Please note: Justin’s great-great-grandparents are my grandparents Carl and Elisabeth Kegler. Inspired by an account of my uncle’s (Günther Kegler) near death experience on the battle field in WW1, he wrote this highly creative piece and gave me his kind permission to publish it as a guest post in the Klopp Family Blog.
Kindred Time Travel Narrative
A deafening explosion burst nearby, sending a fountain of soil all around me. I fell to the floor, knocking the air out of my lungs. As I rolled over and gasped for air, another shell exploded near the trenches not too far away from me. Paralysed for a second, my mind started whirring through the countless questions that arose from my situation: Where am I? How did I get here? Am I going to die?
Yet, I had nowhere near enough time to think as a round of bullets caused me to dive into a trench. Spitting out dirt, I looked up through the smoky air to see a face looking down at me.
“Who are you?”
A young man in his early 20s wearing a military uniform peered down at me. I coughed, preparing to answer him, when I realised that I had just understood what seemed to be perfect German.
“What- what year is it?” I managed to sputter out, the words finding themselves without me having to attempt to translate.
“1917- what’s going on?” the German man shouted, confused. I would have answered him, but my mind was going through a thousand thoughts at once. I felt myself falling to the floor, but before I hit the ground, I was gone.
Gasping for air, I shot up to find myself half-asleep at my kitchen table, head buried in an old family tree. I picked myself up cautiously, half-expecting to find myself back on the Western front. I blinked once or twice, taking a moment to assess my situation. My experience felt surreal, but too lifelike to be a dream. Rubbing my eyes, I was still feeling remnants of the smoke and dirt that filled the air of the battlefield. World War I… Germany… Slowly things began to click into place. I turned towards the record of my family’s history and began to flip through the pages of information feverishly, looking for a clue as to where I had just been. Pouring through the text, I skimmed for any clue related to what I had just witnessed. Finally, something caught my eye.
It was a distant relative, Gunther Kegler. He had been born in Germany in 1894, and had joined the army at the beginning of WWI. In 1916, he became the commander of a machine gun company and traveled around Europe, fighting in many different battles for the Imperial German Army. Next to the description I found an aged picture. The man was much older than the boy I had seen in the trenches, but his face was familiar.
As I gently touched the photograph, I began to slip away again. I found myself back on the battlefield. Quickly, I threw myself to the ground expecting hails of bullets, but this time, none came. The battle must be over, I thought as I pulled myself up relieved. I began to look around the large expanse of land that had been home to the violence and human misery I had briefly witnessed before.
Trying to find my only link to this place, I scanned the scene for Gunther. As I looked around the battlefield, my eyes found large large craters from shells, and extensive networks of trenches carved like scars into the ground. My gaze came to rest on a large military truck. It was filled with corpses, a gruesome image. But my expression froze with surprise when I saw Gunther lying in the hearse. I rushed over. This didn’t make sense, Gunther didn’t die in this battle! What was going on?
“Gunther!” I shouted loudly. I ran over to the edge of the truck. He was lying still, and it looked like he had been very badly injured.
“Gunther!” I called again desperately. Had history changed itself? Was it my fault?
Gunther coughed gently. He was still alive! I pulled him out of the truck and glanced around worriedly. Nobody seemed to be around. Straining myself, I lifted him onto my back, barely able to stand under his weight. I began to slowly lumber over to the camp in the distance.
After struggling forward slowly for what felt like hours, I made it to the tents. Looking around frantically, I saw wounded soldiers slowly shuffling into a hospital tent. Pulling Gunther towards them quickly, I called out for help.
Weary eyes turned to face me, but I was already gone.
Works consulted: “The Kegler Tree.” The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project, klopp-family.com/our-family/the-kegler-tree/. Accessed 5 Apr. 2017.