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The Last Letter
The Last Letter
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
He sat in the still dank air, hunched over a piece of paper, his pen poised to scratch out words that would crush a mother’s heart. The candle flickered intermittently, it meagre light a fuzzy edged circle around his shaking hand.
He was alone in the bunker; it was the end of the line of a network of tunnels and dugouts strewn across the battlefield like a cross-section of an ants nest. In the background, the sounds of artillery shells, but there, right now, the night was still; soldiers exhausted, were sleeping to find strength for another day.
‘Corporal John Milton Beckworth’ he wrote, ’was lost today, in a morning advance. The enemy were many and had dug in some hundred metres from our post. They had two machine-gun installations and Corporal Beckworth’s platoon was ordered to take them out. He bravely undertook his orders with honour and with his platoon was successful, managing to advance the line and secure the installations. In the final foray Corporal Beckworth launched a grenade, but was cut down before it exploded. His actions were exemplary and his bravery commendable. He fought with honour for his country and died a soldier, upholding the freedoms in which he believed. We are so sorry for your loss, but know you will take pride in your son’s actions on the battlefield, his bravery and sacrifice.
Lieutenant James P. Cross.’
Cross dropped the pen and leaned back. ‘Shit,’ he said, angrily.
Faint footsteps echoed in the trenches and Benson appeared at the doorway to the bunker. He took off his backpack and dropped it near the entrance with his rifle, falling back against the wooden post wall. He sighed and took out a cigarette and lit it, inhaling the smoke for the longest time then easing it out of him. He looked to Cross, his face battered and filthy.
‘Just wrote to Beckworth’s family. What bullshit. How do you tell a mother her eighteen years old son died in battle by tripping over his rifle and blowing his own fucking head off?’
Benson’s expression didn’t change; his eyes remained dark and emotionless.
‘He was just a kid, a bloody kid. What the hell was he doing out here?’
Benson took another drag of his cigarette. ‘What are any of us doing out here?’
Cross stood up and paced the bunker then stopped at the entrance, leaning on a pillar and peering up into the clouded night sky. ‘I told his mother he died a hero.’
‘I guess that’s something,’ replied Benson. ‘Gotta be some reward ending a life without purpose.’
‘You don’t believe in this?’ asked Cross.
‘Believe in war? You gotta be kidding. We kill some of theirs, they kill some of ours; makes perfect sense to me. Look, the only way to get out of here is to kill, and that’s the only reason I’m doing it. The politics, the flag-waving bullshit; they can all go fuck themselves.’
Benson stubbed out his cigarette and rose to his feet. He picked up his rifle and pack and stepped around Cross. ‘It’s about three hours to dawn. I suggest you get some rest. And don’t lose that pen.’