SUBMITTED BY RICHARD WEST.
There were worse places to be posted. Sussex is a pleasant county and when Dick got a few days leave, it was just a short train ride back to South London.
At least the spring has settled in. The winter was terrible but now flowers are coming out and leaves are on the trees. Mind it’s raining more than I”d like.
“Rise and shine,” he bellowed at the row of tents. Grunts and grumbles leaked out from under the canvases.
“Get a move on. Breakfast and then Church Parade. On the double.”
The tents rocked and bumped as the lads stumbled to get dressed.
“Wash, shave and make yourselves spick and span.”
Being Corporal in charge of the searchlight team has its drawbacks. Like, I have to be up early and push these men to get organized. Hard on a Sunday. Especially for a ruddy Church Parade.
After breakfast they gathered at the searchlight for a smoke. Other groups were doing the same. The gunners were grouped around one of the three-inch anti-aircraft guns, the infantry guard around a three ton lorry, near the gate to the field.
Everyone was checking themselves out before the brass arrived for an inspection.
“Gawd. You’d never know there was a war on. This is the most excitement we’ve seen yet.”
“I dunno. Finding our way back from the pub in the black-out got pretty exciting.”
“Well, Stinky if you will go around opening a gate to the wrong field.”
“It was an honest mistake.”
“When those heifers started to push their way out of the gate, didn’t you figure out it was the wrong field?”
“Sandy, they spooked me. So quiet and yet their eyes had a mean glint, even in the pitch dark.”
“We weren’t popular after that. Ain’t that right, Corp?”
“You’re right, Sandy.”
“Look out, here comes the Captain.”
They were lined up and the Captain made his inspection and reminded them the Colonel is “old school”. He believes in a perfect turn out and Church Parades.
Considering that most of his lads, and himself, never set foot in Church, the Parade went fairly well.
They joined the village congregation in their ancient building, occupying the back pews. Mostly they had no idea when to sit or stand but Dick watched the Captain like a hawk and did whatever he did. The lads followed him.
They bellowed their best during the hymns. In fact, they rather enjoyed those.
After thanks from the vicar they formed up and marched in perfect formation towards the village.
About half way between the Church and the village green Dick heard a low drone. The noise grew louder.
“You hear that, Sandy?”
“Yes, Corp. It’s getting closer.”
They looked around as they marched but couldn’t see an aeroplane. Suddenly the noise grew much louder and they saw a Heinkel coming over the distant trees at about five hundred feet.
“Its bomb doors are open, Corp.”
Dick stared at the rapidly approaching plane and saw black blobs dropping from its belly.
“Take cover.” He yelled, as he dove for the ditch. His lads followed him into the mud at the bottom.
Dick looked up just as the aircraft flashed above him. Then the booms of exploding bombs shook the ditch. Six explosions, each louder than the one before. Then just the drone of the departing German plane.
Dick stood up and ordered his men to re-assemble on the road. They were covered in mud and slime with wet green stains splattered across their uniforms. Then he noticed they were all staring over his shoulder. He turned to find the Colonel standing in the middle of the road.
“Quite finished Corporal?”
“Scared by a single bomber jettisoning its bomb load into a field, are you?”
“It came close, Sir.”
“Well at least you have learned the noise that an exploding bomb makes.”
Suddenly the Colonel laughed.
“You all look terrible. But we had a huge laugh watching you all jump into the ditch.”
Dick looked at the other squads of soldiers, all still lined up along the road and blushed. They were all grinning at them.
His lads did their very best to look like soldiers but Dick thought they looked like a vaudeville act.
The Colonel winked at him, and said, “Cheer up Corporal. You’ve been introduced to action with no blood spilled. Be grateful.”
So now we really are at war.
Corporal Dick West served in the British Army, Royal Artillery during the Second World War, while his wife Winnifred (Winn) struggled with the war in London, England. They were my parents. These short stories are derived from them telling me what it was like in those times. All the characters except for Corporal West and his wife Winn, are fictitious.
Dick was first called up in 1938 during the Munich crisis. He returned to civilian life in 1939 only to be called up again in late summer as the Second World War broke out. He was finally demobbed early in 1946. These stories are in chronological order.
About Richard West:
Richard grew up in London, England. He trained as an engineer then emigrated to Canada. His career involved travel to many parts of our wonderful planet. Richard is blessed with two wonderful children, and four super grandchildren.
West has lived in NOTL since 1979. He has always loved to read. Exposed to Welsh poetry and verse by his wife, he has a soft spot for Dylan Thomas.
He started writing stories in the early 1990s, to see how it was done. Over the intervening years, he has written about family memories and science fiction stories. His journey of learning about this craft has been rewarding.
Richard has written a number of short stories and newspaper articles, as well as two novels.
Editor’s note: This story will be published as a series of 10 short stories. This is part four.