somewhere to sit down. These trenches are way too small; two yards wide and seven yards deep. The height was all right, I guess, but we should have made them wider. However, it was not my decision to make.
The moon was directly above my head. I was too tired to walk. I sat near the end of the trench, far from my original place but I was exhausted to walk all the way. My eyelids began to get heavy and the image of my front door came into my mind. The kids were playing and I could see my wife through the window, she was sitting on the sofa. She looked happy and so did the kids. The image kept playing over and over again until I drifted off into a deep slumber. I sometimes wish I would never wake up or that the war would end and then I would go back to my family, but this world is a cruel place.
Thomas J Delaney 16/8/1916
We began to march north-west of the trench. We woke at dusk and everyone was tired, though in truth it wasn’t so bad. The night was probably the most dangerous time of the day here. You could have gas bombers coming from behind or the sides, either was dangerous.
I could hear the men breathing deeply, grunting loudly and some were yawning as they walked. They struggled to keep up. They were still spooked about what happened in frontline. A soldier went berserk and killed 32 people before he killed himself. He was the happy one, the one who made us laugh, he told us stories about his family and he was like family to all of us. It makes you wonder why he would do such a thing.
I looked around and saw a few men crying and whimpering. Some walked in silence, some walked crying but I walked empty, lonely and thoughtless.
“INCOMING! RUN! GO YOU USELESS SODS!” a man yelled at the top of his lungs. I could hear gunshots, I saw men fall to their knees taking their last breaths, and I could smell gunpowder. I turned forward and ran for my life, I ran for my wife, I ran for my children but it wasn’t good enough. A sharp pain hit the bottom of my spine and down my legs. I lost all control and tripped over myself.
I screamed out in pain. Squeezing my eyes shut and clenching my jaw. Was this it? Was this the noble death I came here for? Lie on the ground . . . paralysed, this was the death I came here for. A sense of realisation overcame me, I will never see my family again, I am going to die on the battlefield and be forgotten. A soldier’s last thought should be of home, that’s what the men said. I could use my gun and try to kill anyone I can until my time runs out or I could lie here and wait for death to come. One of my choices of action is noble but it is not the one I will pick. I will lie here, think about my family and walk towards that light I always feared.
“OMNE TELUM MORTE TIMENDUM,” I shouted for all to hear. I slowly closed my eyes and took my last breath and clutched the necklace around my neck. I love you, amica mea, Tara. All goes silent, all goes black. This is it, this is my death.