Morning in the Ardennes

I woke up and the first thing I felt was cold. My arms were wrapped stiffly across my chest and moving cracked the blanket on me that was covered with a thin layer of ice. God, it was cold. I looked out at the frozen landscape.

We were sitting before an open field covered with snow from the night before and a stretch of evergreens lined the opposite end. The evergreens were covered in snow and stood motionless. The morning was still as a picture and the sun rising over the trees made the snow shine brightly. No birds were singing.

Me moving around made Dubray turn his head towards me. He was fiddling with the .30 cal that sat at the front of the foxhole.

“Good morning.” he said.

“Mornin’.”

I took the blanket off, grabbed my rifle and got up to go get some coffee. I got up out of the foxhole and heard the snow crunch under my boots as I walked. My feet felt frozen. As I walked to the rear, I blew into my hands to warm them and pulled my jacket up around my neck as much as possible. I weaved through the mix of other foxholes and saw the frost covered helmets of the men in my company.

In one of the holes, Greenfield stood smoking a cigarette.

He noticed me and said, “Ain’t this a fine Belgian mornin’, Mickey! Where you headed?”

“To get some coffee.”

“Get me a cup while you’re there, will you?”

Greenfield threw me his tin cup. The cup felt like ice on my hand.

“Alright.”

I kept walking among the trees to the rear. The trees had been stripped bare from the ground to 50 feet up, thanks to shelling from the Germans. Broken branches littered the ground. After about 50 yards, I came to the mess tent. It was a single tent with a few boxes of rations stacked up. I saw the cook Vinny packing a wooden box with cooking utensils.

“Hey Vinny, any chance at some coffee?”

“Sorry Mickey, none today. Command thinks the Germans are attacking, so we’ve got to be ready to move back. I got some ice water if you want it though,” Vinny said with a smirk.

I laughed. “I’m alright. Thanks anyway.”

I started walking back to the front. There was a bit more movement around the foxholes and men had started waking up and moving around.

I passed Greenfield who had finished his cigarette and saw my hands in my pockets.

“No coffee?” he asked.

“Not this morning. Vinny said he’s got some ice water if you want it though.”

I tossed Greenfield back his tin cup. He gave an exasperated sigh and an eye-roll.

I got back to my hole and jumped inside. My boots disturbed the snow and revealed the dark dirt underneath. Dubray looked back at me again.

“No coffee?”

“No,” I answered, “Kitchen has to pack up since command says the Germans are attacking today.”

“Haven’t the Germans supposed to attack every day so far?”

“Yes, but today is different.”

“How?”

“Because the Germans are attacking today.”

Dubray chuckled and shook his head. He went back to looking towards the field.

I looked across the open field with him. God, it was cold.

We would know if the Germans were attacking or not because they would let us know. They always liked to wake us up with an artillery barrage before they came over. It didn’t feel like it was that kind of morning though. The sun was rising higher and glinted the barbed wire out in front of us. We were only a few days away from Christmas too. Maybe they would call it quits for a couple days.

My mind was drifting off and thinking about what my family was doing as the first shell landed nearby.

 

 

Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

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