I’m still working on Bill’s backstory, and how he got mixed up in the war, and as a general background to his situation, and life before Davenport.
This is still in his own words:
But whether we were stupid or naive, or completely mad, we were all eager to get into battle, filled with the sort of hate only Army propaganda films could fill you with. They were our enemy, and they deserved to concede or die.
A fresh face in a hardened platoon, I was eager to get on with it. They looked knowingly, having seen it all before. No idea of the reality, and no time to tell us. Have a few beers to celebrate, and then, the next morning, go out on patrol. No problem.
There was camaraderie, but it was subdued. We walked single file, the seasoned campaigners in front and at the rear, treading carefully, demanding quiet, and a general cautiousness. In the middle of nowhere, where only the sound of rain, or the animals and birds for company, we were naive enough to think this was going to be a doddle.
Then it happened, six hours out, and just before we reached a small clearing. I thought to myself it was odd there should be such a clear space with jungle all around it. There must be a reason.
We had walked into an ambush, and everyone hit the ground. I was bringing up the rear with another soldier, a veteran not much older than myself whose name was Scotty, a little farther back from the main group. Bullets sprayed the undergrowth, pinging off trees and leaves. I buried my face in the dirt, praying I would not die on my first patrol.
We became separated from the others, lying in a hollow, with no idea how far away help was. He was muttering to himself. “God, I hate this. You can never see the bastards. They’re out there, but you can never bloody well see them.” Then he crawled up the embankment, gun first.
He let off a few rounds, causing a return of machine-gun fire, spattering the dirt at the top. Next thing I knew he was sliding down the hill with half his face shot away. Dead. I threw up there and then. What an initiation.
Then one of the enemy soldiers came over the hill to check on his ‘kill’. I saw him at the same time he saw me and aimed my gun and shot. It was instinct more than anything else, and I hadn’t stopped to think of the consequences. He fell down, finishing up next to me, staring at me from black, lifeless eyes.
I’ll never forget those lifeless eyes. I just got up and ran, making it back to the rest of the group without getting hit. No one could explain how I made it safely through the hail of gunfire, from our side and theirs.
Back in the camp later, the veterans remarked on how unlucky Scotty was and how lucky I was to shoot one of the enemies, and not be killed myself. They all thought it was worth a celebration.
Before we went out the next day to do it all again.
I spent the night vomiting, unable to sleep, haunted look on his face, one I finally realized that reflected complete astonishment.
There will be more, as the story develops.
© Charles Heath 2016-2020