The Decemberists – Her Majesty The Decemberists

Private Avery William Whitmore was sent to France with the English 2nd Battalion in June of 1916. Having enlisted at a young age, Whitmore was but an eager boy, willing to serve for his King and country. As a learned student of English, he kept a private diary of his life on the front lines; a keepsake and journal detailing the hardships of trench warfare, this chapter paints a soul lost amongst the blood and mud. These pages were his last, Private Whitmore was killed on July 23rd 1916.

June 24th, 1916
Oh how the Southampton coast seems like a world away. It has been but two weeks since our paddle-boats came to rest at Havre. On what felt like stone our cattle truck ride to these front lines were but passing comfort; if I had only known of life here in these conditions my enthusiastic demeanor would not have been so. The sounds of whiz-bangs and mortar shells have become a morning roost and the smell of mud, rain and blood but my senses’ only test. How I yearn for this to end, my body has grown frail and my mind distraught from the constant trembling of guns. Our rations are low, water scarce and moral teetering on breaking. Yet among these sorrows the regiment has seen the occasional smile, a laugh and a jolly swagger that reminded me of the tales my brother Harold spoke of from his trips to London. Amongst our torment, Captain Meloy has been but our champion; our one unifying presence. He regales us with the many stories of wonder he has seen and heard; tales of pirates and far away lands, lost castaways of the many seas. And I remember so vividly how he began, in a voice so labored yet so swaying, his first parable;

“We set sail on a packet full of spice, rum and tea-leaves. We’ve emptied out all the bars and the bowery hotels” he called. And on he went amongst our watchful eyes and yearning ears, with images of daughters dragged with blindfolds through thick air. Then on to far away lands of nubile, dark-skinned natives and the lives of sailors past … all before he culls us, a swift adieu for the evening,

“So goodnight, boys, goodnight”.

June 27th, 1916
The days are long, the nights ever more so chilling. Men have lice, the mud and dirt so thick on my socks only my knife will carve them away. A bullet with grave conviction struck Private Browning today, his face a crimson red as it spattered on mine. His blood so thick it nearly choked me.

The captain has once again been our only rest from this human decay. He has just told us, nay, sung to us an ode to someone of mysterious ways. With such delectable blister and with the convention of phonographic wonder, in perfect glee came the story of sweet Myla Goldberg. Her “crooked foot all upside down” and her “pretty hands do pretty things” were slight notions of this strange character, someone who strikes me as rattled with age but still eager to grow.

June 29th, 1916
There was brief calm today. For the first time since my entrenchment, the guns were rested. In the silence of the moon’s whisper, there were no odes of death, no clouds of terror and no sounds of the dying – Captain Meloy played his gramophone for the men and we smiled to a tenor’s sound; an Italian man by the name of Enrico Caruso if I do recall. An opus he quickly turned to his own, with another tale no less, this time of a place in America. With passion that so quirkily quivers like the cold winter breeze and an echo that gallantly summons our land’s most extravagant orchestras, he tells us of the “city by the sea”, a city he seemingly, and affectionately surrenders to;

“Its streets and boulevards, orphans and oligarchs, and here’s a plaintiff melody, a truncated symphony, and ocean’s garbled vomit on the shore; Los Angeles, I’m yours”.

As he continues with his telling, I am astounded by the delusional wonderment in which his words unfold. As if they call upon me to travel these same unique paths, to walk on ground only he has done before and to forever let my imagination stir the greatest of fantasies. Perhaps this is our gift, that in these times of squalor we have been given the most human of sounds.

July 14th, 1916
My hands are frail and I have been aching to write, but the aching is the only sensation my body endures. Bedecked by constant struggles to stay awake, my posts are nothing more than endless peering into No Man’s Land; and I often dream of spotting a sniper, just to exercise these brittle limbs. With communication so meager, I find myself restless if my incessant standing up is not sustained by Captain Meloy’s straggled yarning. He had just completed a soft-spoken sonnet to his apparent theatrical ability. One where he quips, “I was meant for the stage, I was meant for the curtain, I was meant to tread these boards, of this much I am certain” – I am amused by his stubborn buoyancy; at times it is as if he seeks certain adulation for his off-kilter mannerisms. He had me won. But it was temporary, I was sent out again to man the loneliest view I have ever known, where not even fine cigarettes will do one good.

July 22nd, 2003
I am surprised that a sense of claustrophobia has not gripped me; the canals of these mud graves are smothering, more so when men are blown off their feet by bursting shells. Trapped in the bloody rags and the sandbagged bodies of our fallen brothers, I have on so many occasions felt like jumping out – just for that escape; to not breathe this suffocating corrosion, but I know that if I do, the air I breathe will be my last.

I do not want to think of such things.

This evening, the men have felt a joy we haven’t felt in almost a month. Corporal Bradley arrived this past afternoon as a bearer of good news. Some of the men have been given permission to head for Blighty; first steps in returning to life as a civilian. Oh how I yearn to be rid of this hatred. A hatred for a country I have not stepped foot in, a hatred for people I’ve only killed and a hatred for myself for believing in this fictitious honor. Still, the corporal’s visit was not today’s only sun. The captain has but restored a little hope; this time with his grandest of sketches – a salute to us, the men of this regiment. This was his glorious tribute to battlefield camaraderie and homage to the one true value we have; a loyalty to each other, our unending trust of our brothers-in-arms. He deems this the feeling of being alive and I concur so.

When I again return home to live my life in humble austerity, the only thing I wish to keep in memory will be these strapping lads who shared with me the hardships; huddled in confines with bricklayers, bakers, schoolboys and one never-dispirited soul, I lived the soldiering life. And through the tales of faraway lands and beckoning sounds of admirable fascination, I am again filled with certain humanity. 

(Kill Rock Stars)

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