Why We Should Remember

The following story was written by a Year 10 student at Brune Park Community School during a creative writing workshop I ran there. I think it’s a deeply impressive piece of writing not only for the vividness of detail but also for how much the writer identifies the importance of passing on tales of remembrance from World War One. 

A Ghost Story

by Caitlyn Chetwood

“It was one of my late shifts working as a guard in the gallery. Only the artwork was lit, it was nothing I wasn’t used to, just an average night. The gallery had closed at six and would open again at nine in the morning. My friend Allen had worked six till eight yet had left early as his wife had gone into labour with their first son. Therefore I was needed to work eight till five.

I was looking at a painting of a field. It was beautiful, full of small red flowers, possibly roses or tulips, each individually drawn and painted. It was initialled ‘V.C’ , to whom these initials belong I do not know but there is still a familiar feeling about them.

Suddenly, the lights flickered off. I looked down at my watch and it said eleven o’clock. It was amazing, while I was looking at that painting, three hours had passed. I notice that one painting is still lit. It is a drawing of men in the trenches from world war one.

I hear the dragging of shoes behind me and turn. In the shadow, I see a figure of a young man, no older than fifteen. He has a disfigured and shredded face, barely looking human. His teeth and jaw bone showing through his right cheek, teeth were missing, some were yellow and some were black. The few wisps of hair that were viewable seemed mousy brown, dirty and flat. His eyes lost of a soul, no light, no hope as if he sees no good in this world anymore.

Staring into his eyes, I see his final scene. He was climbing over the top and began running as fast and as far towards the enemy as he could get. Yet there is only so far a young boy of his age could go without needing to catch his breath.

He stopped … yet in those few seconds he forgot where he was, he forgot to keep low and out of sight. Rounds were fired, catching and ripping at his stomach. One ripped away his cheek on the right side. His fatal blow was a shot to the heart… he froze, fell to his knees, realizing this was his final scene. Just before his sight died there was a small wave of white, cheers from one side and silence from the other, yet no shots were fired from that point on. The memory fades and I see the ghost once more.

I realize he is still wearing his uniform of damp brown, not damp with water but damp with blood causing it to stick to his body. The hole in his clothing and chest, the trench coat to large for someone so young, his boots are torn and falling apart. He holds in his right hand the number 8, his first weapon handed to his by his officer, the weapon he fought and died with.

He approaches closer. I notice he’s quiet. The only noise is one of his boots dragging, the same noise I heard the first time the ghost appeared. The poor young boy is slouched with nothing but sadness in his movement, slow and carelessly walking, blood still flowing out of his chest.

He grabs my wrist, not violently but softly, almost like a plea for the peace he never lived in. It makes you feel cold and lose all happiness, almost making you feel how he felt and feels, lost and alone. He tightened his grip around my wrist slightly, tears in his eyes yet not crying, making me feel like he was begging for my help. I stood there crying out “Im sorry but I can’t change anything, im sorry your dead and that you lost your time.” His grip loosened and eventually dropped.

He yet again came closer. His breath was even colder than his touch. It smelt of blood and metal as well as the mouldy bread with maggots in that he ate before his death. His breath was damp with the tears he had cried in that battle and was shallow from the effort he put in his last run on the earth and soil he fought and lived on.

He spoke… his voice was no more than a whisper saying “just make sure the past does not repeat itself or you will lose all that’s dear to you, family, friends…” He paused and looked in his left hand. Enclosed was a necklace with only one charm, a gold heart. Inside was a picture of a young girl, “… and loved ones” tears strolled from his eyes “I loved her and because of that war … I lost her!”

The clock struck eleven thirty. He only spoke once more and he said “Do not let the past repeat itself.” To which I said “I will do all I can to prevent it”. With that he left, fading before my eyes. The lights came back on.

The night continued as normal from then on and I swore to myself I’d stick by my word. I would do my best to prevent the past from repeating itself ever again.

So, my dear boy, this was the story of the young soldier and sadly, George, the tale is true and your father will say the same, because as his father I have passed it down so future generations of our family will give the warning the young boy gave to me and I do my best to stop what may start again.” So the grandfather finished telling the tale of the young boy to his grandson George. The young boy said to the grandfather “Granddad did you ever find out who V.C stood for?”

The granddad replied saying “Yes, I did. It stood for Victoria Cresent who I went to go see. She was one hundred and three years old. I spoke to her about the drawing. It turns out she had painted it for her lover who went to war and never came back. The flowers were actually poppies. She asked why I was so interested and I told her and you’ll never guess what?”

George replied “what??”

“That lady’s love was the same boy I met that night and her knowing he’s never let go of that necklace left her at peace. It was as if she lived only long enough to hear of him once more, so she passed away happy and dreaming of him.”

The grandfather would never get to tell that story again yet in many ways he would as George passed it on to his son and that son passed it on to his and so life went on forever with the tale of the young boy being told.

 

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Haunting Writing from Brune Park Community School

I’ve been working with Year 10 students at Brune Park Community School in Gosport. Today we wrote ghost stories and poems inspired by the Artists’ Rifles Exhibition. I was deeply impressed and inspired by the quality of the writing produced by the students. Not only did they have incredibly vivid imaginations, they approached the subject of World War I with great sensitivity and understanding. Their work showed a depth of insight into the sufferings of those killed in the war that was very moving. They also wrote with an originality and flair that was really exciting to listen to. Some of their ghosts were so disturbing that I may not sleep very well tonight!

Here’s an example of their work.

The General’s Ghost

by Nicola Vince

His eyes lay icy blue, sunken back into their sockets, surrounded by his muddy brow. Blood that had frozen in time stood dry upon his face, blood that had previously dripped from the wounds that remain open. His face still set in its final lost expression, split by the mouth that still parted slightly from the last stolen breath.

Drowned in his own guilt as he watched his men be shot down over his shoulder, feeling every blow as his friends took their last breath. Watching his friends charge over the top on his command, only to tumble limply back down. The grime of what he had done stuck upon his hands. He held his gun and pressed the cold metal to his temple, letting off a blow that shattered his very soul. He fell to the ground and his body finally relaxed.

His crisp uniform still stands tidy, topped with five once gleaming medals that do not glisten anymore but instead are smeared with dirt, hiding his achievements that matter no more. Blood soaks his hat that rests slightly tilted on his head and his boots splattered with mud with the laces pulled tightly.

Echoing down each hall, the tough march thuds from his heavy wear boots but comes to a halt by a reliving of his falling friends. Feet picked up in every step, never a scuff to be heard, as he had been taught in his younger years.

Freezing in front of me with a lost expression on his face, he snatched my wrist with his leathery hands. Still moist from the guilt he once felt, his weakness hid behind what seemed a snake’s hold.

The intense smell of cigarettes hit my face and rolled past my cheeks as though it was stained upon his lips. The strong smell of medicine hung around him although failing to hide the smell of the guns’ smoke indented in his uniform.

Before he spoke, he cleared his throat from the long years of smoking. Speaking in a husky tone, his once authoritative voice had faded, replaced by what seemed not a man but a confused boy’s lost cry for help.

Dear Roslyn and Benjamin,

I am afraid that I will not be returning. Although I believe my absence will not be noticed. I know now that when I was home, I locked myself away from others, consumed by my work and my demons. I have always had an icy personality, cold and bitter to others around me. But when I met you, Roslyn, there is no possible way I could put into words how much I loved you. I suppose the only way I could come close is to say that you warmed me. I know it’s a preposterous thing to say but that is exactly what you did. You broke down my high wall that I surrounded myself with to push others out and you melted the cold blanket that lay upon my heart and for that I am forever indebted to you. Although I fear my actions are too late.

Benjamin, to you I believe I owe the deepest apology. I wish I could be a father that deserved to have a son like you. I hope when you are older you understand my cold ways were not intended to inflict pain on you and I will forever pay for my cruelty in my own mind, it will drive me crazy. The best thing I can wish upon you is to not grow into a man like me. You are the man of the house now and remember what I taught you about your laces, you must make the loop otherwise it will not work. You will be forever in my mind but engraved in my heart.

I must go; the guilt of what I have done is unforgivable. Oh Roslyn, if only you would have seen them. They fell down from the rapid gunfire like rag dolls hitting the floor one by one, each fall tearing my heart slightly more. I thought we had taken the machine guns out, I was sure of it. Even though so many of my soldiers told me they didn’t feel it was safe to go over the top, I did not care. I was once again cold hearted and oh how I will pay the price for my actions.

Goodbye my love and my boy.

I can confirm that I have indeed been defeated by my demons.

Forever yours,

William