War can be a funny thing…
‘Naw, please. Ma Maw’s fae Edinburgh.’ The cowering bundle squirmed beneath Martin’s bayonet.
‘What the fuck?’
‘Stick ‘um, bluidy stick ‘um.’
‘He’s wan o’ ours, Brodie man.’ Martin withdrew the bayonet. ‘He said he wis fae Edinburgh.’
‘I am, honest.’ The German got to his feet, arms above his head. Brodie clubbed him with the rifle butt.
‘Right, well you carry him back.’ He jerked a thumb in the direction of their lines.
It could never be truly dark this close to mid-summer. In the depression below the ridge at Thiepval, shadows blurred the edges, and plunging progress made the reconnaissance a nightmare.The village belonged to neither side, a salient in the long, combative line of the Ancre valley. It was a conduit through which reciprocal patrols moved; given an importance far beyond its worth. It was why they were there. To prepare the way for the offensive; to ensure safe passage of the conduit. Martin hauled their prisoner as they fell back on the rest of the platoon.
Out of darkness the scud, scud, scud of a heavy machine-gun had them rushing for cover. They made the safety of a trench as a flare turned night to day. Martin landed on the unconscious German.
‘I’m coming in.’ Douglas slid down the back wall of the trench. ‘Aird wants you to set up here Brodie.’ The black highlander merged with the night, lost in the darkness. The groaning caught everyone’s attention.
‘I think ye’ve broke ma airm.’
‘Who on earth is that?’ said Douglas. Brodie hauled the prisoner across the trench.
‘It’s jist some German frae Edinburgh.’ Martin smiled. ‘Wid ye credit that?’ The man strove to break the Corporal’s grip on his jacket.
‘Right you, oot wae it.’ Brodie’s face was inches from his.
‘I’m frae Fountainbridge. This is ma faither’s idea.’ He pointed at the uniform and gave a rueful smile. ‘He’s the German, no me and no ma mither. A wis a milk-boy wae the Co-op before aw this for Christ’s sake!’
‘Well your luck’s in noo. Yer a prisoner. They’ll send ye back hame.’ Martin smiled at his own suggestion.
‘Don’t be sae daft. He’s a German sodger. If they find oot he’s Scottish, they’ll fuckin’ shoot ‘um.’ Someone handed the prisoner a lighted cigarette.
‘What’s yer name then? Is it Fritz?’ The laughter broke the tension.
‘It’s Bobby. Bobby Hiesler. And this isnae fuckin’ funny.’
‘It’s aw right Bobby. Brodie can sort it oot,’ said Martin. ‘Ye will, won’t ye Brodie? Ye cannae let them shoot him, no when he’s wan o’ us.’
‘Calm doon and watch your front There’s a lot of his pals out there.’ Brodie took a position at the front of the trench. still with half an ear to the conversation between the two young Scots. Ten minutes later he spoke.
‘Bobby, when we get the order tae withdraw, you bide here. Yer ain folk’ll find ye.’
‘Thanks Brodie. I’ll no forget this.’
‘Yer a guid man, Brodie.’ Martin’s voice broke.
‘And Bobby,’ The Corporal spoke over his shoulder. ‘If we meet again, there’s nae second chances.’ Silence fell on the trench as they turned toward the noise of battle.
Thirty minutes before dawn and Brodie did a last round of the men. They were tense; expectant; ready for the word to fall back. Brodie nodded and they scrambled up the rear of the trench. One by one they shook the prisoner’s shoulder. The gesture of good luck. Stay safe. Brodie left the trench before Martin who huddled close in conversation with Bobby. Going over the ledge, he leant back and dragged his pal after him. The Edinburgh man peered after his countrymen, now moving in single file along the side of the hamlet.
‘Martin, Martin.’ Crouched behind a boulder, Martin turned to his new friend. ‘We’ll have to meet. Efter the war.’
Martin saw him in stark silhouette. He opened his mouth to shout a warning. His mouth closed with a snap as Bobby’s chest came apart under the impact of a heavy calibre bullet.