Gather around the fire, snuggle in your favourite blanket, and let me tell you a story.
Once there was a chap called Douglas Yate. Let's give him the last name Oakson, even though it wasn't really his last name. I am changing the last name for privacy's sake. Douglas lived back in the old early 1900's, when the first World War loomed over Britain and Europe and the World like a black, dark cloud. I don't know much about Douglas, but I can tell you that he was born in Liverpool, that he had a younger brother called Godfrey and that he liked playing cricket.
Douglas had just turned eighteen when World War One started. I can imagine the pressure he must have felt to enlist, and the horrible excitement attached to the hustle of the experience. I can imagine what he must have felt in the trenches, when he first arrived, hoping fiercely that the war would soon be over. Little did he know that the nightmare would go on and on, for four years. Like many - if not, all - men, he felt the war keenly and was traumatised by the events he had experienced. Years along the road, when his children and grandchildren asked him about his experience as a soldier, he wouldn't speak of it. I suppose the refusal to talk about it speaks a million words.
So yes, he enlisted and went to France as a sniper. Snipers shot from hidden places, maintaining close visual contact with the enemy. It must have been a nerve-wracking job. His life was at stake and he had to play some kind of detective-like role alongside it. Snipers normally operated alone, or with two, so I can imagine the War years might not have been Douglas' most cosy years. Godfrey served too, in an anti-gas regiment. He was gassed (I suppose it wasn't that anti-gas, after all) but he survived.
Douglas survived too, but he wouldn't have had he not smoked.
More yet, if he had not smoked, I would not be here today, writing this blog post about how smoking can save your life. Douglas was my great-grandfather. I've never met him, but I've always loved this story. Today is November the eleventh, so I suppose it's only appropriate to tell you this little tale on how smoking can save your life today.
Trenches were how we imagine them - muddy, dirty, freezing in the winter, suffocating in the summer, filled with fleas and rats. Letters and cigarettes were the angels in shining armour, giving the chaps some distraction and some escape. I can imagine how the smell of the cigarettes and tobacco made them close their eyes and remember a life somewhere else. It worked as a sort of drug, I assume, giving them a sense of peace and relaxation. Letters gave them smiles on their faces, to hear the voices of loved ones and to read about random things going on back home.
Smoking involved tobacco, and tobacco was often (or in Douglas' case, anyway) saved in a tin package. Douglas saved said tin package in his khaki breast pocket.
It was time to charge ahead. Douglas might have been familiar with this, but I am sure his heart was beating wildly and his brain was racing with prayers to heaven, just like all his fellow chaps around him. I can imagine him forcing himself to remain strong and clenching his teeth, knowing he had to get through this. Maybe he thought of a good smoke as a reward afterwards and calmed himself by a tiny notch.
Then it started; bomb shells exploding, mud and blood spats shattering the air and the ground like fireworks of death. The sounds of men groaning in agony, small and quiet between the blaring roars of explosions and fierce gun shots. It must have been hell. Many soldiers were killed by flying shrapnel. Bits of explosions whacking against their head, their breast, and flinging them to a sudden death. Douglas would have died had the tin package with tobacco inside not been in his pocket. He was wounded, but not killed, and he recovered.
So don't you ever say smoking doesn't save lives. As my granddad said, "I owe my existence to the habit." :-)
(I could have told you this story in two sentences and look how I elaborated. I knew I was a writer.)