“Over The Top!”
A Giles Family Chronicles Story.
By Dave Turner.
Disclaimer: I do not own BtVS or Blackadder. I write these stories for fun not profit.
Crossover: BtVS and ‘Blackadder goes Forth’. Based loosely on the Episode Goodbyeeeee!
Spelling and Grammar: Written in glorious English-English! English idioms are used throughout this fic. Spelling and grammar is English.
Timeline: This fic takes place in 1917 in Northern France.
Words: More than some, less than others.
Summary: An episode in the life of Rupert’s Grandfather, George Giles during the Great War 1914-1918.
Authors Note: ‘Over The Top is a repost of an earlier story I did called, ‘In Flanders Fields’ which was not one of my greatest stories! I thought I’d got a great idea, but even as I posted it I was having second thoughts.
So here it is, improved, lengthened and I hope a far better fic. It is also the first story (as written, not historically, of the ‘Giles Family Chronicles’ Series).
‘Over The Top!’
By Dave Turner.
“WINTERS!” Called Major George Giles, “Where’s that bloody tea?”
“Just coming Sir!” Squeaked Private Winters from the depths of the officer’s dugout.
Giles looked through a periscope (basically two small mirrors and a wooden tube) towards the German lines. He could see the shells from the British bombardment throwing up great masses of earth and German wire. He was not too worried about the wire because when the Battalion attacked tomorrow morning they would be supported by a company Tanks. They would flatten the wire, take care of the machine guns and let the infantry into the German trenches.
On this part of the front the Boche were entrenched just over half a mile away on a slight rise over looking the British lines. Normally Giles would be worried about the distance to be covered in the attack. But with the Tanks, while it would not be a ‘cake walk’ casualties should be kept down to a minimum.
“There you are Sir.” Piped Winters as he offered the cup of tea to Giles.
George took his eyes away from the periscope and took the mug from Winters’ girlish hand. He looked down into the lad’s delicate featured face and sighed.
“Thank-you Winters.” He said.
Private Bob Winters was the most effeminate looking man in the Battalion. He stood about five-feet-two in his enormous hobnailed boots. He had pale blonde hair and big blue eyes surrounded by long lashes that most girls would have killed for, and in about five years time he might need to start shaving!
Then there was the odd accent. He tried to cover it up with the worst Cockney accent the Major had ever heard. Giles had once overheard Winters say; ‘Cor Blimey Gov’nor!’ Something that he felt sure no real cockney would ever say. Nearly all the other men in the Battalion were from the West Country; this only made Winters’ strange accent stand out all the more.
Giles often wondered just how drunk the Recruiting Sergeant had needed to be to pass someone like Winters as fit for frontline service.
“Where’s Mr Higgins?” Giles asked taking a sip of tea.
“Inspecting the latrines, Sir.” Replied Winters.
“God Winters!” Exclaimed Giles looking into the mug of tea as if he expected to see a rat swimming about in the brown liquid. “What did you make this with? Mud?”
“Sorry Sir,” Explained Winters, “But we’ve run a bit short of tea Sir. Since the bombardment started supplies haven’t been getting up as they should, Sir.”
Giles looked into the worried little soldier’s face.
“Don’t worry about it Winters,” Giles said, “Not your fault.” Giles sipped at the tea again and winced, “Well at least it’s hot and wet. Right Winters,” Said Giles all business again, “Run along and find Mr Higgins and tell him to see me in the dugout at his earliest convenience.” Giles smiled at his unintended joke.
Winters straightened to attention, “Yes Sir!” He said, turned and ran off down the trench line dodging between the much taller soldiers as they stood guarding the trench.
Giles tutted to himself; not only did Winters look like a girl he ran like one too! Giles sighed again and ducked into the dugout that he shared with Lieutenant Higgins his adjadent. He took off his helmet and threw it onto his bunk in the corner of the dimly lit earthen cave. He pulled out one of the home made chairs from under the home made table and sat down. Searching in his pockets he found his pipe and tobacco. As he filled his pipe he found his thoughts straying once again to the enigma that was Private Winters.
Winters may look effeminate but he was no ‘shirt lifter’. Giles had seen him drinking with the other men when the Battalion was in the rear. All the men in HQ Company seemed to accept Winters without question. They even looked on him as something of a lucky charm; casualties had dropped significantly since Winters had joined the Battalion.
Winters always did his share, and he was surprisingly strong for such a small man and was never bullied. At least no one tried it more than once! Winters also seemed to have a girl. Several times Giles had seen Winters walking out with a nurse from the Brigade Field Hospital.
George lit his pipe and thought for a moment; red haired girl, bit thin, odd Jewish name…Yes that’s it thought Giles, Finklestein. By all reports she came from a good family, her father was a Professor or something.
“Mornin’ Sir!” Called Lieutenant Higgins as he burst into the dugout.
He too threw his helmet and swagger stick onto his bunk and sat down opposite Giles, he produced a pack of cigarettes, as always he offered one to Winters. The young soldier always accepted, he took the cigarette put it in his mouth and started to eat it! Higgins lit a cigarette of his own, while Winters retreated into his little alcove in the far corner of the dugout.
“How are the latrines?” Asked George.
Major Giles looked into Higgins’ smiling face. The man's infectious grin and eye patch gave him a piratical look. Higgins was a ‘Canadian’, a Southern Canadian as he described himself. Giles suspected that he came from so far south that he was born in the United States.
Higgins had come over back in ’15 and joined up in the ranks. After distinguishing himself on the Somme in ’16 he had been promoted through the ranks until he had been sent away on an officer-training course. He had joined the Battalion in the spring of 1917, and had been Giles’ Adjadent ever since.
“Oh you know Sir,” Replied Higgins blowing smoke out through his nose, “Smelly…very latrine like.”
“Quite.” Smiled Giles, then in a more serious tone Giles said, “I’m sorry Alex but I’ve got some bad news and some very bad news. Which do you want first?”
“I’ll have the bad news if you don’t mind Sir.” Quipped Higgins.
You could not help but like Higgins. He always had time to listen to other people’s worries and always seemed to know the right thing to say to make things feel as if they were not so bad after all. He really deserved better from the ‘Powers-that-be’; he was a damn fine officer.
“I’m afraid your promotion to Captain has been turned down.” Said Giles sadly, “I did my best, but that swine Snyder at Brigade blocked it again. I tried my best...sorry. If you’d like to do something foolishly brave I can always give you a battlefield promotion, you really deserve a Company of your own.”
“Oh that’s alright Sir.” Replied Higgins flashing one of his grins in Giles’ direction, “So are you going to give me the ‘very bad news’ now?”
“Big Push starts tomorrow,” Announced Giles.
“I say Sir! Jolly good!” Replied Higgins happily.
If Alexander Higgins had a fault it was that he could be far too keen at putting himself in danger. Giles had only been half joking about the ‘foolishly brave’ comment before. Higgins was likely to actually do something. Not to get the promotion he so richly deserved but because he was just like that!
“Yes indeed,” Agreed Giles, “When the bombardment stops tonight, I want you to take a party over the top and into the German lines.” Giles explained, “It’ll be our last chance before the ‘off’ at dawn. So, I want you to see what damage the shelling’s done and see if you can grab a prisoner.”
“Right ho Sir!” Replied Higgins happily, “About a section?” Giles nodded his agreement, “And can I take Winters Sir?”
“Don’t you think he’s a little…you know short for this type of work?” Asked Giles.
“He keeps asking if he can go Sir,” Replied Alex, “And the other men keep ribbing him about it…its only fair Sir.”
“Oh alright,” Giles gave in; “Take him if you wish.”
“Hear that Winters?” Called Alex, “Trench raid tonight!”
“Yes Sir!” Peeped Winters from his alcove, he sounded far too happy about the prospect.
Giles watched the German flares float lazily down through the night sky as they cast sharp shadows across no-mans-land. Higgins and his Trench Raiding party had gone out three hours ago and were expected to return anytime now. Suddenly the battlefield was plunged into deep darkness as the last of the flares went out.
“Dolly!” Hissed a voice from no-mans-land.
“Tart!” Came the reply from a little further down the trench.
Moment’s later men started to tumble into the trench. Giles rushed over to where the returning raiding party stood sorting themselves out. Nine men stood around guarding one terrified German prisoner.
“Where’s Mr Higgins and Winters?” Demanded Giles.
“Should be just behind us Sir,” Came a voice from the dark, “They were covering our withdrawal.”
Just like Higgins thought Giles, always leaves the dangerous work for himself. There was a clatter of equipment and boots as Higgins and Winters fell into the trench next to him. Higgins got up and dusted himself down. Winters climbed to his feet a huge grin on his face.
“Alright chaps.” Said Higgins quietly, “Everybody here?” There was a chorus of mumbled ‘Yes Sirs’ from the raiding party, “Good!” Continued Higgins, “Sergeant Monke send the prisoner to the rear. When you’ve done that get yourselves cleaned up, and Sergeant, make sure everyone gets something hot to eat and drink. I’ll be along later to check on everybody.”
“Right you are Sir.” Replied Sergeant Monke.
Alex turned to head for the dugout when he noticed Winters following him.
“Off you go Winters,” Ordered Higgins, “You go with Sergeant Monke. I’m sure Major Giles and myself can manage without you for a while longer.”
Reluctantly the young Private turned and followed the rest of the raiding party down the communications trench.
“How’d it go?” Asked Giles when they got back to their dugout.
“The Raid?” Asked Higgins lighting a cigarette, “Went swimmingly Sir. The bombardment? Not so good.”
“Oh Lord.” Sighed Giles, “Tell me.”
“Shells have cut up the ground badly, could be a problem for the Tanks. The German wires been thrown into great thickets like it was on the Somme. We’ll never be able to cut our way through; there’s a few clear routes that I’ll mark on your map. But I’m betting Harry Hun will have them covered with machineguns by tomorrow morning.”
“And how are the Germans taking the pounding we’re giving them?” Asked Giles.
“About as you’d expect Sir.” Said Higgins taking another drag on his cigarette.
“So you don’t think they’ll run away when they see us coming in the morning?”
“’Fraid not sir,” Agreed Alex.
“Damn!” Exclaimed Giles.
“Saw the damnedest thing while I was in their trenches,” Said Higgins quietly.
“What’s that?” Giles asked as he studied his map.
“We’d just got into their lines when this Hun Officer appears out of nowhere, big chap he was.” Alex stubbed out his cigarette and lit another one. “He grabs Cooper and throws him about a dozen feet along the trench. I mean literally throws him. Picked him up and everything.”
“Good Lord.” Said Giles, “Go on.”
“Next Smith four seven jumps on him and sticks him with a trench knife. This doesn’t seem to slow our Boche Samson down a jot! I saw him pull the knife out of his chest and punch Smith; sending him flying down the trench to join Cooper. I was just about to shoot the bounder when in jumps Winters.”
“Oh no!” Moaned Giles, “What happened?”
“Well Sir he lays into this Hun so-n-so, he’s punching and kicking the sod around the trench and the Hun’s hitting Winters back, and knocking him down. But Winters is just bouncing up again like a regular Jack-in-the-box and hitting him right back. It wasn’t very long before I realised that Winters was getting the better of the fight!”
“After a bit more fisty-cuffs Winters has forced the Kaiser’s Best into a corner. Then he pulls out this knife from under his tunic and stabs the Hun in the chest. I’ll tell you now George, and I swear to God that it’s true, it wasn’t a trick of the light or anything like that. That Boche officer turned to dust and vanished!”
“What?” Demanded Giles, “No you must be mistaken.”
“I was no further away than the other side of the dugout George,” Said Alex, “I know what I saw.”
“What did Winters say?”
“Claimed the Hun ran off Sir,” Said Higgins, “He’s lying.”
Just then it started to rain.
Giles felt someone shaking him awake, he opened his eyes and saw Winters grinning down at him. After chatting with Higgins for a while Giles had lain down o0n his cot for hours shut-eye.
“Mornin’ Sir,” Said Winters cheerfully, “Two-thirty ack-emma and its still raining. There’s your tea and there’s hot water on the table Sir.”
“Thank-you Winters,” Yawned Giles as he swung his legs off his cot and sat up. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and saw Winters tidying up the dugout while he hummed some music-hall tune.
“Don’t you ever feel tired Winters?” Asked George as he took a swig of tea, “Teas bloody awful as usual.” He commented.
“Thank-you Sir,” Replied Winters, “And I’ve never needed much sleep…well not over the last year or so, Sir.”
“What’s the name of that damned tune you keep humming?” Asked Giles stumbling towards the table and the hot water.
“’Ooops Mrs Miggins, your standing on me artichoke!’” Replied Winters without a trace of a smile.
“We’re doomed,” Muttered Giles, “Truly doomed…where’s Mr Higgins?”
“Oh!” Replied Giles as he started to lather-up his face for a shave.
“Y’know something?” Asked Giles as Higgins and himself shared the splinter of mirror while they shaved, Winters was outside doing something.
“What’s that?” Replied Higgins.
“Last night when you were on that raid I checked Winters’ kit.”
“You did Sir?” Replied Alex, “Don’t you think that’s a bit of a rum do Sir?”
“I don’t make a habit of searching though other people’s kit, Alex,” Replied Giles testily.
“Still Sir,” Continued Higgins, “Not the done thing.”
“Anyway I did,” Said Giles finally, “Checked his razor, one of those newfangled Safety Razor things. Didn’t have a blade in it. In fact couldn’t find a blade in his kit anywhere.”
“Well Sir,” Said Higgins as he wiped his face clean, “We both know he’s not as old as he says he is.” Alex stopped for a second, thinking, “Y’know Sir now I come to think of it I can’t ever remember seeing Winters with his shirt off.”
“Not that I can remember Sir.”
Just then Winters ducked back into the dugout, the two officers turned and stared at the short soldier. Winters started to feel uncomfortable under such close scrutiny.
“Twenty minutes to ‘Stand-to’ Gentlemen.” He said.
He turned and fled back out into the rain.
It was still raining several hours later; it beat a steady tattoo on the soldier’s rain capes and helmets. A sharp counterpoint to the distant rumbling of the guns as they pounded the German lines. Major Giles looked over the parapet of the trench and peered out over ‘No-mans-land’ it was raining there too. As the rain poured down in sheets, the soldier’s slowly sank into the mud as they lined the trench waiting for ‘zero hour’.
‘Zero hour’ had been put back time after time until it was now mid-morning and fully light. Then as the rain sluiced down the walls of the trench and collected around the soldier’s feet. The news had come through that the Tanks had bogged down or broken down and would not be available for the attack.
And still it rained. Although they were standing on duckboards; there was already eight or nine inches of liquid mud in the bottom of the trench, and every moment it was getting deeper. A rat swam by trying to escape the flood.
“Care for a smoke, sir?” Asked Lieutenant Higgins, he offered Major Giles a cigarette from a rather damp packet.
“No, thank you, I'm...” Giles held up his pipe which he started to light using his hand to shelter the bowl from the rain.
The younger officer turned to Private Winters who stood next to him.
“Private?” He asked, offering the young man a sodden cigarette.
“Oh, thank you, sir.” Piped Private Winters, his fair hair plastered to his head under his helmet. He took the offered cigarette and then put it in his mouth and started to chew.
Giles shrugged under his rain cape and took another look over the parapet. Much to his disappointment the German lines were still there. He sighed again as cold rain dripped off his helmet and started to work its way down his neck.
“Oh, dash and blast all this hanging about, sir!” Exclaimed Higgins, “I'm as bored as a pacifist’s pistol, when are we going into action?” He demanded.
“Well, Alex,” Replied Giles, “I strongly suspect that your long wait for almost certain death is nearly at an end.” The urbane officer paused, as a smile played around his lips; “Surely you must have noticed somethin’ in the air?”
“Well, yes, of course,” Replied Higgins, “But I thought that was Private Winters.”
The younger officer smiled at his own joke.
Private Winters gave his officer a hurt look from under the rim of his helmet; he spat out the remains of the cigarette.
“Unless I'm very much mistaken,” Announced Giles ignoring the interplay between the two younger men, “Soon we will be making the final ‘Big Push’; that one we've all so been looking forward to all these years.” Giles added with heavy sarcasm, he removed his glasses and polished them with on a damp rag.
“Well, about time too,” Cheered Higgins.
Higgins had a silly grin plastered all over his face. Major Giles just shook his head at the hopelessness of it all. Just then the sound of a Field Telephone ringing came from Private Winters’ backpack. Giles went over to the short Private, opened the flap on his pack and lifted the receiver.
“Hello;” He said into the receiver, “Somme Public Baths, no running, shouting, or piddling in the shallow end.” He paused listening to the voice at the other end. “Ah, Major Snyder.” Again he paused, “Midday now? Oh, excellent!” He exclaimed with false humour. “See you later then. Bye.”
Giles replaced the receiver and turned to Higgins and Winters.
“Well gentlemen,” He announced, “Our long wait is very nearly at an end. At precisely twelve noon, General ‘Insanity’ Travers invites us to a mass slaughter. We're going over the top.”
Giles slumped in despair against the trench wall. The rain had doomed this attack to almost certain failure. Had no one noticed the rain? Then Giles had a thought, Army HQ was so far behind the lines that it was probably on the Mediterranean coast! Lovely weather down there.
“Well, huzzah and hurrah!” Smiled Higgins, excited at the prospect of getting at the Beastly Boche.
Winters gave Higgins the sort of look you give to the raving lunatic that has just sat down next to you on the bus. Giles took off his glasses once more and massaged his eyes with his thumb and forefinger.
“I think the phrase rhymes with `clucking bell'.” Said Giles tiredly.
“Does that mean we’ll be going over the top, in daylight, sir?” Asked Private Winters in his unusually high-pitched voice.
“I’m afraid so.” Replied Giles replacing his glasses and looking down at the lad.
“Well,” Said Winters cheerily, “At least we’ll be able to see what we’re doing.”
“As will the German machine gunners.” Pointed out Giles.
The phone rang again Giles picked up the receiver.
“Hello?” Said Giles into the mouthpiece.
“Travers here,” Announced a self-important voice on the other end of the phone.
“Oh, hello General, how nice to hear your voice again.” Giles replied insincerely.
“Ah Major Giles I just wanted you to know I’ve sent a little surprise over for you.” Announced the General.
“That wouldn’t be a Battalion of Tanks or an order cancelling the entire attack would it Sir?” Giles asked desperately.
“Don’t be so foolish man!” Replied Travers, “I’ve sent you something much more important that that!” The General hung up.
Just at that moment Captain Wyndham-Price, General Travers’ aid, walked along the trench to join the little group. He wore a helmet and a raincoat over his uniform.
“Sir!” Higgins sprang to attention and snapped off a rigid salute, all the while hoping that a German sniper would see the interplay and shoot the despised Staff Officer.
“Captain Wyndham-Price.” Giles greeted his fellow officer with as much enthusiasm as one would greet the Hangman on the morning of your execution.
“Major Giles.” Acknowledged Wyndham-Price miserably.
“Here to join us for the last waltz?” Asked Giles, not unkindly.
“Erm, yes,” Replied Wyndham-Price nervously, “I got tired of folding the general's pyjamas, thought I’d join in with you chaps.”
“Well, this is splendid, comradely news!” Exclaimed Higgins with heavy sarcasm, “Together, we'll fight for King and Country, and be sucking sausages in Berlin by teatime.”
“Yes,” Agreed Giles with false optimism, “I hope their cafes are well stocked; everyone seems determined to eat out the moment they arrive.”
“No, really,” Continued Higgins losing some of his bravado, “This is brave, splendid and noble!” He paused for a beat, “Sir?”
“Yes, Lieutenant?” Asked Giles turning to face the young officer.
“I'm scared, Sir.” Higgins admitted.
“I'm scared too, sir.” Squeaked Winters from by the trench wall.
“I mean,” Explained Higgins, “I'm the last of the tiddlywinking leapfrogging Pals from 1915 Sir. I don't want to die. I'm really not overkeen on dying at all.”
“How are you feeling, Wyndham-Price?” Asked Giles looking over at the Staff Captain.
Almost un-noticed it finally stopped raining.
“Erm, not all that good, Sir” Replied Wyndham-Price as he removed his raincoat, “Rather hoped I'd get through the whole show; go back to work at Pratt & Sons; keep wicket for the Croydon Gentlemen; marry Winifred.” He seemed to shrink a little as he thought of all the things he would miss. “Made a note in my diary on my way up here, simply says, ‘Bugger’."
“Well, quite.” Agreed Giles.
They all heard a voice further down the trench line shouting out orders. All the soldiers started to remove their rain capes.
“Ah well,” Announced Giles resignedly, “Nearly time to go.”
“Fix bayonets!” The voice ordered, the soldiers drew their bayonets and attached them to their rifles.
Giles noticed that Higgins had left his ‘Swagger Stick’ on the rear parapet; he nudged the younger officer and pointed.
“Don't forget your stick, Alex.”
“Oh no, sir," Replied Higgins with brittle humour, “Wouldn't want to face a machine gun without this!” He picked up and brandished his stick.
Suddenly the bombardment stopped, and silence fell across the battlefield.
“Listen!” Exclaimed Wyndham-Price, “Our guns have stopped!”
“You don't think...?” Asked Higgins turning towards Giles hope rekindled in his eyes.
“Maybe the war's over.” Said Winters, “Maybe its peace!” He too sounded hopeful.
“Well, I’ll be!” Said Higgins slapping Winters on the back, “The big knobs have got round the table and yanked the iron out of the fire!”
“Thank God!” Gasped Wyndham-Price, “We lived through it! The Great War: 1914-1917.”
“I'm afraid not.” Giles explained sadly as he loaded his revolver, “The guns have stopped because we're about to attack. Not even our generals are mad enough to shell their own men. They think it's far more sporting to let the Germans do it.”
“So we are, in fact, going over the top.” Said Higgins as he started to accept his fate. “This is, as they say, ‘it’.”
“I'm afraid so,” Replied Giles looking around him, even at this late hour he was trying to think a way out of this hopeless situation, “Unless I think of something very quickly.”
He looked down at Winters; maybe there was a way he could save one of them. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a message pad and a stub of pencil. He quickly scribbled a note, tore off the sheet and folded it up.
“Winters,” He ordered, “Take this to Brigade HQ” He handed the note to Winters, “Come on lad, on the double!”
Winters looked down at the folded piece of paper but did not take it.
“Would you mind if someone else were to take it Sir?” He asked standing to attention.
“Go on lad,” Pleaded Giles, “It’s your ticket out of here.”
“Can’t do that Sir,” Replied Winters sadly, “It wouldn’t be fair Sir, we either stay together or we all go together.”
“You’re sure?” Asked Giles.
“I’d rather stay with me mate’s Sir.” Replied Winters, he sniffed and wiped at his eyes.
“Company, one pace forward, march!” Ordered an unseen voice from further down the trench.
Everybody took one pace towards the firing step.
“Ooh!” Winters pointed at one of the ladders that lay against the trench wall, “There's a nasty splinter on that ladder, sir! A bloke could hurt himself on that.”
“Stand ready!” Ordered the voice, everyone put their right foot on the firing step.
“I have a plan, sir.” Grinned Winters to his Major.
“Really, Winters?” Enquired Giles, “A cunning and subtle one?”
“Yes, sir.” Nodded the boy.
“As cunning as a fox who's just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University?” Giles wanted to know.
“Yes, sir.” Assured Winters.
“On the signal, company will advance!” The voice of doom spoke once again.
“Well,” Sighed Giles “I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get you out of this.”
From further down the trench a whistle blew.
“Good luck, everyone.” Called Giles quietly, he blew his own whistle and climbed out of the trench.
Giles tried to wipe the rain off the photograph, but his thumb left a muddy streak across the picture. He lay in the bottom of the shell hole and wondered if he would ever see his fiancée, Jenny, ever again. He had lain here most of the day with machinegun bullets whipping through the air above him.
He remembered leading his Battalion out of the trench towards the German lines, almost immediately the Hun machine gunners had opened up on them. He had been running forward cheering his men on when it felt like someone had kicked him hard in the legs, once, twice, three times. He had fallen to the ground. He had tried to get up but his legs would not obey his commands.
Giles had crawled into a shell hole where he had discovered the bullet holes in both his legs. He had done his best to bandage himself up and applied a tourniquet to stop the worst of the bleeding. At regular intervals he remembered to release the tourniquet to let the blood flow to his legs. There he had stayed all day listening to the battle unable to see what was going on.
Night was beginning to fall now; every now and again he would hear a short burst of machinegun fire from the Hun lines and an answering one from the British trenches. Artillery still rumbled away in the distance. Obviously the attack had been a failure. Giles pointed his pistol at a figure that rolled into his shell hole.
“Winters!” He cried in surprise.
“’Ello Sir!” A grin spreading across Winters’ dirty face, “Fancy meeting you ‘ere.”
He crawled over to where Giles lay, and looked at Giles’ wounds he sucked in air through his teeth.
“Can you walk Sir?” He asked.
“Don’t think I’m going anywhere for a while Winters.” Replied Giles.
“I’ll take that as a ‘No’ then Sir.” Winters slung his rifle onto his back, “Means I’ll have to carry you Sir.”
“You can’t do that lad!” Objected Major Giles.
“Come on Sir you know I’m stronger than I look,” He reassured the officer, “I can manage.”
“Alright!” Agreed Giles, “But before we go anywhere tell me what’s going on.”
“Attacks failed Sir,” Began Winters, he offered Giles a cigarette, “’Fraid the Battalions shot to pieces, we’ve been ordered back to our trenches when night falls.”
“Mr Higgins? Captain Wyndham-Price? Did you see what happened to them?” Giles asked desperately.
Winters chewed on a cigarette as he thought for a moment.
“Captain W-P kopped a packet near the Hun wire, Mr Higgins…” Winters just shrugged his shoulders, “Now lets see about getting you home Sir…’ere what’s that?”
There was a noise from a nearby shell hole. Winters looked up exposing himself above the rim of their shell hole. George heard several wet sounding ‘thuds’ as machine gun bullets stitched themselves across Winters’ chest. The boy sat down heavily in the bottom of the hole.
“Bugger!” He said in confusion as he watched the blood start to ooze from the bullet holes and stain his khaki tunic red. Slowly he fell onto his back. Giles crawled painfully over to where the young soldier lay and cradled the boys head in his arms.
“Looks like you’ll have to make it home by y’self Sir.” Smiled Winters as blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.
“Hang on Winters,” Ordered Giles, “You’re not relieved from duty yet!”
Giles searched through his pockets and Winters’ equipment for spare field dressings he found a couple and started to undo Winters web belt and the buttons of his tunic. Winters weakly tried to push Giles’ hands away.
“Hold on Sir,” Moaned Winters feebly, “Don’t look! Give a girl a bit o’ privacy.”
“What are you going on about, Winters?” Giles pulled open the boy’s tunic and shirt, “Oh my God!” He cried.
“See Sir? Told you not to look.” The young soldier smiled and looked up into her officer’s eyes, “Tell me mum…I…” Winters sighed one last time and closed her eyes.
Giles took one of Winters’ identity tags and put it in his pocket, then he carefully buttoned up the young soldier’s tunic and lay her down in the bottom of the hole.
“I wonder what your real name was Bob?” He asked the body, “Roberta? Well, whatever it was your secret’s safe with me.”
Major Giles crawled up to the lip of the crater, he glanced down at Bob’s body one last time, and then started to drag himself towards the British lines.