The cell-phone blared out Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ alerting the drenched figure to the arrival of a new message.
The screen lit up with the message,’Camerone 1863.’
As the impact of the text penetrated his tired mind, Johnny Watson felt a massive rush of adrenalin surge through his exhausted body.
The freezing rain stung his face as he squinted to see through the thick fog which cloaked the bleak mountainside. The adrenalin kick was what he had needed.
He was going to make it.
He dug his boots into the stony turf and continued upwards into the unknown.
“Did he get it? Has he replied?”
The two young men sat huddled in the tiny tent. It was the smaller of the men, the one with the blond hair and slight build who had spoken.
The blond man’s friend stretched from his cramped position, he rolled his head backwards pushing his elbows and shoulder blades with it as he released a slight groan to accompany the action.
“I have no idea if he has received it. The conditions here are awful, they must be atrocious where he is. Perhaps the weather will effect the signal.”
He stretched again, pushing his arms forward this time.
“Do you fancy a brew Mike?”, the stretching man asked, producing a small chrome hipflask from inside his padded coat.
Mike smiled. He always liked the way his friend, Russ, was able to produce a little cheer in any situation. He leaned forwards and grasped the hand sized bottle.
“It’d be rude not to. Cheers.”
Russ Williams, Mike O’Donnell and Johnny Watson had all met at Chittlewood Comprehensive school.
Johnny and Russ had bonded quickly. They were both sports fanatics and Johnny was team captain for both rugby and football teams. Despite their on-field competitiveness they remained great friends both in and out of school.
Mike O’Donnell, however, was a quiet lad; introvert and self-conscious.
After leaving school one afternoon, Mike had been waiting for a bus when two older boys had started teasing him about his skinny frame and blonde hair.
Johnny had walked by the bus stop just as the older boys had started to push Mike. Without hesitation, Johnny strode in between the three boys, he had shielded Mike from his tormentors and managed to verbally diffuse the situation — even gaining a strained apology out of the older two.
Johnny instantly became Mikes hero.
Johnny, Mike and Russ became inseparable. Together, they grew from boys to teenagers and from teenagers to men.
By the time Johnny had received his sergeants stripes within his Regiment , both of his childhood friends had followed his path and enlisted in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, serving in the same battalion.
Struggling with basic training and suffering badly from homesickness, both Russ and Mike had been ready to pack their bags and leave. It was then that Johnny had shown up.
Sitting on Mike’s bunk in the 16 man barrack he told them a story which would become their lifelong inspiration.
“On April 30th 1863, in the small village of Camerone, a patrol of 65 soldiers of the French Foreign Legion were engaged in combat against an overwhelming Mexican force which totalled almost 2000.
The French, defending a small inn, declined the offer of surrender and vowed to fight to the last man. When all but five men remained, their ammunition exhausted, they opened the gates of the inn and charged the enemy with fixed bayonets. All but two survived. When the Mexican commander requested their capitulation, they still refused and demanded safe passage home.
The Mexican commander, in awe of their achievements, relented and gave in to the requests”.
Johnny had stared at his two friends.
“Never give up guys.”
The three friends had served together the world over and had seen action in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Iraq.
Whilst serving in Iraq, Mike’s unit were seconded to an area outside Kabala, a key area of strategic importance – and one of strong Iraqi resisitance.
Leading his detachment of men on a routine patrol they had come in to direct contact with enemy forces and sustained heavy fire. Forced to take evasive action, the small unit had laid-up in a pig-sty near to a ruined farmhouse.
The daylight hours faded as they waited for back up, the cold of the night crept into the soldiers bodies, pinching their flesh but keeping them alert.
Mike had been on watch when he received radio contact. He had given his location and awaited reinforcements.
At dawn the following day, a small rescue force came to the aid of Mike’s patrol. Leading them out of enemy territory was the battalions newly promoted captain, Johnny Watson.
Moving away from the area of Kabala and toward allied positions, Capt. Johnny Watson led the rescued and rescuers over a mountain pass and onto the dust swept field that led to the road home.
To preserve the safety of his men and maintain the success of the mission, Johnny had led the way.
He had only walked ten meters into the field when the ground beneath him exploded, sending his body up into the air like a wayward ‘Jack-in-the Box’. He had landed a couple of feet away from where the mine had detonated. Momentarily aware, he had gazed around in disbelief before fading into unconsciousness.
Johnny now stood at the top of the rain swept mountain and took a deep breath.
‘Cribyn’ was one of the highest peaks in the Brecon Beacons and the fog was thicker than ever up here. He gazed down in the direction of his ascent, although his vision was obscured by the appalling weather he knew that his two mates were sitting in their tent, waiting for the weather to lift.
He sat on a boulder and rubbed his legs. No matter how hard he tried, he still thought he could feel a sensation in his right leg. He rubbed a little harder. No, nothing.
The rain was running off his waterproof hood and viaducting down the bridge of his nose.
He lifted his right trouser leg and looked at the prosthetic body of his artificial limb.
“Well, it got me this far”, he said, gazing back down the mountain.
Less than a year after leaving the army on a disability pension, Capt. Johnny Watson was still leading the way.
He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and scrolled to his most recent message.
“Camerone 1863”, he said out load.
He sent a response, ‘Thanks guys, I’ll never give up!’