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Remembered Today:

August MGWAT


squirrel

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I am finding it hard without somebody else suggesting a title but here's a thought for this month.........

The Regulars 1914

They’d a bearing straight and easy

They were confidant and breezy

And the sharpness in their drill

Was plain to see.

They marched with great aplomb

To the beating of the drum,

All pressed and polished;

Pride in every step.

Their kit was fitted well,

Neat and tidy, you could tell,

These were soldiers fit and steady,

Every one.

Their arms drill was precise,

Each squad moving to the voice,

Of the Colour Sergeant’s orders,

Just like one.

They could march for miles each day

Then deploy without delay,

Ever ready to take on

The Nation’s foes.

From Aldershot unto the Empire

And beyond whenever sent for,

They’d served their country well

In peace and war.

Their reputation was inestimable

But the Kaiser said, “Contemptible”

So he had to learn the hard way;

They’re no fools.

See them fighting hard at Mons

Taking all things as they comes

For the British Regular Soldier

It’s his job;

He’s doing what he’d trained for,

Paid to shoot and hit what’s aimed for,

With his fifteen rounds a minute

Rapid fire.

The retreat was nicely handled

Jerry couldn’t hold a candle

To the Army that we sent

To Flanders fields.

We’ll never see their like again

Remember always, it’s writ plain,

The BEF was:

“That perfect thing apart”.

ã Tony Nutkins August 2011

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Good title Tony and I understand the difficulty in coming up with them so thank you as well.

To top it off you've produced a rollicking entry.

Let's have fun and see what happens.

Jonathan

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Thanks Jonathan,

It will be interesting to see what turns up!

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That's a good one Tony!

I see you have written Gerry where I would have written Jerry - out of interest is that an alternative spelling?

sJ

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Interesting choice of theme, Tony, and the poem's not bad either.

Here's two chapters from my novel - it deals with the recruit training of pre-WW1 regulars (the men who made up the Old Contemptibles), this stems from a combination of research and personal experience (I'm an ex-regular, and did my recruit training forty-four years ago). There is a back story contained within it, and I left it in to add some depth to the characters - to show that, as in my day (but to a lesser degree), the recruits of the British Army back then were neither angels nor soft (the hero George, aka Albert, is wanted for attempted murder) and that for many the Army was a last resort (as Wellington put it, "Our army is made up of the scum of the earth, but what fine fellows we've made of them").

Cheers-salesie.

Chapter 10 – Get fell in.

“Right, you lot are number one section, and, God help me, you’re all mine. Pick a bed each, put your kit down, then fall in outside in three ranks, and don’t take all bloody day about it.” The man with two brilliant white stripes on his sleeve yelled at them.

Twenty-five men – Twenty-five beds, George walked over to the nearest, put his kit down, then stood and watched nine or ten of the others pushing and shoving each other in an attempt to secure the bed of their choice.

The man next to him turned and said, “Marvellous, every bed’s the same, but there’s always somebody who wants what somebody else’s got, give me strength?”

“I’ll tell you what would really confuse them,” said George, “Stick two shovels against a wall and tell them to take their pick.”

The man burst out laughing, “Yep, that would test em. Hello I’m Graham Finch from Leeds, Finchy to me mates,” he said, holding out his hand.

George shook it, “George Wheeler from Sheffield, how do you do, Finchy.”

“How do I do?” said Finchy, “Blimey, Jud, they talk posh in Sheffield don’t they?”

“Not really, my mother always forced me to speak correctly, bit of a pain, sorry. And it’s George by the way, I can’t stand being called Jud.”

“No skin off my nose what you call yourself, George. But a word to the wise, I’d tone down the posh talk a bit if I were you, some of these jokers might not like it, if you know what I mean?”

“I know what you mean, thanks for the advice.”

“I thought I’d said don’t take all bloody day about it?” screamed two stripes,

“Get fell in outside, and get in three ranks. NOW MOVE.”

They all ran outside and tried to form themselves into three rows, most did, but some wanted to be where others were and visa-versa, the same problem as with the beds - chaos.

The man with two stripes ran over, grabbed two by the collar, banged their heads together, and said, “I’ll bang every man’s head together if I have to, now get into three ranks and no more p*ssing about.”

His piece of individual showmanship had the desired effect; order was instantly restored.

Movement in of the corner of his eye caused George to look to his left; twenty-five other recruits were pouring out of the next hut, and experiencing the same problem; getting everyone into three ranks was proving to be a challenge. Same problem, same solution; their man with two stripes banged two heads together, shouted, and order was soon restored.

“Who told you lot to look at them, look to your front,” shouted the man with two stripes.

They all obeyed.

Then Pat came into view; he was with a shorter man who was obviously an officer. Both the men with two stripes shouted, “Squad, Attennnnshun,” then both saluted.

George had no idea what to do, so he tried to copy two-stripes by standing as straight and as rigid as he could.

The officer addressed them, “Welcome, chaps, welcome to the depot of the King’s own Yorkshire Light Infantry. My name is Major Astle, I’m your Training Company Commander, and this is Colour Sergeant Doherty, whom you will be seeing a great deal of. Then we have Corporal Nolan, who is number one section corporal, and Corporal Dyson with number two section, whom you will be seeing even more of.

You have chosen to join a proud and distinguished Regiment of the line, a Regiment that rigidly upholds the finest traditions of the British army. Over the next twelve weeks you will be in Recruit Platoon, where you will learn discipline and your physical fitness will be brought up to the highest levels. Then you will move on to Senior Platoon, where, in a further twelve weeks of advanced training, you will be shaped into fighting men, which will enable you to take your just place in the ranks of our fine Regiment.

Have no doubt at all, that your training will be hard, extremely hard, but for those of you that make it through to the end, the rewards will be tremendous. You will become a member of our Regimental family for the rest of your days, and you will feel proud. Feel proud to call yourself a KOYLI.”

He then turned to Pat, and said, “Take over please, Colour Sergeant.”

Pat and the two corporals saluted.

Major Astle returned their salutes, then departed.

Pat gave his own speech to both sections; his main theme being that he was a man to be feared, “There are only two evil b*stards in this camp, and I’m bloody both of em,” he so succinctly put it.

He then told both corporals to take their men back inside to sort out their kit, but he told George to stay.

“Welcome to the army, Private Wheeler.”

“Thank you, Pat.”

“Colour Sergeant to you, Private, who said you could call me Pat? You lousy pile of dog sh*t.”

“Er, you did, Pa….er, Colour Sergeant.”

“I did? Ah, now I remember, it was when you were a civilian and I was off duty. Well, you’re in the army now, so don’t forget your manners again, you horrible piece of horse sh*te you.”

“No, Colour Sergeant.”

“Listen to me, Laddie, it’s very important. This is the only time we’ll talk like this, so listen good. If that lot in there, including the two corporals, think that I know you, they’ll think you’re my pet and your life won’t be worth living. For the next twenty-four weeks forget about what’s gone on before, forget you ever knew me. You’re four years too young, but if you work hard and keep your head down then you’ll be fine. I’ll treat you like the rest, forget everything that’s happened and you’ll make it. Have you got that, Private?”

“Yes, Colour Sergeant.”

“Good, now before you go back to your mates rub your boots in the mud at the side of the hut, and when they ask why I kept you behind tell em I bollocked you for having muddy boots, understand?”

“Yes, Colour Sergeant.”

“Right, go on, away with you now, and good luck. Oh, and get rid of that Grammar school accent, you’ll confuse everybody.”

“I’m already working on it, Colour Sergeant, I’m already working on it.”

*********

Major Astle had been truthful; their training was everything but easy, their lives now became a constant round of learning how to dress, to wash, to look after their kit, to clean their barracks, to drill, to carry out fatigues, to obey orders instantly and without question. As well as how to strip, clean, load and fire a rifle. But the hardest of the lot, for the first few weeks at least, was the physical training; a regime of running, weight training and callisthenics which was carried out twice a day, every day, in one hour sessions.

The only break to this routine was in June, the day of the new King’s coronation; a big parade in the morning followed by a service of thanksgiving in the garrison church, and, luxury of luxuries, the rest of the day off. A party atmosphere pervaded the camp with drink being made available, a rare treat indeed. However, all holidays seem to be over before they’ve even begun and that day in June 1911 was no exception, within forty-eight hours it became nothing more than a pleasant distant memory.

All of this training was carried out within a programme of perpetual harassment from the NCOs, who bullied and harangued their charges. The slightest misdemeanour was jumped on from the greatest possible height; such as being caught on parade with only a smidgen of soap behind an ear would result in the wrongdoer being charged with “being dirty on parade” and would be punished by three days restriction of privileges. Commonly known as jankers, where the offender would be given, under the supervision of the Regimental Policemen at the guardroom, all of the filthiest jobs in the camp to do.

There was never any shortage of men on jankers.

Some men found that their lives had become impossible, the odd one even attempted suicide, and these were soon removed to God knows where. But most were only too happy to live with the pressure, in return for clean clothes, a clean and secure place to sleep and three meals a day.

It was a Godsend for George; he never had time to think about the traumatic events that had preceded his enlistment, and after nine months of living with the Gilberthorpe twins, Corporal Nolan didn’t seem too bad at all.

The only time his past came to him was at night, when he slumped, alone and exhausted, into his bed. He’d tried to picture his mother’s beautiful and caring features, but he could only see Gilberthorpe’s brutish, smirking face in his mind’s eye. At first, this had troubled him, but then he reasoned this was good, that he needed this in order to keep his evil image to the front of his mind, so when the time came for him to exact his retribution then he would still recognise his target. He now went to sleep every night with a smile on his face, picturing himself with his hands around Gilberthorpe’s throat; his stepfather’s smirk replaced by a look of terror, as he squeezed the last breath out of his evil body.

Every Saturday at twelve noon their work would finish and, apart from Church parade on Sunday mornings, they were free until reveille on Monday. This gave them time to maintain their kit after the punishing travails of the previous week, and to recharge their batteries before next week’s exertions. But when off-duty they had very few distractions, they were not allowed out of camp until they graduated to Senior Platoon and, apart from the canteen, there were no recreational facilities.

George had soon discovered that he could adapt his accent to make him acceptable to his peers, and he and Finchy had become firm friends. But he found his imagination becoming stifled by the lack of recreational opportunities, by the rigid command structure and the highly ordered society in which he now lived. So he’d written to Auntie Doreen and Uncle Mick asking if they could send him any books; he’d soon become bored with the never-ending card games. They’d obliged, and after eight weeks training he now had several in his collection.

He’d been to the canteen with the rest of the lads, but at one o’clock that Saturday he returned to the barracks to read the latest book to be sent to him; entitled a History of the British army. Uncle Mick had placed a note inside informing him that there was full chapter referring to the Koylis.

Lying on his bed in the empty barrack room, he settled down to read his latest acquisition. He would perhaps be able to snatch an hour or two of peace and quiet before the card schools started, but then he heard voices coming from the bunk in the corner. A bunk is a small room, at the entrance to a main barrack room, which contains a single bed and locker, where the NCO in charge of the barrack room resides.

The sound of voices from the bunk on a Saturday afternoon was unusual because Corporal Nolan and his NCO friends were never around; they were always out of the camp enjoying the pleasures of Pontefract.

He tried to carry on with his studies; one of the very first lessons any recruit learns is to mind his own business. But, as the door was ajar, he couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Corporals Nolan and Dyson.

“I can’t believe it,” said Nolan, “The best meeting for ages at the racecourse and we’re on duty and stuck in this God forsaken hole.”

“Come on, Ted, it could be worse, at least we’ve only copped for this afternoon. We’ll be able to get out tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow’s no bloody good, I told you I’ve a hot tip in the three o’clock, I heard Captain Donovan telling his mate.”

“Tis a bit rough I must admit, good tips don’t grow on bloody trees.”

“Christ, Harry, have you ever served in a camp where there’s nobody to take a bloody bet. Since Sergeant James got posted out, we’ve been knackered.”

“Aye, it’s bloody crap all right, let’s hope somebody gets posted in, sharpish, who’ll be able to give us odds.”

“Excuse me, Corporals.”

“What do you want, Sprog? P*ss off,” yelled Nolan.

“Sorry, Corporal, I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation.”

“I’ve told you once, Wheeler, now p*ss off.”

“But, Corporal, I can give you odds.”

“What, a Sprog like you give us odds? P*ss off, I said.”

“Hold on, Ted, let him talk,” said Dyson, “Go on, Sprog, tell us.”

“Not much to tell, Corporal, if you want a bet then I’ll lay it for you.”

“Lay it? The Sprog knows the lingo at least, Ted.”

“Go on then, Sprog,” said Nolan, “ What odds are you going to give us on Romany Lad in the three o’clock at Ponty?”

“I’ll need to see your paper with the runners in first, Corporal.”

Nolan threw his newspaper at him, “Go on have a look, but make it quick before I lose my temper.”

George scanned the paper with eager eyes; it showed Romany Lad as second favourite in a fifteen-runner handicap, with predicted odds of six to one.

It took George less than thirty seconds to make his bid, “How much do you want me to lay, Corporal?”

Nolan pulled a florin from his pocket and held it up in front of George, “Two bob, two full shillings on the nose, at the paper odds.”

“Give the lad a chance, Ted, he’ll never be able to lay that, you’ll win twelve bob, that’s more than a week’s wages for a Sprog. Stop tormenting him, since when did you put two bob on a bloody horse.”

“Since I got this hot tip from Donovan. He knows his bloody horses does that officer.”

“I can lay it,” said George, “And I’ll give you thirteen to two. That’s half a point better than the paper odds.”

“Thirteen to two?” said Nolan, “That’s fifteen bob back, you don’t have enough to pay me out, you’re trying to have me for a pillock.”

George turned around, undid his trousers and reached inside his money belt and pulled out a sovereign. He’d left his fortune with Uncle Mick, but, for emergencies, he kept five sovereigns in a money belt around his waist. Refastening his trousers, he turned back and held up his shiny coin in full view of Nolan and Dyson, “Do we have a bet then, two bob at thirteen to two?”

“Bleedin hell, Ted, he can cover it, I’ll go halves, a bob a piece.”

Nolan nodded to Dyson, then placed his florin into George’s outstretched hand, “Don’t be too far away,” he said, “When we’ve checked the result in tomorrow’s paper, we’ll want our fifteen bob straight away.”

“I hadn’t given a thought to going anywhere this weekend, Corporal,” said George as he put the florin into his pocket and went back to his bed with his new book.

He couldn’t concentrate on its pages, though; the exhilaration he felt at laying this bet made his hands shake. This was the same feeling he’d experienced when taking Gilberthorpe’s money and he’d missed it, he’d missed that most stimulating and indescribable pleasure he felt when doing something he shouldn’t. He’d taken a chance by offering half a point more than the paper odds, but that only added to his excitement. However, in a big handicap like that, the official starting price would probably end up higher anyway.

He’d sworn, after his mother’s death, that his bookmaking days were over, but he’d been unable to resist the temptation, his excitement being too much to deny.

The following morning, as they were sitting in the garrison church, George was seated behind Captain Donovan and another officer who he didn’t know; their conversation lifted his heart more than any hymn ever could.

“Sorry, old boy,” said Captain Donovan, “Sorry about the little slip up yesterday.”

“Don’t worry about it, Roger. The horse tried, it was a gallant second. Perhaps we should have known better than to expect consistency from a horse called Romany Lad; pulling a caravan must tire them out eventually?”

Both officers laughed, and so did George.

When they returned to the barracks, Nolan summoned George into his bunk; newspaper in hand, he said, “Bit of luck you had yesterday, Sprog?”

“That’s the way it goes, Corporal, some you win, some you don’t.”

“Suppose so, but I’d have thought a Sprog wouldn’t want to upset his Corporal, as well as risk being charged with gambling on camp. I’d have thought he’d want to think about making the bet void, and return all stakes.”

“I can see the sense in that, Corporal, but I’d have thought any NCO who charged a man with gambling, would run the risk of being charged himself for gambling with him. Plus, if he did charge such a man, and he was convicted, then the NCO wouldn’t be able to have a bet anymore. At least from now on, he can have a bet any time he wants, Corporal.”

"Get out, and don’t push your luck, Wheeler. I haven’t made my mind up about you yet? I’ve got my eye on you.”

**********

Word of mouth in an army camp is the fastest form of communication known to man, especially when it involves a subject close to any soldier’s heart – gambling. It doesn’t matter what form it takes, as long as it’s gambling. But gambling on horse racing has always been the most popular form of recreation amongst the men charged with defending their country’s interests, and as a result, George found himself with a thriving enterprise once more.

Within two weeks of his chance encounter with the two corporals, he was laying so many bets that he was finding it difficult to cope. Five hundred and fifty soldiers have a huge appetite for risking their meagre pay on the outcome of a horse race, and, of course, Corporal Nolan was about as good at resisting temptation as George was; he was almost his biggest client.

Their individual stakes, though, were nowhere near as high as Gilberthorpe’s had been, but what they lacked in quality was more than made up for in quantity. It doesn’t take many threepenny bits, tanners and the odd shilling to make up a pound, and in their own way, they all had something in common with his infamous stepfather; picking winners on a regular basis was an art which eluded them.

To help with his increased workload, George recruited his best mate Finchy as his clerk. He’d no experience, but he had one priceless asset; he was as loyal to George as anyone could ever be. So George taught him how to make the entries in his ledger and allowed him to take bets. But any settling and paying out, plus the laying of special odds, was still in George’s hands. In return for his labours, Finchy received a generous percentage of the profits. Albert, alias George, was back in business.

Chapter 11 – Family values.

The ordinary soldier’s telegraph may be rapid, but the people in charge don’t tend to miss too much either; the senior NCOs have their own methods of tapping into these lines of communication.

George was summoned to the Company office by Colour Sergeant Doherty, and as he stood to attention in front of him, he was asked a question, “Who said you could run a book in my camp?”

“Sorry, Colour Sergeant, I don’t know what you mean?”

“You don’t know what I mean? Let me spell it out for you, Private Wheeler. For the past three weeks, you’ve been running a bookmaking business, and judging by the fact that you’re the only bookie in the place, then your little enterprise must be very profitable. I hope you’re not going to continue insulting my intelligence?”

“No, Colour Sergeant, sorry, Colour Sergeant.”

“Good. We’re agreed, you’re running a book then?”

“Yes, Colour Sergeant.”

“Right, I’ll ask you again. Who said you could?”

“No one, Colour Sergeant.”

“You do realise that gambling contravenes King’s Regulations?”

“I think so, Colour Sergeant.”

“You think so? Don’t think, Laddie, you’re not paid to think – it does.”

“Yes, Colour Sergeant.”

“The reason it’s banned, Laddie, is quite simple. It breeds resentment, it causes men to get into debt, and where there’s resentment and debt then trouble’s never far behind. Have you got me drift, Private?”

“Yes, Colour Sergeant.”

“Good. But there is a way of bypassing regulations, Private, and of avoiding trouble, both at the same time. That’s by getting permission and running the show properly.”

“How do I get permission, Colour Sergeant?”

“You apply to me, Private.”

“To you, Colour Sergeant, not the CO?”

“The CO? Now that’s a laugh. Didn’t I once tell you it’s us Sergeants who run this bloody army? The officers don’t have a clue what’s happening amongst the men if we don’t tell em; officers don’t know their ar*es from their elbows most of the bloody time. You’d normally need the RSM’s blessing and I’ll mention it to him out of respect, but in this camp, he leaves such things to me. And the rules are quite simple, we know that without any gambling, the lads would soon get p*ssed off, but we also know if not controlled then the same thing happens. So you only allow credit up to one shilling per soldier; above that, if they can’t pay in cash they don’t bet, and you don’t try any rough stuff in order to collect; if you stop them gambling until they’ve paid, they’ll soon cough up. Are you with me so far?”

“Yes, Colour Sergeant, very sensible, Colour Sergeant.”

“Good, Mick always said you’d got brains. Now there’s also a licence fee to be paid. I’ll have a bet with you twice a week. It will be for half a sovereign each time, but I don’t give it to you, call it an ongoing credit account. But if my bet wins, you pay me out in cash. Are you still with me?”

“Yes, Colour Sergeant, but I assume that when I pay you out for a winner, it’s less the stake money, which stays in the ongoing credit account?”

“Bejesus, Mick was right about you being smart.” Pat said, laughing, “It stays in the account, have we got a deal?”

“It’s a pleasure doing business with you, Colour Sergeant.”

“Now, young fella, don’t forget the ground rules, I’d hate to have to fall out with you.”

“No, Colour Sergeant, no more than one shilling credit, and no rough stuff if they don’t pay, I just stop taking their bets.”

“You’re a grand fella, Private George, your Uncle Mick’ll be proud of you. You’ll be in Senior platoon next week, then we can get down to teaching you some real soldiering at last.”

As George walked back to the Company lines he couldn’t help but smile as his brain rationalised what had just happened. I’m back in business, he thought, and enjoy the protection of the most powerful NCO in the camp, even the Regimental Sergeant Major doesn’t seem to have as much authority. The old b*gger, I don’t mind giving him part of the profits, they’ll go some way to paying back what I owe him, and his ground rules are sensible. But it also sounds like an unwritten rule throughout the whole army, so I’d best remember it. Patrick James Doherty, you’re a shrewd, wily old sod and I love you.

He now felt the exhilaration that came from laying a bet begin to surge through his body. But he wasn’t gambling at the moment? For the first time it dawned on him what this emotion was. Gambling itself doesn’t arouse these feelings of pleasure, he told himself, betting has only been the catalyst up until now. It’s the sheer thrill of winning through against the odds, when very few others can - that’s the root of my passion. I’ve tasted the broth of power, the opiate of success, and its flavour is intoxicating to say the least.

As he basked in self-congratulation, he became aware of rapid movement from behind, but before he could turn a large bag was thrust over his head and pulled down to his feet. He couldn’t see, nor move his arms or legs, he was then lifted off of his feet and carried away as he struggled against the course strong cloth that held him prisoner.

He heard a door open, then slam shut after he was carried through. He hit the floor hard and his arms were forced above his head as the canvas shackle was ripped off. As he sprang to his feet inside the deserted storeroom, he could see his assailants, Corporals Nolan and Dyson, standing cosh in hand with an empty palliasse at their feet.

“What the bloody hell’s this?” said George.

“I’ll tell you what this is, Sprog, it’s called teaching a f*cking snivelling little upstart his place,” growled Nolan.

“Upstart? Place? You’ve lost me, Corporal?”

“Can you hear that, Harry? The poor little fu*ker doesn’t understand.”

“He’ll f*cking well understand in two minutes, Ted.”

“I gave you a chance to use your loaf the other Sunday in my bunk,” hissed Nolan, “But you decided to use that smart f*cking gob of yours instead, didn’t you?”

“But you’ve been betting with me since then, and you’ve lost your money fair and square, Corporal. I fail to see your problem?”

“There you go again with that smart f*cking gob of yours. We’re taking it back fair and f*cking square, and we’re going to make sure you won’t even want to look at another bet ever again, let alone f*cking lay one,” he snarled as he lunged forwards, swinging his cosh in the air.

George parried his swing and punched him square on the nose; Nolan reeled back and dropped to his knees.

Dyson came in, George leaned back, causing the swinging cosh to miss by an inch then George shot out his foot. His hobnailed boot caught Dyson under the right knee; he yelled out in pain, then fell back a couple of yards clutching his shin.

Nolan got to his feet. “We’re going to f*cking kill you, Sprog.” He yelled, and this time they both attacked together.

George stood his ground and faced them with raised fists, but the momentum of their assault forced him to his knees. He used his arms to shield his head but the weight of their blows was forcing him lower. He knew he had to get to his feet or he was dead, but the ferocity of their onslaught seemed unbeatable.

He then sensed a third person had joined them, a lessening in the attack’s intensity, and then it ceased. He jumped to his feet to fight back. No need; the two corporals were slumped against the wall, winded.

Pat was stood facing them, fists clenched but down by his side. He kept his eyes locked on the terrified two-stripers as he spoke to George, “You all right, Private Wheeler?”

“Yes, Colour Sergeant.”

“Right, get back to your own barrack room and get yourself cleaned up.”

“But, Colour Sergeant, I want to fight these……”

“….. Do as you’re told, Private. Now move yourself or you’ll be fighting me.”

“Yes, Colour Sergeant,” Said George as he hurried through the door.

Pat then addressed his two junior NCOs, “Get on your f*cking feet and stand to attention, NOW!”

They obeyed without question; apart from their respect for Pat’s superior-fighting abilities, they both knew that to attack a Colour Sergeant, especially one that held the Victoria Cross, could be construed as an act of mutiny, and that meant the rope.

“Who said you two f*cking comedians could attack one of me soldiers?”

“The Sprog needed to be taught a lesson, Colour,” said a nervous Nolan.

Pat punched him hard in the stomach, doubling him up and forcing vomit to shoot from his mouth.

“Stand to attention, Corporal f*cking Nolan, who said you could move?”

Nolan stood upright, vomit dribbling from his mouth as he spoke, “Nobody, Colour, nobody said I could move, and nobody said we could attack one of your soldiers, Colour.”

“If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s f*cking freelancers. Do I make meself clear, DO I?”

They answered in unison, “Yes, Colour.”

“I’m just after having a chat with that young Wheeler fella about his little enterprise, then I catch you two teaching him a lesson. If I were a suspicious kind of a fella then I’d say you two were trying to help yourselves to some of his spoils. Get this into those tiny little brains of yours, if anybody else tries to teach him a lesson then I might not be able to control meself, DO I MAKE MESELF CLEAR?”

“Crystal clear, Colour, crystal clear.”

“Now get out of me f*cking sight the both of yous, and think yourselves lucky I’m in a good mood.”

George was bathing his bruised arms in a sink as his two assailants came into the ablution block. He turned to face them with fists raised.

Nolan looked ill as Dyson spoke, “No need for that, Private, we’ve been told, in no uncertain terms, that you’re untouchable.”

**********

The day of their passing out parade from recruit training arrived, Uncle Mick and Auntie Doreen were there to watch their nephew receive the best recruit award and to proudly march with the rest of his platoon. The original fifty strong rabble of raw, green and undisciplined men had been whittled down to forty-two, but those who remained had been transformed into a super fit, highly disciplined team, who were more than eager to tackle the next phase of their training. They couldn’t wait to be turned into fighting men.

They all received weekend passes along with railway warrants, but George didn’t need a free ride on a train, he was staying with his family right there in the town. At first, his Auntie Doreen had been worried the police may return to continue their search for her nephew, but when she saw him after a three month absence, her mind was put at rest. He was no longer a fifteen-year old youth, he was now a man; well muscled as well as handsome, he’d grown at least two inches taller, almost six-foot tall now, and his military bearing made him stand out from the crowd. She doubted his own mother would recognise him, let alone the police.

Uncle Mick, laughingly grumbled that he was getting old as he helped carry the sixty-odd pounds worth of coins into the cottage, which were to be paid into the bank by him on Monday morning, to join forces with the rest of George’s money. When George told him about his business arrangement with Pat, he just laughed and told him to learn from the old Jackeen, and to remember those lessons wherever he may end up in the future.

As George lay in his bed that night, he remembered the last time he’d lain there. He remembered how the spinning room had made him violently sick in the bucket, and of how he’d heard Auntie Doreen’s voice from downstairs, louder than Pat’s when dishing out a bollocking, chastising Uncle Mick and Pat for getting him drunk. Then he remembered his homecoming and all that had happened since, and once again he saw himself with Gilberthorpe’s throat in his hands, and he drifted off to sleep with a smile.

**********

Senior Platoon - twelve weeks of enjoyable hard work. The strict regime of harassment by the NCOs, which had been employed during their recruit training, was now relaxed a little; they were here to learn how to fight, they’d already been taught how to obey without question.

They were now led by Corporal Scott; Corporals Nolan and Dyson had remained with Recruit Platoon, in order to make life as miserable as possible for the next batch of hapless hopefuls.

George and his colleagues, as professional soldiers, were now taught effective rifle fire and movement in attack, as well as how to lay down controlled rifle fire from defensive positions. Plus, they became expert in the British soldier’s most prized asset of all – bayonet fighting. In order to learn and hone these fighting skills, squads of men would attack each other time and time again, turning them into a formidable and highly disciplined fighting force.

On the firing ranges, they thrilled at the power of the weapon they held in their hands and they became proficient at target shooting. They made frequent visits to the ranges, and their proficiency with the Lee Enfield rifle soon became second to none with their impressive rate of fire and accuracy. Fifteen aimed rounds a minute, was the only acceptable minimum standard.

Their training moulded them into brave and stubborn soldiers. Their Regiment now became their family as they became ingrained with its history and its traditions. All of which served to reinforce what they were able achieve, and instilled the idea firmly into their brains that if they didn’t live up to those traditions in battle, then they would let down the whole Regiment and all of its proud history.

Off duty, the regime was also more relaxed, after supper at four in the afternoon, unless on guard duty, they had six hours to kill before lights out. But there was still very little for them to do in camp except to go for a drink in the wet canteen, which they were now allowed to do. However, they were also allowed out of camp, they could go out to local pubs, music halls and the new fangled cinemas, but because of their lack of funds these trips were not undertaken more than once or twice a week.

George, of course, could afford to go anywhere, whenever he liked; his business activities were making him richer by the day. But remembering Pat’s words about resentment he didn’t flout his affluence, and he only went out on his own in order to visit Auntie Doreen and Uncle Mick, which enabled him to make cash deposits into his bank account.

But when the rest of the platoon could afford a binge, he went along with them, and although he was only sixteen, he had become a hardened drinker.

**********

Two days before their passing out parade from Senior Platoon their nerves were on alert; today they were due to receive their postings. The 1st battalion was in India, the 2nd in Ireland, which would it be?

They all wanted to go to the 1st, there was more chance of seeing action with the first; they were stationed on the Northwest Frontier and the Pathans were always trying to run riot. Whereas the Irish hadn’t flared up for some time and even when they did it never amounted to much, just the odd ambush or assassination, so who wanted to go there? It would be much better to die fighting the Pathans rather than die from boredom in bloody rain sodden Ireland.

They were fell in, in three ranks, outside the Company office as Colour Sergeant Doherty read from the list, “Adams – first battalion, Arthurs – first, ….” Eventually he came to, “Wheeler – second battalion.”

Out of forty-two men, only six had been posted to the 2nd Battalion and that included George. The only consolation was Finchy would be going with him. Oh well, he thought, it’s no good moaning, one thing’s for certain, if the army says Private Wheeler’s going to the 2nd then the 2nd it is, come what may.

On the day of their passing out parade, George received the awards for best all round soldier as well as best shot, and they all did their Regiment proud with their displays of marching skills.

Pat Doherty gave George a letter, which he asked him to deliver to his brother who lived in Dublin, and, after two weeks embarkation leave spent at the side of Pontefract racecourse, George met Finchy on the platform at Leeds station and the other four lads met them on the dockside in Liverpool.

Then, with Pat’s letter and a banker’s draft for seven hundred and thirty-two pounds tucked away in his pocket, he boarded the packet for Ireland.

As he leaned on the packet’s stern rail and watched Liverpool sink below the horizon, George wondered if he’d ever get the chance to see any active service. All he could think of right now, was of all those places throughout the Empire where British soldiers were covering themselves in glory, and he was only on his way to bloody Ireland.

© John Sales 2003

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That's a good one Tony!

I see you have written Gerry where I would have written Jerry - out of interest is that an alternative spelling?

sJ

Thank you seaJane - It was an alternative spelling in my case! I have edited the line in question.

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Excellent read John - quite a story on the KOYLI's you have there.

The idea for the this month's topic was the anniversary of the battles of August 1914 and the regulars of the BEF.

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John,

I'm really enjoying the various chapters that you release. This one's exceptional - a truly great read.

Jonathan

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Didn't realise it was to commemorate the anniversary of Mons, Tony - an even better theme. Here's the very same George and Finchy, three years later, dug-in along that famous canal.

Cheers-salesie.

Is It Farther Than Tipperary?

As the rest of their section dozed, catching up on lost sleep, George, Smudger and Finchy patrolled the canal’s northern bank with their eyes. To their right, the first glow of dawn began to silhouette the horizon as they kept watch. And the mist rising from the water mixing with the drizzle, played tricks on their senses in the pre-dawn shadows.

“That’s the twentieth bleedin’ jerry you’ve spotted in the last five minutes,” whispered Smudger, “You want to report sick and get your bleedin’ eyes tested. It’s a bleedin’ big canal, though, Finchy?”

“It looks just like the Leeds navigation canal,” Finchy answered, “A lot wider, but just like it. What do they call this place again?”

“Jesus Christ,” said Smudger, “How can it look just like it, if It’s a lot bleedin’ wider? And you’ve got a memory like a bleedin’ sieve, its called Mons - M-O-N-S, bleedin’ Mons, got it?”

“That’s it, Mons. I was just thinking…”

“…God help us.” Moaned Smudger

“…Is it Farther Than Tipperary?”

“Is what bleedin’ farther?”

“Here, Mons. Is it farther?”

“Farther Than bleedin’ what?”

“Tipperary.”

“Jesus Christ almighty,” groaned Smudger, “Somebody must’ve invented a stupid potion and put it in your bleedin’ water bottle?”

“No, listen. We sing It’s a long way to Tipperary, don’t we?”

“We do.”

“So, Is Mons Farther Than Tipperary? And if it is, then why don’t we sing that instead?”

“Sing bleedin’ what instead?” cried Smudger.

“It’s a long way to Mons,” said a smiling Finchy.

“Where’s me bleedin’ bundook? I’m going to bleedin’ shoot meself.”

“If you two don’t shut up,” said George, “I’m going to…… shush, somebody’s coming.”

it was Lieutenant Robinson, their platoon commander. “Any sign of the Germans, Corporal?”

“No, Sir,” George replied, “the far bank’s as quiet as the grave. If they are over there, they’re keeping themselves well hidden, Sir?”

“Nearly dawn, Corporal. Intelligence says there’s thousands of the b*ggers heading this way. Get your men on their toes, we’re spread thin, and you’re the Battalion’s extreme right. This mist isn’t helping, but we have to keep them on the far side, we don’t want them in our bloody laps when it gets light.”

“We’ll be ready, Sir, don’t worry about us, Sir. If they do get across they’ll have to face this,” said George, tapping his rifle, “And they’ll soon scurry off back the way they came, Sir.”

“Good man. I’m going back down the canal bank to platoon HQ. Any sign at all, send your runner sharpish.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Did you here that?” said Smudger, when Robinson was beyond earshot, “There’s thousands on the way and we’re out on a bleedin’ limb. Just our bleedin’…”

“Smudger?”

“Yes, Corp?”

“Shut your bloody gob.”

“Sorry, Corp.”

“Now go and tell the lads to stand to.”

As Smudger crept his way along the bank, George surveyed the fifty or so yards of the canal bank that his section was spread along. To his right, somewhere, but not too far away he hoped, were the Royal Fusiliers.

The canal was wide, much wider Than any canal he’d seen in England, so the Jerrys would have problems getting across. The few bridges were the key; that’s why they battalion was spread so thinly along the bank, its main strength concentrated about a thousand yards behind George’s section on and around the large steel railway bridge. The sappers would solve that problem, once they’d blown it up, but it looked as if that wouldn’t be done until later that day.

But, he had a small problem of his own; staring him in the face was another potential crossing point, a small, rickety swing-bridge. it was a strange, flimsy looking affair; with an arched steel frame, about two yards wide, that spanned the canal. Mounted on the frame was a system of pulleys and cables, which enabled its deck to be swung, in or out, to one side of the canal or the other. it was a foot bridge, and its users could approach from any bank, wind the deck into position, cross over, then wind the deck to the bank they were now on, which would then allow barges to pass. When they’d arrived last night, he’d been ordered to take two men across it and destroy its winding gear on the far bank. They’d returned and then swung the bridge away from the far bank using the winding gear on this side. He’d been about to destroy this winding gear when Robinson stopped him, saying they may need the bridge themselves to advance across later. George couldn’t help thinking this may be a mistake; but perhaps Robinson’s right? I'd rather walk across Than swim, he reasoned, and anyway, the deck’s now on our side of the canal and out of reach.

His thoughts then wandered to the enemy; not seen any Germans yet, but from the stories we’ve heard about their treatment of the Belgians I wouldn’t be surprised if they all had horns, a tail and breathed fire. But they’re not up against the Belgians now they’re up against us, the Koylis, and we’re a bunch of proper b*stards. I can’t wait to teach them a thing or two. Heard a bit of gunfire in the distance yesterday and Sergeant Reader said It’s probably from our own cavalry patrols making first contact, but I’ve never even clapped eyes on a Jerry yet, how much bloody longer? My trigger finger’s not just itching, It’s twitching like mad at the thought of doing what It’s been trained to do.

As the sun crept slowly over the horizon, the mist and drizzle lingered. One thing’s for certain, thought George, whatever the weather there’ll be no bloody church parade this Sunday morning.

“Finchy?”

“Yes, Corp?”

“Get yourself off along the bank, It’s light now so keep low. Try and make contact with the Royals, but don’t take all bloody day about it, we need to know where their positions are.”

Finchy scurried off along the bank, and after a few minutes, Smudger returned. “Any problems, Smudge?”

“No, they’re all awake and stood too. I’ve told ‘em cold rations only.”

“Good, lad.”

“I don’t bleedin’ like this, George, we’re spread thin, It’s a big front for twelve bleedin’ men to defend. And the rest of the platoon’s spread out over at least five-hundred bleedin’ yards.”

“I know, but the Jerrys should funnel into the main bridges, we shouldn’t see too many here, they’ll be able to spot this one’s not open for business.”

“They might still bleedin’ try for it, though?”

“If they do, we’ll concentrate the section here as ordered.”

“Well, it looks like all we can do Is wait. At least It’s got us off bleedin’ church parade. Could do without this bleedin’ drizzle, though.”

“Smudger, shut up bloody moan……Christ, Finchy, that was quick?”

“They’re only just along the bank, a couple of hundred yards at the most, but they’re spread even thinner Than us.”

“Sh*te! But at least they’re in position. Run off and tell Robinson where they are, and hurry up back, I'll need you when the fun starts.”

“I’m glad you said when,” said Smudger, “I’m bleedin’ fed up o’ waiting for them bleedin’ Jerrys to show.”

“For Christ’s sake, Smudger, if you don’t stop moaning, I’ll shoot you my bloody self.”

*****

When will the bu*gers come? Thought George as he looked at his fancy new wristwatch, a going away present from Molly. It’s just after nine and no bloody sign of ‘em. It’s been light since five-thirty, so where the bloody hell are they? Rifle fire in the distance at around six-thirty, but nothing since. Perhaps we’re not going to have any fun today? What the…?

SPLEDOOSH! A large plume of canal water jumped about thirty feet into the air, about seventy yards away, in the direction of platoon HQ. Then explosions along the canal bank rent the air on either side of George’s position, towards the Royals as well as platoon HQ.

“TAKE COVER,” yelled George, “ARTILLERY.”

As they huddled in their trenches, George realised the German shells weren’t landing on them. He looked up and could see that on both sides of their position there was heavy shelling along the canal bank, which extended into the fields beyond by about eighty yards. In effect, a giant arc of high explosives isolated them from the outside world; a shell-free semicircle, with the swing bridge at its centre, of about one hundred and fifty yards wide by about eighty deep.

He could see that his section’s ground wasn’t taking any hits, except for the odd piece of white hot shrapnel that lay smoking on the ground or hissed as it landed in the canal.

“George, get your bloody head down,” yelled Finchy.

“No need, the b*ggers are missing us.”

“What?” said Smudger.

“They’re missing us, they’re hitting all around, but not our ground.”

Smudger sat up and looked around, “It’s about time our bleedin’ luck changed.” He said, then popped his head back into the trench.

“Nothing to do with luck.”

“Course it bleedin’ is, now get down, before they realise their bleedin’ mistake.”

“It’s not a mistake, they’re doing it on purpose,” said George.

“On bleedin’ purpose? Get down before you lose your bleedin’ head.”

“They’re doing it on purpose because they don’t want to hit the swing bridge, if they destroy it they won’t be able to use it.”

Smudger jumped back up, “The crafty bleeders, I just bleedin’ knew it, what did I tell you?”

They both looked across the canal. In the fields beyond they could see line upon line of figures, ghost like in their field grey, moving towards the far bank, “Holy bleedin’ smoke,” said Smudger, “Here we bleedin’ well go.”

George looked along the bank to the rest of his section, most had their heads raised and looked at him from their slit-trenches. He raised his right hand, and, with spread fingers, placed it on top of his head; his signal told all nine men to leave their trenches and run towards him. Then he turned to Smudger, “Get them into those extra trenches we dug close to the bridge, and wait for my orders.”

“You’ve bleedin’ got it,” said Smudge, “But Robinson will have twigged on as well, he’ll soon be here with the rest of the bleedin’ platoon.”

“Through that bloody lot?” said George, pointing to the barrage that arced all around them.

“Holy bleedin’ Moses, the crafty b*stards; they can’t bleedin’ reinforce us.”

Smudger hurried the men into the trenches, and they all took aim.

German soldiers were now about eighty yards from the far bank and moving at a slow trot towards the shallow ramp on the far side that led to the swing bridge’s damaged winding gear. George figured they’d concentrate there and try to close the bridge, and when realising it was knackered they’d put swimmers across, under heavy covering fire, to try and close it from this side. Realising that he needed to stop them getting up the far ramp or he and his men were doomed, he decided to concentrate his men’s small amount of firepower on one spot; the far ramp needed to be turned into a killing ground.

George shouted, “NUMBER 4 SECTION - CONCENTRATE ON THE FAR RAMP – DO NOT MARK ANY TARGETS AWAY FROM THE RAMP - AT ONE HUNDRED YARDS AND CLOSING - MASSED INFANTRY TO YOUR FRONT – RAPID FIRE.”

Close formations advancing over open ground are manna from heaven for well disciplined British infantry with their Lee Enfield rifles, and, on George’s command, each man of number 4 section poured fifteen aimed rounds a minute into the advancing Germans as they tried to move up the ramp. They couldn’t miss; the field grey mass advanced in close, tightly packed formation, and fell by the score. Number 4 section came under intensive counter-fire from the German side, but being well dug-in they only picked up two slight wounds.

At first, its momentum still carried the grey mass forward, but it then faltered before being forced into reverse by 4 section’s sustained and accurate suppressing fire. The Germans withdrew in disorder, leaving the ramp littered with their dead and wounded.

“CEASE FIRE.” Yelled George.

Number 4 section cheered, “Quiet,” said George, “Don’t worry, they’ll be back. Check your weapons and ammo, then stand to. Smudger I want…”

“…I don’t bleedin’ believe it,” yelled Smudger, pointing along the bank, “The f*cking idiots.”

George turned to see a group of men running out of the barrage, Lieutenant Robinson fell to his knees but was hastily lifted by two men.

“Put him down over here.” Shouted George.

He looked in a bad way; his left arm missing below the elbow and his face and uniform covered in mud and blood. “Corporal Wheeler,” he gasped, “Report.”

“We’ll get you cleaned up first, Sir. Make you more comfortable.”

“Damn you, Corporal, I said report.”

“Yes, Sir, sorry, Sir. I realised they were going for the bridge, Sir, so I concentrated my section here. German infantry then attacked us from across the canal. We laid down a suppressing fire, Sir, and they withdrew with heavy casualties.”

“Well done, Corporal, bloody well done. But they’ll be back, and we have to hold this bridge at all costs, Corporal. Hold it at all…”

George closed Robinson’s eyes, then took his field glasses, compass and map case from around his neck, “Right, you two, carry him over there and lay him in the long grass out of sight. Gently mind.”

As they carried Robinson away the German barrage stopped, but after a few seconds, George could hear the railway bridge receiving the same treatment.

“Smudger what have we got?”

“Fourteen, all Privates.”

“Fourteen? Where are the others?”

Smudger pointed along the bank, to where the smoke began to clear. Raising Robinson’s field glasses, George could now see where the others were, at least those who hadn’t been blown to pieces. The rest of number 3 platoon, all twenty-four of them, were strewn along the canal bank.

Looking down, sickened by the sight, he waited a couple seconds before turning, “What happened, Reid?”

“The barrage was only about fifty yards deep. That’s all, Corp. On the other side we were getting a few hits but not many. But after a bit he formed us up and told us we’d got to get through to help you lot at the swing bridge. Said we’d got to hold the bridge, told us if we ran as fast as we could we’d get through, then he shouted follow me and led us straight into it. God it was awful, Sergeant Reader’s head Is lying by…”

“… All right, Reid. That’s enough, go and a get a drink, Lad, well done.”

“Bleedin’ mad b*stard.”

“Smudger, that’s enough! Finchy, get along the bank to Company HQ, and be careful, by the sound of it their hands are bloody full as well. Tell ‘em what’s happened and what our strength is. Tell ‘em I’ll hold here until I get fresh orders, but tell ‘em we’ll need reinforcing and more ammo, got it?”

“Yes, Corp.”

“Go on then, run like f*ck. Smudger, take four men along the bank and check for wounded, you never know some might still be alive? And get any ammunition off those that don’t need it anymore, I’ve a feeling we’re going to need as much ammo as we can get hold of.”

“No bleedin’ problem, see you soon. Hey look, the bleedin’ drizzle’s stopped.”

Having no time to lose, George walked around the remnants of 3 platoon, checking on levels of ammunition, on the condition of the men and telling them to dig in. Six walking wounded, but they were still able to fight. That gave him twenty-six men. I hope that’s enough, he thought, I can’t see ‘em coming in mass formation again. But how else can they do it? The ramp on the far side Is open ground with no cover. Perhaps they’ll wait until dark and try to swim it?

*****

The fight for the railway bridge was almost an hour old when Finchy returned with two men helping him carry two ammo boxes.

“Well done, Finchy, what’s the word?” asked George.

“There’s a hell of a scrap going on down there; there’s thousands of the b*stards trying to get over. The sappers are trying to finish off the demolition charges but they’re dropping like flies.”

“What’s Holdsworth say?”

“He says you’re a bloody genius for twigging on to what they were up to, but says he’s got his hands full at the minute. He sent these two and this ammo, says It’s all he can spare. The only orders he’s got for you Is to hold until relieved.”

“Well it could be worse, I suppose, we could be with the rest of the platoon?”

“Christ, George, I’ve just bleedin’ passed ‘em. Sergeant Reader’s head is…”

“… I know, Finchy, now shut up. You’re beginning to sound like Smudger.”

The barrage at the railway bridge stopped, “That’s it,” yelled George, “They’ll be back at us now. STAND TO.”

He was right, same as before, the barrage restarted and tore up the ground all around them, but no shells hit their little patch.

“Here they come,” yelled Smudger.

“Come on, you b*stards,” yelled Finchy, “Come and see what you can really get.”

“Hey, Finchy,” said Smudger as he cocked his rifle, “You were bleedin’ right.”

“Right about what?”

“Mons Is farther. it has to be - you don’t get all this b*llocks in bleedin’ Tipperary.”

To George’s surprise, and immense relief, the Germans once again attacked in close order formation, and, once again, 3 platoon cut them down by the score. Once again, the small band of Koylis turned the ramp on the far bank into an impenetrable killing ground with their rapid, accurate and sustained fire; firing, re-loading, and firing again with impunity. The Germans’ heavy counter-fire, as before, having no effect on their well-protected positions.

“This Is too bleedin’ easy,” yelled Smudger, as he loaded two fresh ammo clips into his rifle’s magazine, “I don’t even have to aim, this Is bleedin’ cold blooded murder.”

“They’ve turned away again,” yelled Finchy.

“NUMBER 3 PLATOON – CEASE FIRE,” shouted George.

Unlike the last time, the barrage ceased almost at once and transferred back to the railway bridge. “Smudger, check for any casualties,” ordered George, “Finchy, make sure they all have enough ammo.”

“Hey look at that lot,” yelled Finchy, pointing down into the canal, “Frying tonight?”

He was pointing to the dead fish floating on the surface near to the bank; killed by the shells that landed in the water.

“Finchy, you nip down and collect the bleedin’ fish,” said Smudger, “And I’ll nip and get the spuds to make the bleedin’ chips.”

“No chance,” said Finchy, “You’d need two of them tiddlers just to make up a good gob full.”

“Ten at least to fill Smudger's gob,” laughed George, “Now get on with what you’re supposed to be bloody doing.”

George scanned the far bank through the field glasses as his mind tried to rationalise the situation. I can’t understand why they’ve tried the same tactics again? Both times, they’ve attacked with the strength of two full companies in close order, and both times, we’ve scythed them down; there’s at least one hundred and fifty bodies on and around the far ramp. They aren’t stupid, or are they? The nearest any of them got to the winding gear was five yards, and that was on the first assault when I’d fewer men. They must know that even a small number of men, if they concentrate their fire on the ramp, can stop a much larger force? If I had to capture this bridge, I’d use a small number of men and try to approach it under cover, but there’s very little cover to use, except for the banking itself, which, unlike this side, drops away by about three feet in a few places. Sh*te, have they sneaked some men in under cover of the last attack?

As those thoughts raced through his mind, something flew out from the far bank and arch towards the swing bridge’s decking, which jutted out by about ten yards from this side. it seemed to be a rope with something heavy attached to its end, and it only just missed the decking, making a splash as it hit the water.

“Grappling hook,” yelled George, but his voice was drowned out by the vicious buzz-crack of bullets passing overhead, followed by a loud scream and the sound of machine gun fire.

He turned to see Private Reid lying face down near the ammo boxes, half his head shot away. Smudger and Finchy, bent double, were running like maniacs towards his trench as bullets whistled around their heads.

“Bleedin’ hell, where did that lot come from?” gasped Smudger, as both of them landed in a heap in the trench.

“TAKE COVER AND STAY IN THE TRENCHES,” George yelled to the rest of the platoon.

George lifted the field glasses again; smoke from several rifles accompanied the machine gun, but their rounds travelled about three feet overhead. You can’t take direct aim without showing yourselves above the banking, can you, you b*ggers? he mused, our bundooks have made you wary, haven’t they? Come on, show your bloody selves.

A grey figure then appeared briefly above the banking as the grappling hook arched through the air again.

George tracked its flight. Splash - missed again.

“Smudger, get on your belly – I want one man in each trench to fire at will at their smoke. They’re behind the banking about five yards to the left of the ramp. No more Than one mind, we need the ammo. Got it?”

“One man, no more, in each bleedin’ trench to fire at the smoke. Don’t go away, I’ll see you soon.”

George licked his right index finger then touched his rifle’s foresight before bringing its butt it into his shoulder. He could hear rifle fire start to issue from his own trenches as his message was passed down the line.

Closing his left eye and looking through his rifle’s backsight with his right, he then brought the tip of its foresight into line with the centre of the backsight, then aligned both with the grappling hook as it was pulled up the far banking. After following the hook with his sights until it disappeared over the banking, he then stayed in the aim at that exact spot before taking a full breath in, then half out, and holding it as he squeezed the trigger to the first pressure.

Jumping up, the German to threw the grappling hook again. BANG! The grappling hook hit the water only a yard from the bank, and the German flew backwards, shot through the chest; dead before hitting the ground.

“Yes,” whooped Finchy, “I wish I could bloody shoot like that.”

“That’s the only chance I’ll get, though. They’ll not throw it from the same spot again.”

“Unless they’re as bleedin’ thick as Finchy?” laughed Smudger as he returned on his belly.

“P*ss off, Smudge.”

“Don’t start again, you too. Don’t we have enough on?” snapped George.

“Enough on?” laughed Smudger, “You don’t have to be a bleedin’ mental case to go for a stroll along this canal bank. But you’ve got to be bleedin’ crackers to spend more Than one bleedin’ second here.”

All three laughed. They laughed even more when the enemy's fire stopped.

“Probably arguing about whose turn it Is to throw the bleedin’ grappling hook?” said Smudger.

“I bet they’re all saying they’ve got stiff arms?” said Finchy.

“Hey, Finchy, you cracked a bleedin’ joke.”

“Did I? I just thought that’s what I’d be saying?”

“Forget it, mate, just bleedin’ forget it.”

The fire from the far bank soon recommenced, followed by their own counter-fire. “Here we go again,” said George, “Looks like they’ve had an eeny, meeny, miny, mo and picked a thrower?”

Sure enough, the grappling hook arched through the air. Splash, missed again.

George licked his right index finger once more, “Just in case they are as thick as Finchy?” he said as he touched his foresight.

As before, he held his aim on the precise spot where the hook disappeared. The hook flew once more, but from three yards to the right this time. Although George adjusted his aim and fired, he was too late, the German was back below the banking a split second before George’s round passed through, and this time, instead of a splash, he heard the sound of metal hitting wood.

All eyes on the bridge; the hook moved along the decking boards before holding fast on its steel hand railing. Every member of 3 platoon held their breath as they saw the rope strain against the weight of the bridge. Nothing; the decking didn’t move. Thank Christ for that, thought George.

But then, as if in a bad dream, the decking began to creep towards the far bank. Making a high pitched grating sound as it travelled towards the Germans; a soprano’s sweet song that cheered on the enemy as they pulled on the rope, but to number 3 platoon it was an unsynchronised melody that sounded their death knell.

“We’ll have to cut that bleedin’ rope.” Yelled Smudger.

“No we won’t,” said George, “I’ve an idea.”

“It’d better be a bleedin’ good un, we’ve got about five bleedin’ minutes before It’s all the way across.”

“Smudger, get the crowbar from the ammo boxes, and meet me at the end trench, nearest the bridge.”

They both left the trench on their bellies, the machine gun’s bullets missing their heads by a good couple of feet.

Smudger prised the crow bar out of Reid's lifeless clenched fist, “Sorry, Reidy, but our need Is bleedin’ greater Than yours.” He then joined George by the end trench. The bridge was about ten yards away, across open ground, its winding gear another two. The Germans by now had managed to pull the decking a third of the way across.

“Give me the bar, Smudge. I’m going out to wedge it into the gears. We left the covers off last night. Look, you can just see the main gear wheels turning. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go out onto the decking to cut the rope.”

“Bleedin’ hell, George, they’ll cut you to bits.”

“They’re not depressing their fire enough to draw a bead so I’ll stay on me belly. But if they twig on and show themselves, hit ‘em with everything we have.”

“Christ, George. Give it to me, I’ll bleedin’ do it. You’re needed here.”

“Do as you’re told, Smudger. That’s an order!”

“F*ck that, George. If you cop for one, that’ll leave me in bleedin’ charge, and I don’t bleedin’ want…”

“… Smudger, for once in your life just shut your f*cking cakehole and do as you’re told. Just watch that far bank and if they show themselves then give me some covering fire.”

George headed towards the winding gear at a fast crawl. As he raised the crowbar above his head, to smash it down between the two main gears, a bullet hit it and spun it out of his hand. Sending it spiralling through the air and landing on the banking on the far side of the gear housing, just above the water line.

He scrambled after it, but as he retrieved it he sensed movement to his right. A German, soaking wet from his swim, ran along the banking towards him, his rifle and bayonet all set to send George to his maker. B*llocks, thought George, my bundook's up by the bloody gear housing.

Hurling the crowbar with all of his might, it smashed into the German’s chest, throwing him off his feet. George drew his own bayonet as soon as the bar left his hand, and was on top of the winded German before he could recover his senses or his rifle. A loud gurgling sound came from the German as George rammed his bayonet through his throat and six inches into the banking behind.

But, unbeknown to George, two swimmers had reached this side, and as he finished off the first, the other crept up and stood over him; rifle raised above his head, intent on thrusting his bayonet right through the Englishman as he struggled to extract the bayonet from the his comrade’s throat.

George peered into his new assailant’s eyes, knowing he was helpless, unable to defend himself; knowing he was at the German’s mercy. But the steel blade never started its downward thrust. The German’s chest exploded in a of mass shattered bone and bursting arteries as he was launched through the air and back into the water he’d just left. his lifeless eyes still locked on George’s as he disappeared below the surface; then he bobbed back up amongst a shoal of dead fish with a surprised, almost pleading, look on his face.

As he scrambled back up the banking with the crowbar, George could see Smudger lying flat on his belly by the gear housing - in the aiming position, his still smoking rifle pulled tight into his shoulder. “You disobeyed my bloody orders,” he said, “But I won’t put you on a charge - I’ll bloody kiss you instead.”

“I’d rather be shot at bleedin’ dawn. But first, get that bleedin’ crowbar wedged into them gears and let’s p*ss off.”

Raising the bar again, shots began to strike the gear housing. George looked across at the far bank; the Germans had spotted what they were up to and firing directly at them; their heads and shoulders above the banking as they took aim. “NUMBER 3 PLATOON.” Screamed George, “TARGET TO YOUR FRONT – RAPID FIRE.

The British bullets hit the German position like a swarm of angry hornets; some fell dead, the rest were wounded, and the Germans’ fire ceased.

But the bridge deck carried on moving under its own momentum; the grappling rope was hanging loose but the decking was still travelling towards the far bank, as if some unseen German hand were pushing it into position, its high-pitched melody still singing out.

George rammed the crow bar into the gearing; spinning around and smashing into the casing with a loud bang, it bent almost double with the force of the cogs before jamming the mechanism.

Coming to a sudden halt, the decking was now suspended halfway across the canal, swinging to and fro - looking for all the world like those big basket rides at the funfair do when stood waiting for their next passengers to climb on board.

George and Smudger scrambled back into their own trench, “CEASE FIRE,” shouted George, “CEASE BLOODY FIRE.”

“That’s a new way of giving orders, Corporal. Cease bloody fire? That’s not in the manual, Is it?”

George looked up; Major Holdsworth had come up with what was left of two sections of number 2 platoon.

“No, Sir, sorry, Sir.” said George, “It just came out, Sir.”

Major Holdsworth laughed, “From what I’ve just bloody seen; you two have rewritten the bloody manual,” he said, “Bloody well done, the pair of you. A fine bloody show.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“Right, Corporal, or should I say, Sergeant. You’re number 3 platoon’s commander until you get a new officer, and God only knows when that will be? Get your platoon ready to move, Sergeant.”

“We’re advancing, Sir?”

“I wish we were, Sergeant. But we’re not; the whole army Is making a strategic withdrawal. We’re falling back. We’re going south – back the way we came.”

“Falling back, Sir?” But we can handle these b*stards, Sir?”

“I know we can, Sergeant. We’ve fought a much larger force to a standstill, but our French allies are being forced back on our right, leaving our flank exposed. We have no choice. So, get your platoon ready to move, Sergeant. You will march on that church spire in the distance,” he said, pointing to a tiny spec on the horizon.”

“What about our dead and wounded, Sir?”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to leave the dead as they are, Sergeant. We’ve no time, we’ll have to leave them for the Germans to bury. But any wounded that can’t march can come with me. I’m off to the aid post right now.”

“Yes, Sir.” Said George, hanging his head; he detested the thought of not burying their own dead, but orders are orders. “Murray – Nuttall,” he yelled, “You won’t get far with those wounds – fall in with Major Holdsworth's party, along with the two that came up with Finchy.”

“Is that the lot, Sergeant?”

“Yes, Sir. The rest can march and fight all right, Sir.”

“Good. You’ll meet up with rest of the Battalion at that church. It’s a little over six miles march, here’s the map reference,” said Holdsworth, handing him a slip of paper. “I’ll expect you to be there in just over an hour, so you’d better get a move on. I’m off to check on the wounded then I’ll be right on your heels. Get them moving, Sergeant.”

“Yes, Sir, Thank you, Sir.”

Holdsworth then led his party off towards the ruins of a nearby village.

As George plotted a route to the church on his map, the twenty-two men that remained from 3 platoon gathered up their own kit as well as extra equipment from their dead comrades. George stopped and watched them as they searched the bodies; only twenty-three of us left out of fifty, he thought, It’s just after eleven now and the whole bloody show didn’t start until nine. Christ, that’s twenty-seven gone in two bloody hours – we’ll not be able to stand many more mornings like bloody this.

Smudger found Sergeant Reader’s spare tunic as he searched. He handed it to George, “Here, Sarge, best show your new rank - he’ll never bleedin’ need it again.”

After five minutes they were ready to move off, “3 platoon – follow me,” yelled George, and they set off, away from the canal, to rendezvous with the rest of the Battalion.

As he led his little band, George could feel the exhilaration he always felt when winning against the odds. Christ, there are good men lying dead behind us but I feel the same as I did when leaving Clancy's after my first time with Kathleen – I feel excited. Is there something wrong with me?

But his men were far removed from a state of sexual arousal; their eyes fixed on the ground beneath their feet, and their shoulders drooped as they forced one leaden boot in front of the other in order to follow George towards that distant church spire.

After about half a mile, Smudger turned to him and said, “Do you know what really p*sses me off about all this? Going back always seems a lot bleedin’ Farther - a lot bleedin’ longer. You never seem to bleedin’ get there?”

On hearing Smudger’s words, Finchy began to sing as he marched along beside him, “It’s a long way – back from Mo-ons. It’s even Farther - to go. It’s a long way – back from Mo-ons. TO THE FARTHEST CHURCH I KNOW.”

The whole platoon laughed.

“COME ON – EVERYBODY SING!” Yelled George, “SING YOUR BLOODY HEARTS OUT – AND SHOW THEM B*STARDS BEHIND US THAT THE KOYlIs MIGHT BE WITHDRAWING BUT WE’RE FAR FROM BLOODY LICKED.”

Their heads came up, their chests went out, their arms started to swing and their pace quickened, “IT”S A LONG WAY - BACK FROM……….”

© John Sales 2003.

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Nice one John.

Here's a couple of poems that I wrote some time ago - you might have seen them before.........

MARCHING PART 1 – 22nd AUGUST 1914

So there we were a’ marching

And the straps were cutting in pain.

Our backs and shoulders were aching

From taking the weight and strain.

My pack it weighed an’ undredweight

And my rifle felt like lead.

With the bayonets digging a groove in our thighs

And a throbbing in every head.

Our feet were hot and sweaty

And our boots were getting tight.

When we received the order to “Halt”,

Just as it was getting light.

“Five minutes rest” the order came

And we fell out by the ditch.

Each one easing the load he bore

And scratching a long felt itch.

“Keep your kit on” the Sergeant said,

As we struggled to sit on the grass.

“Take just a sip of your water lad”

The Corporal rasped at last.

So there we sat and rested

Well, as much as conditions allowed.

With the sweat running down in rivulets

And the veins in our necks showing proud.

Five minutes was not long enough

But that’s all you get you see.

When you’re marching with your battalion

For King and the Old Country.

“Only another mile or so”

The officer shouted back.

“Thank Gawd for that” the Corporal said

“Or I’ll be ‘aving an ‘eart attack”.

Just a mile, it seemed like ten,

As we tramped to the market square.

And caught the smell of cooking

From the field kitchens parked up there.

“Fall out for your scoff” the Sergeant said

As we took off our kit with a sigh.

And piled our rifles neat and clean

As the sun climbed in the sky.

Well, there we were with our brew and our bread

And a bit of bacon to chew.

Looking around at where we were

Like any stranger would do.

“Do you think we’ll find a billet,

For perhaps an hour or two of kip?”

Said one of the old reservists

Who never watched his lip

“Don’t be daft” the Sergeant said.

“There ain’t no time for a rest.

When we’re doing the biddin’of Generals

Who can’t wait to stand the test”.

“What test is that?” the reservist said

As he sipped the last of his tea.

“Germans! Other side of canal!”

The Sergeant said with glee.

“Get your kit on”, he shouted

And we struggled once more to our feet.

Then with fingers still doing our buckles up

We marched up the pave street

“Where do you reckon we are then?”

Asked the man in the file next of mine.

“That sign said Mons” said the Corporal

As we sweated and tried to keep time.

What are we doing here then?”

The old reservist asked.

“Just keep the time and do as you’re bid”

Said the Sergeant as we passed.

“Do you reckon we’ll be famous then?

For stopping the German’s might?

They’ve only a few battalions,

So it won’t be much of a fight”.

“Step out, step out”, the Sergeant said

‘Eff ‘ight, ‘eff ‘ight, ‘eff ‘ight.

For they’ll be writing ‘bout us my lads

In their ‘istory books tonight!”

©Tony Nutkins September 2006

Marching August 1914 Part 2 - 23rd August 1914

We’d marched for most of the day before

With little time for a rest.

We’d had breather in the Grand Place Mons

Then marched again; what a test!

The rain had started an hour ago

And each of us was drenched,

When we stopped on the bank above the canal

And got the order to entrench.

The sun came out and the rain eased off

As we set to work with a will.

It was very hot and we all worked out

It would soon be hotter still.

We hadn’t been digging ten minutes or more,

Each had enough for a one man scrape,

When a shell came over and burst with a crash

And all we could do was gape.

“Take cover if you want to live today!”

The Sergeant shouted loud.

And we laid in our scrapes as deep as we could

And choked on the shell smoke cloud.

That shell was the first of many that day

And they soon came thick and fast.

Two men by me were killed by the next

And I thought each breath would be my last.

The shelling stopped and our Officer cried,

“Make ready for enemy attack”.

So I laid out my clips and checked the mag

With one up the spout for luck.

Well, what a sight before our eyes

As the Germans advanced on our front.

All in columns and packed close tight:

“Silly *******!” said my mate with a grunt.

“Platoon will prepare for rapid fire!”

Came the order from behind.

There was no way you could miss this lot

Unless you happened to be blind.

As they came on closer, and closer still

I set my rifle ‘gainst shoulder and cheek.

And my mate said,”Blimey if they come on like this

We can keep ‘em off for a week”.

“No talking in the ranks!” the Sergeant bellowed,

He was calm as on the barrack square.

And a silence covered the British line

As the Germans began to cheer.

“To your front at 500 yards” he shouts,

Five rounds rapid fire. Commence!”

And the crackling of the SMLE’s all along our front

Stopped those masses in grey so dense.

And as they began to fall, they charged,

So we gave another dose of the same.

And we kept it up till they charged no more

But retired from whence they came.

I lost count of how many times they came

And the shellfire bursts in between.

By the middle of the day things went quiet a bit

And the Germans didn’t seem so keen.

But we hadn’t had it all our way

And many of our lads lay dead.

The bearers took the wounded off

And a few quiet prayers were said.

We got the order to retire just then

Falling back by platoons like a drill.

Then we turned to face the enemy once more

In the front of a slag heap hill.

We fought like that for the rest of the day

With further retirements as well.

Each of us tired and ragged then

As the strain began to tell.

My cheek was bruised and my shoulder ached;

My eyes were sore from the smoke.

But we’d held the enemy at bay

And our firing line never broke.

And then we started to march once more

Back the way we’d come last night.

With the Sergeant shouting the pace again,

“’eff, ‘ight. ‘eff, ‘ight. ‘eff, ‘ight.

© Tony Nutkins : August 2007

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The retreat was nicely handled

Jerry couldn’t hold a candle

To the Army that we sent

To Flanders fields.

...

Thank you seaJane - It was an alternative spelling in my case! I have edited the line in question.

I see you have written Gerry where I would have written Jerry - out of interest is that an alternative spelling?

Gerry v Jerry is a perfectly acceptable alternative spelling for the period - I finished reading the history of the 33rd Bn MGC last night (published in 1919), and Lt-Col Hutchinson spells it that way in his letter at the end.

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John and Andrew - thanks for your comments - much appreciated.

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Again, I'm enjoying all the entries, as usual, but can't seem to get a handle on the theme myself. Very little experience of regulars down under at the time, I suppose.

I was thinking of doing something about some diggers reacting to a regular or two but somehow it hasn't gelled in my mind. Plus I don't want to offend due to my lack of knowledge in this regard.

But, for now, carry on men and see it through.

Jonathan

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Again, I'm enjoying all the entries, as usual, but can't seem to get a handle on the theme myself. Very little experience of regulars down under at the time, I suppose.

I was thinking of doing something about some diggers reacting to a regular or two but somehow it hasn't gelled in my mind. Plus I don't want to offend due to my lack of knowledge in this regard.

But, for now, carry on men and see it through.

Jonathan

Diggers reacting to British Regulars sounds good Jonathan.........

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