Cramped in that funnelled hole

By Michelle Cioccoloni

"All Roland's things had just been sent back from the front ... and they were all lying on the floor. I had no idea before of the after-results of an officer's death, or what the returned kit, of which so much has been written in the papers, really meant. It was terrible ... Everything was damp and worn and simply caked with mud ... you would have been overwhelmed by the horror of war without its glory. For though he had only worn the things when living, the smell of those clothes was the smell of graveyards and the dead ... All the sepulchres and catacombs of Rome could not make me realize mortality and decay and corruption as vividly as did the smell of those clothes." Vera Brittain, on seeing her fiance's clothes returned from the front.
This piece addresses the brutal reality of receiving a dead relative's belongings, still caked in mud, when he has been killed in action on the front line. The metal box has been placed upright, like a miniature cabinet at home where treasures are stored, but when at war the 'treasures' kept are of a different kind often representing hopes and dreams, which are then shattered.  In the larger compartment are a book, a container, a sheet of metal and a few flower heads, all embedded in mud, whilst in the smaller compartment are burnt pages from the same book, a dearly loved husband or son reduced to a few miserable items.

Cramped in that funelled hole

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