Since becoming a fighting unit, guard duty has proven to be a particularly horrible job. I never stayed awake all night prior to dispatch. Guard duty means staying awake no matter how tired I am. It does not matter to German officers if we have marched all day long. They decide who goes on guard duty and that is that. If anyone falls asleep, we know they will be shot, executed on the spot. Our elite officers never listen to excuses. Soldiers stay awake on guard duty or they die. That is just how it is.
Even if it is not my turn to be on guard, there is no chance to sleep properly out here anyway. Spreading my bedroll on a quiet, warm floor is now only a daydream, a fantasy. There is no space to stretch out, no place that is not wet or muddy to sit either, and so I squat on my hunches all night waiting to be killed. Sleep and comfort are a distant memory.
Just like me, most men in this unit are inexperienced teenagers. I received one day’s gas mask training before being unloaded in this frozen terrain; abandoned to fight from cold, wet holes in the ground. I pray we are not gassed because no one issued us with masks. None of us has received stick grenades either.
Fighting all day and then cowering in a trench during blackout is exhausting. The extreme cold weather is not only eating its way through my wet clothing but through my saturated boots too, it bites angrily at my skin.
Even though my boots are soaked, there is nowhere to dry them. We cannot risk lighting fires, especially at night. A good sniper can kill a man by the light of his cigarette, so just think what would happen if they saw a proper fire going. Some men have been tempted to take off their boots, they tried to dry them beside small fires but that proved to be a big mistake. The boots became too stiff and hard to get back on again, leaving those men barefoot in the snow. Good boots are very important to a soldier. No soldier can last one day without boots. In war, wet boots are better than no boots at all.