Thursday, April 2, 2015

Letter C: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

    
     I was snatching a few winks, curled up in the mud, when a mad clanging jerked me awake. Up and down the trench, gongs were sounding which signaled a gas attack. Your instinct is to grab your gun first, and yet you must train yourself to pull your mask from its cloth bag and put it on before anything else. Gas is silent and quick; it seeks the low ground, slithering and rolling along and then curling down over the parapet into our midst. The first time, our outfit had been ill-prepared; men fell, choking and gasping, and the horses and mules wheezed or screamed or fell to earth kicking and convulsing. Since then we had all been issued masks, even the animals. They were awkward, and hot, and foul smelling within, but better than the horrible burning and suffocating stench of the chlorine.  The masks were no guarantee, however; sometimes they were ill-fitted, or shredded by shrapnel, or torn loose in the ebb and flow and close quarters of combat.
     Our artillery lobbed shells into No Man's Land in an attempt to disperse some of the gas. The rest were trained beyond onto enemy trenches, as a gas attack was inevitably followed by hordes of Jerries coming across to break our lines.
     The word came down that we would be going over the top; it was determined that the artillery barrage had been effective in destroying most of the enemy barricades and barbed wire, giving us a chance to overrun them rather than sit and wait.
     At the signal we scrambled up and over, our own guns barking and shrapnel bursting overhead. The gas helmet was close and restrictive, like fighting with a burlap sack over your head. We were met by a moving wall of Germans, the rising sun glinting from bayonets, muffled thumps and screams, bodies falling and replaced by still more. The enemy gas masks had huge eyeholes and cannisters jutting from the front, like monstrous anteaters. As if the common sights of war were not horrifying enough.
     Now that I am an old man, it seems as though dreams torture me more than ever. The blankets creep over my head and I awaken, clawing at my own face. My throat feels a little dry on a summer's day and I must call for someone to bring me cool clean water to drink. Sometimes I pour it over my head, which makes the children giggle. Never mind, I tell myself. At least you have lived long enough to hear these little ones.
     I turn my blind eyes to the warmth of the sun.

     *Today's fiction features the poison chlorine gas. On April 22, 1915, German forces fired over 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas at Ypres, Belgium. This was the first major gas attack by the Germans, and decimated the Allied troops.
     As chlorine enters the body (by breathing, swallowing, or skin contact) it reacts with moisture and produces acids. Acids, as you probably know, are corrosive. Most deaths are caused by pulmonary edema - essentially, your lungs fill with leaking fluid and you drown internally. Some survived but suffered permanent damage to airways, skin, mucous membranes and/or eyes.
     Protective masks and gear were initially fairly crude but effective; unfortunately, many times soldiers had only seconds to get the mask in place. In addition, any tear or damage to a mask from bayonet, shrapnel,  or wear-and-tear made them essentially useless. 
      In 1925, the Geneva Protocol of 1925 banned the use of chemical weapons in war but did not outlaw their development or stockpiling. 

If you leave a comment and want a return visit, please leave a link, or the exact name of your blog, or your linky number on the A to Z list. It makes me sad when I can't find you, and it's time consuming for me to go through over 1000 blogs on the A-Z list. Thanks! 
    

21 comments:

  1. Having smelled chlorine in pools, I know how nasty it can be to breathe. It definitely burns and causes terrible irritation. Chemical warfare is awful. The thought of its use in history makes me sad.

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    1. Terrible stuff. I remember swimming classes in my high school's indoor pool - my eyes burned the rest of the day, even after showering.

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  2. Ghastly. I've seen a gas mask before in a museum. My grandfather was in WWI, but was lucky enough to avoid any gas attacks. History is full of horrid things that war encourages men to do to one another. Imagine all the war stories there are. . .your fiction took me right into the trench.

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    1. So true. When it comes to innovation, war covers both extremes: it has brought us countless methods of torture and destruction, but also marvelous discoveries in the science and medical fields.

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  3. WW1: the ignored war. Horrid deaths should be remembered.
    My number I think is 175? The Contemplative Cat.
    Good post. I'll be back.

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    1. I suppose WW1 will slowly be almost completely forgotten. But the scale of destruction was so massive, and its effects so far reaching, that not remembering and not covering the subject in depth in schools contributes to the poverty of understanding that we are seeing in today's young people. IMHO

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  4. You held my attention right to the last line. Army gas mask practice was enough fo me without the use of real gas, just smoke.

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    1. Thank you Bob. I can't imagine how frightening it must have been to get caught in a gas attack and to pretty much choke/suffocate to death without being able to do anything about it.
      Your comment raises an interesting question: I wonder if our troops still train with gas masks?

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  5. A horrible weapon to use. I'm sure those masks, both on one's face and those of the enemy's, really added to the terror.

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    1. Especially since (as I understand it) they tended to restrict one's vision as well.

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  6. That read more like memoir than fiction - excellently written.
    My number on the list yesterday was 622 - LIZYwrites.

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    1. Thank you Lizy! I read at least a dozen first hand accounts to try and get a feel for the experience and make it as realistic as possible.

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  7. Chlorine is nasty. If I ever saw people wearing those gas masks, I'd freak.

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    1. I've only seen them in museums. The German ones with the long snout are really scary looking.

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  8. Great piece of flash. You really caught the horror of war–even if the narrator is only remembering.

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Member of C. Lee's Muffin Commando Squad
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

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    1. Thank you, Patricia! So many soldiers came back from WW1 with what we now call PTSD.

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  9. Great idea for the A to Z!
    I'm reading a book set in WWI at the moment and chlorine gas featured in the last chapter I read (The Wars by Timothy Findley).

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  10. I always hated learning about the gas attacks in the war - such an awful way to die. Loved the story, anyway - you captured it perfectly.

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  11. We had a chlorine spill at the pool and we could smell it inside the library building. It was sickening. Can't even imagine what they went through.

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