Whizzz, Bang, “blimey that one was close “ I stammered.
“Na,” said eddie, “ the buggers’ are just trying to keep us awake”.
“It’s their way of stopping us getting any kip, they just lob a shell over to keep us awake, you can set your watch by ’em”.
I admire Eddie, he took me under his wing 3 months ago when they first sent me to the front, he sort of adopted me, he’s looked after me, showing me the ropes.
Eddie’s an “old sweat”, he’s been in the army for ten years, fought in France, Dunkirk, North Africa, Sicily, now he’s back in France. Ed’s been here since D-Day, 6th June,
says its like being home, he fought in this same trench in ’39and now he’s back in it in ’44.
23rd December 1944, I’m sixteen years 4months and 5days old; I lied about my age to join up. I just had to get into the fight, I was afraid it would be all over by the time I was old enough to enlist. It’s not like I thought it would be, heroic battles, trumpets blowing, flags flying, brave British bashing the enemy, medals as big as frying pans on my chest.
No, it’s not like that at all.
I’m soakin’ wet, bloody freezing’ an’ covered in mud and I ain’t had a hot meal in ten days. Eddie don’t seem to notice the discomfort, as long as he got some of those French fags he smokes, he’s as happy as larry, cor they don’t ‘alf pong too, like being next to a chimney pot, I tells him that and he laughs, he say’s.
”When you start shaving Tich”, he always calls me Tich, “I’ll let you have one of these gaspers “.
Actually I do shave, but not every day, anyroad, he can keep his ciggies thank you very much
“What’s that kerfuffle up the trench”, Eddie says, just then Lance-corporal Evans comes into view, his face waxen, his eyes bulging.
“Sergeant Aldridge just bought it”, Evans says
“How?” says Eddie,
“Sniper— straight between the eyes, dead before he hit the floor”
“Poor bugger”, says Eddie, “I always said he was too tall for trench warfare”.
I’m not sure whether Eddie meant that as a joke, or not, Sgt Aldridge was not a fan of Eddie’s, always had him on jankers. But they had served with each other since before the war. It’s hard to tell what Eddie really thinks, not an emotional person you might say.
“Learn a lesson Tich”, says Eddie, “there’s jerries out there, just waiting for a pot- shot, they don’t care if you’re a General or shavetail like you, keep your bonce down”.
“Gosh Ed, I didn’t expect this when I joined up”.
“No Tich”, said Ed, he turned to look at me,” I don’t expect you did”, for the first time I could see some concern in Eddie’s eyes.
“You scared Tich?”
“Well” I says,”I just feel so homesick, this is the first Christmas I’ve ever been away from home, my mother and ‘fings. I just miss Christmas eve at home, we always had a good baff, clean jim jams an’ when we went to bed, me and my bruvvers, the sheets were always crisp and white. Now I’m in bleedin’ France, covered in mud, tired, cold, scared, gettin’ shot at by bloody Germans, getting bombed by artillery. I really miss being tucked up safe in those crisp white sheets.
“Well Tich, I believe I can ‘elp you there”, says Ed.
“Wha’, you got clean ‘jamas in your pocket Ed?” I laughed.
“Na, but I know where to get some. Are you game Tich?
“Whaddya on about Ed”
If you really want those ‘jamas and that, it can be arranged, if you’ve got enough bottle.
“How Ed, How?”
“Well Tich, King’s Regulations state, Any person suffering from a head injury, and confusion thereof, must if possible, be monitored by a qualified medical person for 48 hours, in case of internal injuries or damage arising in that period”.
“ Yeh, so?” I was intrigued, Eddie knew the rule book back to front, but this sounded like gibberish”.
“Give me your tin ‘at”, winks Ed,” and then watch and learn”.
Eddie takes his bayonet out of it’s scabbard, puts my helmet on it, gently lifts the helmet up, up, up, BANG, the helmet flies off the bayonet and spins like a demented Dervish on the duckboards of the trench floor.
“Good old jerry’s they can’t’alf shoot”, Eddie grinning shows me the helmet,” straight as a furrow”.
The bullet had made a perfect groove in my helmet, but made no hole in it.
“Right Tich, Eddie looked at me very sternly, sorta reminded me of Mr. Chesney my old headmaster. ” Listen up, put your ‘at on and act kinda wobbly, remember, you can’t remember nuffink, not your name, my name, where you are, where you came from, gottit?
“O.K. Ed”, I said nervously.
“Don’t call me bloody Ed”, you can’t remember nuffink”
“Right Tich I’ll get Lieutenant Merryweather-Smythe, ‘e don’t know his arse from his elbow, so he’ll be no problem, now, play dumb, won’t be hard for you Tich”, Eddie winked. Soon Eddie and the lieutenant came back.
“See sir, the jerry got him on the nut, he’s spark out”, says Ed.
“Poor lad is he dead?” Said the lieutenant.
“No sir, he’s concussed, can be nasty though, concussion, sometimes you can even lose your marbles with it. I’ll try and fetch him round”
Eddie chucks water on my face.
“E’s comin’ to sir” Eddie whispers in my ear,” don’t forget, remember nuffink”.
“Er, hello private, how – are – you?” The Lieutenant says slowly
This is it time for my performance, “Where am I?” I says,” what’s going on?”
“Do- you- remember- your- name”, says Lietenant Merryweather-Smythe.
“Where am I, what’s going on?” Say I.
“Yep, his marbles are definitely scrambled sir”, says Ed.
“Yes it’s back to battalion field hospital for him, hope he’ll come round”
The lieutenant moves off,” I’ll arrange transport”, he says.
“Nice one Tich, ”Eddie says, ”now remember they’ll give you 48 hours observation, if you try to wangle more time, they’ll send you for a full examination wiv’ a trick cyclist an’ he’ll suss you out. So start remembering ‘fings slowly an you’ll get 48 hours of hot food, jim jams and clean nice white crisp sheets for Christmas.
Two hours later I’m on my way back to Battalion ten miles behind the front line. The Lieutenant arranged a ride in a ammunition wagon, I don’t say too much, as the driver’s a corporal and Eddie says, don’t trust bleedin’ corporals.
I report to Battalion Medical Officer and sweet as a nut, exactly as Eddie said, the M.O. tells me I’ll be under observation for 48 hours. He assigns a nurse, male, I might add, to get me” settled in”.
Bill who is the nurse, takes me to the ward, on the way he says,” I’m gonna’ arrange for a nice ‘ot shower for you, the Sappers, put ‘em in last week,
“Smashin”, I said.
“This is your billet mate” Bill points, the room was a bit grotty, a weak electric lightbulb, a window, a chair and cabinet but, there was a cot bed, with crisp white sheets, done all tidy, a clean pair of ‘jamas on the lovely white pillow.
“Have a blow, I’ll arrange everything, so you can have a hot meal, shower ‘an get to bed” says Bill leaving the room.
I looked at my watch 1145pm, I’m gonna’ make it, I thought, Christmas in a proper bed, well, a cot I suppose but near enough, good old Eddie, I thought.
Whizz, Bang, the shell must have landed just yards away, the windows blew in with an almighty crash, flinging shards of glass like water from a fountain. Plaster landed on my head, the bulb disintergrated,an’ my lovely bed and jamas, chukked all over the place.
Bill the nurse rushes in,” you o.k.?” He shouts.
“Yeah “, I says,” but look at my bed”.
“Never mind that, grab your gear and your rifle, the jerries are attackin’ our flank”, Bill stammers, it’s everyone who can shoot to report to H.Q.”
“But I’m walkin’ wounded,” I protest.
“You’ll be bleedin’ walkin’ dead if you don’t pull you’re finger out,” shouts Bill.
I’m soakin’ wet, bloody freezin’ an’ covered in mud and I haven’t had a hot meal in eleven days. Christmas day, the jerries are shooting at me, bombs dropping like hailstones, I’d ‘ave been better off staying wif’ my mates up the front.
“Thank-you bloody Eddie”, I shouts, as I’m blasting away at the whole German army, I know one thing, if I get out of this alive, I’m gonna’ have a big tattoo on my chest, to remind me—- It’ll be something like this: –
I thought I was clever I thought I was wise,
When Kings’ regulations I did flaunt.
Fate always laughs last, and it just showed
You can’t always get what you want