The Pals Battalion


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The Whistle

The new round of Billjims, are as cocky as usual. But it’s all an act with the Billjims. You know under the bravado they are all windy. First time one of 'em sees a trench rabbit they shit 'em selves, let along the whiz-bangs. Shit, look how young they are. Brass hats must be getting desperate. You could always tell Kitcheners Army apart from the Draftees. For one, there weren't many Kitchies left, and those that were looked like old men. Been a long time since I had a good look in a mirror - except for that two inch bit of glass they give you for shaving. And I am old compared to this new lot. Jeez, that one must be 14 if he's a day. Look at the way he's smoking that woodbine. Never smoked a thing in his life. I'm an old man here. An old man of 29. Somehow, some of us have managed to get this far without getting pipped. 


I signed up in a pal’s battalion. There were four of us joined up together. John Cavendish, Henry Watson, Ernest Dunn, and Me, Clarry - Clarence Wright. We were all mates at home, and there were others from the village in the same battalion, Jim Shorebroke, and Jeremy Bloom; fellows we knew but they weren't one of us. But we were all in it together. That was our chance for adventure. Going to see the world. Yeah, we bought what the Brass were selling. Going off to be the heroes, ready to defend dear old Blighty. 


Henry went west first. Never got any more than his tin hat over the top before a potato masher got him. John conked out next. Got plugged pretty bad when we tried to take a Jerry nest. Ernest stuck around for a long time, we became good mates. Never the closest back home, but when there was just us two left, we stuck close. I've been in a right funk since Ernest stopped one. Blame myself. I volunteered for the suicide club; we had to shimmy across no-mans-land and cut the wire on the German lines before the big push. Ernest only put his hand up because I already had. Oh we got the job done all right, but struck trouble on the way back. Hun sniper must have seen us in the dark and Ernest went down. Never knew what hit him. 


I threw myself into a shell hole. Buried my face into the earth and dared not breathe for what seemed like hours. In lifted my eyes only once, to see if I could see Ernie, and I did, and there was no doubt he was dead. 


Towards dawn our fellows started up with bombardment ahead of the push, and for a few minutes I buried my face in the dirt and screamed until I was blue in the face. Only time I've lost it in this whole bloody war, because I realized I was the last one left. I screamed and screamed, not just for Ernie, but for John and Henry and everyone else from home who had come along for the ride because they were all pushing up daisies, and there was just me. And then I realized I had to get back to our line. Once the German planes went over I'd be a sitting duck. In the confusion of the bombing I slithered back to our lines, covered in mud and shit, and just shook my head when they asked about Ern. 


So that's how I know I'm next. Not that I'm the last one- but because, I lost it. And now, I know I'm free. I remember someone once told me that the dead aren't scared anymore. Only the living are scared. 


And I'm not scared of this war anymore. So I'll just sit here, and smoke my woodbine, like the quiet in the eye of a storm, and wait for my turn to re-join me pals. 


The whistles scream, running like a wave through the trench, and Capt. blows too; so hard I think he’ll pop something. I toss my woodbine into a puddle, and join the line of men scrambling up towards Jerry. 

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