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Guest Post: Flanders Field of Grey by Ginger Monette

In 2015, Ginger Monette, author of the Darcy’s Hope series, entered a flash fiction contest, Picture This! Writing Contest, in which she wrote a short story based on a photograph. So was born, “A Flanders Field of Grey,” which she shares with us today in honor of National Poetry Month.

We hope you enjoy it.

Roger stepped away from his companions and swallowed hard as his gaze swept over the Flanders field on the dreary November day. The musty smell of damp earth and the grey sky instantly transported him back to that fateful day fifteen years before.

November 6, 1917. The moment was nearly upon them. He returned his sister’s picture to his pocket and glanced down the trench into the sea of soldiers. Who would death call today? Artillery shells screeched and boomed over No-Man’s land rocketing fountains of sludge into the air. He raked trembling fingers through his red hair and secured his tin helmet. The roiling grey clouds overhead mirrored the churning in his stomach.

The shrill of the signalling whistle pierced the air. The trench erupted in a primal war cry. He added his voice and vigour to the wave of khaki scaling the ladders and pouring over the earthen wall. The staccato of machine-gun fire joined the percussion of artillery and roar of men’s voices. Defying every instinct, he lowered his head and plunged into the firestorm.

As far as he could see, his comrades slogged across the pocked wasteland of Passchendaele. Green-scummed water filled hellholes deep enough to swallow a dozen men. He gagged on a whiff of wet soil mingled with the stench of decaying bodies. Shells bursting on his left and right catapulted men and mud into the air.

Gunfire mowed down the men in front of him. Shuddering with fear, he stepped over two groaning bodies and pressed on. He ignored the grey hand reaching from a murky pool like a tentacle of death lapping at his heels. Flying lead swept over them again.

His legs failed him.

Little did he know that day
His life would be forever changed
On a Flanders field of grey.

~~*~~

Tom thrust his hands into his coat pockets as his gaze swept over the Flanders field on the dreary November day. A barking dog and the grey sky instantly transported him back to that fateful day fifteen years before.

November 6, 1917. A choir of moaning men mingled with the orchestra of artillery. He quickened his pace, splinting, sewing, sawing. An explosion rocked the underground lair, rattling his surgical instruments and raining dirt from the low earthen ceiling.

The company sheepdog sauntered over and nuzzled his leg. “Not now, girl, I’ve got boys to mend.”

Soldier and after soldier came and went from his makeshift theatre. Late in the afternoon he heaved a sigh of relief as he emerged above ground. He squinted upwards; the grey clouds overhead mirrored the tenor of the day. He could only recall laughing once—with a private who’d caught a round in the leg. In spite of his pain, they’d laughed and joked as he prepped the boy for the hospital train.

A sudden boom sent him reeling backwards.

Little did he know that day
His life would be forever changed
On a Flanders field of grey.

~~*~~

Sarah brushed aside a tear as her gaze swept over the Flanders field on the dreary November day. The mud caked on her shoes and the grey sky instantly transported her back to that fateful day fifteen years before.

November 6, 1917. Open and shut; open and shut. The door of the Nissen hut swung back and forth admitting stretcher after stretcher of broken, bloodied soldiers plastered in mud.

What had she been thinking when she volunteered? That it would be amusing to camp in a six-foot bell tent and nurse men gasping for breath with gas poisoning or writhing in pain with a limb blown off?

She hastened across the duckboards under an ominous grey sky that mirrored the fear every woman carried. Fear that a beau or brother would appear. And then it happened to her. A boy moaning on a stretcher stopped her—dead. Her brother.

Her head flew back with an anguished wail.

Little did she know that day
Her life would be forever changed
On a Flanders field of grey.

But the sun broke through the clouds on the November day over the Flanders field of grey. The light glistened off the red hair of her brother Roger walking with his cane beside the doctor. She smiled as the best friends joked about their long-ago ride on the hospital train.

Sarah quickened her pace to join the two and slipped her arm around the wounded surgeon she’d nursed so many years ago. She couldn’t ask for a more wonderful husband.

Indeed all their lives had been changed that day on a Flanders field of grey.

And they wouldn’t have it any other way.

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments about the piece and what inspires you to read about WWI or poetry.

  • Suko

    This touching, war-themed poem works well here. Thanks for sharing this poem.

  • Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

    The repeated lines really drive home the horror of the war. At least there was a bit of a happy ending here!

  • Ginger Monette

    Thank you, Serena!

    Much of the insight we have into WW1 comes from WW1 poets that include famous names such at Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, Carl Sandburg, G.K. Chesterton, Sigfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen.

    Indeed it was an era in which poetry was a part of daily culture. The British soldiers very much enjoyed The Wipers Times, a trench newspaper that included satire and poetry that poked fun at the war, officers, and trench life. My favorite poem is “A Young Girl on the Somme,” which I included for a little comic relief in my WW1 romance novel Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes.

    There was a young girl of the Somme,
    Who sat on a number five bomb,
    She thought ’twas a dud ‘un,
    But it went off sudden-
    Her exit she made with aplomb!

    • Thanks for sharing that with us, Ginger. I agree, a lot of the things we know about WWI came from poems. There are some really stellar ones.