This is the first line of a fictional short story. It was sent to me by the English author, blogger, and actor, Jon Risdon.
You can discover more about Jon at https://wilfredbooks.wordpress.com/
“As the full moon set in the West, and the sun rose in the East……..”
Albert was nervous. The corporal next to him banged out his spent pipe on the board lining the trench, and shook his head. “Now the sun will be in our faces, lad. If they come over this morning just fire your rifle straight in front of you and hope you hit something”.
There had been no chance of sleep the night before. The shelling had made Albert shiver as if he was cold, and the screams of those hit along the trench made him put his hands over his ears. When the wire party came back just before first light, their blackened faces lined with trails of sweat, Sergeant Wellbeloved had ordered the stand to. “They might come, they might not, but we will be ready if they do”.
Not for the first time, Albert was regretting lying about his age to get into the regiment. It had seemed so much fun at first. Lining up outside the Town Hall, the band playing, women and old men cheering them as they filed in to enlist. The older lads from the same street had already gone back in fourteen, many never to return. But he hadn’t thought about them as he puffed out his chest, and pulled his cap down over his youthful, unshaven face.
Training camp had been out near the racecourse. Sharing tents, using trenches as latrines, eating food cooked for you in metal mess-tins. Lots of marching around holding long sticks, no rifles until you were ready. Bayonet practice against straw dummies, drill-instructors screaming like banshees. It felt like fun, like the best game ever.
Next came the rifles. Heavy to hold for a teenage boy, and they had a kick against your shoulder when you fired them on the range. More shouting from the instructors. “My old mum could shoot better than you, boy. Concentrate! You won’t get a second chance from those Jerries. Try again. Five more rounds, rapid-fire!” He got used to it eventually, working the bolt so fast it made his wrist ache. But the regular good food and open air exercise built him up.
He was ready.
They marched through the town to the train. The Mayor stood there in his robe and chain of office, waving his feathered hat at them from the Town Hall balcony. The knapsack rubbed his shoulders through the rough new material of his uniform, but Albert didn’t care. He had never felt so strong and proud before. Mum came to wave to him, but he couldn’t see her face in the large crowd of cheering people, with small kids running alongside, laughing and mimcking their marching.
The regimental band played Tipperary as they boarded the train.
Crossing The Channel was a bad memory. Hours of sea-sickness until they saw the coast, then hours more waiting their turn to dock. Three days in camp at Etaples. Albert had never seen so many men, or so much supplies. He was sure once all that got to the front, those Jerries would take one look and go running back to Berlin.
Then they came round calling out names. Replacements to be moved to the front to make up the gaps of those killed and wounded. He was in the second battalion, and they soon got to him. “Albert Greasley!” He stepped forward and followed the others to a lorry in a long line. On the bouncing boards they had to sit on, everyone laughed about how soon they would have the Jerries beat. They smoked, played around, showed photos of wives and sweethearts if they had them.
Someone woke him up, his face sore from banging against the metal hoop holding the canvas. It was dark, and the lights of flares showed nearby. He had to follow a corporal along a trench, trying hard to keep up on the slippery duckboards covered in mud. The stink was terrible too. Sweat, unwashed soldiers, tobacco smoke, and trench latrines that you had to be careful not to step in. Then he was standing next to the corporal and the shelling started.
Sergeant Wellbeloved was yelling, snapping Albert out of his reverie. “Here they come! Shoot straight boys!”
Captain Alastair Cardew was writing the last of many letters he had spent all night on. He swallowed a large glass of port, and squinted at the page, his dugout lit only by two tallow candles.
Dear Mrs Greasley,
You will know by now the sad news that your son Albert was killed in action yesterday morning. It might comfort you to know that he was with his comrades at the end, and did not suffer. He was a popular lad in the batallion, and died bravely fighting for his King and country. I was his company commander, and felt it only right and proper to write to you in person.
With deepest respect, A. Cardew. (Capt.)