SUBMITTED BY RICHARD WEST
Dick stood watching the people disembark from the train. Most of the passengers were men and women in uniform: the remainder were civilian men. No civilian women. Typical for Britain in 1943. Then Winn appeared wearing a flowered dress under a faun coat.
God. It’s good to see her. She’ll be a lot better at this than me.
Once she was through the ticket barrier he hugged her. She stood back and studied him.
‘He asked for us?’
‘Doesn’t sound good, Dick.’
‘Here’s the money for your train fares.’
She looked at him with raised eyebrows.
‘The lads had a whip-round. Even the Lieutenant chipped in.’
‘That’s so touching.’
‘Tommy is one of us, Winn. The youngest, in fact.’
‘Where is he?’
‘Netley Hospital. It’s a military hospital just outside Southampton. I’ve found out which bus goes there.’
The bus came after a short wait and they travelled through Southampton and then along the East side of The Solent, passing through neat suburbs and villages.
After half an hour the conductor waved at them to get off at the next stop.
From the bus stop it was a half mile walk to the hospital. It was located in a large park and faced The Solent.
‘It’s nice here,’ Winn said.
Dick looked glum. He was feeling bad about the visit and it showed.
Once inside a nurse escorted them through the North Wing of the building and then let them into a small ward. It had six beds and one was surrounded by screens.
She took them behind the screens and there was Tommy lying in a cot. His left ear was wrapped in bandages. Tommy’s eyes followed them as they entered and then he started to struggle to get up.
Dick ordered, ‘At Ease Private.’
‘Thank you, Corp.’ Tommy whispered. He lay back, closed his eyes and let out a long sigh, as he repeated in a small voice, ‘Thanks Corp.’
Winn went straight to him and kissed him. Tears swelled up but he smiled.
She took his hand. Dick sat close to him and quietly talked to him about how the squad was doing. Tommy stared at them intently with tears wetting his cheeks.
After an hour nurses arrived and they had to wait outside while his dressings were changed.
The Sister came to speak to them.
‘We are applying hot poultices to try to drain the poison in his ear.’
‘So it’s an ear infection?’ Winn asked.
Dick said, ‘Thank you for telling us, Marm.’
‘He told us he has no family but he asked for you Corporal West, and Mrs West. I am so glad you have come.’
‘Does he realize how serious it is?’ Winn asked.
‘Yes. He knows it we don’t kill the infection, it will spread and probably kill him. In fact, it has already spread and his temperature is rising.’
‘He’s too young,’ Dick protested.
‘Twenty,’ the Sister replied.
‘God,’ Winn said.
‘What’s so sad, is the new antibiotic drugs could probably save him.’
‘Why can’t you get them?’ Dick asked.
“They are very new and in short supply so are reserved for frontline troops.’
‘But he is a soldier.’
‘It’s not a wound,’ she replied.
‘Oh. No.’ Winn exclaimed.
After they returned to Tommy he could not talk to them. The discomfort from the poultice took all his attention.
They sat there all afternoon, evening and into the night.
At two pm Private Tommy Banks died from an ear infection.
Winn kissed him.
Dick saluted his lad.
‘Winn. I can’t believe it. I pray I don’t lose any more of my lads in this bloody war.’
Winn hugged him as she shed a tear.
There was nothing more they could do.
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 eight.