Chipilly Ridge, 1918

Submitted into Contest #105 in response to: Write your story from the perspective of a side character.... view prompt


American Creative Nonfiction Inspirational

Note: this is based on the true events of August 9th, 1919, in Chipilly, France.


“Medic! Medic! LT’s down, get your ass over here!”

Despite the constant drumroll of machine gun rounds zipping over our heads, I heard the call loud and clear. I looked over to the section of the hastily dug trench where Lieutenant Johnson was barking out orders from just moments before. The only things visible were the fresh speckles of blood and brains on the greyish brown dirt that formed the back wall of his trench.

The platoon commander was gone. Our platoon sergeant had been evacuated an hour beforehand after a German machine gun round ripped through his cheek, opening the right side of his face so that even his molars were visible.

I should have been nervous, worried even. Any other Corporal would have been, I'm sure. But I was no ordinary Corporal.

I'd known since I was a child that I was destined for greatness. Nervous?

Hell no.

I'd been waiting for this my whole life. The day I would become a hero.

The moment my story began.


This entire operation had been a clusterfuck from the start - no, even before the start. Hotel Company was never supposed to be an assault unit; the Brits told us as much when we were attached to them back in June. We wouldn’t be used unless it was an emergency. As such, we’d only trained on trench warfare.

I hated the trenches, those long tunnels of limited vision, soggy socks, and the stench from sustained stagnation and rotting flesh. I was one of the few in the unit who’d seen action before. The rest were a mix of college students, schoolteachers, factory workers… men who would have never thought of killing before President Wilson stopped just writing notes to the Brits and brought us into this war.

I didn’t warn them of the hell they’d face once we arrived. Of how the constant bombardment would haunt their dreams as well as their waking hours long after Navy ships took them back across the Atlantic. That anticipation, the sound of shells exploding with such a frequency that it sounded like you were underneath the Chicago 4th of July fireworks show. Only louder. And faster.

I didn't tell them they'd become accustomed to the sight, and the smell, of rotting human flesh – sometimes a whole body, other times just pieces blown from the torso of an unfortunate GI. And I didn't tell them that they couldn't just leave the trenches to remove the bodies, either. Sometimes they'd be stuck next to the rotting corpse of their closest friend for days. I knew that all too well.

No, it was best to let the new guys think that things would go their way. They were full of unbridled optimism and unproven machismo, most of which would end up just being hot air for the majority of the men. Still, they’d need hope to carry them through the long nights in the trenches. So I let them believe themselves invincible and death to be a distant improbability.

The Brits and Aussies had been planning some big operation. The new guys, with all the hope that ignorance could afford, were caught up in the excitement. They believed the Generals’ claims that this offensive would be the one to win the war. That we would all be home by the start of 1919. 

Call me jaded, but I knew how fruitless these campaigns were. We'd gain 500 meters of ground one month, lose it the next. Lost thousands capturing those precious few meters and thousands giving it back. Rinse, repeat.

The Brits' operation began on the 8th of August around 4 in the morning. We were still asleep in our makeshift barracks when we were awoken by the sound of friendly artillery batteries firing thousands of shells simultaneously. I knew they weren’t firing at me, but I still jumped out of bed and crawled under my bed. The others looked at me like I was crazy.

"What the hell, Corporal? They're friendlies."

I crawled out from under my bunk. "I know, I know. It's just... nevermind. Let's try to get some rest."

By all reports, the first day of the big offensive went better than planned. At least, on all fronts except one. The only thing holding up the entire operation was a small band of hearty Krauts in the village of Chipilly and nearby Gressaire Wood. If the Brits and Aussies could just get past that village, the entire force could advance without fear of an attack on their flank or rear. 

So, they called up the one unit they had in reserve - the ones who hadn’t trained at all for this. A bunch of Illinois National Guardsmen who had no business being on the front lines. Not yet, anyway.

My squad was naïve enough to think the Brits believed us to be a superior fighting force and called upon us in their time of need. I knew they called us up only because they were scraping the bottom of the barrel.


Our platoon couldn’t have been at more than half strength by the time LT’s face exploded beside me. Once the commander was down, panicked eyes of young privates looked to me, the highest ranking squad member left. 

“Corporal Stone, what are your orders?”

“The same damn orders we had before. Nothing’s changed, we have to take that ridge.”

I couldn’t afford to panic; these privates needed someone to rally them, to lead them. Without that, they'd fall apart more than what the Germans were already doing to us. No, I had to be ready. 

I'd always known I'd be a war hero one day; heroism was in my blood. My father was a hero of the war in Cuba just as his father was in the Civil War. Both earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

When I was a child. I'd asked my father to tell me about what happened that day. He never spoke of his actions, to me or to anyone else. Instead, I had to read his Medal of Honor citation to get every explicit detail. I reread that citation countless times, imagining what it was like to be in his shoes. What it was like to live out that story on the page. What I would've done in those circumstances.

I no longer had to wonder.

When the LT went down, I looked around for the next in line in the chain of command. Unable to find any of the sergeants in our platoon, I looked to the Brit medic.

"Who's left?"

“You’re looking at them.”

“What about Sergeant Miller from 2nd Platoon?”

“He’s alive, but barely.”

“Any other non-coms still up?”

“From what I can tell, it’s just you and Corporal Allex.”

With just two non-commissioned officers left and both of us just corporals, it was time to step up.

As hard as it was to watch LT and Sarge go down, this somehow felt predetermined. I'd never tell anyone, but it felt right. Like my destiny was finally coming to fruition. 

I lifted my head slightly, my head cresting the edge of the trench as I raised my voice to rally the GIs. “Press forward! If we stay here, we’ll – ”

An explosion of searing pain shot out from the center of my neck, radiating in ripples to the rest of my body. Gurgles replaced my next words. I reached up instinctively to cover the epicenter of the pain, pulling my hand back to see how bad the situation was. A crimson coat ran down my palm. Fuck…

I collapsed to my knees, holding my neck with both hands. From beside me, I heard someone call “Medic!” but I knew he was far too busy to come right away. 

Is this the end?

No, the wound was in the middle of my throat; it didn’t hit a jugular. From the feel of it, the round only grazed my Adam’s Apple.  Painful as hell, to be sure, and I wouldn’t be able to speak much - but it wasn’t going to kill me. 

Realizing I wasn't dying, my thoughts returned to the situation at hand. I had to find a way to get orders out to my men. Maybe I could find a pen and -

“Rally on me! We need to press forward or we’ll be picked apart until we’re all dead!” 

What? Who?

Wait, was that Corporal Allex? 


This is MY moment.


Corporal Jake Allex was assigned to the 2nd Squad in our platoon. We’d met when the 33rd Division arrived at the rear garrison back in June. He was quiet, though I could never tell if it was the bashful or stoic kind of silent. 

He had a pudgy, almost pasty looking face. Not the kind of person you’d think “this person is a stone cold killer”; I sure as hell didn’t when we first met. That’s not to say he was overweight; far from it, he was in great shape, especially for his age at 30 years old. The men mostly left him alone. Whether he was shy or a loner, they didn't bother engaging with the non-commissioned officer in charge of their squad.

We didn’t speak much. During the few conversations we did share, I gathered that his real name wasn’t Jake, and he wasn’t born in America. His birth name was Aleksa, and he was from a place called Kosovo, here in Europe. I’d never heard of it before. He wouldn’t tell me why his family moved to America or when, nor would he tell me why he started going by Jake. He clammed up whenever I mentioned anything about his personal life. So, I stopped asking.

He was drafted, like many of the soldiers in our unit. I got the feeling he didn’t care about the Great War or whether we won or lost. 

I was about to learn that I couldn’t have been more wrong.


We were moving.

I’d wrapped a strip of a ripped uniform around my neck to stem the bleeding just before getting swept up in a mass of bodies rushing forward. I tried to scream out, to take command. My muffled gurgles were lost in the battle cries of the dozen or so men rushing the enemy position. Leading the platoon was out of the question. I needed to focus on surviving this battle. 

My life was now in the hands of Jake Allex and the men of Hotel Company.

The zip and pop of machine gun rounds surrounded our every step as we advanced in bounds. I’m up, they see me, I’m down, an easy way to remember the standard procedure of stand, sprint, then drop when advancing on our enemy. It was ingrained in our very souls from the time we entered boot camp. It was also the only way to move across such open space in the face of an enemy with the high ground and massive firepower.

We closed the gap enough to make out Krauts in gas masks in the nest. On the very next bound, two privates from 2nd Squad went down in rapid succession. My squad lost three on our next bound. The machine gun nest was in such an advantageous position that any further attempts to close would be met with casualties that we couldn’t replace.

I had to face facts. We were pinned down. In front of a German machine gun nest firing full speed at our position. Of all the ways I’d envisioned the end, this wasn’t it. 

When one of the German guns went silent due to the team behind it reloading, I saw movement on my left. I looked…

…and saw Corporal Allex sprinting towards the nest at full speed. Not bounding, just an all out sprint over open ground, nary a bush or tree for cover. 

No, you can’t. If you get taken down, I can’t lead the platoon. Not like this.

Someone screamed “Cover him!”, and a wave of gunfire erupted from our troops. He dropped, and for a moment I thought he was a fine. No, he didn't go down taking a bullet. He was trying to return fire.

Only, his weapon wasn't firing. He lifted it and removed the magazine, reaching for another – only to find that there were no more. We’d been firing for hours already. Most of us were down to our last magazine. I began to realize that the end was coming for our platoon. Our story would go untold, no one would remember the platoon that got wiped out completely.

My grim contemplation was interrupted when I noticed movement just ahead of me. Corporal Allex jumped to his feet and again sprinted towards the nest. Despite having no ammunition. What was his plan? He'd be up against at least 20 Germans in there, by himself, with no ammo. 

What are you planning to do, bayonet them all?

I couldn’t see much from my prone position, but I heard one gun after another cease firing. I saw a rifle lift above the top of the German trench and stab down, Corporal Allex’s bayonet doing what the muzzle of his rifle could no longer do for him.  He was really doing it.

Again, the rifle was raised above the trenchline. This time, my heart sank when I saw that his bayonet had snapped in the last thrust. Instead of a sharp blade, he had a flat piece of metal extending from the end of his rifle. His only real weapon was gone. 

I made a mental note to put him in for an award when we got back – if we got back. Someone who would give their life like that, that’s what medals were created for, after all. Even if he'd killed a couple of them with his bayonet, there had to be at least 10, maybe 15, more Germans in that trench. Against one man who had no weapon.

It's over.

Only, the mayhem in the German nest didn’t end. A moment later, another gun stopped churning out rounds. Screams from terrified Germans were audible from as close as we were. I couldn't see anything, though.

What's happening?


I was there on the 22nd of April, 1919, when General John Pershing pinned the Medal of Honor on the newly promoted Sergeant Jake Allex. I had to learn about what happened that day in the German nest from his Medal of Honor citation; Sergeant Allex never spoke about it. It wasn’t in his nature. 

General Pershing’s aide-de-camp read out the citation as he pinned the medal on my comrade’s chest:

At a critical point in the action, when all the officers of his platoon had become casualties, Cpl. Allex took command of the platoon and led it forward until the advance was stopped by fire from a machine-gun nest. He then advanced alone for about 30 yards in the face of intense fire and attacked the nest. With his bayonet he killed five of the enemy, and when it was broken, used the butt of his rifle, capturing 15 prisoners.

Now that the Great War had ended, maybe there would be other chances to be the great hero I thought I would be. But I know that I’ll never measure up to the heroism that a quiet, reserved Kosovar displayed on the 9th of August, 1918.

Without him, I wouldn't have made it to the end of the war.

Turns out, this was never my story after all.

August 06, 2021 03:33

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Bruce Friedman
18:39 Aug 14, 2021

Just brilliant. Great command of military jargon. Great sense of place. Wonderful momentum.


Michael Martin
19:11 Aug 14, 2021

Thanks; my military service comes in handy at the oddest times! Thanks for reading


Bruce Friedman
22:12 Aug 15, 2021

I have a question for you. You use the abbreviation of LT for lieutenant. I was in the Army 50 years ago and never heard that used but I may not have been aware of its use at that time. Now the crime shows use LT in police parlance. Is LT a recent abbreviation or has it been used a long time?


Michael Martin
23:26 Aug 15, 2021

I will be completely honest and say that I don't know. It was used when I was in (2004-2008) but not much. I had a bit of personal bias when it came to jargon, so I'm not sure if it was 100% accurate for the times unfortunately. I wish I could give a better answer.


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Andrea Magee
03:42 Aug 09, 2021

Loved the content you used with the prompt. As usual a well written/good read story.


Michael Martin
04:13 Aug 09, 2021

Thanks! I spent a good deal of time researching this, specifically his unit and what exactly happened in the lead up to the battle. I appreciate you reading :)


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Palak Shah
15:12 Aug 08, 2021

Great way to use the prompt. I love it so much and it was a great read. Could you please read my latest story if possible? :))


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11:57 Aug 06, 2021

Great job utilizing this prompt to explore a fascinating moment in history. I thought you portrayed the brutal reality of trench warfare really well. I will definitely be Googling about the life of Corporal Jake Allex!


Michael Martin
12:27 Aug 06, 2021

Unfortunately, you won't find much. The portrayal of him as a loner/someone who kept to himself was based on my research - everything I've read says that he disappeared after the War until his death in 1959. Not much is known about him post-WWI. Most of the information in this piece was based on research into the Chipilly Ridge battle as part of the Battle of Amiens in 1918. I took a bit of liberty in establishing who Cpl. Allex was as there isn't much out there on him. I wanted to give him a bit more than a 3 sentence Medal of Honor ...


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Unknown User
05:34 Aug 06, 2021

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Michael Martin
14:42 Aug 06, 2021

There are so many Medal of Honor stories that never get told. I've also thought of the stories that never get told because no one survived to tell about the heroic feats performed in hopeless battles. As far as your comments; I appreciate the feedback! I tend to get overly wordy at times, as evidenced by my opening sentence. As I haven't been approved yet, I went in and made an edit to adjust now that you point out something I didn't realize. As far as the ending, I agree with you 100% - I spent some time trying to come up with a good ...


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