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Tunnel

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In the trenches of the western front, soldiers must be ready for any incoming attack such as snipers, enemy aircraft, artillery, and offenses. Now, they should be prepared for an attack that may come from the underground. Mines and tunnels are now a crucial part of the war. We use tunnels for shelter, support, cover for supply, and communication. Building these tunnels with technology in 1917 is not an easy task. Thanks to clay kicking, we can dig at a high rate of eight meters per day, and Germans are yet to know this method. They use the traditional digging through which they can dig only two meters a day. Clay kicking consists of a team of three. A kicker sits against a wooden chair and digs the tunnel with a spade-like tool at the rock face. Myself is a bagger, who collects the spoils after digging and gives them to my brother, who is a trammer. He carries this spoil out of the tunnel and comes back with supplies. 

This idea of tunneling under the entire German fleet is a masterpiece crafted by General Charles Hedrick. He planned to dig 19 tunnels that end at different locations on the enemy battlefield. This was all well predicted and planned fifteen months before the war day. A total of 700-ton explosives were held at the end of tunnels. All these explosives would blow from a trigger held at the end of our tunnel. It was on June 5, where general Charles himself came down to our tunnel to work as a kicker as our previous kicker was severely injured. I never thought that he could come and work like any other common soldier because of his rank. He could have sent any other kicker to join us but insisted on coming himself. We all should agree that he is the most exceptional kicker in the entire fleet. There are many casualties working in building a tunnel. We work 6-12 hours shift in cramped conditions, often in water. The General felt that the tunnel was somehow not properly dug. But the work had to be done, without completing this tunnel in the next 24 hours, our fifteen months effort would be useless. So I thought, that’s why General himself came down as a kicker.

General started digging at a very intense speed. I carried all the spoils out of him and handed it over to my brother. By June 6, 6:30 pm, we reached our target end. We dispatched all the explosives and connected them to the trigger. The work was finished. With all smiles and proud faces, general and we started heading back to the trench. It was all dark under the earth, and we had to use torch lights to light the tunnel. After some walk, we were shocked to see our tunnel collapsing in front of us. It started falling and filling the tunnel with dust and stones. The tunnel was dug 18 meters under the surface. I felt it as an end. It was almost like burying alive under 18 feet of earth. But fortunately, the falling had stopped just a few feet from us. It didn’t take us time to realize that we are trapped inside a tunnel. 

I asked the general, “General, what should we do now.”

General said, “We should start digging for our life now.”

The trigger had to be carried out of the tunnel to the trench, to fire the explosives. Now the trigger is trapped along with us in the tunnel. We started digging our way towards the trench, towards the air, towards our country, towards our family. We know that this would be of no use. We used our geophone to know till how long the tunnel collapsed. From its results, General is sure that it collapsed till the beginning of the tunnel. We are still digging with a little hope. A little hope that people from the other end will start digging and will come looking for us. That would be a waste too. This work is worth of 15 months. We cannot just dig all that in a single day. Since when I joined the force, I am sure that I had to face my death one day. When the day arrived, I think I’m not ready for this. My brother and I are the only children for our parents. My father was a general. Though my parents are living hard lives, they wanted their children to serve our nation instead of serving them. My brother is younger than me. He started looking at our family photo, which was taken three years ago. We lost all our hope. It’s hard to face the truth now. While we were thinking about all these, General was still digging tunnel towards outside.

“With all due respect General, it is worthless to dig it now. It’s all over. We are going to die here.”

“Come here, Lieutenant.”

We went to him and were shocked to see him working as if nothing happened.

“Lieutenant, we are the survivors. The enemy can take our land, our money, our wealth, and everything. But remember they can never take our hope no matter how hard they try. Now, take the spoils out of my way.”

Even after what General said, I never felt like I can survive this mess. But we started working along with him. He was so talkative than before. He told us how much he loved his six-year-old boy. It must be hard for him to die without seeing his face for the one last time. But, he never looked like dying. Instead, he worked with smiling. After working for a good five hours, we now knew that oxygen levels are dropping. Digging is impossible now. My brother went unconscious. We have a small amount of water and supplies. 

There are just a few hours of life left. I can feel it. But the smile on generals face is still shining. He was telling all his stories about his childhood and family. He made me laugh and forget about the tragedy we are in. Now, the time arrived. We heard thumping from above. Which means the war has begun. Soldiers started marching to their fields. I soon realized that the trigger is not in the trench but in our hands. We had to burn the trigger to blow the explosives along with ourselves.

Now General stood firmly with a strict posture as he always does while speaking to his army. Now it is only me. 

“Lieutenant, the moment has come. The moment which can make our families proud of us. The moment which gives us the privilege to help our nation. The moment where we break our promises of coming back home to our family. The moment when we fulfill the promise made to our nation. If we now blow this trigger, it could fire all the 700-ton explosives placed under 19 tunnels, which will kill 10,000 German soldiers leaving 19 craters. We may die here now, but we are saving thousands of soldiers above. We may be buried under soil and dust forever, but thousands of soldiers will shine in the spotlight. We may lose our families, but thousands can meet their children and parents. Remember, Lieutenant, not every soldier will get a moment like this. This sacrifice is the proudest thing a soldier can ever imagine to do. Sacrificing self for the country is a remarkable work. May our families be protected, and may our children live in a safer place and achieve their goals. This has been an honor working with you, Lieutenant.”

I saluted him with the most energetic feet and firmest hand I ever did in my career.

“Honour is mine, General.”

We held our family photos in our hands and looking at them, we smiled at each other with a proud face and burned the trigger at 3:10  Am June 7 of 1917.


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