Charles Smith was born in 1898 in Bath, England, and usually went by Charlie. Charlie’s father had died of Tuberculosis by the time Charlie was two. Charlie had very little memory of his father, and although it was an inconvenience to his mother, it never was a terrible inconvenience to Charlie other than his mother taking up whatever extra jobs she could find. Even though she had to work a lot, Mrs. Smith always found time to play with her son and was, overall, a very loving mother.
Charlie was a very active boy and was always going on adventures around whatever town they were in. He had always wanted to be a knight; rescuing a princess and fighting a dragon all sounded quite fun to him. So by the time The Great War broke out, Charlie had decided that he was going to be a soldier and that was that. The day he turned seventeen, he signed up for the war, and the doctors decided he was in perfect health.
His mother had admonished the idea and thought that it was very dangerous but could not stop Charlie.
She knew what wars were like because she had been a medic in the Second Anglo-Boer War and had left Charlie at her mother’s house, and she did not want Charlie to go through a similar experience. She had tried to tell Charlie that she needed him at home to take care of her, but he only responded that he would be home soon enough once he won the war.
Seeing that he was so optimistic to the point of delusion and that nothing she could say would make any impact whatsoever, she signed up to be a medic, even though it brought back some bad memories, so that she could keep an eye on him. Charlie had no problem with that as he loved his mother dearly and wanted to go to war. He thought she would make a great medic, as she would always clean his wounds when he got hurt on his adventures.
Charlie was made private, was given a gun, taught how to fire it, and was sent off to the trenches.
When Charlie looked around the trenches, he saw that it was not a fairytale. Dirt and mud threatened to overflow the wooden walls; gunshots filled the air; men sat down with weary expressions; blood dripped onto the wooden walls; the sky was a dark grey, even though it was only 3:00; lanterns flickered and shook; and yells pierced the air.
Although Charlie was experiencing horrors, they were nothing compared to the horrors that Mrs. Smith was facing. Bandaged limbs still oozing blood, countless bodies covered with sheets, men begging for death, bombs heard as though they were right outside, and the worry about her son. She would look very closely at every face to make sure that it wasn’t her Charlie. With every gunshot or bomb that she heard, she wondered where Charlie was, and if he was safe.
The next day, Charlie was woken up, or would have been woken up if he had gotten any sleep, by the sound of a bomb crashing nearby. He scrambled out of his bunk and curled up into a ball.
As soon as he calmed down, he changed back into his smeared uniform and grabbed his gun. As soon as he exited the bunker, he was startled by a large crashing sound called war. He was ordered to go to the wall and “empty his ammo,” or whatever that meant. Charlie started firing into the opposing trench and watched as a soldier fell and did not get back up. A sick feeling filled his gut as he wondered what his mother would say.
His mother, in fact, was charged with being the medic, wandering around the trenches and dragging the bodies back to the bunker. Seeing these horrors and wounds of war made her yearn for news of her son.
Just then, as she gazed out into the patch of light surrounded by smoke which was her sun, a bullet struck her and she dropped to the ground.
She woke up in the very bunker that she was in yesterday, although she felt something was wrong. She looked down and saw that she was bleeding quite heavily from her abdomen. The tray beside her had tongs and a bloody bullet. She could piece together what happened and knew that she didn’t have much longer left. At this moment, she was only thinking of her son, Charlie.
She found a pen and paper lying on the nightstand next to her, for notes on the condition of the patient, and started writing a note to Charlie.
“My Dearest Charlie,
I am so sorry that I have to leave you in this world all alone. I love you so much, and I hate to leave you. Please try to remain safe, my son. Live your days fully, and enjoy your life, for it ends too shortly. So do not grieve knowing that I am exiting in peace with thoughts of you. Life is too short to be sad. Goodbye, my dearest.
That was how the nurses found her a few hours later, clutching her last words that she had written for someone who she held dear. The nurses took pity on her and sent out that letter to Charlie.
Charlie had just sat down to a game of cards with some of the other fellows when a very tired-looking soldier came up to their table and asked if there was a Charlie Smith among their group. At this, Charlie stood up and replied that he was in fact the boy in question. The man handed him a piece of paper and left the bunker, back out to where the world was tearing itself apart.
Charlie decided to take the note back to his bunk so he could read the contents in peace.
As Charlie read his mother’s final words, tears made tracks down his grime-stained face and onto the paper, blotting the page and cleaning his face. He felt numb to the sounds of war.
His mother, the calming presence that had always kept him safe, was gone, and it was his fault. He had insisted on going to war so he could be like a knight and save some sort of princess and fight monsters. He had been so foolish and childish without any real notion of what the world was like, and he had led his mother to her untimely death which he would pay for for the rest of his life. Charlie started to cry in earnest and buried his head in his pillow and fell asleep.
The next morning, people could sense a visible change in Charlie. He was not the same boy who wanted to rescue princesses and kill dragons; he was a man, in the middle of a war, with no parents, fighting for revenge.
They stationed him at the wall again, Charlie had a different plan. He and some other men had decided to sprint to the other side to try and kill as many of the Germans as possible and most likely die trying.
Charlie gave out the signal and they all ran out of the trenches with the other soldiers screaming after them, and charged to the opposing trenches with hate in their eyes. They had gone about three meters when the Germans shot a bomb at them. Charlie had just turned around to see the bomb land near his friends and him before he was blasted back into the bloody grass.
Charlie woke up in the hospital and looked around and only saw crimson flowing from missing limbs as screams of agony mixed with the sounds of gunshots from the trenches filled the air. Charlie looked around at his friends, lying limp with glassy eyes, and watched as the nurses covered them with blankets. Tears ran down his dirty and bloodstained face and dropped onto the grimy cot. Charlie thought of not only his missing legs, but his fellow soldiers, and his beautiful mother who were all gone because of this god-forsaken war. He had been so foolish to do this, he had killed everyone he held dear. His mother and now his friends.
Blood was still oozing out of the bandages that covered the stumps that were now his legs. He knew he would die soon so he just waited for the reaper of death to take him and all of the other lonely souls that were lost because of the war.
When death finally came, as light through the door of the bunker, Charlie saw that it was not a skull figure in a dark hood, but his own loving mother, still wearing her bloodied medic scrubs and her dark brown hair tucked beneath a white cloth, holding out her hand, with a sad smile on her face. Charlie took her hand and she gently carried him away from the war and out of sight.