This soldier has just been killed. He will think that he is still alive for a little while.

Two letters from a Polish pilot who had spent his last furlough at Mrs Gascoigne’s place

Yes, I was brought down.  I survived many combats, but not that one.  I’m wounded, I can’t control the ‘plane.  Hit on the leg.  It hurts.  The commands are no longer responding.  I’m falling.  I can’t get out of the ‘plane.  I’m completely aware of the fall.  I get up fairly easily and see my gunner.  He’s wounded too, but not too badly.  The Germans are coming to get us, but they don’t see me.  I run to hide.  But they’re not looking for me.  They take my friend with them.  I turn in circles for a while, I feel well and can’t imagine how I could crash without hurting myself.  My leg is healed.  I walk around.  I approach some French peasants to ask them for help, but they don’t see me.  I’m beginning to ask myself some questions.  I’m neither hungry, nor thirsty and I’m not particularly tired.  I begin to see things around me transforming.  There are colours everywhere;  it’s a sunset, or a sunrise.  The colours seem to be reflected just as much on the Earth as in the sky.  I lie down and watch the colours take form.  It’s like at the cinema when one image fades into another.  I’m astounded.  I don’t know where I am.  I ask, I pray, I forget that I’m not religious.  I pray for help and it is given to me.  Someone extremely bizarre, but in spite of everything very close to us, approaches me.  He tells me not to worry about the change.  It’s better for everybody and that I’m going to be very happy in these lands.  I don’t understand very well.  I imagine that I’m being taken prisoner.  Then he explains to me that there is neither prison nor prisoner, and I feel free again.  He leads me away and orders me to sleep.  He touches my eyes and I’m immediately asleep.  When I awake, he’s still there and I’m on Earth again, in occupied territory, with Germans all around.  I’m back in my body.  I’m finding it difficult to leave it.

The Air Force officers' messes where there had been a lot of drinking and playing around, were particularly haunted by dead pilots.

I don’t see any colours, but my new friend is near me, and he talks to me.  I don’t see him very well.  They are doing something to my body.  I’m very unhappy.  My friend tells me to concentrate all my attention on an event outside the war.  I therefore concentrate on the last time that I had a family life with you at H.  I see you all very well.  I wake you.  You feel my presence very near and you talk to me.  I ask you to keep me in the house, peaceful, far from the battle, until I can leave, and you answer “of course”.  So I stay, and now I’m beginning to feel happy again.  I’m between two worlds.  Help me to untie myself from that one and leave.  I want to continue.  I want to continue.  I think that I can.  Help me, please.

S. Z.

From the same person, several days later:

Thank you.  Yes, I’m well.  I don’t feel ready yet to leave your house.  I sometimes leave for short moments, but it’s good to be able to come back near you all.

When you sit on the same chair as I do, it gives me a funny feeling.  I’m both very near to you and very far from you.

From time to time, I go to Poland, but I don’t dare to stay.  I haven’t sufficient strength yet to help them, and they need so much of this strength!  I see my old friends, some are dying, others are already dead.  But I can’t do anything.  I’m tired and feel too ill to approach them.  We should help soon, but we are too weak for the moment.

Your father, or someone who looks like him, comes with me, and tries to help us.  But I’m good for nothing.  I want to help, but I’m like a child, I can’t.  It’s just that I never believed in anything;  I expected nothing after death.  I feel lost.  I don’t know anything.  Everything that I mocked is coming back to my memory.  I was a bad man, I neglected too many things, my prayers, my church.  But I don’t know whether it’s really important.  I had no faith.  Now I’m discovering that there is no extinction, I have to endure a sort of conscious extinction.  My thought and my senses are present, but I have no strength.

Here, you find what you were waiting for.  You construct your awakening.  Everything happens the way that you imagined it.  At least that’s what they told me.  I expected nothing, and nothing happened.  But now, I’m leaving the depressive zones, and I’m beginning to feel my strength.  Thank you for your help.

S. Z.

Message from a cavalry officer

Thank you.  I’m alive after all.  I thought that only extinction could follow such a hell.  On all sides, both British and German, it was a hecatomb.  The tanks, the hail of schrapnel and the ‘planes!  I had the impression that we were being exterminated by the machines that we had created.  They seemed so much more vindictive than the men they contained.  I think that it’s the war of the machines.  They are the ones leading us.  We are the slaves of a bad genie who has allowed their existence.  I feel the influence of evil so strongly.  I can’t wait to be faraway, and lie down on clean sand, and forget the horrors of this hell that Man no longer masters.

I prayed for help when we were bogged down and the firing started.  I prayed with all my soul, at the same time knowing that there was no escape.  But prayer gave me courage.  It seemed to me that nothing was really important, except that feeling about evil.  And even that went away a bit.  I can’t name it, or explain it.  It seemed to rise from the sand and spread all around the tanks.  I was feeling ill and pitiful.  Then these feelings disappeared and I found myself outside talking to my Colonel.  He didn’t seem to notice the schrapnel that was raining down on us without stopping.  I ran to take shelter, but he called me and told me not to take the trouble.  He seemed as young as a new recruit and appeared to be enjoying the battle.  He took me by the shoulder and said:

“Don’t you see, Kit, that we are dead, and yet we are more alive than the others.  We can continue to fight, to torment the enemy, to lead it astray, to inspire our leaders and take advantage of our invisibility.”

I saw perfectly well that he was serious, but he seemed mad to me.  I answered:

“Yes, Sir, but I’m so tired that I don’t think I can continue.”

He left me and I don’t know what happened, but I woke up here with just one idea in my head:  return to the battlefield and find him.  He wasn’t mad.  I was the idiot.

Your father let me write through you to allow me to take enough strength from the physical world to face the invisible world.  I’m leaving now.  Thank you very much.

4 February 1942.

***

To be continued.

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