This is not a competition entry, but something that Tom asked me if I would post on his behalf. It is also another very fitting piece of writing given the 100 year anniversary of WW1 and it has special meaning to him, as detailed in his email to me at the time:
It is dedicated to my uncle, Pte Thomas Frattaroli, Gordon Highlanders, who was killed in action 18th August 1944, in Normandy, at the age of 21. Liseux is a beautiful place, we have visited on quite a few occasions, took my dad there before he passed away (he also fought his way through to Germany and Poland, and survived, obviously). I can’t describe the feeling I got the first time I went, and saw my name on the gravestone.
It was Lisieux, Normandy, 1944. Paris had been liberated and the Axis forces were retreating.
“Have a cup of tea, lad, then move over to the left to be recorded with the rest of your pals”. The British corporal was receiving German prisoners of war, listing name, rank and number, in accordance with the Geneva Convention.
The German soldiers were defeated and afraid, their slumped shoulders and shuffling feet reflected the fear in their eyes. They were thinking “What will happen to us? Will we ever see our families again? “
This one thought ran through all their minds. Only a few short years ago they were children, but the war had ravaged them, now they were battle–hardened men, but they still had their fears.
“Don’t worry, Fritz, we will look after you, and you are safe here, we will feed you as well as we can” added the corporal.
“Lucky sods, imagine the boot on the other foot,” interrupted one young Tommy, “they wouldn’t……….”
“Shut up, soldier!” the corporal barked “we are the British Army, the war is over for us and they are no longer a threat. Move on to the left.” he motioned to the German POW who was now slurping on his boiling, welcoming brew.
“How many now, corporal? “enquired the RSM.
“About three thousand, sergeant major. We are running short of space to keep them here, but I don’t think they are a threat, they have seen enough, just like us, and they welcome their peace”
“We will have to hope so, corporal”, the RSM muttered quietly.
“We are on our own now son, they have moved on and left us in charge, ‘Awaiting Further Orders’. The local French officials will be coming soon to help with the organising of who goes where, but we shouldn’t be too long here.”
RSM John Kirk was a huge man, a Scot from the Gordon Highlanders, straight-talking and to the point. He was revered by the men serving under him, and respected by his superior officers. With him they believed they were invincible. As a career soldier, he should have gone further up the ranks, but he was content to stay close to his men. He had trained them for three years for this victory, and he wanted to be with them when they achieved it.
“Won’t be long now sarge. We’ll be off back to Blighty, and not like it was at Dunkirk. This time it’ll be on the ferry, china tea cups and a plate of cakes. ‘All aboard The Skylark‘ hey?” It was the young Tommy chirping in again. He was twenty one years old and hadn’t been at Dunkirk, too young. This was his first taste of action, but like all Britons he had learned of the horrors of retreat and the bravery of all those involved.
“First Saturday I get, it’ll be down to ‘Hat and Feathers‘ for a couple of pints with the boys, then up to see the ‘Spurs’. Up The Lillywhites!” he enthused.
John Kirk frowned as he looked the cocky lad up and down, obviously not one of his boys.
“Listen son,” he whispered threateningly “that’s a way off yet and you are still in the army,” the whisper increasing in volume “and while you wear the King’s uniform…. you call me SERGEANT MAJOR!”
The private snapped to attention, stretching his five feet six inch frame as far as it would reach.
“Sorry, SERGEANT MAJOR !“ his reaction direct from the parade ground.
“Stand easy, lad, I’m not going to eat you, just remember where we are. AND, if I’m ever in The Hat and Feathers, I’ll share a wee dram with you.” There was almost a smile on Kirk’s face, knowing he would NEVER take a drink in a London Pub.
“Now get amongst the prisoners, bring back the mugs and help out with the washing up. Good Lad!“
“SERGEANT MAJOR!” another perfect response.
It was at this point that the Commanding Officer, approached the RSM, he was a Lt. Colonel also from The Gordon Highlanders, and, at twenty four, ten years younger than RSM Kirk.
“I have spoken to the local councillors about the problem of overcrowding, and they have requisitioned the field directly adjacent to ours. We can have the prisoners moved into it as there is more room for them, albeit quite cramped, but it relieves our space a little. I’ve also spoken to the German C.O. Can you believe, he was educated at Oxford? He is quite happy to move too. They will not give us any trouble, they have nowhere to go, and if the locals got hold of them, heaven knows what would happen. We have about two hours of daylight to get that organised Sarn’t Major, they can have an armed guard overnight, you know the procedure.“
“Yes Sir!” barked Kirk.
“Thanks, but try and take things a little easier, John. It’s all over for us now, we have a lot to be proud of. We did our job. We ‘Stood Fast’.” The words were softly delivered, causing RSM Kirk to realize that for them, it was all over.
As the sun began to set to the West, a lone skylark rose from this corner of France, ascending slowly, singing his beautiful song of summer, whilst the ghostly shadows of the soldiers disappeared into the cool evening mist. Below him, the two fields, in St. Desir grew smaller as he climbed. In the British field, there were rows of white marble, akin to soldiers on parade. Next to them, divided by a low hedgerow and pathway, lay the German field, filled with smaller, darker stones, three times the number of those in the adjacent field.
At the entrance to each field stood a monument to many brave men, and resting by each, lay a wreath of poppies, with the words
“BROTHERS IN PEACE”
(c) Tom Frattaroli