The vast array of colors splattered on my face resembled a painting. Not a Picasso, and
definitely not a Van Gogh, but an unknown artist, “war,” who draws with its eyes closed, harms everyone, and leaves an everlasting mark on the blessed beholders of the war zone. Dark black ash seeped deep into my facial pores and settled among the fine lines which had been forming since I enlisted a few years prior. The bright red, of the gushing injury above my lip, paired nicely with the deep purple bruises and bloodshot eyes which had not been introduced to sleep in months. The tattered remnants of the uniform I received now vaguely resemble a dog’s toy that had been ripped to shreds, as if these pieces of clothing were a metaphor for myself and my innocence before the war. I was a masterpiece of the battlefield.
It is the morning of May 29 and I don’t see this war ceasing any time in the near future, but I hoped it would. I had promised my mother I would be home by Christmas, but I know I shouldn’t have given an empty promise. We had plans to visit my sister, who lives with her husband and three children in the south of France, and whom I had not seen in several years. I have grown up a lot since I last saw her. The rebellious teenage boy was now a grown man who had seen enough horrors to last multiple lifetimes. Home for me is back in England, specifically London. Born and raised in the heart of the city, and left as soon as I turned 18 when the draft called my name. I had been fighting for the Allies in Northern France, but was reassigned to another place seeking evacuation a few days ago: Dunkirk.
The situation we found ourselves in was nothing short of a nightmare. We were surrounded, and by we, I mean the British and our allies. German forces were slowly trapping us with two options: surrender and be taken as a prisoner of war, or fight, which was a suicide mission. Majority had faith—not in a God in times like this where the worst of humanity was highlighted—but in one another. In our country. In ourselves. The howling winds that echoed blood curdling screams was combated by the violent crashing of waves onto the rough, rocky beach. The grains of sand, which remembered each step taken upon them, told a story. One of death, but also one of hope. The hope of being set free, of being saved. The hope of seeing one’s family again—a possibility that became less and less likely with every passing hour.
It doesn’t feel like it has been that long since I last saw my family, considering I see them nightly in my dreams, but have not physically in years. As I drifted off to sleep, flashbacks of birthdays and holidays played like a film in my mind. And then a constant ringing…a phone call? Abruptly, I awoke to sirens, followed by a bomb that pierced my ears. I had dreamt of finally leaving the beach, but the loud, roaring engines of planes overhead silenced this idea. A rush of urgency surged through my body, insistent on my evacuation from the dangerous scene. Time stood still; I was frozen in history as panic hindered my movement. My bones became solidified and weren’t responding to my command to proceed down the bloodied trail. Bodies lying lifeless on the ground surrounded me and created a path to the medic. Every sign was telling me to turn around. But I don’t.
I reported to my captain, John, who instructed me to rendezvous at the poor excuse for a makeshift hospital tent. A good man, strict, but he cared about his men. He explained how I would be going to the front lines (not the very front, but close, so what’s the difference?). I obeyed the orders and headed there along with three others, two of which I knew. Edward and I were friends in grade school, I met Simon my first week here, and the last one said his name was Michael.
The visuals I saw were something unexplainable. The deafening sound of gunshots was accompanied by horrified screams of pain. Trails of blood dyed the beaches a rusty, reddish brown, which was washed out by the recurring waves of the frigid water—made up of weapon fragments and decomposed bodies. Men, who are not fighting each other, but only a cause, want to kill someone they have never met. The hunger for death and the thirst for victory is an unimaginable comprehension. The piece of advice I kept reiterating in my mind was what John told me on the first day: “Kill or be killed.”
The gun I held slowly morphed to fit the curves of my hands. The ammunition was endless: I shot and killed, shot and killed, shot and killed again and again with no end in sight. I couldn’t make eye contact with the enemy; I would start to feel remorse—something I can’t do, per another advice given to me by more experienced soldiers.
Days have passed, and the repetition of bullets is now ingrained in my brain…in my dreams. I awake and it is suddenly June 4. Rumors of an evacuation are ringing in our ears and inspiring our spirits. The day was similar to any other: death served with a side of hope. But something was different. Later in the evening, ships—not only large destroyers, but also personal vessels—came to our rescue. Our faithful hope and wildest dreams had been answered. Maybe there is a God somewhere out there in the unknown where the soft light meets the harsh, dark blue that seems to go on forever in every direction…or maybe this was only a small victory, and true pain was right around the corner, and this feeling of hopelessness, nerves, and continuous death would never truly cease.