THE SCRIBBLINGS OF A SQUADDIE
Dusk, the wayward princess of darkness, is reluctant to say goodnight. Stupid as it may sound I think she’s trying to tell me to turn tail. I cannot do that. Annie would think the worse of me.
I crane my neck, score her initials in the condensation, then wipe clean the steam train’s window. A shirt cuff has many uses.
To the beat of monotonous oscillation from the wheels of the passenger car I see a glum star submerge. An inevitable sinking into the quicksand that is the far horizon. No call for heaven’s vault, this night.
Travelling coast bound, I leave in my wake my impetuous sweetheart and head toward a place of trench coats, rain clouds, gangrene and mud.
Arras, I am told, is celebrated for its undeterred stray dogs. Dogs that will molest anything in search of sustenance in these times of war.
Shortly the others and I will arrive at Folkestone Harbour Station, our destination. The last piece of England we shall set foot on.
Soon we shall be in Calais. Soon we shall be at the front. Soon we will be bit part players in a war.
I shall write her daily if I can. I traded her intimacy, her flesh and soul for the thuggery of battle and know not why. Were I alone in the here and now I would shed tears. I’ve been informed soldiers never cry.
From the back of the train some of the lads break into chorus. Ribald ‘Mademoiselle from Armentières’ their anthem and no doubt they live in hope of meeting with her or one of her filles de joie friends. Good luck to them I say.
Me? I have a dream that I will be home by Christmas. That she and I shall toast good fortune with Calvados, ripe cheeses and bread, not the bully beef and stale baguettes they feed us with here. At least her goodbye kiss was fresh. I shall never forget that. It’s all that matters.
My mind wanders some more. My fantasy? Armed with Belgian chocolate I shall smother her all over…have her for desert.
The keen as ‘mustard gas’ corporal walking the soddened trench bellows out for my benefit, “Wake up son. No time for daydreaming. You’re not on the bloody train anymore. Get your act together. We’re going over the top”
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