A Story For Remembrance Day by Ben
Boffard chewed his tobacco pensively and spit it into the thick brown mud, where it mingled with God knows what. Nobody could tell just what a man was treading in when he walked these hellish trenches with blood and fire raining overhead. For example, last week he had stepped on a small easter egg. “What the hell is this small easter egg doing here?” he’d bellowed at his fellow Diggers. He’d felt terrible when he found out it was supposed to be a birthday surprise for him from young Cranberry. He’d felt even worse when he’d found out young Cranberry had been captured by the Turks and eaten alive by trained horses. Not that much worse though, because the easter egg thing had really shaken him.
God, the air was foul here. Taking his head from the latrine, Boffard breathed deep and felt better. The air smelt of spiced wine and sugared plums. That was the Turkish way. Lure you with fine fragrances, then came the hard-sell. He’d bought fifteen carpets this week already. Johnny Turk, he was a wily one. Of course, in some ways, it was even worse when he stuck a bayonet in your eye. But at least it was cheaper. And there was something honest, almost noble, about stabbing a defenceless 17-year-old repeatedly with a long, sharp sword on the end of a rifle. It recalled the golden age of chivalry. Boffard hadn’t been there for the golden age of chivalry, but he thought he would have enjoyed it, because he’d always had an affection for putting large birds on his wrist.
At the moment, he was holding an owl. Shaking it off, he realised there was work to be done. He put his eye to the periscope and saw something strange and disturbing. General John Monash was sitting naked in No Man’s Land making amusing shapes with his scrotum. Boffard sighed. The irrepressible larrikin nature of the hard-working Aussie soldier was a great thing, but it could go a touch too far. He waved to the men in the dug-out, and they all groaned. They would have to get the hovercraft out again.
Boffard lit a thoughtful cigarette. Sometimes he didn’t understand war. You went out, dug a trench, hunkered down, shot at Turks…it all seemed so simple. That’s why most of the time, he understood war perfectly. But sometimes, sometimes…he was drunk. He’d have to be VERY drunk, though, not to understand war. It wasn’t exactly rocket science. He wasn’t like Sergeant Friedkin, who had a big sign on his gun reading “POINT OUT OF TRENCH”. He was more like Sergeant Ansoul, who had photographs of pig embryos above his bed. He wasn’t much like Sergeant Ansoul, but definitely more like him than Sergeant Friedkin. All in all, he was most like Lieutenant Grable. But then again, no, Lieutenant Grable was a Red Indian.
He waved a cheery hand to Simpson and his donkey, who were curled up in a hammock feeding each other strawberries. He was glad they’d found each other, they deserved happiness after all they’d been through. What with the war and everything…
A shell exploded above his head, snapping him back from his metaphysical musings and into the harsh, cold reality of war, in all its gruesome brutality. He looked at the place where his legs used to be. It was a nice spot. Better than the place where his legs were now. He walked back to the first spot. It was nicer to have his legs here. The rest of his body enjoyed it too.
He wondered how Wendy was. When he left her he had told her not to worry, but he had known she would. She had sent him a care package, with three pairs of woolly socks and bag of pubic hair labelled, “Guess Who?” He’d laughed at her girlish sense of humour, and sent back a postcard with a picture of a headless Turk, reading, “Hey Baby, Look at this dead fucking Turk”. She’d sent him back a letter saying, “ha-ha” and another bag of pubic hair, which worried him a little. Where was she getting it all? He’d shown the pubic hair to Albert Jacka, who’d blushed prettily and swished his petticoats. It was amazing how a man could kill five Turks with his bare hands and still retain his femininity. Inspiring, in a way.
As a bullet whizzed through the air and punched a bloody hole through Private Aspen’s skull, Boffard sighed and sat wearily on a nearby chaise longue. Why was he here? To secure the Dardanelles? He’d heard that one before. That was what Wendy said she was doing the night she stayed out till three. He hadn’t believed it then and he didn’t believe it now. Winston Churchill had something up his sleeve. Eczema, probably.
In the end, what did HE have against the Turks? Granted, they were dirty and disease-ridden and Godless, and they were constantly raping white women and had no souls and filthy brown skin, but surely that was no reason to kill them. A good reason to kill them would be if they had committed some sort of white-collar fraud. But Turks didn’t even wear collars. They wore turbans, or so he had heard. He had seen pictures. It would have been more helpful if they had been pictures of Turks, but they were very nice pictures.
As he loaded his rifle, he felt close to tears. Just because the Turks were inherently evil heathen psychopaths was no reason to shoot them in cold blood, any more than one should kill a German merely because God had instructed you to wipe them from the face of the earth, or kill a Chinese woman just because she short-changed you on your laundry. They were things one had to do, but Boffard didn’t have to like them. He did like them, but he resented the inference that he had to. He meant “implication”, but there were weevils in his hair and he wasn’t thinking straight.
He stood, poised by the trench ladder. He was ready to go “over the top”, an old army expression deriving from the fact that it involved going over the top. He grew a little misty-eyed. For some reason the tune of an old music-hall favourite drifted into his head: “Gracious, Captain Wobbliflop, You’ve Such A Scrumptious Swede”. His favourite song. Wendy hated it; she had seizures when he played it. But oh how he loved it. He would be leaving that song behind now; the only music he could hear was the harsh babble of the Turkish guns, the whine of shells, and some rather catchy jazz. Johnny Turk, he smiled – such good taste. He turned and winked at Corporal Smethwick. She winked back. He turned again, and cocked his trusty rifle. Literally.
And then…they were over the top…and the smoke, and the flame, and the roar of cannon, and the screams of the dying…and the howling, indecipherable war cry of the Turks…it all swirled around and filled Boffard’s head and didn’t impress him as much as he thought it would. He strolled casually through No Man’s Land and six minutes later was sitting in the Turkish trench licking blood from a swarthy captain’s eyebrows.
The first eight Turks had been problematic, but after that it was simply a matter of pulling out Jacka’s internal organs and choking the Turks to death with them, one by one. He always felt like a genuinely desirable, sensual human being after he had slaughtered a few men of middle eastern descent. He was wondering if there were any good cafes nearby when a few hundred Turks wandered into the trench and stabbed him repeatedly in the face with dull bread knives. He couldn’t, in all honesty, call it a pleasant experience, because they pulled his tongue out and slit his vocal cords.
Still, funny thing, war. He’d be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for bravery under fire, and yet General Monash would be sent home in disgrace and replaced by a man with exactly the same name. The irony would be as delicious as a well-carved Turkish pectoral muscle.
Though Boffard was dead, the battle was won. All the blood and sweat and tears and sperm had been worth it. The Turks retreated to Constantinople, where they started up a boutique funds management business. Simpson and his donkey returned to Australia and married. They had three children, the youngest of which was an inquisitive boy with a twinkle in his eye and a vestigial tail. And that little boy grew up to be Academy Award winner George Chakiris.
So it all ended up all right, for the most part.
Lest we forget.