I wrote a short story in my English class earlier this year, which was based on the 2017 war movie, Dunkirk. I really enjoyed the movie (but in a sad kind of way) and, because I had typed it up before handing it in, I’ve decided to share it here as well.
While the story may appear disjointed at times, this is deliberate to convey the mixed emotions that the main character was feeling throughout their journey and it was also written in present tense. I hope you enjoy it.
The smell of blood and the sound of pain is beginning to become very familiar. It has been two days since the enemy declared a pause for its soldiers to take a break from the war in France, and right now I’m hiding with a group of about 150 of fellow soldiers in an abandoned borough. I am trying to sleep but the hunger won’t let me. I keep thinking of my mother’s cooking at home; how she would always burn the sausages when making a full-fry dinner, but my three brothers and I would always eat them anyway. My father tried to cook once but he couldn’t even turn on the stove so it didn’t really turn out too well.
My stomach pain is starting to feel normal too, probably because my body has simply decided to ignore it. I wish my brain could ignore all the pain I feel, though, like the pain in my right leg from getting shot with an assault rifle, the headache from the sound of machine guns and, most of all, the pain in my heart from seeing all three of my brothers being killed in battle, right in front of me. I decide to try taking a nap to forget about life for a while and hopefully get a little bit of energy.
I have no idea what time it is when I wake up but I guess time doesn’t really matter when there is nothing to do and you’re so bored that counting to infinity feels like fun. The sounds of dying men in this small cabin isn’t soothing so I decide to go outside for a walk. Our commander had said we are not allowed to go outside but I’ve been watching for two days now and not a single soul has come past this tiny town. It’s quiet outside, so quiet that I can hear the leaves brushing off each other as the gentle wind blows them like it is the first warm breeze of summer.
As I slowly stumble further outside, I squint as the sun hits my eyes and I suddenly feel as though I was back at home playing with my brothers in the garden, wishing that school would never return and that summer would last last forever. I wish for that feeling again now.
I then begin to sing the song that my mother sang to my brothers and I when we were younger. As I get to the chorus, I hear a low, soft husky voice join me. I turn around to see a short, fragile old man with a friendly smile. His hair is winter white and he is wearing the uniform that I have on but he has a lot more medals than me.
“That’s a beautiful song you were singing, don’t let me stop you. I was just looking to get some fresh air”, the old man says. He looks at me and, as he does, it is like I can see his whole past in his eyes, which look the eyes of someone who is used to seeing death but doesn’t like it.
“Thank you very much. My mother used to sing it to me and my brothers when we were younger”, I tell him with a sad smile.
“You are still young, boy, don’t let this war age you,” he replies. His voice is rough but I can still clearly understand him. I look at his trenchcoat to see a badge that says, “W. Jacobs”.
“One of my brothers was called Jacob,” I say gloomily.
“Was?”, he asked and I replied, “Yes, he and my two other brothers died a few days ago”.
“I’m so sorry to hear that”, he says, putting his hand on my shoulder, “I lost my only son in this war too and that’s why I joined the army again”.
“I’m so sorry, that must have been hard”, I replied.
Then I hear the commander telling people in the cabin to wake up. “We better get back. We aren’t supposed to be here”, the old man says as he turns around and starts to wander over towards the small house that I have started to call home now.
For the rest of the day, the old man and I share stories about our families. His name is Wallace Jacobs and his wife’s name is Elizabeth. She had their son, Thomas, when she was 24 and Wallace was in the army at the time. He came home for most of Thomas’ childhood and then, when Thomas died in battle a few weeks ago, Wallace enrolled in the army again in memory of his son. I then realised that we are very similar – we both have older brothers and we live pretty close to each other.
“You remind me of my son – you are both handsome, brave and always know what to say, and when to say it”, Wallace says, giving me a little smile.
“Thank you, I’m sure he was all of those things, and more”, I said, returning a smile too.
The commander does the last scout outside and spreads out some very small rations between all of the soldiers. Wallace tries to give his piece to me but I know he needs it more than I do, so I decline saying, “No, you eat it, you need it”, pushing his hand back towards him.
After everyone has finished eating their rations, most people try to go asleep. I look outside, into the darkness of the night, to see the stars. The only light is the small ray of moonlight shining in through the old wooden planks on the wall. Every time I look at the moon I feel at home. My mother used to tell me that, if I ever feel alone in the night, just look at the moon and know that she will be looking at it too. If we both see it, then it’s like we are there together, she would say.
Everyone wakes up late today. The sun is already high in the sky but it’s not clear exactly where it is with all the clouds. Maybe the smoke from all the bombs that were dropped in the last few weeks is finally rising up so that everyone can see the real pain that this war has caused.
“Attention!”, our commander says as he walks in holding a piece of paper that looks like it was freshly printed. Most of the soldiers stand up but some can’t because they are too hurt or too sick.
“I have just received a letter from the Government announcing that they are sending every ship, boat and water transportation that they have to us. They have already departed and will arrive this evening at 6pm. They want all soldiers to be at the beach at 6:30pm so that the small boats have time to help everyone they can”, he said.
There was a pause and then I heard the words I thought I would never hear, “We’re going home, boys!”. Every man and boy of every age shouts and cries with joy. I look at Wallace with a tear in my eye and say, “this is a miracle”.
The beach is approximately an hour away but that’s if we are not spotted. We leave everything in the old town, except for rations and valuables like photos of our loved ones. We leave for the beach in groups of 50 with armed men in each group to protect the others.
As we walk through trees and along roads, my injured leg starts to get weaker and weaker. I drop to the ground in pain and try to get up. Two boys help me up and I look under the bandage on my leg to see that it’s now badly infected. I keep going anyway because the army taught me never to give up.
It’s been around 45 minutes and I hear a distant rumbling sound. I look up but the sun makes my head hurt. “Get down! Enemies!”, I hear the gunman shout. An enemy plane passes by and on it’s entry, it releases hundreds of bullets. Men become still all around me after being shot. The sound of the gunman shooting back beside me stops and I look up to see that he is now dead too. I pick up his gun and aim it towards the sky but the plane has now gone.
The men that are left slowly stand up and we group together. I look for Wallace and then spot him behind the commander. “OK, boys, we are in enemy territory now and that means we have to stay low and get to the beach as fast as we can. Once we get there, we’ll be safe”, he says with an unsure look on his face. Three more planes pass overhead but they don’t see us.
As we approach the beach, I have an uneasy feeling like I’m not going to make it and like I’ll have the same fate as my brothers. The smell of the salty ocean hits me as soon as we arrive and the view is incredible but also horrible at the same time. Thousands of dead soldiers lying on the sand but also hundreds of others standing, waiting for the boats to pick them up.
The small boats begin departing the beach with at least 30 soldiers on board and I can see the last of the bigger boats appearing on the horizon. I smile at Wallace and he smiles back but nobody knows what to say. I thought we were the only soldiers left alive in this country but it turns out, there were thousands of others in our position too.
We walk towards the shore to where the final group of men are queuing to get on board the last of the bigger boats. We join the queue and every step I take, I feel closer to home. I see friendly planes pass overhead and I hope they clear all the skies so we can have a safe passage home.
Suddenly, my hopes are dashed when I hear the familiar sound of the enemy again. All the soldiers turn around, look up and then start running towards the last boat. As the enemy gets closer, I fall and get trampled by all the boots of scared men. A hand grabs me and drags me towards the wooden jetty. It’s Wallace.
“Thank you”, I shout with fear, as I look up to see the enemy planes approaching.
“Here, take this and when you get home, give it to Elizabeth”, Wallace tells me, as he takes off one of his medals that has his name on it.
“What?”, I say as the planes get closer, “but you’re coming with me, Jacobs”.
“No, you go”, he replied.
I get pulled along with the crowd of men and we board the ship. I try to reach Wallace to help him on board too but it’s too late. The enemy planes have already released their bombs and they explode where I was standing before, and where Wallace is standing now. I shout but no sound comes out.
After every bomb is finished being dropped, I look back at the beach and the amount of lives that have just been lost in one place at one time. Everyone else on the ship goes below deck to get some rations that were prepared for us but I stay out on top of the deck, watching the sunset that I never appreciated as much as now. I want to cry but no tears will come out. I wish that I wasn’t happy to be going home – nobody should be, after what happened to all the innocent people.
I then open the hand that I had kept tightly closed since Wallace gave me his medal. I look at it and see that it was his very first medal, given to him for bravery. I begin to think about who else he saved to earn this medal, and how I could ever repay the bravery he just showed me too. I then promised myself that, from that day forward, I would do everything in my power to be as brave as him in my lifetime, so that his memory would never be forgotten.