101 years ago today, one Pte. John William Harris of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry arrived at Le Havre, France awaiting transport to the Western Front.
I still don’t remember that day. I’ve had brief flashes that might have been of Le Havre but I can’t positively place them.
As for my motives, re-tracing my steps has helped me understand better why I was there and to some small degree, begin to make peace with it.
I was there because the only stable career I had ever known was as a soldier. I was there because I wanted a second chance to make a name for myself, to finally get past the rank of Private and show courage under fire. I was there because I wanted to make my father proud by doing my duty. I was there because men I had served with in India were also there, and I missed the esprit de corps.
In short, I was there because it seemed at the time like the only sensible thing I could do with my life.
I still have trouble accepting it. I look back at a life shattered and contaminated with memories of some of the most barbaric slaughter in history and I ask myself all the time if there really wasn’t any other way. The experience left a deep psychic scar that has run across several lifetimes now.
Was this really the only way? Did I really have to die like a dog and spend two subsequent lives trying to figure out why I was so messed up?