Tommy awoke from his deathly sleep and realised he was still in this eternal nightmare. He tried to open his frost bound hands and sight his rifle on the lone oak tree, the sleep was rubbed away with muddy fingers, no time to wash at the front.
I wonder what the Germans look like, I have never fired a shot in anger yet, the wooden targets in Strensall camp are the nearest I have come to battle, apart from the thousands of shells that have landed on our positions for two solid weeks.
The silence now was quite unnerving, he though back to the day he left his little Yorkshire village, his Mother and Sister weeping and waving their scarves and Union flags as the steam train slowly pulled it’s huge iron weight out of site of his slowly receding kin folk, why was his Pa not there, union business my foot, any excuse to get drunk as a rat, Pa said I was stupid to go fight a war in France, nobody is attacking our village. I think he was only mad really because he would have to do more chores for Ma, him and the six other men that remained in the village, what with T.B. and knobbly knees, what an adventure they were going to miss, I really felt sorry for them, never mind, I’ll let them march with me up our street with me medals glinting and clanging on me puffed out chest.
The sun was just about to peep its head over the featureless French landscape when Lieutenant Fleming slopped through the muddy trench and headed towards Tommy Utterbridge, proud soldier of the Stableforth Pals.
“All set Utterbridge?”
“Yes Sir” said Tommy smartly saluting the monocoled Lieutenant
“What the hell do you think you are doing soldier,don’t you know that you never I repeat never salute an officer in the field, were all going to die soon enough anyway without you letting the enemy known exactly were your superiors are.”
“Don’t be sorry Utterbridge just do your duty for King and country and straighten your ammo pouches lad.”
With that the officer waded off through the thick mud from whence he came, some of the older soldiers looked at Tommy and laughed, “Don’t worry son.” Said corporal Stubbins, “That fat tub of lard will get his soon enough, officers have a habit of accidentally getting in the line of fire if you know what I mean.”
“10 minuets.” Shouted sergeant Roachford, then they were going over the top. Tommy was ready to go, he’d show the Germans that Stableforth lads can fight, working himself into a rage to dispel the fear, but it did not work.
“2 minuets.” He felt a knot in his stomach burning like hot coals, he needed to empty his bowels, but it was to late. He nervously looked to his left and right and the long lines of Khaki clad men bayonets fixed, their faces as white as alabaster, their eyes bulging like the eyes of the cows in the abattoir the day his Grandpa had took him to educate him in the ways of the world,
“Don’t feel a thing son.” he shut his eyes at the last second as the bullet pierced the cows skull, and he breathed in the sweet warm smell of blood before he vomited over his Grandpas hobnail boots.
“Oh dear Tommy lad, what’s to do, I will make a farmer of you one day.” A bit too much to take in that day for an
8-year-old boy. Then came the British artillery barrage, dear God though Tommy they must be aiming at us as the shells came screeching overhead and landed on the enemy positions churning up the already destroyed landscape.
Lieutenant Flemming and sergeant Roachford stood on the trench parapet both looking at their watches, the
Lieutant put his whistle to his mouth, Tommy’s heart was beating so fast he could hear it above the noise of the artillery barrage. Then came the dreaded whistle blast and “Over the top.”
It all seemed so strange Tommy was really at war now, him and his pals were going to win this war today, the Germans could not withstand this onslaught for long he hoped. Tommy felt himself falling forward like the day he fell into farmer Blacks pond when he was fishing, he must keep going, catch up with his pals, kill the enemy, I’ll salute all the German officers he though and started laughing, he tried to stand up but failed, looking down he could not see his legs, Oh I must have stood in quick sand and they will come and pull me out soon
It was dark now and Tommy could here voices “Sergeant Sergeant.” He shouted, here they come, I hope the Lieutenant doesn’t shout at me for being muddy and loosing my helmet. Tommy felt dizzy now but he still held his rifle in a firing position, his legs were hurting now, must be the cold he thought as he slipped in and out of conciseness I will have to get out of this stream soon Tommy thought I’ve caught two fish already and the night chill is setting in.
The battle had raged on all day and thousands of British and German soldiers were killed for six hundred yards of mud. What remained of the Pals trudged back towards their own lines collecting the wounded and dead as they went, neither side had gained an inch.
“My dear Lord isn’t that Tommy Utterbridge, quick is he dead?”
“yeah it looks like it.” Tommy’s eyes opened slightly and from his mouth bloody bubbles popped and dribbled onto his chest and he muttered something.
“what’s he saying Jack?”
The soldier put his ear close to the dying young boys face
“He said I knew you would come in the end Pa.
© Tony McNally
The Futility of the First World War