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Artists, Poets and Writers pick up your pens and give us a Kiss

(Squirrel I can hear your sigh of relief as you now have a month to find a rhyme for Norwegicus)

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I will post my entry tonight.

A month to find a rhyme for norwegicus; I shall have to look up some suitably "rodenty" names and information.

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Wrote this a few years ago, but I think it fits the criteria.

Cheers-salesie.

Kissing up the Monto. Not for polling

On a warm, late July evening, it doesn’t take much bait to entice the free ranging shoals into the Monto, and most of this evening’s catch, half full of liquid courage, swim around the brightly painted lures; trying to decide which strategically placed, shimmering beauty will best serve their needs. Throngs gather at the low walls that enclose the small gardens to the front of each terraced house, forming sanctums for alluring females, which keep the male of the species, mostly soldiers and sailors, from the comforts they so eagerly seek. But this separation only lasts until hurried financial negotiations are completed across the low barriers, then a wide-eyed male darts from the shoal to leap the wall and follow the shimmying tail of the scantily clad female he’s chosen as she disappears inside.

George’s mouth breaks into a broad grin before his lips come together and kiss the back of his clenched fist in excitement as he takes his first look up Montgomery Street. Much better than I ever thought, he tells himself; these sights, those sounds; the laughter, music and song that pours from each house as well as the pubs - this is the place for me!

“That’s why they call it the Monto,” Dusty points to the street nameplate fastened to the front of an old terraced house that looks as if it might fall down if anyone tries to remove the sign.

“Is that it?” says George; “I was expecting something a bit more exotic.”

“Bleedin’ hark at him,” yells Smudger. “Only been in Dublin for two minutes and he wants bleedin’ exotic.”

“No – I just thought…”

“… That it would have some fancy meaning?” offers Finchy.

“Jesus, bleedin’ recruits?” Smudger throws his arms in the air. “One wants exotic, now his mate wants fancy? What’s this bleedin’ army coming to?”

“I just thought,” snarls George, “that the answer to its origins would be a bit more obscure, that’s all. It takes away some of the mystique knowing it’s only called the Monto just because it all started in Montgomery Street.”

Smudger stares in disbelief, “Christ, hark at the bleedin’ professor here; origins, obscure, mystique? It’s Saturday night, we’ve come for a shag and to get pissed, what’s it bleedin’ matter how it got its bleedin’ name, for Christ sake?”

They all laugh, then the others grab George and spin him around before pushing him down a passageway.

“The professor’s not with us, he’ll want to ask ‘em what their name means, rather than kiss ‘em.” Dusty shouts, before they all run off up the street.

“Wait for me,” George laughs, as he chases after them, “I’m much too young to be left all alone in the Monto, I might forget what my name is, or where I come from.”

-

The Monto may have started in Montgomery Street, but it’s now evolved into a much bigger beast. It now includes a myriad of lanes and alleyways, and the authorities don’t pay too much attention to its nefarious goings on. After all, it isn’t just soldiers from the barracks and sailors from the docks who’re regular visitors; even Royalty once visited its more salubrious part. If trouble’s kept to a minimum, the police are only too happy to take their "wages" and look the other way, and the army simply sees all areas like this, which grow up around all big garrisons, as being a necessary evil. It helps with morale, and stops them having to provide entertainment for the troops on camp. Some medical officers and padres do try to "educate" the men, but most don’t, because just like the other officers they’re too busy sampling the Monto’s delights for themselves.

-

Still laughing, George catches up with his mates as they stop at the junction with a smaller road.

Dusty points upwards, “You two want exotic and fancy, will that do?”

Their eyes follow Dusty’s finger, “Beaver Street?” yells Finchy, reading the street sign. “Bloody Beaver Street? That’s got to be a bloody joke?”

“No joke,” says Dusty; “somebody at the council’s either as thick as pig sh*t or they’ve got a great sense of humour. They changed it last year, Christ knows why? But, got to admit, I much prefer Beaver Street to Little Martins Lane. I couldn’t stop laughing when I first bloody saw it.”

“What’s so funny about Beaver Street?” asks George.

“Jesus Christ, give me bleedin’ strength,” cries Smudger, “I know it’s the twentieth bleedin’ century, nineteen bleedin’ fourteen and all that, but do you think the council’s put up a bleedin’ signpost to point us in the right direction, you bleedin’ dozy sh*te?”

“I'll tell you what’s so funny about Beaver Street, my new and innocent little mucker,” says Dusty as he places an arm around George’s shoulder. “It’s because beaver is what we’ve come down here for, and down there is where we’re going to find it. Waiting for us at number twenty-two Beaver Street, is as much bloody beaver as we can bloody well handle.”

Dusty and Smudger discovered Clancy's not long after they’d arrived in Dublin, and for the past fourteen months they’d been regular travellers down the side passage of number twenty-two Beaver Street. A giant of a man opens the back door, and, when recognising Dusty and Smudger, is only too happy to allow all four inside.

Clancy’s bordello is a whole row of terraced houses knocked into one, providing one large social area backed by a warren of interconnected chambers, and George, to his surprise, finds himself looking at one massive barroom. At the far end of this illicit taproom, through the tobacco’s leaden haze, he sees two soldiers leaning on a makeshift bar, drinking beer and laughing at two of their comrades’ clumsy efforts at dancing with two young girls. All along the back wall are tables and stools - soldiers occupy most of them, but a couple of sailors and a civilian are playing cards at one of the tables. Everyone else is heartily singing a song that he doesn’t recognise, as an old man encourages their raucous serenade by playing something that only just passes as a tune on an even older piano in the corner.

His eyes become transfixed on two plump women, skilfully moving in and out of the tables with trays full of drinks and empty glasses. As they go about their work, they laugh out loud when members of the inebriated choir grasp at their overgenerous breasts and backsides. Amazing, thinks George, just bloody amazing! They’re constantly moving, bringing drinks from the bar, collecting money, handing out change, picking up empties, and having their tits and arses felt at the same time. But they never spill a drop of beer or smash a glass. I wonder what they do for an encore?

“See, everything we need’s right here,” says Dusty, as he heads for the only vacant table. “We’re all set for the night.”

As Smudger orders four pints, George’s mind cools his excitement - been in bars before, back in Pontefract near the training camp, but never seen anything like this. I’ve bragged about sex as much as the rest, but bragging’s one thing …

“…Here you are, Smudger darling,” says one of the two plump women as she places four pints onto their table. “That’ll be a bob please.”

Smudger nearly chokes on his first sip, “A bob? A bleedin’ bob for four pints?” he yells, “Christ, Phyllis, that’s threpence a bleedin’ pint, it was only tuppence ha’penny last bleedin’ week?”

“Pay the woman, you tight sod,” says Dusty as he fondles Phyllis’ left breast. “They told us a month since it was going up.”

“I know, but not a bleedin’ ha’penny a pint, for Christ sake, I expected a farthing not a bleedin’ ha’penny.”

“Do you ever stop bloody moaning? Pay the woman and lets get pissed.”

Smudger places a shilling in her hand, “Keep the bleedin’ change.”

“Thanks for nothing, a*sehole,” she pushes Dusty’s hand away as her smile disappears - it soon returns as she gets to the next table.

“One of these days, Smudger, I’m going to punch your bloody brains out, why’d you have to upset Phyllis? It’s not her fault. She’ll be slow at serving us all bloody night now.”

“I just begrudge paying threpence for a bleedin’ pint. Oh all right, everybody put tuppence on the bleedin’ table and I’ll go over and slip it in her hand, that’ll bring her round.”

They all throw two pennies into the middle of the table. Smudger scoops them up and chases after Phyllis. She kisses him as if he were her long lost lover when he slips the money into her hand while grabbing a handful of her ample rear.

“Right, a round apiece, then a shag, then another round apiece,” says Dusty, lifting his pint, “I hope you two can keep up with the professionals?”

“Don’t worry about us two,” yells Finchy. “We can drink and shag with the best of ‘em, can’t we, George?”

“We’re the best – at drinking that, and using that,” shouts George, pointing to his beer and grabbing his crotch in quick succession.

-

As their fourth pint of the night lands on the table, George’s mind works overtime; not long now and still no plan. Jesus, I want a shag, Christ knows I do, but not like this; the place and the women are just too much. Bloody hell, if I can’t think of anything, I’ll have to go through with it. I can’t back out in front of me mates; they’ll be merciless, they’ll tear me to bloody bits.

“Come on, sup up. It’s time for a ride, then some more ale,” Dusty yells.

“Er, there’s plenty of time,” says George as the others down their pints.

“No there’s bleedin’ not,” snaps Smudger, “I’m bleedin’ busting for it.”

“I’ve, er, er – I need a p*ss,” says George.

“Another one?” asks Finchy; “You only went five minutes since.”

“No I didn’t!”

“Yes you bleedin well did,” laughs Smudger.

“It’s this ale, it must be bad, must be causing me to p*ss more.”

“Causing you to bleedin’ p*ss more?…Hey, lads, he’s a virgin…look at his bleedin’ face, he’s bleedin’ shitting himself.”

“No, I’m bloody well not. I’ve had more shags than you’ve had…”

“…You’re right, Smudge,” Dusty yells. “He’s a bloody virgin, quick grab him, lads!”

“Get off me, you b*stards,” screams George.

Ignoring his struggles and protests, they raise him shoulder high before carrying him through the cheering crowd to a door at the rear of the barroom, singing, “Georgie is a virgin,” as they go.

-

George tries in vain to kick his assailants as they thrust him through the portal of one of the many boudoirs, slamming the door behind him. In panic, he tries to turn the knob, but his mates hold it shut on the far side.

“B*stards!” he hisses.

“Come on, darling, hurry up,” a female voice says from behind. “Time’s bloody money, you know.”

He turns, saying the Regimental motto, Cede Nullis – Yield to None, over and over in his head.

At least a decade older than his eighteen years, she lies on the bed in her underwear, “My name’s Molly, and I just said time’s money, so bloody well get on with it.”

Her words make him freeze, rooted to the spot just inside the door, but he fumbles with his fly buttons in response to her command, “I can’t undo my flies,” he whispers, apologetically, then looks away, staring in stony silence at anything in the room but her.

His whole body shakes as he senses her climb off the bed and walk slowly towards him - his instinct is to run, but where to? Cede Nullis, Cede Nullis, Cede…he chants, over and over, under his breath, before Molly gently takes his hand, kisses him passionately on the lips then leads him to the bed and places him on his back.

“Long time since I had a virgin,” she repeatedly says in a low trembling voice as she first undresses him, then strokes and plays with his youthful innocence before climbing onto the bed to join him and smother him in more kisses.

-

Her first lesson finishes much too soon for both of them, but now he knows what all the fuss is about he's overjoyed to promise her that he'll visit every Saturday night. But next Saturday up the Monto never comes; his next kiss will be with the Devil as he sails for France with his Regiment, to face the Kaiser’s hordes.

© John Sales 2004

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Good tale GS. That's a quick entry for such a long one if you'll pardon the expression.

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Here's mine - suitable for children and persons of delicate sensibilities.

I guess it was about the third day after I first met Marie that I realized that I was in love with her. When I helped her that first day when she hurt her ankle, well, it was because she was pretty, and vulnerable, and I just wanted to help. Then, it was just pleasant to be with a girl again, and able to forget about the war and about the army, at least for a few hours. I didn't have any thoughts beyond the moment. I'm not superstitious, but somehow thinking about the future or making plans for it was tempting fate. I'm not the only one who feels that way, and you'd be surprised by what the boys carry for "luck".

That day was a perfect summer's day, and Marie and I walked further into the country than we had previously. She raced me to the top of a small hill, sore ankle and all (I've wondered since just how much she hurt her ankle that day). She still had a lot of little girl in her. I couldn't help looking over towards our lines, and she must have noticed my face clouding over. We sat down and had the bit of rations I'd brought in my haversack. Then I spread out my tunic and lay down for a rest.

I musn't have been quite asleep, because I felt her fingers running through my hair, and I peered through my eyelashes to see Marie's face above me, with an expression of complete and utter happiness on it.

Then she kissed me.

It wasn't a hard kiss, as she was trying not to wake me, but it was full on the lips, and I could sense the passion behind it.

Now I've kissed and been kissed before, and it wasn't a little girl's kiss, nor was it a "Thank you for a lovely evening, goodnight" kiss, not was it like the goodbye kiss I got at the train station from my girlfriend, who married the brush salesman a month after I reached England.

It was the kiss of a young woman who was in love and delirious with happiness.

I shammed sleep for a minute more before "waking". I hoped she wasn't close enough to hear my pulse racing.

That kiss stayed with me.

It helped as I remembered her crying as we marched out of the village.

It helped when I took one in the leg and it took an hour for the stretcherbearers to find me. (No, it wasn't a Blighty – I wouldn't have wanted one.)

It even warmed me when we were in six inches of water in our trench.

And it brought me back to Marie.

© 2009 Michael Johnson

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Here is my effort. It was written within half an hour of seeing Soren's sketch.............

The kiss

I was kissed by everyone when I set out for the station.

Grandmother, mother, sisters, aunts, cousins…….

And the old lady next door who always smelled of violets………

At the station I was kissed by all sorts.

Shop girls, Factory girls, other people’s mothers and relations, complete strangers and then the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in my life.

A willowy brunette with bright blue eyes, a smile that would stop the street and soft lips caressing mine…………….never been kissed like that before.

I don’t know where she came from or who she was but I remember her still………

Then a Nurse in her crisp new uniform and finally a Nun gave me a little peck on the cheek!

When we landed in France there were more girls kissing us; old ones, young ones and at least one elderly lady who smelt strongly of tobacco and garlic!

When I came home, the only one who would kiss me was my mother.

Everybody else flinches when they see me and seems afraid to get too close…….

I don’t blame them; I’ve seen myself in the mirror and wondered who the stranger is staring back at me with his one good eye and half a face………

But I remember the kisses and what they felt like.

Especially the one from the willowy brunette with the bright blue eyes…………..

I’ll keep that one forever……………….

© Tony Nutkins

November 2008

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Really lovely Michael so simple and innocent. I think we have all have memories of our own Marie

I had the pleasure of a preview of Squirrels work in November. I liked it then and I like it now

Comments © Gunboat January 2009

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But we all know there are two sides to every story, and we haven't heard Marie's side yet. It deserves telling:

Marie's Story

I had noticed the Canadian Sergeant as he walked down the street. In our village any man was rare enough apart from the old ones like my father, but he was so good looking. So I wasn't watching where I was walking, and turned my ankle and fell. I was embarassed to be so clumsy, but when he rushed over to help – and spoke to me in French (proper French, not what the Tommies spoke) – I was glad that I had. I tried to brush off my fall, but made sure that when I put my weight on my foot I cried out, so that he would stay with me. It worked, and he helped me home.

I couldn't believe it when he asked Maman and Papa if he could visit again. I said nothing, but I said all I could with my eyes.

We began walking together, short walks at first (it was so hard to remember that I had a sore ankle). I could tell that he liked me. He told me a lot, including that salope who ran to another man when he joined the Army (and I was so glad to hear that!). And he was Catholic – but he could have worshipped idols for all I cared. I told him about Pierre, who I really missed, and about Jean, my fiance – but not too much about him. I realized that our engagement could never have worked – but he seemed to me at seventeen to be my last hope, especially with so many of the village boys killed in the War.

He was so unlike Jean, who had tried everything to get me to sleep with him. He was kind, he was clean, he was everything I had been looking for. But he was a soldier, and a foreign one at that, one who some day would leave and probably never come back. But for now I was enjoying his company, and the envy of the other girls in the village.

Then the third day, we went for a long walk. He held my hand differently, and I knew that his feelings for me were different, and stronger. I said a little prayer to Ste. Catherine, as many French girls do when looking for their husband. I knew suddenly that he loved me.

My heart was so full that I raced him to the top of the hill, quite forgetting that I was supposed to be recovering from my injury. I saw him look towards the front lines, and his face lose its happiness. How long? When he lay down to rest, I sat looking at him, and my heart was filled with happiness just to be with him. I ran my fingers through his lovely hair, and when he didn't stir, I grew bolder. I kissed him on his mouth. It was an impulse I couldn't resist. Perhaps he wouldn't kiss me before he had to leave. I didn't know what a Canadian man would do, and he hadn't tried to kiss me yet. I wanted that kiss to remember and to cherish after he went. I was careful not to kiss him too hard, in case he should wake and be angry with me. Maybe Canadian girls are different. I didn't want him to think I was anything but a good girl.

I was not as good at it as I thought, as I saw the glimmer of his eyes through his eyelashes, and I knew he was awake. But he pretended not to be for a minute, so I knew he would not make anything of it. But his heart was beating as loudly as mine.

And if possible my happiness became even greater, because I knew that he loved me. Yes, he would have to go, but no one could take that away from me. And the Bon Dieu willing, he would find his way back to me.

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Is this one harder than usual, or are the members working hard on super-pieces?

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Maybe it's a case of "Make war, not love". Although truth be told, I've noticed the absence of the Mickey Spillane school of writing in MGWAT. :lol:

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She was a blonde. The kinda blonde that would make a Bishop kick in a stained glass window...................................

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I still want to know why Marlowe passed on Anne Riordan's offer. Maybe he did eat one sap too many.

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Seeing as the thread's gone quiet, I'll post again - a bit experimental this time.

Cheers-salesie.

When the Devil Kisses his Dice… Not for polling

Harry lifts his head and closes his eyes to bathe his face with the full glory of that early morning sun. But he soon finds himself fighting the power of July’s celestial furnace as it invades his thoughts, coaxing them to wander.

Just bloody concentrate on the job in hand he commands the half of his brain newly freed by those soothing rays. But his hand shakes in disobedience as it pulls a well-thumbed sheet of folded paper from his breast pocket. All thought of the present then yields to the power of the past as he yet again reads Rosheen’s despairing words.

Man’s Work?

The bugle sounds, a new day dawns,

It’s off to the front for the General’s pawns.

Though failed in the past, luck hasn’t been kind,

He’s learnt from that, sharpened his mind.

Where he’s gone wrong, he knows for a fact,

Not enough men were used in attack.

He’s worked on his plans for many an hour,

Both ends of the candle burn in his ivory tower.

All pretty and clean, he’s studied his maps,

Should be easy enough for his clever chaps.

The next act is due, his plans are sound,

“Get me more men we must gain ground.”

And now he’s got more, all trained and convinced

That his plans can’t fail, until they get minced.

The lists come in, more names this time,

All added to the cast of grisly pantomime.

The bugle sounds, a new day dawns,

It’s off to the grave for the General’s new pawns.

Is it only a week ago, just seven short days since she kissed me goodbye on the quayside in Dublin, and slipped her sardonic composition into my pocket? It seems so much longer. Didn’t find it until half way across the Irish Sea; did she think her biting words would shock me? How could they? She’s made her feelings plain enough many a time with that gorgeous voice of her’s – the last time pleading with me as we stood on the quayside: “Harry, I’m begging you. Please don’t go back?”

“I have to, Rosheen, I can’t stay, it’s impossible.”

“Don’t I mean anything to you?”

“Rosheen, you mean more to me than life itself, but…”

“…But, but! I hate that word; there’s always a but. Why can’t…”

“…Rosheen, darling, we’ve had this conversation a thousand times over. One day you’ll understand, you’ll see that…”

“…Don’t you dare patronise me. I hate it when you’re an English prig.”

“I am English, and can’t alter that even for you, and that means I have responsibilities. It means that…”

“… Not again? I know exactly what you’re going to say.”

“Yes, and I’ll keep repeating it until you understand, I’ll keep telling you that…”

“… I know, I know, you’ll tell me again about that Empire of yours. What is it with you Englishmen?”

“I’ll never understand you, Rosheen. Ireland’s part of the Empire, just what is your problem with the English? We’ve brought civilisation to a major part of the world. I still can’t understand how anyone wouldn’t want to play a part in all of that?”

“We saw at Easter what your civilisation means! It virtually destroyed half this town. You think you’ve a God given right to do whatever you want in bringing English civilisation to the rest of the world; but never mind what the rest of the world actually wants!”

“They were bloody rebels, in open revolt, what else could we do?”

“They were freedom fighters defending their country!”

“Why couldn’t I meet an ordinary woman? Why? Votes for women, freedom for Ireland, stop the war! Why can’t you be like other women, Rosheen, why?”

“You know why, I’ve told you often enough. I hate being a second class citizen. I hate Ireland being under the English yoke. But more than anything I hate this war! If I lose you then I've lost everything - please stay?”

“Oh, Rosheen. Let’s stop arguing. Look, if it hadn’t been for this war then I’d never have been sent to Ireland for my officer training, and we’d never have met. We’ve had six glorious months together.”

“I know, and I’m truly grateful for that. But how can I thank this awful mess for anything?”

“This war may be dreadful but we’re in it and as such we have to win it, anything else is much worse than death.”

“Don’t, Harry, don’t. I can’t bear the thought of losing you. My family has virtually disowned me for my love of you. Please stay, don’t go back, how can you face it all again?”

“I’m a British Soldier and that means something. Who’ll stop the Hun? Who’ll stop them dominating the world? Who’ll rescue tiny Belgium?”

“Ireland needs rescuing as much as Belgium does, stay and help me do that, Harry, stay and help me do that – please?”

“Now you’re asking me to commit sedition. I’ll never desert the Colours, Rosheen, never.”

She unbuttons the neck of her blouse, her wide green eyes full of tears, then pulls out and kisses her precious crucifix: “I swear on this holy symbol of Christian penance,” she sobs, “that I’ll give up everything if you’ll only stay. I swear I’ll give up Ireland’s as well as the women’s cause forever, if only you’ll stay here, safe and sound, with me!”

I knew then, when those words left her lips after kissing that symbol of unyielding faith, that her love for me meant more to her than life itself. Knew, as I watched her flee, angry, humiliated and in tears, away from me down the quay, that my refusal to match her sacrifice had hurt her far more than any bomb or bullet ever could. She would give up everything; give up all she believed in just to keep me safe, but I couldn’t give up my bloody honour, even for her…

“…Mister Wheeler, sir,” Sergeant Larvin’s voice is instantly consumed by the ever constant scream of shells travelling overhead, and the din they make when carrying out their duty not so far away…

…Oh, Rosheen, I’ll never refuse you anything ever again, I’ll…

“…MISTER WHEELER, SIR!”

“OH, ER - WHAT ER…”

“…YOU ALRIGHT, SIR?”

“YES, SAR’NT - I HOPE THERE AREN’T ANY PROBLEMS?”

“NO, SIR. THE LADS CAN’T WAIT TO GET GOING, SIR.”

“WHAT IS IT THEN, SAR’NT?”

“HOW MUCH LONGER, SIR? THE LADS ARE A BIT FED UP OF WAITING, SIR.”

Harry pulls back his sleeve and glances at his wristwatch; 7.20 ack emma: “TELL THEM, SAR’NT, WE GO IN TEN MINUTES - MAKE SURE THEY’RE ON THEIR TOES, READY FOR WHEN THE BARRAGE STOPS!”

“YES SIR, THANKYOU, SIR.”

Sergeant Larvin turns then shuffles off, shouting Harry’s message to each man in line as they crouch on the firing step.

As the NCO passes on his message to his men, 2nd Lieutenant Harry Francis Wheeler proudly glances at his sleeve. Stuck on his arm is the solitary pip that confirms they are indeed his men. My men! The fifty citizen-soldiers of No 2 platoon, B Company, 12th Y&L, are my responsibility now - for good or bad, and they’re as ready as they’re ever going to be; they’ve trained long and hard, and are just as keen as we were.

As he admires his sleeve’s symbol of new, elevated status, he feels his men’s eyes fall on him. Looking up, he’s met with fifty pairs of adrenaline fuelled orbs. Usually, when an officer looks directly at his men they divert their eyes and try to look busy, but not this morning, they simply stare.

I’ve only been with them four days, not long enough to remember most of their names, but they look to me as a son looks to his father? Silent tongues but their questions couldn’t be louder; the same ones we all ask the first time - Will I cope? Will I let my pals down? Will I be coward or hero? Will I see another sunrise?

“CHIN UP LADS! GET READY, IT WON’T BE LONG NOW.”

That should help. What else can I say? The din of our own barrage does this when you’re being introduced to the Devil’s game for the first time; makes a man realise it’s real and no longer playing at soldiers. But they’ll soon learn that an enemy barrage doesn’t just make a racket; it changes you forever. Not long now til they learn that Old Nick, when he throws to start the next round, laughs aloud when ploughing massive furrows through proud ranks, mocks you as he blows your mates to bits. They’ll have to learn how to deal with it themselves, just as we did; it’s something that can’t be taught only learnt. How can anyone ever be made truly ready for what’s about to come?

At the briefing, they told us it’ll be easy this time; a weeklong barrage, the biggest ever mounted. This time, for sure, it will cut the German wire and destroy their positions - their trenches there for the taking. I’ve heard that one before; surely, they know by now that when the barrage stops and I blow my whistle then no-man’s land becomes dead-man’s land? What a difference to 1914 as we loped along to fife and drum. Proud regulars, the 2nd King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, so eager to get to grips with the bast*rds and teach ‘em a lesson. Now I’m here, all thought of teaching anyone anything long since gone by the wayside; the Jerry’s will only learn when they’re all sent to bloody hell. And the bloody staff? Rosheen’s right, they’ll never bloody learn!

At least I can thank the bug*ers for sending me to Ireland; thank them for Rosheen being in my life. But teach me how to lead a platoon? Done it more than once, when our officers were killed, first as a private then a sergeant. The last time the bug*ers also said the German wire and positions would be destroyed; two hundred of C Company set out, but just one bloody hour later I led only twenty back to our own lines. The red-tabbed bug*ers should be made to come to the dance with us when the whistle blows; they’d soon bloody learn then.

Not long now, just a few short minutes before I’ve to order these fine men to fix bayonets and climb out of the relative safety of this earth walled, wood lined, stinking scar on the French landscape and enter the slaughterman’s back yard. Order them to put their futures on hold and gamble with their very existence. How many breast pockets carry letters from sweethearts, from wives, from children, from parents? How many hearts broken today, how many lives left empty?

Like Major Holdsworth said at Mons, just before he bought it, ‘When the Devil kisses his dice, innocence pays the price.’ I wonder what he’d say now, nearly two years on; which words of wisdom would he give the sole survivor of his old company as he’s about to lead a platoon of fresh innocents into Old Nick’s game of chance? Who’d be a bloody soldier in this bloody war? Who’d be a bloody officer? Who’d be…?

…SILENCE! The barrage stops, but the silence is more deafening than the turmoil it replaces, forcing a fresh charge of adrenaline through men’s veins. Making the few short seconds between barrage’s end and orders to move seem like hours. A time of silent prayers, silent curses and silent trepidation - but above all it’s a time of silence.

Harry concentrates, lowers his head and pulls back his sleeve. Damn, it’s only 7.25. Five minutes short, damn, damn, damn. What to do? Wait or go? Got to act, and act now, before we freeze through indecision, through lack of orders: “No 2 PLATOON – FiiiiiiiiiiX BAYONETS.”

To a man, they obey as if on parade - their prayers, their curses and their trepidation all forgotten as Harry’s powerful voice shatters the stillness and their training takes over.

Whistle to mouth - a shrill blast followed by hundreds of others all along the line. Then, with revolver in one hand and Rosheen’s verse clutched in the other, he leaps on top of the trench to face the enemy: “FOLLOW ME MEN – LET’S SHOW THE BAST*RDS WHAT WE’RE MADE OF!”

-

“Why have you brought me here?” Rosheen demands an answer from the men who arrested her in the street then brought her to Dublin Castle.

“Miss Doherty,” says the taller of the two special branch men, “you’ve been brought to the castle to answer our questions, not the other way round.”

“And what questions would they be? What questions would an English lackey have for me?”

He hands her a piece of scruffy paper: “We want to know if you wrote this?”

She snatches the stained sheet: “Where did you get this? I don’t believe you have this! Have you arrested him? You swine!”

Her interrogator moves menacingly closer: “Arrested who? That paper was recovered from the body of a British officer. The body of Second Lieu…”

“…Leave the Fenian Bitch on the floor, Riley,” the second man sneers. “Go and fetch the doctor, we’ll finish our questioning when he brings her round.”

-

Beneath that scorching sun she glances at the diagram handed to her at the entrance, then reads the inscription before dropping to her knees to scrape out a hollow in the soil with her bare hands at the headstone’s base. When deep enough she pulls a piece of folded, scruffy paper from her bag and places it in the hole: “There, my darling, it’s back where it belongs,” she whispers through her sobs. “You beat the Germans and freed Belgium, Ireland’s won its own freedom, and I’m allowed to vote. So many changes in just ten short years since we parted. But as before, my love, I’d give it all up just to have you by my side.”

Wiping away her tears, Rosheen then recites from another sheet:

“Guilt’s Life Sentence.

The world went mad, threw right to wrong,

And only sang a murderous song.

I didn’t betray, only loved too much,

For my heart broke to leave you such.

Please, please believe that all I tried

Was to keep you safe, at my side.

Now in this earth once more you’ll know,

My love burns bright; my heart’s aglow.

For you left behind a golden key

That keeps you close, forever with me.”

She places her verse alongside the other in the hollow then gently brushes the soil back into place, leaving no trace.

Her tears then fall onto French soil like pearls from a broken necklace as she looks lovingly to her right and holds out her hand. The young boy walks up and places his hand in hers, “Come and kneel with me, Harry,” she whispers as she kisses his forehead, “it’s time to meet your father.”

© John Sales 2008.

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Wow, this joint is really starting to rock.

Excellent entries.

Is someone going to put up the vote thingy for the last one? Or shall I have to sober up and have a go at stuffing it up??

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