William Barnsley Allen
Awaking in the darkness, bathed in sweat
shivering-so cold-with thumping heart.
Blurred dreams, tinged blood red,
clutching the last strands of sleep
as I struggle desperately hard to stifle
the agonising horrific memories
unbidden, yet persistent.
There is no peace, in sleep
nor in waking.
Perhaps the cure is to face it - stop shutting it out!
Relaxing the tight mental rein,
unchecked, they flood in.
The sights, the sounds, the sickening smells,
the blood and brains, dismembered corpses
that once were whole, lived, drew breath,
hoped and dreamed as I do now.
All the while the endless screeching
of whizzbangs overhead,
competing with monstrous rattle of guns and shells
deafening, drowning out the dying groans
of the smashed humanity I'm here to repair.
My task is impossible
yet I'm forced to make the choice
of who to save and who let die.
Endlessly haunting me, their eyes
fixed and staring, mad with the horror,
imploring, wordlessly pleading for help
in their thousands - and I but one man.
Most are beyond human help,
life already ebbing away
into the crimson, putrid mud.
I have to be blind, deaf, as stone.
But inside, is a heart in shreds.
With trained eye, scanning the carnage
for those with a chance,
forsaking the rest,
when my ankle is grasped in a grip of steel.
Falling face down into the mire.
"Help me! Help me! For God's sake help me!"
Rising up, wiping the blood from my eyes,
Half a man. No legs, just one arm,
Screaming, screaming, screaming.
Why can't he shut up? Just shut up!
I can't get the grotesque thing off - it won't let go.
Kicking the hand with my free foot
But still it holds fast.
Taking the gun from his side,
I deliberately put a bullet through his head
as I would a lame horse,
and I'm free.
Then violently sick.
A voice in my brain, taunting,
"You swore an oath to preserve life,
but now you've killed!"
Sanity slipping away.
Stop it! Stop it! Stop it NOW!
Shut it out again. Bury it,
back in the past where it belongs.
1916. The Somme. Back in its box.
Safely locked away.
Agony, searing through my chest.
Every breath like a thousand bayonet wounds.
Yet I have only one -
when patching up a wounded enemy,
he drove his blade home hard,
deep into my side.
Out of chloroform, they had to operate without.
I felt them tear the dying muscle from my living body.
Excruciating, indescribable agony.
Must switch on the light,
blot out the night and all its terrors.
Reaching out, trying to steady my hand
and click.....bedroom bathed in comforting glow.
Calendar on the bedside table
seems to mock me - nearly fifteen years,
yes, that long has passed since it ended!
I should be free, recovered by now.
Yet here I am
in a personal living hell.
A million and one nightmare visions,
cries, groans, explosions,
relentlessly besieging my crumbling sanity.
In sheer terror I reach for the syringe,
The only relief I know.
Jabbing it deep into my bruised arm,
desperate for the liquid morphia.
Then a dose of luminol, just to make sure.
Oh, and perhaps a little from my secret stash of opium.
Never tried it in combination before,
can't do any harm I'm sure.
Not long now - please hurry!
Take this torture, this anguish
and let me rest.
Please, just let me rest!
Dear God, it's losing its effect!
Been fearing this for some time.
My entire body now racked with pain
and a brain about to explode.
Violently shaking, fixing another dose of morphia.
The abused vein collapses.
Must find another!
Can't wait. Hastily jab it into my left thigh.
Come on! I've had enough for two men
and still the agony persists.
Grabbing the whiskey bottle
straight to my lips,
Gulping, gulping, gulping,
now choking, as the liquid burns its way down.
The empty bottle falls to the floor
The tears are flowing now, unchecked,
soaking the pillow.
Don't know why.
Sudden impulse to open the drawer
beside my bed.
Reaching in, I take out a box.
Inside, wrapped in silk
is my most precious possession.
Unwrapping it carefully, I look at it.
My Victoria Cross.
Turning it slowly in my hands,
On the reverse "For Valour".
Wiping the tears with the back of my hand
to see more clearly.
"For Valour"! What hypocrisy!
Yes, I patched up some broken bodies,
Saved a few lives - but at what cost?
Who will mend the broken minds?
What kind of life is lived in a wheelchair,
in an institution, insane, totally dependent,
waiting for the only relief there is,
I should never have been a doctor,
shouldn't have been 'saving' men.
should have shot them all, then myself.
Dispensed true mercy.
Senses are blurring now.
Everything strangely out of focus,
can't quite understand why.
Nothing feels right.
Yes! That's it!
It's totally absent - that's what feels so odd!
For the first time in all these years,
must have finally got the dosage right.
God be praised!
My attention is drawn to the window now.
It's unusually bright outside
The trees are glowing golden green.
I'm spellbound at the sight
of the dazzling brilliance
now coming in through the window
to fill the room and envelope me
in its still coolness.
I seem suspended between time and place,
hovering somewhere near a ceiling,
above a bed.
It's occupant is slumped,
half in, half out.
My training, instincts, urge me to help him,
but I can't seem to get down.
Can't remember how!
People are crowding around the bed now.
I recognise Dr. Sadler amongst them.
The patient will be quite safe
In his capable hands.
I can go now.
But I will never, ever,
let the World forget.......