The Trench Stalkers and Private Billy

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All was not quiet on the Western front in September of 1918. Cannons thundered and shook the night.

Flares darting into the sky making it daylight for a moment. Men shouting. Machine guns chattering like evil sewing machines.

Another deadly assault on a well-entrenched enemy.

The Germans and the Americans both had elaborate trench and dugout systems protected from assault by barbed wire, mines, and other obstacles.

As the months turned to years, the once small improvised trenches grew deeper and more complex, gradually becoming vast areas of interlocking defensive works that went on for untold miles. They resisted both artillery bombardment and mass infantry assault.

Yet here they were, preparing to give it another try.

The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) had joined up with the French at the Aisne Offensive (at Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood) in June 1918. The repeated frontal attacks against the well-entrenched German machine gun crews took a deadly toll every time, with little or nothing to show for it.

William “Billy” Stewart was a private in the AEF and managed to stay alive the past three months by sheer luck and determination. He kept a daily diary to pass the long hours of waiting for something bad to happen.

Attack. Or, repel an attack. Today it was attack at 0500. Over the top. Charging through barbed wire and craters from bombs and mortars. Decaying bodies. The wounded screaming for help and their mothers.

The deadly chatter of the machine guns never stopped.

Then the whistle blew three times, and it was time to retreat back over the horrific landscape of death to return to the trenches. Thunder overhead. Cannons. And then the gray skies opened and the rain came down like bullets.

That’s when Billy saw him. He was bent over a body and was eating the exposed soft organs. He was wrapped in a thick black trench coat, and was so busy eating he didn’t see Billy.

The horror of what he saw eclipsed everything in the past three months. He was so stunned he didn’t know what to do. A minute passed, and the thing in the trench coat looked up and saw him.

Instinctively, Billy raised his M-1 Garand and pointed it in the ghouls direction. It let out a high hissing sound and spun around, disappearing into the maze of tunnels. When Billy told his best friend Alan he laughed at him.

“Oh c’mon country boy, you were seeing things,” Alan said.

That night, in his candlelit muddy hovel under the ground, Billy made an entry in his Diary.

“Saw something horrific today. I almost wonder if I was hallucinating as Alan suggested. Some “thing” was eating corpses in the trench lines! It ran when it saw me. Before it disappeared, I got a good look at the pasty white face and bloody lips.

It resembled a man, and was wearing a dark trench coat. I hope it was my imagination. You can’t imagine the horror of that thing making loud chewing noises while consuming a string of intestines. Time to sign off.”

Two nights later, still troubled by what he saw, Billy was on guard duty. His unit fought off a particulary powerful assault that day. The Germans biggest thus far.

This time he saw two of the ghoulish figures dragging a body down into one of the many tunnel openings. Despite his shock he went after them. The first 50 yards were lite up by gaslights in little shelves on the wall. Then darkness descended.

Billy pulled out his flashlight and pointed it straight ahead. He soon got lost in the twisting maze of tunnels that seem to spider out forever. The air was dank and the smell of wet earth assailed his nostrils.

Unit designation signs were posted on some tunnel entrances. He noticed that they were all French regular Army units. He came to a dead-end. Go right, or left? Or, turn around and try to find his way back?

As he puzzled over what to do, he heard faint noises coming from the tunnel on the right. He fixed his bayonet onto his rifle, took a deep breath, and slowly followed the source of the noise.

He came to an opening with a sign above it – “9e Régiment d’Infanterie de Marine.”

Inside he heard animal-like grunts and growls and the unmistakable sound of feasting. He pulled out his MK2 Pineapple Fragmentation grenade. Rifle in his left hand, and the grenade in the right, Billy stepped into the room.

It was worse than he could have imagined! Nine pale skeletal things dressed in regular French Army clothes that were rotting off their bodies. One was wearing a filthy officers hat, and appeared to be the leader.

“Oh look!” the thing hissed, “We are saved by our American friend. What took you so long?” the thing asked Billy, who was looking at the body it was carving up. He could still recognize the face. Alan!

The gernade’s concussion knocked Billy down as he was backing up.

When Billy was able to return to his diary two days later, he made a short entry;  “I wrote a letter to Alans parents and told them he died, fighting bravely to the end.”  

As It Stands, years of trench warfare drove a lot of people crazy on both sides of WW I. No one knows about all the bad things that happened in those miles of terrible trenches.

 

 

 

Author: Dave Stancliff

Retired newspaper editor/publisher, Vietnam veteran, freelance writer, blogger, married 43 years with three sons and five grandchildren.

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