Thursday, 20 September 2012

143: French Landings

Edward stood on the metal deck, the bodies of the other soldiers pressed up tight to his.  Salty spray washed his face again and again as the boat rode the waves.  The June morning was beginning to warm and the early flickers of light were peeking over the horizon.  Edward stood impassive, unmoving, petrified.

He had just turned nineteen years old and he wondered every day if he would see his twenties.  There were still over 300 days to go until his next birthday and like all the young men with him, he knew any one of them could be his last day alive.  Edward tried to push thoughts like that to the back of his mind, for fear they would paralyze him into inaction at the moment of the next big push.

There were many vessels taking part in manoeuvres and they had all rendezvoused in the Channel before moving off towards the French coast.  Edward wondered how many men like him were aboard the whole flotilla.  How many would survive the attack and how many would fall, bloody and unrecognizable, into the sea?  How many families would receive the telegram they had dreaded expected as a result of this day?

Edward remembered the day his parents received the telegram saying his brother had been lost, believed killed in action.  There had been a rare streaky sun that November afternoon.  His mother had been pleased because her laundry had dried quicker than usual and the fifteen year-old Edward had helped her carry it in from the yard.  She had tried to pin a peg on him and whirled away as he chased her to do the same in return.  Her laughter had carried on but became hysterical as his father fetched the telegram in from the knock on the door.

She was never the same from that day on.  It was like something had switched off inside her, all the joy and pleasure in life.  She carried on, as the British people were expected to do, but Edward knew she was no more than half a beat from collapse.  He dreaded the day of his call-up and seeing her crumble in even further.

Edward swore to himself he would return home at the end of the war, that he would not let her lose both sons.  Stood on the deck with the French beaches looming into view, he said a prayer to his brother Tommy asking to keep him safe for one more day.

The soldiers braced themselves for landing and attack once they ran ashore.  Edward felt sad just for a second.  For him to make it safely back from today’s mission it meant he and his buddies would need to despatch many other soldiers and set in motion terrible telegrams to their families, this time in German.

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