Over The Top


You awake on a chilly November morning, with barely five hours of sleep, to face yet another day of misery on the Western Front Rubbing your eyes, you stretch and then put on the boots which you had left by the side of your cot. A quick glance around the cramped confines of your dugout reveals that most of your companions have already waken and are in the process of shaving and brushing their teeth.

– “Morning, Terry!” shouts George Mackenzie from the dugout’s entrance.

– “Morning, George.” you reply, stifling a yawn. “What’s the weather like outside?”

– “Oh…cold, cloudy, muddy, lice-infested, desolate…the usual. And not a peep from Jerry either.”

Just then, a tall, thin looking man peers his head inside your dugout. You recognize him as Lieutenant Jarvis, your platoon commander.

– “Enough jabbering. Get out of bed and prepare for stand-to!”

‘Stand-to’: the daily routine of standing in the trenches, half an hour before dawn, armed to the teeth, waiting for a possible German attack on your trench. Of course, the Germans knew you were waiting for them and so never attacked this early in the morning. Still, it was a ritual which you and your companions had observed every day since your arrival in Northern France, six months ago.

Six months! Had it been that long? Seems like it was just yesterday when you had signed up at the recruiting office in downtown Montreal. You had decided to join the army because most of your friends had. Besides, at a dollar a day, the pay was reasonable. And, more importantly, the chance of travelling overseas was an opportunity not to be missed.

But life in the trenches was not exactly your idea of an exciting adventure. Instead of the glorious march into Germany, which you had been promised, you found yourself stuck in the same muddy hole since your arrival in France. There were no dashing cavalry charges, no cheers from grateful citizens, no laurels to be won and no marches across sunny, flower-filled pastures. Only the endless tedium of trench life, with its mud-filled landscape, lice-ridden conditions and overcast skies. But all that was mild when compared to the nerve-wracking artillery fire which pounded ceaselessly overhead, often for days at a time. Trying to sleep in such conditions was almost impossible. A man could even go insane for lack of sleep. Mercifully, exhaustion from the daily grind of carrying duck-boards to cover the mud, laying barbed wire in No Man's Land and scrounging the countryside for food and water, could overwhelm even the most nervous of men and lull them into a profound, blissful sleep. If only you were able to sleep for a couple of weeks.