THE vast majority of murder investigations are swiftly solved. Most murders are carried out by a person who is well known to the victim, in the heat of the moment.
And when Broomfield was told that an estaminet girl had been murdered, his past experiences as a detective with the City of London Constabulary led him to suspect a plain and simple crime of passion.
It had taken the Belgian police only a few hours and a short interview with the other members of the Viljoen family to make a link between Amanda and McCallion. However, as he was a serving soldier, the request for a formal investigation of the young soldier's movements on the night in question had been forwarded to the Military Police.
The Gendarmerie's probe had revealed that Amanda had still been alive at 10.30pm. Her mother had spoken to her before retiring. The girl had returned from the estaminet around as hour earlier with McCallion.
When he left, at 10pm, Amanda and her mother had completed some sewing work. Amanda had wished her mother goodnight and the older woman had gone to bed. It was the last time she had seen her daughter alive.
Broomfield had immediately contacted the adjutant of the Mudshires, Major Christopher Wight, requesting permission to speak to McCallion.
Major Wight had informed him that his subject had been wounded at Messines and was now receiving treatment in the rear.
"You will appreciate that battle casualties tend to get lost in the system for a few days until we get the documentation sorted out," Wight had told the policeman. "We should have his papers within a short time."
Broomfield knew the aftermath of battle placed a heavy bureaucratic load on battalion adjutants. It would take Wight long hours of plodding paperwork until he was satisfied that his unit was up to scratch in terms of records.
"In the meantime, I would like to speak to those men in McCallion's section who are available," said Broomfield.
Wight nodded and opened the door of his office and called a typist: "Orderly, please take this officer to Captain O'Brien's company."
Dai Macallister snapped to attention and recited his name and number.
"At ease Rifleman," said Broomfield, and offered the Welshman a cigarette.
"Ta very much Sir," said Macallister, a note of caution in his voice. He noted the presence of the company commander and waited for his nodded approval before placing the fag between his lips.
O’Brien stated simply: "Major Broomfield is from the Military Police. He and I will be taking notes during this interview. You are to give him full and frank answers. Understood?"
"Sir!" confirmed Macallister.
Broomfield lit the cigarette and produced a note book.
"Take a seat Macallister." he said, indicating a camp chair. "I’m here to ask you a few questions about the last night you were in Ypres and specifically about Vincent’s Estaminet."
Macallister shifted uneasily: "I only hit that Canadian five-bobber once Sir. He just had a bloody nose … an’ he was mouthing off about the battalion …"
Broomfield offered a wry smile.
"You may be sure that I have no interest in a punch up between the Mudshires and our colonial friends."
Account compiled from verbal testimony of 7/5213 Rfn. D. Macallister 7th (s) Bn. R. Mud. RIF. From personal notes taken by Capt. W. O’Brien. Published with permission.
Details of events at Vincent’s Estaminet, Ypres. May ? 1917
"I thought you Welsh could sing Taf," laughed Bert McCallion. "I’ve heard cats make better noises!"
The estaminet was crowded and a pall of cigarette smoke hung in the air. The reek of tobacco and the smell of frying lard added to the natural aroma of the khaki clad swarm of humanity. As far as the Muddies were concerned it was heaven on earth.
"Never mind my singing boyo – it’s your turn to cough up. Away up and see that girl of yours and order another bottle of blong," laughed the untidy Welshman.
Shaymen elbowed McCallion: "And no sneaking off for a cuddle mind!"
Bert McCallion gave Shay a clip on the ear and made his way through the packed room to the long, beer puddled table.
Amanda smiled as her Tommy waved to her.
"Give us a bottle for the lads, love," said Bert. "Any chance of you getting away a wee bit early tonight?"
Amanda nodded: "Vincent, he tells me alright. Bon?"
McCallion squeezed her hand as she passed over the bottle of wine: "Very bon with me."
He turned away from the bar and immediately knew that trouble was brewing. Dai was standing nose to nose with another soldier, from his badges, Bert recognised him as one of the Canadian contingent.
"You blokes thinks you can just get off with anything," muttered the Welshman. "Why don’t you f..k off and spend your extra money some place else?"
"I suppose you’re gonna make me?" retorted the Canadian.
Then he uttered the words which sent Taf into fist flailing action.
"If it wasn’t for Canadian guys like me, you English would be blowing bubbles in the channel by now!" said the Canuck.
"Who the f..k are you calling English?" roared Taf. And swung a left hook.
Bert put the bottle back on the counter and waded in.
Well, you’ve got stick by your chums.