What I saw from the frontline: 9 stories from war

  1. “We fought till our gun-barrels hurt our hands”
    1. “When we saw the vast number of soldiers approaching and heard the explosions of shells, we knew we were in for a hot time - our small commando could never have retreated over the four miles of open country behind us. There was only one thing to be done - fight. And we fought - fought till our gun-barrels hurt our hands and our throats were parched with thirst." Colonel F.F. Pienaar talks about a particularly gruelling battle, Boer War, 1902 
  2. “Oh, if only my girl could see me now”
    1. “For an hour or more I struggled on, slipping every now and again right down the side where the earth was very loose, making my already wet and heavy clothes still heavier with the mud that hung to them…In spite of the dirty and in some cases ragged uniforms covering tired bodies the men were cheerful and laughed at their plight, some jokingly saying “Oh, if only my girl could see me now.” Australian Private Roy Denning, written from hospital in Malta after being wounded at Gallipoli in WWI, 1915
  3. “London was the mecca for most of the Canadians on leave from the air force”
    1. “During the latter half of the war, I was at RCAF- HQ [Royal Canadian Air Force Headquarters] in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. It was a great place to be once the Buzz Bombs and V-2 were laid to rest, as London was the mecca for most of the Canadians on leave, as well as the rest of the universe. The Hammersmith ‘Palais de dance’ Overseas Club and Stagedoor Canteen, on Piccadilly, were some of the more popular spots for the young at heart.... Of course, VE [Victory in Europe] Day celebrations were most memorable with the King and all the Royals plus Churchill waving from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Also unforgettable was the Revue of the Women’s Division by the Queen and Princess Elizabeth on the grounds behind Buckingham Palace and the V.E. Thanksgiving service at St. Paul's Cathedral with all the Royals and bigwigs in attendance.” Jane Wilkinson, WWII, unknown date
  4. “Their officer seemed to be a daring, reckless boy”
    1. "I had Sergeant Driscoll, a brave man, and one of the best shots in the Brigade. When charging at Malvern Hill, a company was posted in a clump of trees, who kept up a fierce fire on us, and actually charged out on our advance. Their officer seemed to be a daring, reckless boy, and I said to Driscoll, 'If that officer is not taken down, many of us will fall before we pass that clump.' 'Leave that to me,' said Driscoll; so he raised his rifle, and the moment the officer exposed himself again bang went Driscoll and over went the officer, his company at once breaking away. As we passed I said, 'Driscoll, see if that officer is dead - he was a brave fellow.' Driscoll turned him over on his back. He opened his eyes for a moment, faintly murmured 'Father,' and then closed them forever.” Captain D. P. Conyngham, Battle of Malvern Hill during the US Civil War, 1862
  5. “The French made their peace with one another; some kissed and embraced each other”
    1. "When the battalions of the French were thus formed, it was grand to see them; and as far as one could judge by the eye, they were in number fully six times as many as the English. The French sat down by companies around their banners, waiting the approach of the English, and making their peace with one another; and then were laid aside many old aversions conceived long ago; some kissed and embraced each other, which it was affecting to witness; so that all quarrels and discords which they had had in time past were changed to great and perfect love... And these Frenchmen remained thus till nine or ten o'clock in the morning, feeling quite assured that, considering their great force, the English could not escape them; however, there were at least some of the wisest who greatly feared a fight with them in open battle.” Jehan de Wavrin, the Battle of Agincourt, 1415
  6. “I shall not be afraid of the moment of my death”
    1. “To be honest, I cannot say that the wish to die for the emperor is genuine, coming from my heart. However, it is decided for me that I die for the Emperor. I shall not be afraid of the moment of my death. But I am afraid of how the fear of death will perturb my life… Even for a short life, there are many memories. For someone who had a good life, it is very difficult to part with it. But I reached a point of no return. I must plunge into an enemy vessel. As the preparation for the takeoff nears, I feel a heavy pressure on me. I don’t think I can stare at death... I tried my best to escape in vain. So, now that I don’t have a choice, I must go valiantly.” Hayashi Ichizo, WWII, around 1945
  7. “In the last 5 days, I've eaten only a few dates and boiled lentils”
    1. “Few air raids today. The pain I've been having all the past 6 months has returned. I am sad. In the last 5 days I've eaten only a few dates and boiled lentils. What have we done to God to endure that? I have no news of my relatives. How can I, since I don't know what is happening to me.” Anonymous Iraqi Lieutenant, The Gulf War, 1991
  8. “Lice are worse than a rifle bullet”
    1. “Our people have many lice in their clothes and they bite terribly. They are worse than a rifle bullet. But there are no mosquitoes or other creatures which bite mankind, and no snakes or scorpions at all." Havildar Ghufran Khan to a friend in India, WWI, April 1915
  9. “Please come to me and hold my hand when I am so lonely”
    1. "I am grown up and already strong in the face of hardships, but at this minute why do I want so much a mother's hand to care for me, or really the hand of a close friend, or just that of a person I know who is all right? Please come to me and hold my hand when I am so lonely, love me and give me strength to travel all the hard sections of the road ahead." Dang Thuy Tram, Vietnam War, 1967