Kemmerich has lost his foot. He looks ghastly. His voice sounds like ashes. As soon as the rain stops, we will go and get his foot back for him. We can’t risk it before.
Katczinsky and I leave him on the stretcher and go to the mess tent. The rations have not come up yet. As long as it rains, they cannot risk the cook getting damp. If the cook were damp, no one would know what to do.
“It’s no good,” Kat says. Kat is an old soldier.
I know better than to ask him if it will be long.
A hideous and noxious mist begins to rise and billow toward us across No Man’s Land. Fear clamps my chest like a cold hand. But soon the word goes down the line, “It’s only gas.” “It isn’t fog.” We put on our masks and give thanks. So far I have escaped the weather altogether.
I am young. I am 20 years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. But I have not been caught in a chilly mist with nothing but an umbrella to protect me. I have been spared that.
I am home on leave. I go to my father’s house. I do not recognize him any longer. He wants me to wear the uniform to impress his friends. He reads in the paper about the war, but what the paper says cannot hope to tell him what I know from experience. There is an impassible gulf between us, as impassible as when it is drizzling and you are standing beneath an awning and dare not venture to the next awning. Like that, but made by war.
I wish I could speak to him. How wrong our schoolmasters were, I would tell him. This war is the work of old men who profit by it and turn us boys against each other, instead of our true enemy: weather.
I hear the murmurs. They are going to make us go over the top. Unless it rains. They would not send us out in that.
Night falls while we are still waiting.
Then, slowly, we make our way up and into the open. British shells whiz overhead. Shrapnel enters my leg. I can still crawl a little. A passing ambulance wagon picks us up. Kat and I are both wounded in the leg. My trousers are bloody and my shirt, too. But that is nothing. Out across No Man’s Land we see the men there where it is still lightly misting, and shudder. Kat may lose his leg, but it is nothing compared with what they face.
Our stretchers stand on the platform. We wait for the train. The station has no roof. Our blankets are thin. It begins to rain. The nuns come rushing out. “Hurry, hurry!” Sister Libertine cries. “These men are getting slightly damp!” There is a great commotion. We are bundled up and off the platform in the nick of time.
He fell in October 1918 on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All Quiet On The Western Front.
He was out with an umbrella in the drizzle. A side-draft caught him. Turning him over, one saw on his face — what was still visible of it beneath the drops of water — that he could not have suffered long. His wet face had an expression of calm, almost glad the rain had come.
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