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 Post subject: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 12:48 pm 
Mossad Liaison Officer
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Joined: Sat Jul 14, 2012 9:21 am
Posts: 1071
Location: Wales
Name: Erica
Aliases: Conuiren, Cerci Dweeb
Gender: Female
Voices From the Past
Characters - Tony, The Team, Original Characters, The McGee family.
Genre Drama
Rating FR15
- Minor descriptions of battle.

*Very slight Season 9 spoilers*

Summary After Tim is injured in an op that goes wrong, Tony discovers his latest writing project.

Acknowledgements -

I need to mention the following books that provided me with the background I needed to put this story together

The Somme - By Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson

A Coward if I Return A Hero if I fall - by Neil Richardson

The Soldier's War- By Richard Van Emden

Six Weeks - The short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War - By John Lewis-Stempel

Goodbye to All That - by Robert Graves

A Very Unimportant Officer - By Captain Alexander Stewart

The Last Fighting Tommy - By Harry Patch with Richard Van Emden

This story came about from a piece of artwork that I put together on a wet afternoon when I was very bored. I somehow got talked into putting a tale together and this is the result - I hope you like it.

This will be a multi-chapter fic (ya' think? ;) ) so there will be a discussion thread.

Dedicated to McMhuirich


Chapter 1

Chapter 1
The waiting room was quiet, since the hour was so late. Only three people were there, all seated separately, even though they were together. No one wanted to speak, each too concerned about their friend to want to discuss what had happened.

None of them had thought that it would end this way, the op had seemed to be straightforward, but something had gone wrong, as there were more people present than they had thought. The resulting gunfight had left them with a man down and no idea if he was even going to make it through the night.

Tony DiNozzo was sat by the door, his mind going over the events again and again. He had been responsible for the intel that they had used to plan their op, and had been the one who had missed a room in his study of the floor lay out. He had assumed that only their target and one other man would be present, but as soon as they had stormed the place, another door had flown open and six others appeared, all with guns drawn. Looking at the others, he saw no blame, but he felt it twisting in his gut. It was his fault if their friend died, no matter what the others said.

Ziva David got up from her chair, set against the back wall of the room and walked over to him, her eyes concerned.

“It will be alright.” She said, with a confidence that she did not feel.

“He was shot in the head Ziva.” Tony spat back, bitterly.

“It was not your fault Tony.” She insisted.

“It was my mistake, I should have known that room was there, but I missed it.”

“Could have happened to any of us DiNozzo.” Came another voice from across the room.

Leroy Jethro Gibbs winced a little as he stood, and nursed the bandage on his wrist. He had taken a bullet graze on his hand, which was the only other injury that the team had sustained.

“Wouldn’t have happened to him.” Tony replied, nodding towards the OR. “McGee would have picked it up.”

“You do not know that.” Ziva protested.

“Tell him that.”

They had acted quickly when the others had appeared, finding cover easily enough, and had tried to contain the situation while Gibbs had called for back-up. For nearly half an hour they had held their own, taking out several of the others until Gibbs had been struck on the hand. That second of horror had distracted them only for a moment, but Tim McGee had reached over towards his boss, not realising that he had broken cover. One of the perps had fired and he went down silently, just as Gibbs was picking up his gun.
There had been no time to think then, the back-up arrived, bursting into the building and taking command. Abandoning the fight, the others evacuated Tim and called for an ambulance, even though they were not sure if he was even alive.

To their surprise, he was still breathing, but they could not see how badly the bullet had damaged his skull. There could be no way of trying to find out without risking further injury, and so they had been forced to wait for medical help to arrive. Normally, only one of them would have gone to the hospital with him, but right now, none of them wanted to be left behind.

More than three hours had now passed with no word on Tim’s condition. Tony prided himself on trusting his instincts, but now he found himself wondering whether he had been as careful as he should have been when reviewing the floor plan. He had been thinking about asking the new female agent out…or had that been at another time in the day? Everything was starting to become jumbled and he could not be sure whether he had been concentrating for this op.

Gibbs could see his indecision and left his own chair.

“DiNozzo.” He said, firmly. “We all checked the floor plans; none of us saw that extra room. Did you draw them up yourself?”

“No boss, I printed off the plan on the website we found.”

“And that was our only source of intel?”

“Yes boss.”

“Then explain to me how this suddenly makes not knowing about that room your fault?”

“I shoulda planned it better. You can’t send your men into something without proper planning”

“I’ve been in combat DiNozzo.” Gibbs replied, calmly. “Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how well you plan for an op, sometimes things go wrong that you just can’t control. That happened today.”

“Yeah, and McGee is paying for it.” Tony muttered, bitterly. “He would have found that room.”

“Maybe he could, maybe not, we’ll never know.” Gibbs insisted. “Tim would say exactly the same.”

Tony was about to object, when the surgeon came into the room.

“You are here for Agent McGee?” He asked.

“I’m his boss, and his emergency contact.” Gibbs replied. “You have news?”

“I do.” The doctor confirmed. “We have managed to remove the bullet, and it doesn’t look like there is any lasting damage that could impair his recovery. However, there has been a good deal of swelling so we have had to put Agent McGee into an induced coma. He may already be comatose, but we can’t risk waking him while he is in such a delicate position.”

“How long will he be under doc?” Gibbs asked.

“I can’t tell you, it might be a few days, or it could be longer. We won’t know until we withdraw the coma drugs. I’m sorry that I can’t be more specific right now, but with this sort of injury we can’t give you concrete time scales.”

“You expect him to get better though.” Ziva added.

“There’s no reason why he shouldn’t make a full recovery.” The doctor confirmed. “But, as I said, I can’t be more specific than that right now.”

“Can we see him?” Tony asked.

“Sorry.” The surgeon replied. “As of now, only immediate family can be present.”

“And where are they?” Gibbs demanded. “We’re all that’s here right now.”

“I must repeat, that this is strict hospital policy.” The surgeon replied. “Your director has made the calls and they are on their way, but they do not live in DC, so you cannot expect them to be here instantly. In the meantime, I suggest that you all go home and get some rest. I will ask the family if they will permit you to see Agent McGee as soon as I can.”

Tony expected Gibbs to protest, but the older man nodded and turned to them.

“It’s been a rough day.” He said. “Go home and get some rest, I’ll go and brief the director.”

The two younger agents nodded and walked away.

As they were leaving the hospital Ziva stopped.

“Jethro!” she gasped.

“What?” Tony asked.

“McGee’s dog, Jethro. Someone will need to see that he is taken care of.”

“Okay, let’s go over to the apartment and check up on him. I’ll see about kennels or something.”

“Jethro can come home with me.” Ziva decided. “My landlady has no problems with pets, she loves dogs.”

They drove over to Tim’s apartment in silence, both going over the events of the day yet again. While he could appreciate the fact that he was working with shoddy intel, Tony just couldn’t put aside his own responsibility for the screw-up. They hadn’t had much time to put the op together, so he had relied too heavily on what had turned out to be an out of date floor plan. He remembered now that when McGee had first accessed the site that they had used he had pointed out that the information was old, but Tony had not attempted to find out any updated information. It was like sending your people into battle without knowing what they were facing.

“You are blaming yourself again.” Ziva suddenly said, as she pulled into the parking lot at Tim’s apartment.

“If the cap fits.” He snapped. “I was careless.”

“No, Tony, you were not.” Ziva objected.

“I should have checked for up to date information.”

“How Tony?” she demanded. “That was the most up to date intel that we had! McGee said as much when he first found the website. You are looking for reasons to blame yourself when there are none there.”

“I should go back to the office and check over everything, there has to be something I missed.”

“There was nothing! We all reviewed the plan before we went in, none of us spotted anything that you might have missed. You have to stop going round in circles like this, it will just drive you mad and solve nothing. It was an unforeseen accident that none of us could have anticipated.”

“So you keep saying.”

“I will keep saying it until you believe it, because it is the truth. Now, come on, let’s go and get Jethro.”

“I think we should clear out the fridge since the food in there will just go off.” Tony added, absently.

“That is a good idea.”

Jethro bounded up to the door as it opened, but his jubilation seeped away when he found that the intruders were not his master. Although she knew that the dog would not understand her, Ziva crouched before him.

“You will be living with me for a while Jethro.” She said, stroking the dog’s fur. “Your master is not well, but he will get better soon.” She gathered together the dog’s things, while Tony put tins of dog food and treats into a bag. They then emptied out all of the perishable items from Tim’s fridge, and began going over his apartment to check for anything that needed to be done, such as payments to be made.

As he looked over Tim’s writing desk, Tony found what looked like an old black and white photograph. It was a little torn, and the image was very scratched, but his eyes were drawn to the image of the man looking out at him.

“Oh my God!” he said, with a growing grin. “McGee’s had an old photo taken of himself, look at this!”

Ziva came over and looked down at the photograph in Tony’s hands.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“You know, like you can do at some old tourist attractions, they have these booths where you dress up in old fashioned clothes and they take photo on an old camera for you.” Tony elaborated.

Ziva looked a little closer.

“It looks very much like McGee.” She agreed. “But I do not think this is a recent photograph. He is not wearing a United States uniform, so where would he have had this taken?” She took the photograph from Tony and turned it over. “This is not our McGee, it was taken in 1915”

“You’re kidding!” Tony said, intrigued. “Let’s see.” He squinted over the writing on the back of the picture.

“Captain Timothy Michael McGee, 9th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, July 1915. You’re right, it isn’t our McGee, but it looks just like him!”

“This must be a relative of McGee’s.” Ziva replied. “He was a soldier in the First World War.”

“What would McGee be doing with a photograph…” his voice trailed off as he noticed two cardboard boxes beside the desk, opening the lids he found all kinds of papers, both new and old, along with several books about the first world war. “Looks like he’s writing a new novel, basing it on someone in his family this time.”

“No he isn’t Tony.” Ziva replied, picking up a thick binder with typed sheets inside. “Voices from the past, the diaries of a Captain. It seems he is looking to publish his relative’s journals.”

“Why would he do that?”

There have been many books written about the battles that make up what we know as The Great War, but how many of us know how the men who fought in them lived their lives?” Ziva read. “My Great, great uncle was one of those men, and he left behind his impressions of the everyday lives, and deaths, of the brave soldiers who went into battle with little knowledge of what they were even fighting for… He is giving this man a voice, telling his story over 90 years after those words were written.”

“So, this is what all this paper is for.” Tony pulled out a folder, containing paper of various kinds, with words written with different pens, or even pencils. This was the actual diary itself, or perhaps part of it. “I wonder how he got all this stuff in the first place.”

“Perhaps we should take these and put them in evidence lock up for the moment.” Ziva suggested. “Does not McGee usually lock up his work?”

“Only his novels Ziva. I doubt even his most rabid Tibbs fan is going to want this stuff. Looks too much like a personal project to me.” Tony replied, carefully replacing the papers in the box. He then took the typed draft from Ziva and began to flick through it. “Looks like he wrote a lot of stuff.”

“Are you going to read it Tony, or can we leave for the night?” Ziva asked. “There are some bills that we will need to give to the family when they arrive, and I would like to get Jethro settled in at my place.”

“No.” Tony replied, putting the book down. “No…I’m not going to read it.”

He looked back at the photograph once more, and then followed Ziva out of the apartment.

Words in this post: 2496

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2012 1:12 pm 
Mossad Liaison Officer
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Joined: Sat Jul 14, 2012 9:21 am
Posts: 1071
Location: Wales
Name: Erica
Aliases: Conuiren, Cerci Dweeb
Gender: Female
Chapter 2

By the time Tony finally made it back to his apartment, it was nearly dawn, and he was beyond exhaustion. While he had been driving home he had received a phone call, which had turned out to be Gibbs letting him know that Vance had given them all the day off to recover. Tony needed to rest, but he didn’t want too. He could not get past the nagging feeling that he was to blame for the disaster that their op had become. In the top level of his mind, he knew full well that he could not have anticipated what had happened, but the very fact that Tim was now in a coma in hospital kept his guilt churning furiously.

He didn’t want the day off, he wanted to be back in the office, checking over all that he had done to prepare for the op, just to see where he had gone wrong. Instead, the Director had made it clear that the Yard was off limits for all of them for the next 24 hours. Vance was waiting for the McGee family to arrive so that he could confer with them over any potential visiting arrangements, but until they had agreed to it, visiting Tim was completely out. All that awaited him was a full day trying not to go over the events again and again until they drove him nuts.

After a few hours of sleep, he felt a little better, and his mind returned to the picture that he had found on Tim’s desk the night before. He wondered why his friend would decide to spend what had to have amounted to weeks of his spare time researching and compiling a bunch of papers written by a guy who must have died years ago. Who would want to read something like that anyway?

The more he thought about it, though, the more he became intrigued by the idea that McGee, of all people, had a family connection to a war that had happened nearly one hundred years ago. The resemblance in that picture had been astonishing, to the point that he had assumed that it was Tim when he had first looked at it. Perhaps his eyes had been playing tricks on him, and it had been a fake picture after all. He decided to go back to Tim’s apartment and have another look.

The apartment was as quiet as it had been when he and Ziva had left only a few hours before. Now, though, sunlight streamed through the window over Tim’s desk and he saw the photograph where he had left it. Picking it up again, he inspected the image in the daylight and, while it could easily have been Tim depicted, he had to admit that it was a different man looking out at him. Even though the picture was old and faded, there was that same inquisitive expression in the man’s eyes that he recognised in his younger co-worker, but he had known Tim too long to be completely fooled by the subtle differences in the man’s face.

Before he had even realised it, Tony was sitting at Tim’s desk, opening up the manuscript that Ziva had read from the previous night.

…Men from all walks of life, some long serving soldiers, some excited volunteers, and others unwilling conscripts, came together over the four years of the Great War, but their stories are so often forgotten as historians explore the battles that were fought, and the decisions that were made, by both generals and politicians. Those decisions meant little to the men at the front, beyond how they translated into the orders that might send them to their deaths.

Instead, daily lives were more often governed by more immediate things, like what the enemy might be doing, the state of the trench that you were in or even what time the rations might arrive. I have found that, for much of the time, the men were not actively engaged in battle. Instead, they spent their days laying low in their trenches, with snipers keeping watch over No-man’s land seeking out anyone foolish enough to raise their head above the parapets, or travelling between the front line and camps set well back from the trenches.

Night was the period of action, where men could venture into No-man’s land with a little more assurance that they would not be seen by snipers. That would be the time when repairs to the protective barbed wire, or attempts at reconnaissance might take place. Occasionally, such ventures would be made to search for wounded comrades, or to try and bury the dead.

Captain McGee’s journal more often than not describes days like these, rather than recounting his actions in the course of battles. There were frequent small skirmishes as raiding parties from either side attempted to penetrate each other’s trenches to take prisoners, or intimidate the enemy but, for the most part, each side kept to their own trenches trading shells and machine-gun fire. The great battles that we remember were few and far between.

It is tempting to edit the entries that he made, perhaps because they may seem rather to similar in nature from one day to the next, and I feel that, while it is important to report his words as accurately as possible, there is a risk of being repetitious. Where necessary, I have left out some entries where there is too much repetition, but have done this as little as possible. It was often during these quiet periods, where the days merged so easily into one, that the humour that kept the soldiers morale from fading would appear. Some of the journal entries are long and reflective, others short and frantic in nature, but I have included both as a true record of a Captain’s experience of the Great War.

Tony turned the page without even thinking, and then looked down at the two boxes full of papers that Tim had sorted through before compiling the timeline to fit the various entries too. Some of them were in notebooks, but some were written on spare notepaper, or even on the back of receipts or telegrams. Captain McGee had certainly been a determined man when it came to recording his thoughts.

Reaching down, he picked up one of the files containing the loose sheets, and found that each entry was meticulously dated, which would have made Tim’s job a good deal easier. He wondered what had driven Tim to actually put the work into this in the first place, since there had to be hundreds of random pieces of paper that would surely have been shuffled and mixed up extensively over the years.

Flicking through the papers he began to try and decipher the faded writing, but found the script almost impossible to make out. By now Tony found that he wanted to know what Captain McGee had to say, so he returned the papers to the box and turned back to the carefully typed manuscript in front of him.

Timothy Michael McGee was born in Dublin on 14 November 1885, the eldest of six children. His father, William, was a prosperous doctor who lived with his wife, Elizabeth, and their children in a wealthy suburb of the city. Schooled in Dublin, Timothy later attended university in Belfast, where he studied law.

By the time that war broke out in 1914, he was successfully practicing law at one of the most prestigious firms in the city. Two years previously, he had married Mary McElhone, the daughter of a University professor, and the two had become popular amongst the social circles that surrounded the lawyer’s profession.

At this time, Ireland was undergoing great political change with the Republican movement growing ever stronger in their calls for independence from the British Government. McGee was a Catholic, living in a suburb of Dublin mainly populated by Protestants who did not follow the Republican sentiments. At the time that war was declared, Ireland was the brink of Home Rule, however, just as there was great support for this in the south of the island, to the north, in the province of Ulster, there was equally intense opposition from the predominantly Protestant population there.

His journal entries for this period no longer exist, however some letters to friends have survived which show that, although he was a Republican, he was not a supporter of achieving Home Rule through violence, and feared that an Independent Ireland could be consumed by civil war if the matter were not handled with, what he called, extreme delicacy.

Whatever his true sentiments, all thought of independence fell by the wayside when, on 28 July 1914, Britain declared war on Germany and marched headlong into the conflict that we have come to know as ‘The war to end all wars.’

McGee did not enlist in the immediate aftermath of the start of the war, perhaps believing, as many did, that this would be a quick skirmish that would be ended by the regular army. However, by early 1915, the fact that men would be needed became starkly obvious. McGee enlisted in April 1915 and, due to his class, was quickly commissioned as an Officer, attaining the rank of Captain before his regiment had even reached French shores. The journal entries that I have been able to piece together begin at this time. There are also a number of letters that he wrote to his wife, either from various training camps, or sometimes from the reserve trenches behind the front line, that I have incorporated into the text to give a more detailed picture of his experiences.

Some of the incidents that he recorded seem of no consequence in a world where food is in the drive-in up the street, and a bath is a matter of turning on the fawcets in your bathtub. There are moments of great humour, and others of sincere and heartfelt tragedy, such that can change a man forever. All of it, however, was real.

19 April 1915

I have just returned from the enlistment office where I have volunteered to become a soldier. Even now as I sit here in the quiet of my study I wonder if I have done the right thing. Mary seems proud, since several of our friends are already in France fighting the Germans, but I fear that I am taking up arms for a king and government that mean very little too me. Father Maloney has preached several times against this ‘evil venture’, but I cannot see it as such when small nations are swept aside by their larger neighbours. We do not wish to endure such rule from Britain, so why must our Belgian friends endure the rule of their German invaders? Perhaps I am merely telling myself this to convince myself that I have made the right choice.

Enlisting is an interesting process. I arrived to find a large crowd of young men, and perhaps a few boys, waiting to gain admittance. All were dressed in the clothes one would expect to see them wear to church on a Sunday, but even these items of clothing were in the final stages of dis-repair. No doubt some had come from the slums, while others have likely walked for miles to escape the poverty that haunts the countryside around us. Although they had been waiting for some hours, each had to be taken aside and inspected for lice and other vermin, while the likes of me bypassed this unpleasant necessity. If they were not too infested, they were allowed through, but others were sent packing for fear of contaminating the entire company.

The Sergeant who took my information seemed greatly pleased by my decision, and told me that I deserved a commission due to my status in the city. What that status is I really do not know, but it has afforded me an advantage over some of the desperately poor men and boys who were waiting to join up at the opposite side of the room.

We were also given a brisk medical by one of the military doctors, before we were told whether we would be suitable or not. I am certain that I will be subjected to a more thorough examination before I am declared fit for service, but it seemed adequate for their immediate purposes and I was told that I would receive my call up papers in due course. As of yet, I do not know where I will be posted or to which regiment.

Tony sat back for a moment, and then found himself delving through the papers in the boxes until he found a binder marked ‘April to September’. Inside he found individual pages from a notebook carefully placed in plastic sheet protectors, each meticulously labelled with the date. The first sheet had the date ’19 April 1915’ inscribed in the top left hand corner, and so he began to read the text. He found the faded hand a little difficult to decipher, but very quickly Tony found that the entry written had been typed out exactly.

Flicking through a few more of the sheets, some were filled with writing, while others had only a few words per entry. How had Tim had the patience to go through these and label them all before he had even gotten around to typing it all out. It had to be a labor of love, and already he felt compelled to keep reading. Without even realising it, he wanted to know what happened to this ghost from Tim’s past. Carefully returning the folder to the box, Tony turned back to the manuscript and turned the page to read on.

The next entry was dated two weeks after the first.

3 May 1915

Having received my papers I proceeded to the enlistment office where I was informed as to where I would be posted. There I found a large number of other men, some already in uniform, which troubled me as I had not received information as to where I would obtain mine. It turned out that the uniformed men were Privates, who had been supplied with their uniforms at a local factory that the army had commandeered to use as a supply depot. It transpired that the other men, not in uniform, were to be commissioned officers and our uniforms would be supplied once we reached the barracks where we were to train.

One thing that I had been told was that I would be expected to purchase my uniform myself, as opposed to the enlisted men, who had their supplied by the Army, and I duly allowed them to take my measurements and paid up. Some of my fellow officers to be were quite sore on the subject, since our uniforms have cost a good deal more than the clothing that had been provided to the men that we would command. I suppose I might have been as well if it were not for the absolute knowledge that the young men standing with us would have been without a shilling between them before they had offered themselves for service. I decided that I should be grateful that I had the means to afford my uniform, and so held my tongue.

We were then gathered together, officers to one side of the hall, enlisted men to the other, while two rather pompous looking gentlemen in pristine uniforms stepped up on to a dais at the head of the room. One introduced himself as Colonel Thomas Masterson, and sounded as Irish as a chinaman, no doubt shipped over to encourage us ‘paddies’ to do our bit. He told us that he was proud of our choice to contribute to the great struggle against the advancing Hun, and that we should do our best to give them hell. Even at this moment, I cannot remember much else of what he said.

He then left the dais and we were ordered to leave the hall where vehicles would be waiting to take us to the station. There we were to be transported to Buttevant Barracks, where we would begin our training, with the assumption that we would be in France by Christmas. Mary had told me, as I bid her farewell that morning, that she prayed that the war would end before we got that far, and right at that moment, I began to feel the same. Did I want to give the German’s ‘hell’? My fellow officers shared my apprehension, while the men that we were due to command began chanting such charming rhymes as ‘Time to bash the Boche!” and “Send the Hun to Hell”. Fortunately, they quickly tired of this and began singing some music-hall songs instead. I wonder whether we shall be able to contain these adventurous souls once we reach the front.

Once again, the officers and men were separated as we stepped onto the train to carry us to our training grounds. The men were crammed like sardines in a tin into four carriages, while we had two for fifty men. I shared a compartment with two other men, one was a priest who would be joining up to become a Chaplain; he seemed unwilling to strike up any conversation. The other, called Patrick O’Nally, was of a far more jolly countenance. He was actually the son of a butcher, but his father had become most successful and so could afford to pay for a commission for his son. I found the idea rather intriguing as I had believed such a practice had died with the new century. We chatted most heartily for most of the journey, and he also provided me with some very fine smoked sausage that we shared with the priest at around noon.

We arrived at Buttevant in the mid-afternoon, but this time there were no vehicles to transport us. Waiting for us were a number of very fierce looking soldiers, who began yelling at the men the moment they started to disembark. It was as if they had no idea that none of them had received any practice at marching or drill before they had arrived, and they were extremely insulting in their comments. Patrick saw my aghast expression and informed me, with a laugh, that they were merely putting the fear of God into the recruits and not to protest.

These same men then turned on us, and were only marginally less insulting. I presume that, since we will leave here outranking them, they wanted to make their authority plain to us while they still outranked us. We were all formed into a ramshackle column, officers first, then the men, before being marched out of the town and through the countryside to the Barracks itself. I can hardly imagine how we must have looked, fifty men in civilian dress followed by at least 200 men in uniform. The citizens that we passed, however, paid us little heed, since they were well used to recruits coming in, and soldiers going out.

The town itself seems quite pretty, although I presume that we shall be given some opportunity to visit the place if we have any time off while we are training. The fact that I saw men in uniform wandering towards a pub cements that view considerably. However, the journey between the town and the barracks was not a pleasant one. The day had grown cold and it began to rain almost as soon as we were out of the town. Although we did not have to walk far (thankfully they did not attempt to get us to march in formation! ) we were a deeply grumpy group by the time we reached the walls of the Barracks.

We entered the complex through the gate into the parade ground where the enlisted men were ordered to stand too, while we were sent over to one of the grand buildings that surround the ground. As we left, I heard the sergeants bawling something unintelligible at the men and assumed that they were to begin their education immediately with some instruction in drilling. I have no doubt that we will be joining them within the next few days.

Once we were gathered in the grand hallway of what appeared to be the main administrative part of the building, another Officer, again I believe a Colonel, came and spoke to us, before we were paired up and taken to our billets. My roommate will be Daniel Parker, and he seemed rather unhappy to be sharing a lodging with me. He looked me up and down and decided at once that, as I was a Catholic, we would not ‘get along’ and proceeded to take very little heed of my presence for the remainder of the day. I am uncertain that how I will deal with this difficulty, perhaps it is a test of some kind?

The rooms for the officers are reasonably spacious, although a trifle cold as there are no fireplaces. Our beds have already been allocated, and we each have a desk, along with a closet for our uniforms, which were already hanging up when we arrived. Our immediate task was to put on our uniforms in the correct manner before returning to the hall for an inspection. Almost at once Daniel began to complain, since he did not have his valet present to aid him as he dressed. I was tempted to tell him that he would need to learn how to dress himself if he wished to command other men, but refrained admirably, instead concentrating upon my own attire.

For the most part, I managed well, since it was little different to an ordinary suit of clothing. I am not sure why I have been given riding trousers, since I am not to be a cavalry officer, although I presume that I may be required to ride at some point. My difficulties arose when I attempted to put on the Sam Browne belt, it was simple enough to fix around my waist, but there was a further strap of leather that was to be slung over my shoulder, if only I could reach around and grasp it. After several futile attempts, I asked Daniel if he would aid me, in return for my helping him with his. He grudgingly complied, and I did the same for him, so that we were reasonably tidy by the time we were called to return for inspection.

We took did not, as yet, have either of the weapons that we had paid for, since they had run out of revolvers the previous week, and were not expecting a new delivery for another four days. Our swords would be provided once we were attached to our regiments. Despite the lack of weaponry, I will own that I thought myself rather dashing in my uniform, particularly the starched cap. I will, in due course, be given badges and insignia to indicate my rank and regiment, once they have been determined, although no doubt I will be required to pay for those as well!

There were number of officers waiting for us when we returned to the hall, while some of the sergeants that would undertake our training inspected our uniforms. I came out of it quite well with only a slight jerk from one of them as he pulled the shoulder strap of my belt back, but others were given quite a roasting for their lack of attention to their uniforms. Once they were satisfied with our general appearance we were ordered through to what turned out to be a dining hall, and were served a very pleasant dinner, along with a glass of wine. I did not believe that the enlisted men would be enjoying this kind of hospitality, or that this would be the usual fare for us, and so I made the most of it.

We are to rise at 6.00 am to begin our training, which will, as I feared, include drill and marching for at least the first few days before we are taken aside to begin learning how to command and plan for war. I hardly know what time it is now, and so I shall have to write to Mary tomorrow.

Tony’s phone suddenly went off, causing him to jump out of his skin. Looking at the caller ID, he saw that it was Ziva and he reluctantly connected the call, fearing what she might have to say.


“I have just heard from Gibbs. Vance has spoken to the McGee family and they are willing for us to visit McGee as soon as we choose.”

“Why didn’t he call me?”

“I think he was preparing himself to call Abby, and so I offered to call you for him.”

That made sense, Abby was already wound up like a spring over this, and trying to tell her stuff could result in a hysterical ear bending.

“When can we go to the Hospital?” He asked.

“I believe that the family said as soon as possible, they would like as many people as possible to spend time with him.”

“I’ll get going now, do you want a lift as well?”

“You do not live near me.”

“I’m at McGee’s apartment.”

“Then I will gratefully accept your offer, as long as you tell me why you are there.”

“I’m reading that book he’s writing.”

“The one you said you wouldn’t read?” Ziva teased.

“I changed my mind, sue me!”

“I am sure that McGee will not object to your reading a manuscript that he had not locked away, you could perhaps talk to him about it when we get there.”

“Do you think he’s gonna wake up Ziva?”

“Until they withdraw the drugs inducing his coma, I cannot tell you.”

“Okay, I’ll be round to pick you up in about ten okay?”

“Thank you Tony, and do not worry, McGee will wake up.”

Tony hung up and looked back at the manuscript, before closing it again. Perhaps Ziva was right, once they withdrew the drugs, it was up to his friends to help him to wake up, at least this would give him something more useful to talk about then endless movies that Tim had never watched. Snatching up his Jacket, he hurried out of the apartment to go to the Hospital.

Words in this post: 4404

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Fri Oct 26, 2012 1:02 pm 
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Location: Wales
Name: Erica
Aliases: Conuiren, Cerci Dweeb
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Chapter 3

Gibbs and Abby were already at the hospital when they arrived, each speaking with Sarah McGee, although there was no sign of any other family member. Abby saw them first, and waved at them in a despondent manner, causing the others to turn around.

“Any news?” Tony asked.

“My parents are with him now.” Sarah explained. “Penny will be along later, but we can’t be with him 24/7 and I think my Dad wants at least someone with him as ‘around the clock’ as we can manage. It’s not much use right now, as there are drugs keeping him under, but once they try to bring Tim out of the coma, they want people around to talk to him.”

“I’m glad that you’re letting us do this.” Tony offered.

“Why wouldn’t we?” Sarah asked, bewildered. “You’re his friends.”

“I know…but this is my fault.”

“DiNozzo…” Gibbs warned.

“I thought it was an accident.” Sarah added. “Agent Gibbs said that the intel you had was bad.”

“It was…but I should have been prepared for that.”

“Look, Tony.” Abby cut in. “Can you leave your guilt trip outside the door for the time being? Timmy needs all of us, and you can decide who’s really to blame for anything once he’s better okay?”

“That suits me.” Ziva agreed, squeezing Tony’s arm. “No point in blaming yourself for something that McGee would not blame you for.”

“You will need to go in no more than two at a time, but the doctor said that, the first time you go in you might want to go in pairs as he doesn’t look too good at the moment.” Sarah continued.

“I’ll take Abby in.” Gibbs replied. “You two can go in after okay?”

“We will wait here.” Ziva nodded.

“You can’t stay too long.” Sarah warned. “And the doctors don’t want anyone not actually sitting with him hanging around the hospital when they could be getting rest or food or whatever.”

“We will return to work tomorrow, so our visits will need to be outside of working hours, I think that would be more helpful to your parents so that they can rest in the night yes?”

“I think their only concern right now is making sure that Tim is okay.” Sarah shrugged.

They waited for ten minutes before Gibbs returned with a tear-sodden Abby. Tony swallowed hard as he followed Ziva through the doors towards the ICU, wondering what Tim would look like right now. He didn’t really want to confront Tim’s parents, since he had heard that his father was a formidable man, who might not be as forgiving as Sarah was.

They reached Tim’s room to find his parents sat either side of his bed, however Tony’s gaze went straight to his fallen friend and he swallowed hard. Tim was pale by nature, but now looked like ghost, only being held back on earth by the equipment that surrounded him. His head was heavily bandaged showing where the doctors had operated to remove the bullet. Although the doctors had said that he was not on full life support, he might as well have been from what Tony was looking at. He hardly noticed as Ziva took his hand and led him into the room.

Tim’s parents looked round as they came in, and the admiral stood to greet them.

“You must be Tony.” He said, offering his hand for Tony to shake. “I’m sorry that the first time we meet has to be in such….” He stopped speaking and looked back anxiously at his son, before mastering himself and turning back to Ziva. “And Ziva? Is it, Tim has told us a good deal about you both.”

“Thank you Admiral McGee.” Ziva replied, since Tony seemed to have been struck dumb by the sight of Tim. “We are very sorry about all of this.”

“Your boss told us what happened.” Tim’s mother replied, standing up. “I know that it was a terrible accident, and that you are blaming yourselves. Please, even if you are to blame, can you lay that aside for a little while until my son is better?”

Obviously, Gibbs had told them all about what had happened, and Tony was grateful that he didn’t have to explain himself for a while. He watched as the two other visitors left the room to give them some privacy, while Ziva took the seat to Tim’s right.

“Are you coming Tony?” she asked, firmly.

Still a little dazed, he walked around to the left side of the bed and sat down.

“McGee.” Ziva said, softly. “I am so sorry that this has happened, but the doctors say that you will get well again. I believe their word and hope that you wake soon. We have smashed that drugs ring, so you can rest easy knowing that we did not fail.” She then looked pointedly at Tony, expecting him to speak.

“Okay, Probie.” He began, haltingly. “I guess you’ll want to know that your mutt is living with Ziva right now, so he won’t want to go back when you’re better. You didn’t tell me about your story too, that’s not right, since I have the need to know about everything you get up to. Well, just to let you know, I’m gonna edit it for you so it’ll have a bit of pizazz.” He looked hard at Tim’s face, hoping to see some sort of reaction, but there was none.

“He is still sedated Tony.” Ziva whispered, smiling, he won’t be able to protest yet.

There was very little that they could really talk about with Tim unable to answer them back, but they stayed for ten minutes before the doctors asked them to leave. From then on they would likely visit singly so that there could be someone with him for as much time as possible. Ziva could see that Tony was still troubled by the sight of Tim lying so helpless, and she reached over and took his hand as they walked.

“It will not be like this forever.” She assured him. “Perhaps we should go and find something to eat?”

“Thanks Ziva, but…I think I’ll just go home. We’ve got to be in work tomorrow.”

“Very well, as long as you do go home, and not back to McGee’s apartment.”

“You gonna check up on me?”

“I will trust you.”

“Then you’re not very wise are you.”

“Do not stay too long Tony, at least promise me that.”

He dropped her back at her apartment, and then drove over to Tim’s again, resolving to read just a little more before he went home. Although he considered taking the manuscript home with him, he decided that he couldn’t if he didn’t have Tim’s permission. He decided not to consider whether he should even be reading the manuscript without asking first.

Letter to Mary McGee 4 May 1915

My dearest Mary

I have arrived quite safely at the barracks where I am to train. I cannot tell you where I am, or where we may go next.

My uniform was waiting for me, although the weapons that I purchased will be provided at a later date. It fits well enough, although I have not yet been assigned to a regiment and so I have no insignia. My room, or rather ‘billet’ is comfortable enough, although my roommate seems rather surly and uncommunicative. Fortunately, the other men that I have met are more agreeable. So far, I have only interacted with the other officers, since we will be trained separately from the men for the time being.

This morning, we were given a more detailed welcome by the commanding officers, who went on to tell us more about the life that we will live here. Our meals are provided, but we also have the use of the large officer’s mess, which is how I would imagine that a Gentleman’s Club would look like. There is a long bar with a large selection of all sorts of liquor, while the remainder of the room is a comfortable lounge where one can read, or perhaps converse with one’s fellows or play some cards.

The arrangement appears to be that we buy our drinks on account, and then settle up once a month. I fear, however, that many of my fellow officers will be hard pushed to afford their first month’s account judging by the amount of whiskey imbibed this evening. You may, however, rest assured that I did not partake of this free-for-all, since we will be required to rise early each morning.

We have, already, received a taste of the training to come, since we were up at dawn for parade, which involved standing in ranks while a roll call was taken. We were then subject to our first lesson in ‘Drill’ which principally involved the Company Sergeant Major shouting at us for an hour. His voice was difficult to understand, and so there were a good few insults hurled at us, which ruffled a few feathers among the small number of upper class volunteers that are with us. I wonder whether there will be anything said once they have finished their training, since they will then outrank the men that shouted at them today.

The food here is of decent quality, although certainly not up to Mrs Dempsey’s standard, and you may tell her that I said so. We are provided with better meals than the men, who seem to have to exist on stew and bread. Dinner each night is a rather fancy affair, with a toast raised to the King before we sit down to our first course, which is invariably soup of some description. More often than not, we are given roasted meats, with over-cooked vegetables, but I only need recall the brown swill that is served to the men and I do not raise any complaint. We are also given dessert, mainly steamed puddings that I am compelled to leave since they have yet to look even remotely appetizing, but the tea has a good flavour that ends the meal nicely.

Tomorrow, we will be going on a long march, to ‘toughen us up’ the CSM told us, which I am not looking forward too. I will be required to wear the boots that were supplied with my uniform, which I have not had the chance to wear in yet. I suspect that our Medical Officer will have a good few visitors upon our return with rampant blisters!

I am sorry to concern you with trivial matters so soon after we parted, however, I would be most grateful if you could send me four pairs of thick socks as the number that I originally requested does not appear to be sufficient. The Quartermaster has told me that if you send them to the address at the bottom of the letter, they will be sent on to me at the barracks.

I trust that you are well, and that there are no difficulties. If you need any assistance with matters of either financial or legal import, you must consult with Mr Chambers as I have agreed that he may act as my attorney in such matters while I am away. He will advise you with regard to the best course of action if you are uncertain about anything.

I love you my dearest Mary, and will write to you again as soon as I can.

5 May 1915

Early start, two hours of drill in heavy rain, which I prayed would put paid to the route march promised for the day. No such luck, the CSM ordered us, with quite unnatural glee that ‘we would have to march in the rain in France, so we might as well march in the rain here!’ We all have our great-coats but these are of little use to us in persistent rain, so we went to prepare for the march with heavy hearts.

Daniel declared that he would not spend a wet afternoon marching around the countryside, and went to the Medical Officer complaining of a chill. As I had hoped, and expected, the MO saw through his act at once and told him that if here were to attempt such a feat again, he would be in front of the CO before he had even replaced his Jacket. I said nothing as he joined us for the march, but the look on his face was that of a petulant child caught with his hand in the sweet jar.

The CSM did not tell us how long the march would be, and even now I still do not know how far we walked. All I remember is the endless rain, and the constant demands that we keep our backs straight and march like soldiers. Since we had only been marching around the parade ground for a few hours, I thought I did quite well. Several of the man began to lag behind, but received no quarter from our masters, who harried them like crows until they forced themselves to speed up. How any of us did not die of heart-failure today is a miracle that I will be forever grateful for.

We finally returned to the barracks nearly four hours after we left, but I was fortunate in that my heels were not rubbed as raw as some of my fellows. The socks that I had brought were not regulation, and were of a thicker weave, which kept the boots snug and rubbing to a minimum. Some poor lads were in agony, and one even finished the march in his socks, carrying his boots over his shoulder, not caring a jot that he could end up on a charge. Fortunately, one look at his feet by the MO and he was excused for his lapse of decorum in the field.

We had to have dinner in wet clothes, so the dining hall and the mess did not smell pleasant. This evening, both Daniel and myself are sitting in our room, wrapped in blankets, while we try to dry our uniforms before tomorrow, something I fear will not happen since we have no source of heat in the room.

10 May 1915

The days follow the same pattern, start with two hours of drill, then breakfast, followed by Bayonet training, even though we have no bayonets at the moment. Our ‘rifles’ are made from planks of wood, but they work well enough when thrusting forward with a pretend bayonet on the end, or when using the ‘butt’ of the rifle as a cudgel. We are promised that, once the next consignment of guns arrives, we will learn to actually shoot the things.

After a rather measly lunch of sandwiches and tea, there are riding lessons for those without this skill. I cannot see how someone not in the cavalry would need to ride, but we have been told that some officers are expected to ride while on campaign, so we may as well all learn the skill. I am not a natural horseman and I am convinced that the animal that has been allocated to me does not like me one jot. I have fallen off at least twice during every lesson so far, as my bruised arms and legs will attest.

An hour of tactical training then follows, which is chiefly a matter of sitting quietly at desks listening to old officers telling us about how they fought in the Boer War. From what I have been reading in the newspapers, the men in France and Flanders have been sitting in trenches for the past few months, something that these men seem to know nothing about. I am assuming, therefore, that we will learn about that type of warfare once we are a little more experienced.

The highlight of the day is always in the evening, when we are set free to go to dinner, and then to settle in the mess afterwards. As I feared, some of the younger officers are already accumulating a fearsome tab that I am quite certain their first month’s pay will not cover. Peterson has already written to his father to ask for money to help him to settle the tab at the end of the month. This after only six days at the base!

19 May 1915

We were ordered to attend a roll call an hour before dinner to be told that we will be taking part in a field exercise this night. I have no idea what they will be expecting us to do, other than blunder around in the dark for a few hours. I am already anticipating Daniel’s reaction with something akin to dread.

20 May 1915

I am so tired tonight that I can hardly put two words together.

The ‘field exercise’ turned out to be a long march in the dark. I gather that the reason for this is simply that we will be required to do much of our work under cover of night. The CSM explained, in a moment or quiet rare calm for him, that the men can’t go out of the trenches by day because of snipers, so any repair work that involves leaving the safety of the trenches must be done after dark. This even includes relieving those leaving the front line, which would involve a march through the night back behind the lines.

While that all makes perfect sense to me, I found myself rather put out to be stumbling around in the dark in the fields around the barracks. We were taken at one point through a wood, where nearly all of us managed to stumble over the undergrowth at least once, causing great hilarity amongst those still standing. Even the CSM took a tumble, although no one laughed at him. I presume that, when we have to do this for real, we will be able to carry out the manoeuvre with the required degree of silence that would avoid alerting the enemy to our presence!

We returned to our billets at about 2.00 am, where we all slumped into our beds without even removing our boots. The training sergeants then came around at 6.00 am to wake us up and we were all given a dressing down for our failure to take proper care of our uniforms. I thought it was a bad show to make us get up at our normal time, but one learns quickly not to offer such opinions to the sergeants. Two men have already found themselves before the CO for such offenses, and any chance of them being more than 2nd Lieutenants following such behaviour is rather remote.

Fortunately, since none of us had bothered to ‘care for our uniforms’ the sergeants allowed the incident to pass, although we were forced to spend the day in them without having been given the chance to wash. I am taking this as a lesson in trench warfare, for I am quite certain that there are no bath-houses in the trenches!

31 May 1915

There are rather too many glum faces in the mess this evening. We were asked to settle our accounts for the month and I already have given loans to three of my fellow officers (all with signed agreements to repay!) so that they can pay for the drinks that they have showered upon their friends. Those of us who have run our own households for many years have little difficulty in keeping accounts of our spending – even if we occasionally spend more than we wish too – and so we all hope that our younger counterparts have learned something. Sadly I think they have learned that, if they spend too much, we will dig them out of the hole.

Tony looked at his watch, deciding that he needed to make for his bed. He was tempted to skip through to the parts that described battles, to see what Captain McGee thought of them, but decided to hold off and closed the manuscript.

There was always tomorrow evening.

Words in this post: 3346

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Sat Oct 27, 2012 12:14 pm 
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Name: Erica
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Chapter 4

The team returned to work the next day, but found only cold cases waiting for them. Each found themselves looking over at the empty desk opposite Gibbs, wondering whether there had been any improvement in the night. Gibbs had been given a promise that he would be contacted if there was any real news, but had heard nothing.

All of them wished that they could be called out on a case, anything to keep their minds occupied as they went over the events that had resulted in Tim’s injury over and over again. By now, each had begun to review their actions to see if they could have done something different to stop what had happened, but the result was always the same. None of them could have anticipated that concealed room, or the extra men hidden inside.

The day crawled along, before Gibbs finally released them early. Ziva went to the hospital to spend some time with Tim, and Abby would relieve her later in the evening. Gibbs left quickly, no doubt for a date with his work tools and bourbon, leaving Tony wondering what to do with himself. He didn’t feel like going out for a drink, or chatting up girls. Without really thinking about it, he was heading back to Tim’s apartment, stopping for Chinese take-out on the way.

Rather than risk dropping noodles on the manuscript, he ate at the breakfast bar first, before packing the cartons away to take with him when he left. He then sat back down at the desk and opened the manuscript.

8 June 1915

I am delighted to report that my revolver has finally arrived today. All of us now have our hand guns and so we can, at last, learn how to take care of and, more importantly, shoot with them. I have not attempted to take my gun apart myself, since Daniel dismantled his and now cannot fathom how to put it back together again. Fortunately, one of our fellows owns such a pistol himself and we were able to prevail upon him to do this job for us.

11 June 1915

I was given a pass to leave the Barracks for the weekend this evening, and so I will be able to leave tomorrow morning as long as I report back no later than Sunday at midnight.

12 June 1915

I have, with great disappointment, discovered that it will not be possible for me to get to Dublin for the weekend, since the trains have already been commandeered to transport out those ready to go on to their next billet. I did ask the Station Master whether it would be possible to find some space for me, but he refused, and commented that the chances of me finding a train back on a Sunday evening were non-existent, so I had better find something to do in the town here.

I have quickly discovered that there is very little for the off-duty officer to do, other than take a room at the local hotel, and walk around the town all day. I wrote to Mary from my hotel room when I first arrived, and found it a much longer letter than usual simply because I could think of nothing else to do for the morning. I then went out and wandered around the town for a good while, before I fell in with a group of officers who had been at the barracks for a longer time than myself.

They took me on a tour of the town, showing me the ruined Abbey, and the Priory that sits mournfully out in a field. Both have been abandoned in favour of more ideal accommodation closer to the town. One seemed to have read a good deal about the history of this place and droned on for nearly an hour. I cannot now remember a single thing that he said.

We then went for lunch at a rather tumbledown café, I was deeply suspicious of the surroundings, but the food was delightful, and very cheap. There were a good number of soldiers there when we arrived, and more arriving as we left, and so I will remember this place, since the meals at the hotel are far more expensive.

In the afternoon, the weather worsened, and so we spent our time at my hotel playing cards. It felt like we were in the mess, with my fellow officers ordering drinks with abandon, and without a care as to how they would pay for them at the end of the day. I have chosen to pay for any drinks with ready money at the point of purchase rather than have a tab, not only to keep an eye upon what I am spending, but also on how many drinks I have imbibed. After the incident with Jonny Mullen and the whiskey in the mess last week, I am determined not to repeat it in the hotel.

We left the hotel again and returned to the café for dinner, where we found a good number of locals playing music and dancing. They were more than welcoming and we had a jolly time with good food and company until we left at around 10 pm. I then bid farewell to my new comrades and returned to my room.

13 June 1916

Today I attended the local church to hear mass, which was a joy compared to the rather rough and ready service that we are given at the Barracks. The Chaplain is Catholic, but many of our fellow soldiers are not, and so he keeps his service very simple. I had to polish my own belt and boots, but I made a good show of myself before I walked down to the church. My efforts were rewarded by the rather admiring glances I received as I made my way down the main street.

It seems that I was not the only officer present when I reached the church, and I joined the three others that had attended. They were not new recruits like myself, as each had their insignia, but they were more than welcoming and shoved up the pew a little to allow me to sit with them. All of them were lieutenants, judging by the insignia on their cuffs, but they were due to move on to their next camp within the next few days.

Once the service was over, I was invited to join them for luncheon at the best hotel in the town. None of us were residents there, but the sight of our uniforms was enough to grant us entry to the hotel bar for a glass of whiskey before we ate. We spoke for some time, not only of our training, but also of the lives that we had left behind.

James Gaffney is a lawyer from Belfast, although he is a good deal younger than I am. He had been practicing for less than a year when he had volunteered, deciding to follow his two older brothers into the Army. He could have joined one of the northern regiments, but is rather a rampant republican, and so decided to volunteer in Dublin. He is with the Royal Munster Fusiliers, as he rather proudly pointed out on his cap badge. I was unable to discover why he had volunteered for the British Army, since his sympathies are entirely with home rule, but I suspect he was looking forward to shooting a good number of Germans.

Thomas Reardon is a Dubliner, and has been attached to the Royal Irish Regiment. I was familiar with the name, and we discovered that our fathers had known each other quite well. His father is a surgeon who had taken patients from my father. I was surprised that we had not met before, as my father is a very sociable man who liked nothing better than a large dinner party.

Lastly is Andrew Stewart, also from Dublin, the son of a Colonel, and so very much compelled to join the Army. He is only twenty years old, fresh out of University, but full of excitement to be going on such a great adventure. His father is already out in France, although the man has not seen any action himself, and Andrew is anxious to get out there before the ‘show’ is over. He has been attached to his father’s regiment, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, although not to the same Battalion. His father is with the 2nd Battalion, while Andrew is attached to the 6th.

We talked for an hour, exchanging stories of our days at the barracks. Of course, my tales were of little value compared to theirs, since they had been at the barracks for longer than I had. We then went through to the dining room and had an excellent luncheon, washed down with Champagne, paid for by Andrew, despite my offer to contribute. These men will be leaving in the morning, and they wanted to enjoy their last day here in style. I am quite certain that the Lord will not condemn them for such expense on His day.

After we had eaten, the others bid me farewell, and I wished them well in all their endeavours, before I watched them make their way back to the Barracks. I could have gone with them, but I wished for a little more freedom to myself before I returned. I took a walk out to the Priory ruins, which was rather pleasant in the spring sunshine, before I returned to the Barracks in time for dinner.

27 June 1915

We are to move out tomorrow for another camp at Ballyhooly. None of us were really expecting this, even though we have seen others leaving, and their replacements arriving for the past few weeks. While I am nervous to be leaving, I have now been attached to a Regiment as a Lieutenant, and my insignia has already been sewn onto my service jacket. I will be joining the 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and I have a cap badge to show for this now proudly sitting on the front of my cap. I feel like a proper soldier at last.

28 June 1915

I was hoping for a decent send off when we left Buttevant today, but presumably the people there are too used to the comings and goings to be that interested in watching those going to fight for their country move on to their next post. In the event, I was not too disappointed, since I now have a rank and a regiment. As Lieutenants, we will command a platoon of perhaps fifty men, but for now we will learn by commanding each other. For the first few weeks we will take turns at being in charge, and there is a chance for promotion to Captain for a few lucky ones if they impress enough. That will mean command of an entire company, which would be a fine job indeed.

Just as we had travelled to Buttevant, the journey to Ballyhooly was men crammed into too few carriages, and Officers settled in too many. I was, however, with five others who had been attached to my battalion. We will be working together for who knows how long, and so I was grateful that they were chaps that I had found pleasant in the first few weeks at Buttevant. I need not add that Daniel had not been attached to my Battalion, instead joining the Munsters, so he will be some other poor chap’s problem now.

The six of us together are myself, Stephen Mallon, Patrick Rourke, William Collins, Michael Doyle and my first companion Patrick O’Nally, and we make a jolly crowd if I say myself. We will, of course, not stay together since a company usually comprises of no more than four platoons, so we will be spread amongst however many companies the Battalion holds. For the time being, though, we intend to enjoy what little time we have left before we are sent to France.

There is little doubt that it will be France or Flanders for us, although there is still fighting in the south of the continent. There is too much going on, and too many casualties for us to hope for anything else. Already I have seen that we are putting aside matters that would normally divide us, not least where we stand on home rule. I have not asked their opinions on the matter, and they choose to do the same. What use is there in arguing over such things when there may come a time when our lives depend upon how we work together as a unit? It is surprisingly comforting to keep such opinions to ourselves and maintain only trivial conversation.

We arrived at a rather desolate station with a small village attached to it, which we marched through, Officers first, then Men, to a rather ramshackle excuse for a camp not far beyond the town. Unlike Buttevant, there is no history of a military presence here and it shows, with wooden huts taking the place of stone buildings. Our billets this time are huts which the six of us are required to share, although we were delighted to find a stove set in the middle of the room. Even though it is now summer, the weather is not humouring us with any summer weather, and the presence of that little luxury was most welcome.

Our first duty was to allocate billets for the men, or at least for our men. Although we have not been allocated to our platoons yet, the billeting officer was already determined to put us to the test and handed over his clipboard to Stephen, who promptly handed it to me, with a ‘come along Tim, you know more about these things than I do!’. In the end it proved to be quite an easy job, calling the men to order and then calling out twelve names for each hut. There were some protests, but I would brook no opposition and soon managed to get the men reasonably settled. The billeting officer then took the clipboard back, told me I had done a good job and sent us to our own hut, before handing the board to some other officers for their turn. I understand that this may be my duty while in the field, and so I am very glad that I made a good show of it first time around.

Even though the camp seems rather primitive, we still have a mess, which is kept in good order for us. Each night we are given an excellent meal, followed by an evening of cards, or smoking, washed down by the grand selection of whiskeys. I am most pleased to find the cost of the drinks more reasonable here than they were at Buttevant too.

1 July 1915

We have now been split into mock platoons, and I am one of the unfortunates chosen to take first command. I am commanding a group of officers from the Leinsters, while one of theirs has charge of my fellows. When we take command for real, we will have the care of up to 50 men, but for the moment I will be in charge of 5, and that is quite enough. I am a little concerned that they will take liberties with me, however it quickly became clear that they know that their turn will come and it would not be good form to give me grief now, when I could just as easily dish it back to them once they take charge.

We spent the morning at drill, and then some musketry, if you could call it that with wooden rifles (the real once are still conspicuous by their absence, so I hope that the men will receive them before we reach the trenches!). I then carried out a full kit inspection and was grateful to find almost all in order, the only exception being a beer stain on the jacket of one of the men, which I noted down, before ordering the man to report to the Sergeant immediately to have his jacket cleaned. To my eternal surprise, he did as he was told without so much as a quibble.

I returned to my own billet (since Officers do not bed down with their men) and the others fell upon me at once with endless questions about how my day had gone, before they told me about the ‘demonic’ officer they had been given, who had had them running around the parade ground for ten full minutes because William had forgotten to polish his boots before inspection.

I recalled the stories that Andrew Stewart had told me, of how a good officer was one who was firm with his men, but also merciful when necessary. An officer has to lead his men into battle, and how can he expect to do this if his men hate and resent him? His father had risen through the ranks with a faintly paternal relationship with his men, and if that had brought him success, I was determined to follow him. I will soon see whether such things work with my men, and how long it takes for my fellow officers to mutiny!

Letter to Mary McGee 3 July 1915

My dearest Mary

We have moved again, now housed in far less comfortable accommodation, however the companionship here is warmer than my previous billet. There are six of us together, and we get along very well. Our only difficulty is that two of us share the name Patrick, so we have christened one Pat, and the other Paddy, so we rub along together well enough.

I am able to tell you that I have been commanding some fellow officers for the past two days, and things seem to be going quite well. I am learning the administrative tasks that are the daily part of our lives, inspecting the men, organising working parties, and often leading them myself. I have been allocated an NCO to help me keep order, and he is a fine man, who seems to enjoy ordering the others around while he is still able too. My tenure in command will only last a short time before I must allow another a chance to take control, and so I am doing my best to make every moment count.

There is little in the way of entertainment for the men, and so the few of us who are currently ‘in charge’ have organised a football tournament to give the lads something to do. There are a good number of regiments represented at the camp, and so we have plenty of teams asking to be entered. I understand that the camp CO will attend the final, and so I hope that our hard work comes off. I will let you know how it went as the tournament will take place next weekend, marking the end of my spot in charge.

I have reviewed our finances, and I have no objection to Mrs Dempsey advertising for a new kitchen maid. It is a pity that Flora has gone, and I hope that her new husband treats her well. Please make sure that Mrs Dempsey does not employ a girl of too young an age, and that she has the adequate strength required for her duties. If you could also speak with O’Donaghue about the garden I would be grateful, since I fear that the Submarines prowling our waters may soon take too much of a toll upon the ships that supply us. I have already heard talk of rationing goods if this goes on, and so if he can sacrifice some of the less visible flower beds for growing fruit and vegetables I will rest easy that you and the staff will not go short of good food.

My sword arrived today, having been delivered to my last posting by mistake. The workmanship on the weapon is exquisite, even though I have not yet been told whether we will even take swords into battle. So far I have received some training on the use of my revolver, but I will also be required to fight with a rifle if need be. You will also be most amused to learn that my attempts at riding are slowly improving, and I am falling off my animal much less now.

Tomorrow I will be leading my little platoon out on a long march, which I am not particularly looking forward too, although the sky this evening promised a good day to come on the morrow.

I have also learned that it is possible to get to and from Dublin by train on a Sunday, which was not possible with our last posting. I cannot obtain a weekend leave for the moment, but if I can get away, I will come to see you as soon as I can.

10 July 1915

Today has been a full day, but a very enjoyable one. The football tournament that we organised was very successful, and I received a handshake from the CO with a word of congratulation as I had headed the organising committee.

During the week, I had received an afternoon pass and had wandered into the village where I found an old trophy in the village shop. It was a small cup, inscribed in honour of a hurling tournament in 1891, and had a small dent in the side. The shopkeeper sold it to me for a knock-down price, and I was able to prevail upon the local blacksmith to knock out the dent, before he managed to prise off the little plaque that mentioned the wrong sport and year. I am unable to replace it at such short notice, but even without an inscription, it is a fine little prize for the winning team.

Other than that, I have purchased a bottle of whiskey for the winning team to share, after obtaining the permission of the CO to give them alcohol. We ended up with sixteen teams entered, although some were from the same Battalions, although attached to different Companies. The training sergeants were drafted in to act as referees, and the tournament began at 9.00 am. The games were shortened, since we were required to wrap up the tournament by the end of the day, so we played for 15 minutes for each half.

The whole camp turned out to watch their comrades compete, and the competition was fierce. The enlisted men are already organised into their Companies, and so there is already a great loyalty between them. Good play was cheered, while any perceived bad conduct (even if none had taken place!) was hooted and jeered, but the general atmosphere was greatly convivial. Proceedings rattled along at a fine pace so that we had finished the first round of games in time for Lunch. The day was fine and warm, and so the food was brought out to us to eat as one giant picnic, which included glasses of beer for everyone.

The afternoon was even more competitive, and I was heartened to see that a team from my Battalion had won through to the semi-final. None of them were commissioned, but the man that they had elected as their captain would certainly make a good NCO, and I was quite sure that I saw the other officers watching him with that same opinion. Some men had already been given Corporal’s stripes, but there were still a good number to be granted, and I realised that even a football game could be used to consider suitable candidates.
I was, however, disappointed that the boys did not win their semi-final, leaving the final to be fought between teams from the Munsters, and the Leinsters. I should have liked to have seen my Battalion honoured with the little trophy, but in the end the Leinsters won. By this time, the CO had, as promised, joined us to witness the final game, and he looked very pleased with what he saw. The men were rowdy, but disciplined while the players give their all for their team, even congratulating each other once the game ended.
I had hurriedly organised a prize giving ceremony, which included a shake of the hand from the CO for the losing team. He then presented the trophy to the winning captain, along with the prized bottle of whiskey before giving a speech to congratulate us all for our hard work. He then called me forward and presented me with a bottle of whiskey of my own in honour of my work as head of the committee.

The day was finished off with a good dinner for everyone, and quite a lot of drinking in the mess afterwards. I was showered with a good number of those drinks, and went to bed quite merry.

Tony couldn’t help but smile at something that seemed so inconsequential as a football match when the men competing might well have been dead before the year was out. The words seemed to show that the men hardly realised just what they were letting themselves in for. He had to admit to himself that he knew very little about that as well. The few movies that he had seen seemed to show nothing but seas of mud, and men walking calmly to their deaths at the hands of machine-gunners.

He looked at his watch, realising he had been there for longer than he intended, although it was still quite early. Feeling a little less out of sorts, he picked up his gear and left, intent on a little bar hopping before he went home.

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I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2012 12:03 pm 
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Chapter 5

After another slow day, it was Tony’s turn to visit Tim at the hospital that evening. Gibbs would relieve him at around eight, so he had two hours in which to sit uselessly at his friend’s side, trying to think of something to say.

He arrived at the hospital to find Sarah settled beside her brother. She wasn’t speaking, simply holding his hand in the hope that her touch would be felt. She looked around as he came in, but he could see in her eyes that nothing had changed.

“The doctors have started to take him off the coma drugs, but there’s been no response.” She said, miserably. “They think that he’s in a real coma and they don’t know whether he’ll wake up on his own.”

“So…we have to keep talking to him? What about playing his favourite music or something?” Tony suggested.

“I guess so.”

“Do you want to take some time out now? I can sit with him until Gibbs comes later.”

Sarah yawned and nodded.

“I’ve been here most of the day, my parents will be back later to be with him through the night. Penny will come in tomorrow morning.”

“You’ve got things pretty much covered then. Get going, we’ve got lots to talk about!”

“Thank you Tony.” She smiled before picking up her bag and making her way out of the room.

“So…just the two of us then.” Tony said, breezily, as he sat down beside the bed. Tim did not respond in any way. Without a hint of hesitation, Tony reached over and took his hand. “Come on man, you gotta wake up. Gibbs e-mail stopped working again today and none of the geeks will come up from the sub-basement to try and fix it.” He then sighed, and looked around as a nurse came in to check on Tim.

“Is there anyone I can talk to about how things are going?” he asked.

“I’ll fetch a doctor now.” She smiled, hurrying out again. Not long afterward, a doctor came in and nodded to Tony before checking the chart.

“I understand that you need an update?” he began. “I can tell you that we have been withdrawing the drugs that have induced the coma, but we found that the head injury has caused a natural coma. We aren’t too worried right at the moment as it takes a while for the effects of the drugs to disappear completely, but we are keeping an eye on things.”

“When will you become ‘concerned’”

“That is something I can’t tell you right now. This is the problem with brain injury, we can’t give exact answers to anything, which is not what relatives want to hear. All I can tell you is that his vitals are strong so, for the moment, we are confident that he will wake up, I just can’t tell you when.”

“Some people don’t wake up though, do they?”

“It’s a possibility, but not one that we are entertaining right at the moment.” The Doctor insisted. “Why not spend some time talking to him, that can help.” He then gave an encouraging smile and walked out of the room.

Tony gulped and then turned back to the unconscious man on the bed.

“So… what do I say? Erm, well, we don’t have any juicy cases at the moment, so you aren’t missing anything. Ziva got a break on one of her cold cases, but we don’t know if that will pan out or not yet. Abby’s running a pool on how long it’ll take before Vance dares to ask Gibbs if he wants someone TAD’d to the team, no one has guessed less than three weeks. Ducky has decided that Vance will chicken out completely, so you’ll be glad to hear that.” He paused and stared at Tim again, looking for anything, even the flicker of an eyelid, to suggest that he could hear what Tony was saying.

“Look, I know I shouldn’t be doing this, but I’m reading your manuscript. I wish you’d told us what you were doing, it’s much more interesting than your other stuff. I wanna know why you decided to do it, cause you’ve never said anything about your relatives. Did this guy come to the States after the war? Don’t tell me, I’ll have to read it huh? You’re gonna have to tell me how you got hold of all those papers. I guess his own kids didn’t want them did they, so give them to the writer to sort everything and write up his story; sounds good to me.”

He carried on in a similar vein for nearly two hours, talking about work, movies, gossip, TV shows and many other things, but every now and then, his talk returned to the things that he had read.

“It’s totally insane that the guy looks so much like you, I thought you’d gone to a photo place to have your picture taken in an old uniform. Is that the only picture you have? There must be more from after the war, I wanna see how he looked when he got old, give me an idea of what you’ll look like when you get to Gibbs’s age…” he paused, and then leaned closer to Tim. “He’s right behind me isn’t he?”

Gibbs couldn’t help smiling a little at Tony’s confidential comment to Tim, even though he knew that there would be no response.

“Any change DiNozzo?” he asked.

“No Boss, they’ve taken him off the coma drugs, but he’s not shown any signs of waking. They think the coma’s real.” He then turned around, his eyes sad. “What if he doesn’t wake up?”

“He’ll wake up.” Gibbs replied, with absolute confidence. “He doesn’t have permission to sleep for that long.”

“I’ll get going then.”

“Going to read some more of that manuscript?” Gibbs asked.

“How long have you been standing there?”

“Not long, but Ziva told me what you were up too.”

“She’s dead…”

“Nothing wrong with what you’re doing. If you can read it all, intelligent folks might like it.”

Tony glared at Gibbs for a moment, knowing that the man was only joking, before allowing his expression to soften.

“I’m gonna run by his apartment again, and read a bit more. I’d take it to my apartment, but I can’t really when I can’t ask.”

“He wouldn’t mind, I’m sure of it.” Gibbs asserted.

“No, boss, I shouldn’t be reading it, but I guess I just want to know what happened to this guy.”

“Nothing wrong with that, now get going.”

14 July 1915

My period in command seems like a lifetime ago now. I thought myself quite the benevolent leader, but our replacements seem to be more tin-pot gods than good commanders. We have been inspected three times in one day, marched around the parade ground endlessly and shouted at endlessly by the Sergeants on behalf of our leaders. I try to recall how the men behaved with me when I was in command, and attempt to give that same courtesy to my own commanders, but it becomes more trying by the day.

One thing that I have noticed is that there is little interaction between them, so different from the good relations that I enjoyed with my fellow commanders. I cannot see any entertainments or sports being organised before their tenure ends, and there are whispers amongst us that this is not good form. I have chosen to stay silent on the matter as my chance to command is over for the time being.

One good thing to report is the arrival of the rifles and bayonets to be supplied to the men, it would be even more fortunate if the ammunition required to use with them had also arrived, but most ammunition is being sent straight to France. I am wondering when our unfortunate soldiers will be able to begin full target practice. We have used our revolvers a little, although our bullets have been supplied by one of our fellows, who went to the local village and bought a box for himself.

At least we are now able to complete bayonet training with real bayonets, which was rather enjoyable. The blades are longer than I was expecting, and are rather intimidating when the man wielding his rifle races towards you screaming like a banshee. I have also had the joy of racing towards a suspended sack carrying a borrowed rifle, before thrusting the bayonet into the unfortunate object. Even though we will not carry rifles ourselves, as we have our revolvers, even the officers are required to know how to fight with the longer guns, particularly when they are out of ammunition. We can stab with the bayonets, or we can use the rifle butts to break the enemy’s jaw or slam them into their neck. That is, of course, dependant on your getting hold on a rifle in the first place.

There is an ‘atmosphere’ in the mess at the moment due to the growing resentment against our current incumbents. I cannot help but believe that our superiors are watching us closely, and that the effect that our current commanders are having on the morale of their fellows will be noted, at least I hope so.

19 July 1915

Our commanders have discovered that they have a shortage of Captains in the line, and that HQ has ordered that some of us be trained to command a company, rather than a platoon. There is much grumbling amongst those of us who have already taken our turn at command, since we have not been given the chance to prove ourselves at that level. One other effect is the requirement for us to be allocated to our companies far sooner, which has reduced the number of days that the remaining cadets have to take their turn in command. This has produced grumblings from these chaps as well, so the mess is now even more the doldrums than before.

I have noticed that the enlisted men have heard the news as well, and are already taking bets as to which of us will remain as Lieutenants, and the lucky few who will step up to Captain. I will be honest and admit that I would dearly wish to be promoted, because I delighted in my duties for the short period that I was in command. I realise that there are many responsibilities that I would need to undertake, and that any failures would fall upon my head before that of the officers at my command.

Already, those of us who want the opportunity, and those who would rather remain at their current rank, are showing ourselves. I prefer to keep my wishes quiet, to avoid feeling foolish should I be overlooked, but others are already boasting of their ‘achievements’, although those of us unfortunate enough to be under their command might want to disagree. I have also decided not to inform Mary of a possibility that may never come to pass.

23 July 1915

We are to begin training with the men for the first time today, even though we have not yet all taken our turn at commanding the other cadets. This has come at a moment when we have found that most of the rifles recently sent were duds and have had to be returned for repair. What we will do now I have no idea.

The men were ordered to the parade ground for roll call and we were then attached to the various platoons. There are to be four platoons to each Company, which meant that my fellow five billet-mates are to be split up. Stephen, William and Michael were all attached to platoons in ‘A’ company, while both Patricks were sent to ‘B’ Company. I waited patiently to hear my name, but all of the platoons were given their commanders leaving four of us without a platoon to command. I was deeply disappointed, since this would mean that I would not be able to take part in the exercise.

The CSM then called my name and simply said ‘A’ Company, pointing at the group, before moving on to the next man. I went over to where another Sergeant handed me a black band and informed me that I would be commanding the company, and that he would assist me for the day. My three friends grinned at me and shook my hand, while the fourth man, Gerald Aherne, nodded to me with a tinge of resentment. Since this was only to be for the purpose of the exercise, I did not complain to him for his behaviour.

We were then taken aside and informed that ‘A’ Company would be pitted against ‘B’ company. They would be charged with defending a ‘village’ (in truth some of the billet huts) while we would attempt to attack and capture it. I have often heard the term ‘baptism of fire’ and this certainly felt like it. I could see the other Company gathered about another sergeant, no doubt already planning how they would defend their village, as I and my fellow officers began to wonder how we would attempt to take it from them.

The men had no guns, and so I ordered that they find something to use as a substitute for their rifles. They hurried away and then returned with whatever they had been able to find. A few of them still had rifles that had not been found to be defective, although I ordered them not to fix bayonets. The others had raided the store rooms and had found some of the wooden mock-rifles, but there were not enough to go around, forcing them to improvise. Stephen’s platoon had six rifles, twenty-eight mock rifles, fifteen hurleys and a walking stick.

We also had a machine gun crew at our disposal, although they did not actually have their gun. Since ‘B’ Company were also without the luxury of a machine gun, we were not that worried, although we were under orders not to shout ‘Bang’ or ‘Rat-a-tat-tat’ when we pretended to fire our weapons.

Under the instruction of our sergeant, I called the platoon commanders together and read out the orders that I had been given, and then described the battle-plan using a pencil sketch that had come with the ‘orders’. I found that I had very little opportunity to adjust the plans as I saw fit, apparently this is how it is at the front, the generals order what they want done, and the men follow that order without question. All that I could do was decide which platoon would go to which position, and where to put my machine gun crew.
We were advised that the artillery would be ‘bombarding’ the village for an hour before our attack, and then the men would march on the ‘village’ led by me and the platoon officers. We were informed that, if the watching sergeants decided that we had been hit, be it wounded or killed, they would call our names and we would have to step out. We officers were warned that we would be the first targets for the ‘enemy’ and not to be surprised if our names were called.

In the end, I had two platoons attack the village in front, with the other two in flanking positions, ready to attack from behind if possible. Of course, I had no idea what the officers of ‘B’ company were planning in order to repel us, although I noticed the two Sergeants conferring once we were ready to begin.

The exercise began at the point that the ‘bombardment’ was due to end. During this time, I had sent two scouting parties forward, who had returned intact to inform me where the ‘enemy’ had placed their gun crew, and snipers. Once we knew where the gunners were, I hastily adjusted the plan for my forward platoons, and as soon as the Sergeant yelled ‘bombardment lifted’ we went forward. I asked the men to cover the ground as fast as they could, and ran with them, my revolver in my hand.

We were surprised to find that ‘B’ Company were completely unprepared for our attack, having hidden themselves for too long after the ‘bombardment’. We over-ran our objective before they were prepared for us, although they made a good fist of trying to fight us off. At the designated moment, my other two platoons attacked and we cut off half of our opponent’s forces, leaving the commanders completely outnumbered. The attack was over in less than half an hour, and only then did I realise that twelve names had been called in the chaos, two of them Stephen and Michael, which had cost me two of my platoon commanders. By contrast, the ‘B’ Company, had ‘lost’ twice the number, including their company commander. We had, therefore, been deemed to have succeeded in our objectives.

We were then sent to the large patch of grassland behind the parade ground and given a rather fine lunch of potted meat sandwiches, chocolate and water (for the men) and tea (for the officers). We then spent the afternoon watching the other two companies attempting to do what we had just done. Their battle was far longer, and eventually the village was judged to have been ‘held’ rather than taken.

Despite the lack of success for ‘C’ company in taking the village, the sergeants were more than satisfied with the day’s sport and dismissed us for the remainder of the afternoon. We four ‘company’ commanders were then called to report to the CO. Such an instruction requires full regalia, and I was not short of volunteers to help me get ready, since I would even need my sword. We met outside the CO’s office looking like new shiny pennies, all uncertain what would happen. I assumed that we would be critiqued on our performance, and then then informed that we were not ‘captain’ material.

We were marched into the office where the CO, a Colonel by the name of Charles Brinsworth (known to everyone as ‘Crusty’ for his rather old fashioned ideas of soldiering). He watched us march in with a critical eye, and then proceeded to tell us exactly what the sergeants had thought of our actions in the field. We were all pretty much told that we were poor excuses for officers, which left us all feeling very low, only to then inform us that we would be confirmed in the ranks that we had been given that afternoon. We were to be promoted to the rank of Captain as of this day. We were shocked to the core, but at the same time delighted. It now turns out that the others will all retain their commands and that we are now a proper Battalion.

I am to report to the tailors in the morning to have my cuff insignia changed, while I must now become used to being in charge of men that I had previously counted as equals. We returned to the mess to find that the others had already been informed of our good fortune. They fell upon us as a group and I was thrown into a blanket, which was then used to hoist me up into the air six times, before I was tumbled out and the same treatment meted out on the others. A bottle of champagne then appeared and we had a good drink.

As of tomorrow, we will all work together, officers and men, to become a strong fighting force although I believe that, at this moment, we could take on every German in Christendom and win.

30 July 1915

At last, I have been granted leave for the weekend, and I will be able to go to my own home, if only for two nights. I am sitting on the train for Dublin, as the dusk deepens into night. I fear that I will not reach my home until well after dark, but I will be back with Mary, and I will cherish every moment.

31 July 1915

I got home well after midnight, but Parker was waiting up and ready with a strong cup of tea when I arrived. Mary had already gone to bed, but she hurriedly rose to come down to greet me, and laughed with delight at the sight of me in my uniform. We drank our tea, before retiring for the night.

It is such a delight to wake in my own bed, rather than in the barracks with five other snoring men. The room was so quiet, even with Mary asleep at my side, but the peace is deeply comforting. We enjoyed breakfast together, and were then driven into Dublin in a cab. I had not intended to wear my uniform, but Mary insisted that I should show off my recent promotion, and so we spent the morning strolling around the town formally dressed. A number of men approached me and asked if I had been to France, and so I was forced to admit that I was yet to be sent. A few looked a little shamed that they had not joined up, but I will not reproach them for it.

I understand that, in England, men are under great pressure to volunteer for service, but here the pressure is far less. I am proud to wear my uniform, but I have no animosity to any man who does not wish to serve. I would be a fool if I did not consider the possibility that I might die, or be maimed horribly, in the course of my service, and I would not want any man to face that unwillingly. I did notice, however, a number of envious glances aimed at Mary from wives who would rather have seen their husbands in uniform.

After a good lunch, Mary took me to a photographer’s studio, which explained her insistence that I wear my uniform. I am never comfortable having my photograph taken, since I am required to stand still for so long while the photographer adjusts his wretched contraption. Mary was settled at a table with a glass of champagne while I stood with my arms folded and stared at the camera attempting to look authoritative, or perhaps a little courageous. The photographer kept coming over to me to adjust my arms, or move my head, and then told me to move again once he got back behind his camera hood again. I was beginning to wish that I had brought my revolver with me when he finally took the photograph.

I then turned to Mary, who smiled at me encouragingly, watching me begin to wring my gloved hands. I could not help but smile back at her, before I heard the sound of the camera being operated again. The photographer seemed rather delighted with the pose that I had adopted, but then began prodding and poking me again while he took five more. I would then have a choice of which prints to buy, although I suspect that Mary would happily have taken all seven.

Once he was done with me, he called Mary forward and took some delightful photographs of her, before we posed for a few together. The appointment took up most of our afternoon, and I would not see the results before my leave came to an end, so I agreed that Mary could select whatever pictures she wished. She will send one of the portraits that the photographer took of her to me when she receives them.

We returned home, before attending a dinner party with the Henley-Pattersons in the evening, an invitation that we could not hope to refuse, although I did not attend in my uniform. I spent much of the evening talking about my training, where it was not too sensitive to do so, and attempting to avoid the subject of politics. Most of my fellow diners are protestants, and do not have any desire for home rule, so my opinions would not be welcomed. If truth be told, I have little care for such trivialities when there are men fighting and dying for the freedom of others only a few hundred miles from our dining table.

We were able to excuse ourselves quite early for once, since I am required to report to Ballyhooly again tomorrow. Had I been given the choice I would have preferred to remain at home with Mary for the evening, but we were able to spend a few hours together. I must end now, we wish to retire early this evening.

Tony stopped reading and reached over to the picture that was still lying on the desk. This had to be the one that Captain McGee had mentioned in his diary, his expression so unguarded, clearly not a staged pose. Abandoning the manuscript, he began digging through the boxes to find other photographs, but there were none there. Disappointed, he closed the manuscript for the night and yawned, deciding it was time to go home again.

Words in this post: 4181

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2012 4:33 pm 
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Chapter 6

A case came up the next day, which forced the team to devote almost all of their time to work. What little spare time they had was spent at the hospital, although by now Abby, Ducky and Jimmy had been added to the rota, all taking up the slack left by the workload that the team were facing. Although their minds were fully occupied, Tony could not help but wonder when he would find time to go back to Tim’s apartment to continue with the manuscript. More to the point, he was wondering why he was even that bothered to keep reading it.

Why should he be interested in the life of a guy that had lived long before any of them had been born? Under any other circumstances, he decided that he probably wouldn’t be, but there was just something about that photograph, the resemblance between that man and Tim that had sucked him into the captain’s story. He also recognised much of his friend’s character in the words that he was reading, perhaps that had been the trigger that had prompted Tim to compile the man’s story to share with the world.

The case took their time for almost a week, but was going nowhere. The leads had all but dried up, and they were on the verge of declaring it cold. Gibbs hated to admit defeat on a case, particularly as their record was so good, but even the best teams couldn’t always catch the bad guy. Ziva’s cold case had heated up and they had finally achieved a result, so there was always hope that this one would eventually go the same way.

When they had a chance to go to the hospital, they all discussed the case with Tim, even though he could not respond. Only Tony seemed able to change topics, trying to keep to the ones that he knew would annoy Tim, hopefully enough for him to wake up and tell Tony to shut up. His movie talk was his usual failsafe, but now he was also asking open questions into the ether about the Irish Captain that had captured his imagination. His latest move was to combine the two topics.

“I think this would make a cool movie.” He said. “There are loads of movies about World War Two, so why not bolster World War One a bit huh? Why aren’t there many films anyway, I guess because we turned up late to the party… Anyway, I was thinking who should we cast as your Uncle huh? Someone gung ho, or maybe some British guy… you have a think about it and let me know.”

Tim did not answer, not that Tony expected him too.

“Come on man, you gotta snap out of this.” He groaned.

The door opened behind him and he looked around as Ziva came into the room. She smiled at him for a moment, before her gaze moved over to where Tim lay motionless.

“Nothing?” she asked, softly.

“No.” Tony sighed. “It’s been more than a week now, shouldn’t there be something?”

“I do not know Tony.” She replied. “The doctors do not know either.”

“What if he’s brain damaged, if he even wakes up?”

“There is no point in thinking about that now…”

“I can’t think about much else. Can you imagine how it would be if his mind is ruined? He’s brainier than all of us put together, what if that’s all gone?”

“And what if he wakes up and recovers perfectly well?” Ziva responded. “You must try not to think the worst.”

“You know, I never really thought I’d see the day when McGee was the man down, I’m so used to him sitting behind that computer. I always thought we’d be the ones to get it.”

“I know, but he would not wish to hide away in the office while we were in the field. No matter what happens, he would not have changed one thing that led him here.”

“If he gets better, he’s never leaving the squad room again!”

“He will Tony, you would not be able to keep him there.”

“I’ll use Handcuffs.” He smiled sadly.

“And Gibbs would pick the locks if McGee asked him to. This is a risk that we all accept in the course of our work, you cannot deny him the job that he loves because of this. You would not want him to prevent you from going into the field if the roles were reversed.”

“I know.” Tony sighed, rubbing his forehead. “How long are you here for?”

“About an hour, Penny will be here through the night, but I might stay a little longer with her, perhaps ask her to tell me some stories.”

“Get her to tell you the most annoying ones that she can, he might be so mortified he’ll wake up and tell her to stop.”

“I will see what I can do Tony.” She then stopped him as he made to leave. “Go home Tony, no reading tonight.”

“I can’t promise that Ziva.” Tony replied, before leaving the room.

10 August 1915

I have so little time to write these days, my work seems to take up almost all of my day, with four officers, the NCO’s and the men to deal with. When I am not taken up with daily Battalion business, I am still training, either being drilled myself, or overseeing the men being drilled, musketry and bayonet practice, route marches and parade work. Then there is the tactical training, along with great dollops of military history, none of which seems to tally with the news that we are receiving from France. To date I have learned absolutely nothing about that tactics of trench warfare.

The training sergeants seem happy with my progress, and keep telling me that my constant disturbance at the hands of my company is the best training that I can hope to receive. What with reports of petty thieving or drunkenness to be dealt with, which falls to me to censure, keeping track of medical problems for an entire company, and many other such tasks, I have only had time to write to Mary, which I will not neglect. And so other things must fall by the wayside. I will try to keep a more ordered diary once I reach France, so that I can better recall my days there once this whole mess is over.

14 August 1915

The new rifles have finally arrived, and all seem to be firing cleanly. First lesson of the day for the men, keeping the things clean so that they do not blow up in your face when you fire them.

Four men sick with stomach complaint, blame their dinner last night, but others seem fine. Corporal Jackson believes it is more likely to be the large bottle of rum that he found under the bed of one of them. I have decided not to take any punitive action, a night with their heads in a bucket is punishment enough.

15 August 1915

A day of freedom! I have a single day of leave, and so I can spend more time for myself. I went to the church in Ballyhooly today, and heard mass for the first time in weeks, and even went to confession, which would please my father as he is always saying that I am a poor servant of God if I do not confess my sins regularly.

I was able to write a very long letter to Mary, whom I miss more as each day goes by. Her selected photograph has now arrived, set in a folding wallet that I shall be able to carry with me when we finally leave for France. At present it is displayed without shame on my night stand. I am the only married man in my billet, and the others, in more informal moments, tell me that I am a fool to have volunteered for service with such a fine wife at home. There are days when I agree with them.

Although there is little to do in Ballyhooly itself, the fine weather has allowed me to walk in the countryside, and I value the solitude. At home, if I wish to be alone, I can go to my study and read in peace. Here, there is no peace to be had, since the officer’s billets will always have at least two other men present when I am there. Even when I am supposedly ‘off duty’ I cannot be certain that I will not be disturbed by some matter or other. There seems to be a never ending stream of incidents that the platoon commanders feel that they cannot deal with by themselves, and so such matters are always referred to me.

I have been told that I can insist that the matter be dealt with completely by my lieutenants if I deem this to be the case, but I have found it more trouble than it is worth. Half of the incidents seem so petty that I have no desire to make an issue of them. I have even been called upon to decide whether an offence has been committed because a protestant soldier was whistling while a catholic soldier was attempting to pray, and would not cease when asked to do so. I can only hope such trivialities will fall by the wayside once we are in the thick of battle, because I need my men to pull together as one, not to fall out over such pettiness.

We are still a few months away from being shipped to France, since we much complete a period of training here, which will end in September, before we go to England. Even then, we will be fortunate if we see French soil before the end of the year. As news of casualties comes through, I am beginning to hope that this whole nightmare will end before we are called upon to go. There is a rumour that, if numbers get much worse, we may have to go straight to France without completing our training. The training sergeants scoff at such a notion, and I try to keep with their belief that we will not be sent before we are ready.

I have found a quiet spot beside a stream as I write this, and the only noise to trouble me is the ripple of the water as it makes its way to the sea. I have always lived in the city, and never thought that anything in the countryside would interest me, but after weeks of shouting, marching and firing guns, the beauty of the world around me has taken on a new meaning. There are birds flying around, and singing most heartily, but I have no idea what they are called. Perhaps, when the war is finally over, I will buy myself a book and come back here to identify them.

We had a church parade this evening, led by the protestant chaplain who is attached to the Royal Irish. No one is quite sure why he volunteered for his post, as he seems very unwilling to be here. William whispered that he was compelled to join up after losing his parish following a liaison with his wife’s maid, but none of us really believe that. The service was perfunctory, and very short, allowing us all to return to the mess for the evening, although I was called away almost at once to deal with yet another accusation of pilfering within A company. It turned out that the soldier had left one of his boots outside the bathhouse, only for it to be missing when he returned for it. He accused another man, even though the soldier’s feet were too large to fit into the missing boot. Gerald Aherne referred the matter to me, but after a few enquiries, I discovered that the boot had been retained by the sergeant in charge of the bathhouse to await the return of the owner. Had the foolish soldier, or his platoon commander for that matter, asked at the bathhouse when the boot was first missed, this would not have happened.

I dismissed the soldier, after a stern lecture with regard to accusing others without good reason, and the importance of taking care of one’s kit. Once the private, and the NCO, had left I asked Aherne why he felt that I should have been asked to deal with such a small matter, since this was something that he should have been able to conclude himself. He was unable to offer any reasonable explanation, and so I informed him that I expected him to take full responsibility of his platoon in future, otherwise I would have no choice other than to report his failure to take authority at a more senior level. I dislike having to make such threats, and I sincerely hope that he takes my words seriously.

19 August 1915

Riding lesson today, managed to remain seated on my horse for the entire lesson.

21 August 1915

Led the whole company on a route march today, no stragglers when we returned. ‘B’ Company managed to lose an entire platoon somewhere on their march, they finally made it back to the camp at dusk.

Aherne’s platoon still causing problems, which he seems unable, or unwilling, to stamp down. I fear that I may need to take more strenuous action to enforce discipline as this is beginning to bring my company into disrepute.

24 August 1915

I have spoken to Aherne about his failure to control the discipline in his platoon. Almost at once, I could see that he is a bag of nerves, and I fear that he may be losing it under the pressure of command. We spoke at length about the behaviour of his men, as there seem to be rather too many strong characters who have difficulty accepting the authority of a man younger than them. There is also the sad truth that several of them are catholic and do not want a protestant commander. I truly believe that, if this situation is allowed to continue, Aherne will crack and I cannot allow any man to suffer such a fate.

I have discussed the matter with Major Torrington, who concurs that we cannot allow the matter to continue. He agrees that the problem may not lie so much with Aherne, since he seemed well equipped to command when we were given our posts. We have, therefore, decided to shift Aherne to Michael’s platoon, and Michael will take charge of Aherne’s. Michael is older than Gerald, and is a catholic, but also a far stronger character more than able to stand up to the more vocal of the platoon. By contrast, Michael’s platoon is far more brotherly, and will respect their commander if he treats them well, as Aherne has already proven he is able to do.

1 September 1915

Riding lesson came to an abrupt end today when the training Sergeant’s horse bolted after a motor-van backfired. The animal came to a very sudden halt at the paddock fence, and the poor man carried on, over the fence, before landing in a water trough. Rather amusing, but fortunately no injuries to speak of for either man or horse.

3 September 1915

Our route march yesterday ended miserably with a violent rain storm, and I woke this morning with a chill. I managed to get through parade and Drill practice, before my knees gave way and I was all but carried to the MO, who has admitted me to the infirmary. This is not how I wish to spend my time in training, since I feel quite well now, but cannot persuade anyone to let me out.

7 September 1915

I have learned that I shall never be a doctor. My hand is still trembling a little as I write this, but I have been too weak to even hold a pen these past few days. I thought myself well enough on Friday evening, and was determined to leave the infirmary, but by midnight I was, apparently, running a high fever. I have no real recollection of the next few days, other than fleeting glimpses of half remembered faces.

Pat visited me today, and brought me an orange that he had managed to find in the village. He told me that they had been most concerned over my condition by the Saturday night, and had considered moving me to hospital in Dublin. There had been talk of pneumonia setting in, however, it seems that my constitution is stronger than the medics believed, as my condition improved a little by Sunday afternoon. The MO is considering granting several weeks medical leave for me, but with the Battalion due to leave for England before the month is out, I am quite determined to oppose this move. I will recover here just as easily as I will in a convalescent home in Dublin. My opinion might be different had he agreed to my leave being spent at home.

It seems strange to me that the man that always used to call me ‘Tim’ now only refers to me as ‘Sir’ since he is still a Lieutenant, while I am a Captain. I wish he would cease such formality while I am sick, but it is against regulations to be so familiar with an officer who outranks you. At least I was able to persuade him to share the orange, since I found that I was not strong enough to peel it.

I am heartened to know that all the men of ‘A’ company have been concerned about my illness, since any indifference on their part would have worried me. One day, I may have to lead them into battle, and if they care nothing for me now, I fear that they would not follow me to the village shop, let alone the enemy lines.

9 September 1915

I am still under the supervision of the MO, but at least I am now out of bed. The weather has warmed up considerably, and I was able to sit outside for a while, with a decent view of the parade ground. I could see some of the Munsters practicing drill, and was pleased to note that my boys are superior to them in every way!

11 September 1915

I have, at last, been freed of the infirmary, without the need to convalesce I am glad to say. I am still tiring rather easily, but I am grateful to find that my duties have been carried out in my absence by Stephen, who has willingly stepped up as acting company commander for me. I will need his assistance for the next few days, while I regain my strength, but he is quite glad that I have returned, since he found many of my duties rather demanding. I, on the other hand, am grateful that I know of at least one man who can help me if things go awry for me once we are in the face of the enemy.

I wrote to Mary to assure her of my recovery, since she was not allowed to come to the camp while I was sick. I would very much like to visit her, but we are perhaps days away from leaving Ireland, and I must be with my Battalion while we make ready to go.

There has been some disquiet in ‘C’ Company after two men deserted during the night. Tom O’Keefe is frantic as he is the Company Commander, and already the CO is breathing down his neck to have the men found and returned for Court-martial. He has my sympathy, since he cannot be truly responsible for two of his men absconding. This is one of the more difficult facets of our position, since both he, and the platoon commander are finding themselves under scrutiny by the others, who are asking whether they are responsible for the desertions.

I believe that the two men simply decided that war was not for them and took off back to their old lives, but that is of little help when our senior officers are long standing regular soldiers who bought their commissions as a lifelong career, rather than we fools who joined in a time of war, with lists of the dead being received on a daily basis. I wonder that we haven’t lost more men before now.

With this in mind, I sent orders for all four platoons to assemble on the parade ground, where I addressed them personally, rather than through my officers. I informed them of the punishments that await deserters, particularly in the face of the enemy, and reminded them of their duty as soldiers to serve their country, be it Great Britain or Ireland. I finally appealed to their sense of comradeship, telling them that to desert the Army, would be to abandon their comrades. To my relief, my speech was greeted with a cheer, and I was able to dismiss them knowing that I would not lose any of them in the night.

13 September 1915

I received a letter from Mary today to tell me that our friend Joseph Calhoun was killed in action a week ago. She cannot tell me where he was, or what happened, only that his wife, Deirdre, received a telegram from the war office with the news. He had only been in France a few weeks, less than six I believe, and such tidings are a terrible blow as he was such a good friend to me.

Mary is pleading that I resign my commission at once and come home, and at this moment, I wish that I could leave too. I am not some sentimental fool who believed that I would live a charmed existence on the battlefield, but the strong possibility that I may die within days of being sent to the front has never before quite crossed my mind. I suppose that I have simply refused to think about it, since such morbid thoughts cannot produce good command.

I have little choice other than to reassure Mary that I will take as much care as I can while I am on duty, and that I cannot abandon the men that I have been trusted to command. Even if I wanted to flee, the desertion of an officer would be seen as far worse than that of one of the men. If we ever catch up with the two deserters from ‘C’ Company, they can expect field punishment No1 for however many days that their Captain, with the authority of the CO, may decide. I would face nothing less than a firing squad.

Instead, I obtained a few hours leave, and went to the church to light a candle for my dear friend, and for his poor widow. Deirdre is, for the moment, staying with Mary, since there is little hope that Joe’s body will be returned to Ireland for burial, my guess is that it will already be interred somewhere in France. If I can, once we arrive, I will attempt to find his grave and leave a tribute there on her behalf.

17 September 1915

We have received orders to prepare to depart for England in three days. We were expecting this news, but are still surprised at the sudden nature of the announcement. I had hoped to be able to obtain permission to go home for a few days first, but that will not be possible. All I can do is write a short letter to Mary before I must abandon all personal moments while the Company prepares to go.

20 September 1915

I am currently on a train rumbling slowly along the Welsh coast, jammed into a compartment with my Platoon commanders. The atmosphere is jovial, and there is a rather noisy game of bridge being played by the window. Michael is snoring in the seat opposite me while I balance my notebook on my knees.

This journey has, so far, been nightmarish. It began well enough, as we marched out as a Company, at the head of the Battalion, behind the Royal Irish, and ahead of the Munsters. I had to ride, which was most uncomfortable, since I am still not quite assured of my horsemanship skills. I have been assured that there will be few horses available for such frivolities when we reach France. The train to Dublin was crammed, so that only the Company Commanders were able to sit in the compartments, with a few for those Platoon Commanders who were quick enough to bag them. The rest had to stand in the corridor. Even with three trains laid on, I dread to think of the conditions that the men were forced to endure.

We sailed from Cork, on a stinking cattle boat, in hellish seas, where some of us, myself included, found that we have no sea legs. I was fortunate to be berthed in a cramped little cabin, although my companion did not stay long once I found the need of a bucket. In the end, good old Pat O’Nally spent the journey conveying soiled buckets to the deck for me, chuckling all the way at my weak stomach. The sailing seemed to take days, and the nausea did not let up for a single moment, until we finally reached Pembroke Dock.

As soon as we were settled on the train, I was forced to eat some dry bread and drink some water, which I am glad to say, stayed down, and so we are now on the British mainland. I have never left Ireland before, although I could have joined my brother, William, in America when he chose to emigrate two years ago. I received a letter from him the morning of our departure telling me that I was a fool to be getting involved in a war waged by a foreign king. We never quite agreed upon the matter of politics, particularly loyalty to the people who govern us. I have no doubt that is why he chose to go to America, where there is no king to rule over anyone.

I have decided not to send a reply, since I have little to say other than matters surrounding my training. I have no interest in his political ideals at this moment, when there are far more pressing items to attend too. Already I have a long list of things that I must do when we arrive, even though we are to spend another three months in training at Blackdown before they will allow us anywhere near the French coast. I do hope that we may be trained in the art of trench warfare while we are there.

Tony smiled as he found the US connection in the McGee family. It seemed too that Tim wasn’t the first member of that family to have a difficult relative to deal with. They must have, somehow, managed to patch up their differences if they both ended up living in the States. He would have to grill Tim about that when he woke up. His face then fell as he found himself adding if he ever woke up.

Words in this post: 4548

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2012 3:09 pm 
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Chapter 7

Yet another case reared its ugly head almost as soon as the last was declared cold. Gibbs was furious that this was eating into the time that they had promised to Tim’s family, but there was nothing that he could do. They understood that the job had to come first, because it had always come first for Tim.

Once again, they were dividing their time between work, hospital and bed, and so the manuscript lay undisturbed in Tim’s apartment for yet another week. There was also no news from the hospital.

This time, the case ended abruptly, when an unexpected lead led to an arrest. For once, all of the team went straight home to sleep, leaving hospital duty in the hands of Abby, Jimmy and Ducky.

Tony awoke to a musty damp smell, and looked around to find himself standing on mud, surrounded by mist. Bewildered, he made to step forward, only to see a dark shape stumbling towards him. Reaching for his gun, he found his holster missing and realised he was wearing the t-shirt and sweats that he had put on to go to sleep. With no other choice he took up the stance that he usually adopted when getting ready for a fight.

Just as he was about to yell a warning to the approaching stranger, the man lumbered into view. He found himself staring at Tim, who stared back at him with equal bewilderment. Looking his friend up and down, he noticed that he was wearing a uniform, and wondered which ‘Tim’ he was looking at.

“Tony?” the man asked, his voice fearful. “What’s going on?”

“Tim? I…I don’t know.” Tony garbled.

“I’m tired Tony, I really don’t want to be doing this right now. The joke’s over!”

“What joke? Tim, why are you dressed like that?”

“Like what?” Tim then looked down at himself and then gazed back at Tony. “I don’t know…”

“Look Tim we…” he didn’t finish the sentence as a bullet whizzed past his ear and shattered Tim’s skull, right between the eyes. “Tim!” he yelled, sitting up suddenly.

Looking around, he was now in his own bed, and he realised that he had been dreaming. Without a thought, he reached for his phone and tried to think who was at the hospital right now. It was likely one of the family, but he had no idea which, so he took a guess and hit the speed dial for Sarah.

He was surprised when she answered right away, her voice a little panicked.

“Sarah.” Tony began. “I need to know if Tim’s okay.”

What?” her voice calmed right away. “I don’t know, I’m at home. There was no change when I left an hour ago. You scared me Tony!

“I’m sorry…It’s just, I had this dream that he died and… well…” his voice trailed off.

Look, my Dad is at the hospital now, and he would call me if there was a problem. If he calls me, I’ll call you, okay?

“Thanks Sarah…sorry.” He sighed as he hung up, feeling rather foolish.

Perhaps he was getting a bit obsessed with this whole war thing, he needed to get back to sleep.

An hour later, he was still awake. Looking over at the clock he saw it was nearly 3 am, and he could feel that he wasn’t going to go back to sleep. Hardly realising what he was doing, he showered and dressed in his work clothes, gathered up his gear and left his apartment. Half an hour later, he was letting himself in to Tim’s apartment and sitting back down in front of the manuscript.

22 September 1915

We have, at last, arrived at Blackdown Camp for our final training before we leave for France at the end of the year. I was unable to see Mary before I left Ireland, and now I fear that I may not see her again for months. I have been told that the chance of home leave only arises after you have served abroad for at least one year. I pray that the war does not last that long.

We are no longer just one Battalion, we have the 8th Battalion with us and are now looked upon as a brigade, the 48th Brigade, in fact. We are part of the 16th Irish Division, and are just one of eight Regiments, or Brigades. Of course the Leinsters and Munsters are with us, and the Royal Irish, but now we are almost swallowed up with the addition of the Connaught Rangers, the Royal Irish Rifles, the Inniskillings and the Royal Irish Fusiliers. We have already had several moments of confusion with no less than three brigades using ‘Royal Irish’ in their title. The Rifles turned up for parade when the Fusiliers were expected, and the CO of the Regiment has already complained that he has received missives for both of the others by mistake.

The Brigade commanders have become quite a tight knit little group, but at Company level, there is far less fraternisation. We tend to keep to our Battalions while in the mess, as there is rather a lot of unnecessary competitive talk amongst some of the Battalions that we have not rubbed against before. The old, intimate, nature of our Barracks has gone, replaced instead by a huge room full of loud men that like to play the gramophone loudly, and sing too while we try to read or play cards. I fear that it may take a long time for us to become accustomed to this new regime.

26 September 1915

I had hoped that the training would improve now that we were in the hands of the British Army at one of their permanent barracks. So far, we have done little more than drill the men, march around the local countryside and undertake minimal target practice – once again due to lack of ammunition. I have not heard one word about trenches, and know absolutely nothing about them. How does one access these without being seen by the enemy? Where will we live while holding the line? Are these trenches wide enough for tents or shelters? The newspapers are of little assistance, although I have seen some photographs of real trenches that were sent to one of the training officers. They look vastly uncomfortable, but he is of the opinion that this is just the very front line, he believes that there are other trenches that the men actually live in.

We had word today that the two missing men from ‘C’ company were found in a pub in Dublin, having tried to secure work at a local factory. There are being shipped over to re-join the Battalion, and I am glad that I am not the one who must decide what is to be done with them. The rumours flying around are quite shocking, the worst being that they will be shot at dawn in front of the entire division as an example to us all. As far as I am aware from the regulations, such a punishment will only be brought to bear if the desertion is in the face of the enemy. The less outlandish rumours are the number of days that they will carry out field punishment No 1, which I believe is torturous enough in itself. There is a poor man undergoing that punishment at the moment, each day tethered to a post and left with hard labour for the entire day. I watched him for a while yesterday as he tried to break stones with a large hammer, and I think I saw tears in his eyes. He still has five more days of this to serve. I pray that I never have to mete this punishment out to any of my men.

There is no Catholic church near the camp, and so my only succour from the Lord must come from the brief church parade that takes place each Sunday. The camp chaplain is a Methodist, and has no liking for ‘papists’. Our own chaplain, Father Joseph, has asked for the opportunity to take the service occasionally, as have one or two of the other protestant chaplains attached to the other Battalions, but the CO will not be moved. He noticed that I was holding a rosary at parade last week and glared at me, but I took no notice.

Father Joseph has decided to say a short mass before dinner on Sunday for any man in our battalion who wishes to attend. We were granted permission to use one of the larger lecture rooms, and this was a good thing too as half the Battalion turned up. We were only there for half an hour, but all of us left feeling more comforted in our faith than any amount of time at Parade.

29 September 1915

Riding lessons have begun again, the new horse is even more disagreeable than the nag I was given at Ballyhooly. Fell off three times.

1 October 1915

I have been granted weekend leave, as have Stephen and Paddy Rourke, and so we are visiting London for the whole weekend.

2 October 1915

We arrived at London Waterloo at 10 o’clock and, despite our uniforms, dispensed with all formality for the duration of our visit. For the next two days I am ‘Tim’ not ‘Sir’ and the experience has been liberating.

We could not contain our delight at the sight of such a huge city, so completely unlike our home. There were so many people, few showing any interest in three young officers experiencing the city for the first time. We had been given rooms at a boarding house in Paddington, and so had little choice other than to attempt to navigate the underground railway service, once we discovered where we needed to go to find the trains. We found the boarding house with some difficulty, although the rooms were clean and well kept. There were a number of other officers staying there, but none were Irish, and looked on us as country bumpkins, not that we cared in the least.

Once we had abandoned our luggage, we went back out into the city, where we went to Westminster, to see the grand palace where our masters decide our lives for us. We then walked through St James Park to Buckingham Palace, although we were too late to witness the famed ‘changing of the guard’. Stephen had received his allowance from his father and was feeling very much well off, and so took us to lunch at the Ritz Hotel. The meal was quite lavish, despite the difficulties that the English are encountering because of German Submarines, with three courses, including a roasted chicken and champagne. I am quite certain that I have drunk more champagne since joining the Army than I ever did before.

Stephen refused to take any payment for the meal from either of us, and so we insisted upon taking him to see a music hall show in the evening in return.

We turned a few heads as we walked down Shaftesbury Avenue, no doubt because of our familiarity with each other, despite the extra pip on my sleeve. For once, I could not give a fig for the glances of others, I am quite sure that this will be the only chance I have to see London before I go to France, and I doubt that I will return once I have gone home to Dublin.

During the afternoon, we went shopping for extra linen and socks, since the things we currently have are now rather worn. I also bought a new pair of boots and some leather polish to stop my belt from cracking. We all found some back packs that claim to be completely waterproof, which will come in useful when we are marching through France. I finished my afternoon purchase with some more notebooks so that I can continue my journal.

Stephen has managed to purchase a pocket camera, a rather ingenious device that, when closed, is not much larger than a cigar case. He has decided to take it to France to take lots of pictures of us when we reach the trenches.

We found a show at the Apollo and were able to buy good seats. I have never visited a music hall before, since my father has always disapproved of such places, and I felt quite the naughty child as I sat there. There were a good number of soldiers in the audience, some on leave from France, and they were already distinctly merry before the curtain rose. There were mainly officers in the stalls, while there were rank and file men in the gallery at the top of the theatre, all singing along merrily with the performers on the stage.

For all my father’s comments about the immorality of the Music Hall, I found the show rather tame. The costumes that some of the chorus girls wore were a little revealing, but certainly not the epitome of sin that I had been led to believe. The cast were not upset in the slightest to have the audience drowning them out as they sang, while the comedians seemed to relish the heckling that came their way. We had a grand time and were sorry when the show was over.

We finished of the day with a small supper at a restaurant just off Piccadilly Circus before splashing out on a cab to return us to the boarding house. Stephen is, as I write, wrestling with his new camera, and has managed to work out how to assemble the thing. I believe he has just attempted to take a photograph of me too. I am uncertain whether I wish to see the result of that.

5 October 1915

New CO in charge of the division inspected the men today, and informed the senior officers that he found the junior officers lacking. We were shocked to hear his opinion, until we discovered that the only matter that he finds disagreeable is that some of us do not have moustaches, which is required in the King’s Regulations. I, for one, am mortified that I am required to attempt to cultivate such a feature on my face. I attempted to maintain a moustache when I was in my early twenties, but the damned thing never grew properly and my father insisted that I ‘shave the infernal thing off before anyone thought something had died on my face’.

It seems somewhat strange that we are forced to grow a certain style of facial hair, but there is no requirement for us to know how to fight in trenches.

9 October 1915
My upper lip will not stop itching.

11 October 1915

Another route march at night, stumbling through the woods and over some heathland. There was no moon shining and so we spent much of the time groping in pitch black. We were ordered to roll out barbed wire in the darkness, which went fairly well until I tripped over something and landed face first in the wire. I am not too badly hurt, a few light cuts on my hands and face, but I fear that I panicked the men at the time, since the wire looks fearfully sharp, and needs to be handled with gloves.

Things then went from bad to worse for me on the march back when I stumbled into a boggy patch on the heathland and ended up knee-deep in mud. I was pulled out, but left one of my boots behind. One of the lads was able to fish the thing out for me, but I had to finish the march wearing only one boot, and my left foot now hurts somewhat. We returned as the sun was rising, delayed by my mishap, to find Stephen with his wretched camera. He now has a photograph of me covered in mud and blood, and no doubt with a most disagreeable expression on my face. He has told me that he will decide how much I will need to pay to stop him sending the photograph to Mary once the film is developed.

My lip now looks like I am wearing the offspring of a slug and a caterpillar.

Tony stopped reading for a moment and chuckled at the idea of Tim perhaps one day coming into the squad room with a moustache. He had, briefly, attempted to grow some facial hair after Tony had taunted him over the use of moisturiser. Gibbs had quickly put a stop to that, since the look would clearly not suit the younger man. Since then, Tim had lost a good deal of weight, and he wondered now whether a moustache might now work. With a sudden smile, he found a piece of cellophane and placed it over the picture of Captain McGee. Taking a pen, he carefully drew two small lines on the cellophane to make a moustache and then inspected his work with a critical eye. Right away, he nixed the idea, even taking into account his rather poor artistic skills, there was no way the moustache suited the man in the picture. Yep, Tim would look ridiculous too.

15 October 1915

We were given an afternoon at leisure, and so the lads spent the afternoon playing football, before persuading the NCO’s to play against the Officers for one match. I have never been a decent sportsman, but I acquitted myself quite well, scoring a goal. I suspect, however, that Sergeant Hopkins would have saved the goal had he not tripped over Corporal Mulhane in his attempt to run back to the goal posts. It was, however, a pleasure to watch the troops all sat around the ground shouting and laughing, enjoying the appalling display of sporting skill before them. Our Battalion has already achieved a reputation for having a strong loyalty to one another, and the way that the men all turned out for the afternoon, when they were not required too, is a tribute to my NCO’s and Officers.

18 October 1915

The officers have, after an interminable wait been told that we can have a servant each. All of the officers may select one of the men to act as a valet for them, and I will own that I have become increasingly desperate for someone to help me keep up with all that I am expected to be as a Captain. I am finding it nearly impossible to carry out my duties, and also maintain my uniform to the standard expected. My platoon commanders are also experiencing more duties than time to fit them in, and having someone available to look after the more basic matters will be an enormous help.

I am not sure why I am so willing to take on a personal servant, after all, I do not have a valet at home. However, I am finding that I have so little time to devote to personal things, not least keeping my journal, that the assistance may grant me a few moments more to at least write longer letters to Mary. It shames me how short my recent missives have been, simply because I have no time to write anything longer.

As Captain, I will have first choice, and there is no shortage of men who wish to apply for what is a rather prestigious position. I spoke to Major Higgins on the matter, as I am not sure what qualities I should expect, and he was quite explicit on the matter. He told me that the best Batmen will have been valets in civilian life or, if there are none to be had, any man who has worked in service. Loyalty and discretion are the most vital qualities, for uniform maintenance can be learned. I am surprised that he referred to the servants as Batmen, since that is a term for the Warrant Officer servants, however it sounds better than ‘soldier-servant’ and I think I will use the term myself.

After some deliberation, I selected one of the younger lads, Charlie Connor. We have no domestic servants in our Company, but his mother runs a small hotel in Waterford. His uniform is always well turned out, and he is fiercely loyal to the Company. Some of the other men were quite surprised at my choice, because they had heard that the Servant could be called upon to act as a bodyguard for their officer. Since Charlie looks like he would need my protection more than the reverse, I could see their point. However, he is a bright lad, who can read and write well, a talent rather absent in many of the men in our Company.

The Platoon commanders have now selected their men, and we have installed them in what had been an empty room within our billets. The others are older than Charlie, and seem to have developed a decidedly fatherly attitude towards him. We are surprised at how well they rub along together, although I would suspect that they would rather get along than risk being returned to the ranks.

There is nothing better than looking up to find a cup of tea being placed beside you when you are busy with written duties.

21 October 1915

I have received a complaint from the paymaster that several of my men are not signing for their pay. It is an embarrassment to admit that a good number are farm lads and simply cannot write. I have asked my platoon commanders to identify all men who cannot write so that they can be taught, at the very least, to be able to read and write their name. Father Joseph has gallantly agreed to take on the task, and he will work with each man individually and keep at them until they need no reminder. I would dearly love for them to be able to learn to read and write anything, but there is simply no time.

I had, initially, asked the camp chaplain if he could aid Father Joseph, but the man merely laughed and told me that it is not uncommon for those who have come from the city slums of Britain to be in the same boat and not to concern myself about it.

I am beginning to dislike the camp chaplain.

22 October 1915

More training in organising ‘work parties’ this time gathering wounded from a battlefield. There were a good number of volunteers who were willing to lie in the wet grass rather than act as stretcher bearers, and it took nearly half an hour for the sergeant to organise the ‘carnage’ for us to clear. He walked around the men, stopping beside each one with comments such as ‘Your leg has been shot off’, or ‘You have shrapnel in your belly.’ To an occasional ‘You’re dead.’ Which was accompanied by protests from the ‘dead’ and mock groans and wails from the ‘wounded’. I thought that the sergeant would tell them to be quiet, but he seemed to encourage it before stepping back and allowing us to begin.

I have always been surprised that we, as Officers, are expected to lead the working parties, be it repairing or laying wire, or such gruesome tasks as this may be. As we went around checking for wounded, the sergeant was yelling at us, reminding us that we would be under fire, and asking why we were taking so long, as half of the men would be dead before we had got them off the field at the rate we were going. It was hard to imagine being under fire when all we could hear was birdsong, while the smell of dinner was wafting over to us from the cookhouse. I felt a little sorry for the sergeant as he tried to envisage a scene of horror for us, while the ‘wounded’ were struggling not to laugh through their anguished cries, while the ‘dead’ kept muttering how cold they were in the wet grass.

By the end, I am not certain that any of us has learned anything, although it was amusing to watch the ‘dead’ and ‘wounded’ jump up and hurry away with the others when the sergeant sent them off for dinner. I so dearly wish that that could happen for real on the battlefield.

Tony’s phone beeped, reminding him that it was time to leave for work. He wondered how disconnected the men must have felt, pretending to be clearing wounded from a battlefield with the smell of their dinner in their nostrils. He thought back to his own training when he became a cop, the scarily realistic role-play scenarios that they had laid on, and the care that they had taken to prepare the recruits. Would he have learned to be an effective cop if his training had been as ham-fisted as this?

With a sigh, he got up and let himself out of Tim’s apartment and went to work.

Words in this post: 4171

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:00 pm 
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Name: Erica
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Chapter 8

Ziva was already in the squad room when Tony arrived. She saw at once that he had slept badly, but said nothing.

“Any news?” He asked, there was no need to ask what news he was asking about.

“No Tony.”

“It’s been nearly three weeks now, don’t the doctors have any clue what might be going on?”

“I believe that they will be carrying out a scan today, or at least that is what Abby told me last night on the phone.”

“Why didn’t she call me?”

“We thought it best for you to get some rest.” Ziva replied. “These few weeks have been hard for you.”

“Not as hard as they’ve been for McGee.” Tony snapped back.

“Do not start that again.” Ziva warned. “How many times do we have to tell you that you were not to blame for this.”

“Doesn’t help Ziva.” He sighed, as he fired up his computer.

“Would McGee telling you that you weren’t to blame help?” she asked, quietly.

“Perhaps… Ziva, I had a dream about him last night, he was dressed in an old uniform, and got shot in the head, and I mean really shot in the head. His skull almost exploded. I thought it was a sign…so I called Sarah.”

“This is a sign Tony, a sign that you are allowing this to get to you. You have to stop blaming yourself.”

“Easier said than done. You know, reading that manuscript helps. It’s quite funny in places. The guy is trying to grow a moustache, you remember when McGee tried that?”

“Why would someone document growing a moustache?” Ziva asked.

“He had to have one, it was part of the uniform.”

Ziva was speechless.

“He also keeps falling of his horse.” Tony added. “I’m gonna take a pen to the hospital tonight and draw a moustache on McGee’s face, see what he looks like.”

“He’ll look like a guy with two lines drawn on his face DiNozzo.” Gibbs cut in as he walked into the bullpen.

“I was joking boss…” Tony said.

“I know DiNozzo.” Gibbs assured him. “Let’s get some work done huh?”

Tony was glad to take his turn to visit the hospital that evening, if only to satisfy himself that Tim had not suffered some calamity in the night. He arrived to find the doctors in the room, and his stomach clenched, watching as they talked quietly to Penny Langston outside of the door. She smiled, a little, and then shook the doctor’s hand before the medical staff left and allowed her to return to the room. She was about to slide the door closed when she saw Tony hurrying towards her.

“My, Tony, you look like the devil is after you!” she exclaimed.

“What did the doctor’s want? Is Mc…Tim okay?”

“They were telling me that there is some improvement, and I will need to go and tell Timothy’s parents now that you are here to sit with him. The brain activity is okay, and the doctors are quite sure that it won’t be too long before he wakes up. I think he’s just being lazy… don’t I Timothy?” she called to the unconscious man on the bed. She then winked at Tony and gathered her bag. “Who is relieving you later?”

“Ducky I think…I can’t remember, but I won’t go until they get here.”

“Then I’ll leave you to do what you do best.” She smiled, squeezing his shoulder.

“And what’s that Ma’am?”

“Talking! Good night DiNozzo.” She swept out with a chuckle leaving Tony alone with Tim.

“She doesn’t change does she?” he began, grinning at Tim, despite the lack of response. “So…I was wondering, have you ever wondered what you’d look like with a moustache?”

Ducky arrived a little early, and listened to Tony chattering away in the room, and smiled a little to hear the jovial tone that he had adopted. No one could talk like Tony, keeping the mood good, no matter how miserable he might be, always the joker that kept the team on their toes. He had spoken to the doctors, who were optimistic that Tim was just below the surface of consciousness, perhaps not that far from waking. The tests had shown no permanent damage to the brain, although confirmation of that would not really happen until Tim woke, but the signs were good. Part of him hoped that Tim would wake while Tony was with him, since the senior field agent was holding so much on his shoulders over this.

“You can draw breath now Anthony.” He finally said.

“Hey Ducky.” Tony replied. “McGee will be an expert on Magnum PI when he wakes up.”

“It’s good to hear you say ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ Tony.”

“Gotta keep your chin up Ducky.”

“Indeed you have Tony, now get yourself out of here while there is time to do something before you go to bed.”

“Okay, see you tomorrow Ducky.”

Tony nearly went home, but instead found himself back at Tim’s apartment, almost looking forward to reading a little more of the manuscript.

25 October 1915

We have been issued with our gas-hoods, which we will need to carry at all times in case of a gas attack in the trenches. The contraption consists of what is little more than a bag that has been soaked in chemicals, with a rather small clear ‘window’ where one’s eyes should be. They have not made different size hoods, and so several of the men struggle to wear the things comfortably. The sergeant’s response was simply that the alternative, death by gas, would be worse.

We spent the morning practicing putting the things on at speed, which proved rather difficult, as the idea is to ensure that no part of the hood is open to allow gas in. Once the helmet is in place, we all found it difficult to breathe, while the chemicals that are designed to keep the gas out smell foul. Everyone is rather sceptical that these hoods will be of much use to us at all.

The second part of the training was that we enter a room full of smoke and find our way out again. The Officers had to go first, and I found myself being pushed through a door into a large room with my fellow company commanders. Once we were inside, I could hardly see through the wretched eye piece, let alone make anything out through the white smoke, however, we were able to stumble our way through the mist and find the door to the exit. The sergeants were outside to make sure that none of us suffered any ill effects, which I found rather strange, until they admitted that we had not stumbled through smoke, but rather chlorine gas. I believe that it was shock that stopped me bawling them out for putting us at such risk. I suppose, at least, this means that the masks work.

Had I known that the substance within the room was a poison gas, I would not have entered, and now, as the other men began their journey through the room, I could understand why they had been told that it was smoke. Three of the younger men puked when they got out of the room, and were hurried away, for fear of having been poisoned. Fortunately, they were checked by the MO and found to be perfectly well.

We have been told that a better design of helmet has been developed, but that these will be supplied to the troops in France first, and that we will have to make do with these for the time being.

I returned to the billet to find a parcel from Mary, which contained a tin of biscuits, and a letter saying that she had heard that many wives were sending their husbands such things, and that she would do the same whenever she could. I was touched by her thoughtfulness, and gave the tin to Charlie, with orders that he is to offer the biscuits to all of the officers with our cups of tea. The others do not have wives to send parcels to them, and I cannot, in all conscience keep the biscuits to myself.

26 October 1915

The moustache now looks like two emaciated slugs attempting to reach out to one another on my top lip. I hate to look at myself in the mirror when I shave each morning.

William visited London over the weekend, and I have discovered that Stephen gave his camera to him to take the film to be developed. I have always thought that the chemist in Aldershot offered such a service, but have since learned that there has been a reminder that Officers are not to be in possession of cameras once we go to France. I believe that this subterfuge with using a London chemist is an attempt by Stephen to hide that he still has the contraption, with the intention of smuggling it in his valise. He has not told me this, presumably to avoid bringing trouble upon my head if he is discovered. Nevertheless, we were all eagerly awaiting William’s return with the results of Stephen’s work.

As it turned out, the photographs were rather excellent. Stephen has taken none of the camp itself, but there are a number of pictures of the men, who seemed more than willing to pose for him. As I feared, the picture of me following my wire-rolling mishap developed without a hitch, and my expression was as disagreeable as I expected. I am, however, rather delighted with the photograph that he took in the boarding house when he purchased the camera. As I suspected, he photographed me at my desk, writing my journal, and the look of industry on my face is rather comical.

My favourite picture is one that Charlie photographed of we six originals sat on the steps of the billet hut one afternoon. He had been rather keen to play with the camera, and so Stephen allowed him one shot, and the result is rather fine. I believe that the camera should come to France with us, and I will most certainly turn a blind eye if Stephen wishes to use it while we are there.

1 November 1915

The days seem to be merging into one, never changing as we spend our lives uselessly at this camp. I do not feel that we are learning anything here, and wish that we could make our way to France. We will face yet more training there before we are finally sent to the front, but I am convinced that we will not truly receive the instruction that we actually need until we are in the company of men who have actually lived through the war that we are to fight.

Here we are being instructed by men who last saw action in the Boer War, and they are deeply entrenched (if that is an appropriate analogy) in their opinions about how war should be fought. They believe that the Boche are being most ‘unsporting’ and are deeply offended that our troops have lowered themselves to following suit by building trenches and not fighting in open ground like ‘gentlemen’. I want to be learning how to build and maintain a trench, as I am quite certain that these things do not tunnel themselves, but all we do is march around the camp, practice drill or listen to old men talking about cavalry tactics, even though that branch of the army has not been deployed for months.

I can, at least, report that Aherne has settled well with Michael’s platoon, and peace has been restored in ‘A’ Company.

4 November 1915

The camp staff have organised a boxing tournament, in which they have invited a few of the men from each regiment or brigade to fight on behalf of their comrades. None of us knew about this, and there has been rather a lot of excitement over it. Although the CO has inferred that he does not wish for any bets to be taken, he has not outright forbidden it, and already wagers are flying around like larks.

6 November 1915

I have never watched a boxing match before, since I have not previously considered the merits of watching two men fighting each other. The tournament took place in one of the larger assembly huts, and was packed with excited men, perhaps glad of something different to punctuate the boredom of their daily existence.

There is no question that it is difficult to maintain my journal when my days seem to never differ from one day to the next. I found that I have missed several days between entries, not only because of the lack of time, but also because I am not inspired to write about the day, since nothing has happened of any interest. The day must be deeply uninteresting if all I can document is the state of my moustache.

I am, perhaps, fortunate, that my position as company commander gives me the option of a better seating choice than my fellow watchers. There are several rows of seating surrounding the ring, reserved for officers, and only two seats are left. Despite this, they are not available for the men to use, and they must stand behind us, which they do with rather jovial jostling and arguing. For the first time in a while, I am not seated with my platoon commanders, but with the other Captains, who all seem far more interested in the coming event than I do.

I will confess that my only interest stems from my sense of obligation to my Battalion. We have two men entered in this event, one of which is from ‘A’ company, and it would be very bad form of me not to show my support for them. Had they not been entered, I do not believe that I would have attended the tournament in the first place.

Even as the first combatants entered the ring, there were still a few wagers being made, which were done quite openly in the presence of the CO. I could see from his eyes that he had lost all interest in his order for no gambling to take place as he looked forward the sport to come. Captain Wright tells me that this is because the man was quite a pugilist when he was younger and behaves as if this is the most noble of all sports. I would beg to differ, but at least the spectacle provides a distraction from the current boredom of camp life.

As soon as the first round commenced, the crowd came alive with excitement, as men from each of the competitor’s battalions began shouting or jeering, depending on how each man performed. Even the men beside me seemed greatly delighted by what they were watching, but I found the violence rather difficult to comprehend. Even with the strict rules of combat that governed the match, both ended up bloodied and bruised by the time the bout ended. It appeared that the result was inconclusive, and had to be decided by three judges seated beside the ring. They conferred for a few moments before deciding that the smaller of the two men had acquitted himself better and declared him the winner. Their decision was met with good natured cheers and booing from the supporters of each man, before they left the ring to be replaced by the next competitors.

The morning continued in this same vein, until the first of our Battalion’s entrants entered the ring. I was not familiar with the man, one of ‘D’ company, but he was fearsomely built, and already had quite a reputation as a fighter. I could not help but join in with the shouts of encouragement as he laid into his opponent, and clap rather wildly when he won his bout. I have found that even the most unpalatable sporting event seems far less difficult to watch when one of combatants is one of your own.

We stopped for lunch, and then returned an hour later for the next bout, in which one of the combatants was of my company. Robert Casey is in William’s platoon, and is one of the most solidly built men that I have ever seen. I have also learned that he is a very experienced fighter, having competed in a good number of matches for money over the years. I was amused to watch him glance around the room, quite obviously picking out familiar faces. His gaze fell upon me, and I smiled at him with great encouragement, which he seemed to appreciate.

I am pleased to report that he saw off his opponent, another mountain of a man, with great skill, or at least that is what my companions informed me. To me, the whole spectacle was nothing more than two men punching each other repeatedly, however, our company is still in the competition and I will accept their words without complaint.

The entire afternoon was swallowed up quite easily with more bouts until the last two men prepared to take the ring. I was most delighted to find that, no matter which man won, the Dublins would be the triumphant brigade, as it is now down to a battle between ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies. Of course, my loyalties lay with my own company, and I am a little embarrassed to admit that I was shouting as loudly as anyone as the bout progressed. Quite a change from my reluctant presence in the morning!

As everyone had hoped, the match was a long and close run thing, again relying upon the word of the judges. Never before have I felt such tension as we waited for the decision, nor have I behaved in such an unseemly manner when Casey’s arm was raised in victory. Such was my delight that I have decided to present a bottle of whiskey to be shared within the platoon. At least, that is my intention, if I can find some, since all that seems to be on offer in the locality is whisky from Scotland. Paddy is going up to London for a few days and will attempt to get some good whiskey while he is there.

9 November 1915

I am laid up in my bed, and feeling quite sorry for myself, after spraining my ankle badly falling off that wretched horse again. I am quite certain that creature dislikes me intensely and I cannot think why! I do not kick it, or use spurs as some of the sergeants like to do, but the nag has decided that I am not worthy to sit upon his back. I have taken quite a few tumbles since I reached here, but this time I am quite determined to request a different mount.

The weather has turned very cold and the hut feels like an ice box, despite the extra blankets. I had to have Charlie fetch my great coat to wear while I sat up, as the only alternative is to remain huddled under the blankets, and I cannot read or write while in such a position. He has been most patient with me, since I am a poor invalid at the best of times, bringing hot cups of tea and keeping me posted about what is going on outside. I am, at least, able to keep up with a number of my duties, so my days are not completely wasted, but I cannot wait for my ankle to heal.

14 November 1915

I have recovered just in time for my birthday which, by chance, has fallen on a day that I have been granted at leisure. I cannot go far, particularly as I am still a little unsteady on my ankle, and I would have to travel alone anyway as no one else has been granted any leave. Charlie brought me some letters, along with my morning cup of tea, one of which he has kept hidden for four days. The letter is from Mary, with the express instruction that I not open it until today, and Charlie decided to keep it, correctly assuming that the letter contained birthday wishes for me. I am grateful for his thoughtfulness in making the letter a surprise.

Mary had written a very long letter, telling me that she has volunteered to become part of a charitable committee for the aid of the families of poor servicemen, which gives me great pride. Not only will the institution help those who have lost men, but they will also provide assistance to families who have men away at the front. The men are not paid that highly, although most consider their pay a king’s ransom compared to the pittance they were scraping together at home. She has told me that her decision was inspired by the warmth in my words when I write about the men under my command.

I have also received word from my father, wishing me well, and some other correspondence from friends, which had been sent to Ballyhooly by mistake. Much of their news is now quite old, but it is grand to hear from them. I am glad that I have the day at leisure because I will be writing many letters today.

I have not made an issue over my birthday, but I have also not kept it a secret either, and so I was not very surprised when I was waylaid in the afternoon and taken to the officer’s mess, where a large cake was on display. I knew that the cake had not been baked for the occasion, since it had been sent by Gerald Aherne’s sister for his benefit, but we all made a good feast of it, washed down with a very sweet dessert wine that one of the platoon commanders in ‘C’ company had purchased in Aldershot.

After dinner, our lads took possession of the gramophone, and a large bottle of whisky, and played a good number of music hall numbers that they insisted on singing along too in my honour. The cacophony was something to behold, but I appreciated the sentiment. None of us has entertained the idea that my next birthday may well be spent sitting in a trench.

I fear that I shall have a terrible headache in the morning.

Tony thought for a moment, and totted up the years, realising that Captain McGee would have been 30 years old on that date. To his mind, it seemed rather a young age to be in command of so many men. He tried to imagine himself being in such a position, so different from the few months he had been team leader while Gibbs had been in Mexico. He had to admit that, being in charge of three people, while trying to work cases, was hard enough, although he had enjoyed every single moment of it. Try multiplying that so that he was in charge of over 200 men, even with four lieutenants and the non-commissioned officers to help him. Even without adding the stress of being in a war zone, Tony had to hand it to this guy for taking all of that on.

He recalled the comment about how boring life at the camp was, to the point that the only highpoint of the day was the state of the Captain’s moustache. There were days like that at NCIS too, when all they had to deal with were cold cases that went nowhere, no matter how many times they reviewed them. Perhaps that was why he sometimes chose to let off steam by pulling pranks, or making stupid jokes. Sometimes, he knew he went a little close to crossing the line, but the others tolerated it because they knew that he meant no harm by it…didn’t they?

Well, his flirtations with superglue was crossing the line, he had to admit, but most of the time, he controlled himself and, if he couldn’t, a well-timed head-slap would do it for him. Would that sort of behaviour make him Captain material? Thinking about it now, he guessed not.

17 November 1915

The Sergeant has agreed that I may use a different horse for my riding lessons. This one is far more docile, and we rub along together very well. No tumbles today.

19 November 1915

Five months have passed since the day I reported to the depot to begin my training. Perhaps I am feeling in a reflective mood, but I have spent much of the day thinking about how much my life has changed in that time.

Had someone told me before this damned war broke out that I would be living in a draughty camp with perhaps over 1000 men, I would have laughed at such a notion. I was used to living quietly with my wife, undisturbed by our small, but discrete, staff, working quietly in my comfortable office, and then occasional social events, dinners or concerts, perhaps even the occasional ball. I did not know what it is to have to share my every waking moment with hundreds of others. I am never completely alone for long, and this is something that has taken me some months to grow accustomed too.

Even when I was laid up with my ankle, the others were often slipping in and out, and Charlie was never far away, keeping an eye on me as is his want. There have been moments when I have longed to shout at everyone to leave me alone, just for an hour, but solitude is a luxury that only the senior officers can afford. I know that things can only get worse once we are in France, and accommodation becomes harder to find.

Am I sorry that I volunteered? Sometimes, when I feel that my duties are overwhelming me, I wish that I was in my office, where my secretary would keep all comers from my door if I requested not to be disturbed. There are moments when I would dearly wish that someone could walk up to me and take my command, just for an hour, so that I might have some respite.

But, for all that, I cannot imagine now being without the companionship that I now have. I thought myself to have many friends at home, but we are governed by such ridiculous formality that I am not entirely certain that we actually like one another. There is no place for formality here, beyond what is printed in the King’s Regulations. I may be called ‘Sir’ but I feel the warmth in the men’s voices when they talk to me. The connection that I have with my five former billet mates, and perhaps even with Gerald now, have taught me that my friendships before have always been mere acquaintances.

My only regret, is that my action has parted me from Mary, and will continue to do so for perhaps another year. I live in hope that I will not be expected to serve in France for an entire year before I may be considered for leave, for the notion that I will not lay eyes on my wife for such a length of time is quite a concern to me. I try not to think of the possibility that I may not see her again.

Perhaps, my only real regret is the miserable excuse for a moustache that still clings to my upper lip. Stephen has taken what we hope is a portrait shot for me to send to Mary, for her amusement.

Tony chuckled as he read that comment, after all the introspection to write something so mundane reminded him very much of the way Tim moved on from anything that upset him. He tended not to dwell on the less positive parts of his life, not even Tony’s history of teasing him. Perhaps it was in the genes.

Words in this post: 4661

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 2:42 pm 
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Chapter 9

The day had been slower than ever with nothing but cold cases to entertain them. Tony considered pulling a few jokes, but without Tim there to be his usual foil, there seemed to be little point. Tim would protest to him, but usually did nothing, and rarely took retaliatory action, unless you could count programming his keyboard to bark at him, or perhaps the ‘autonexting’ incident. He never seemed to get the same tolerance from Ziva, and only a suicidal man would try pulling pranks on Gibbs.

Instead, he found his mind wandering back to Tim’s manuscript. He had long stopped questioning why he was reading the thing, simply accepting that he wanted to know about the man who had written those words, nearly 100 years ago. Since it was not his turn to go to the hospital that night, he packed up and drove straight over to Tim’s apartment to keep reading.

26 November 1915

For some bizarre reason, I have been ordered to attend a course on musketry, something I am quite certain I could learn about at the camp. I do not want to be stationed away from my men, however, the course will be held at Sandhurst, where many of the English officers are trained. I am quite intrigued to see what this place is like, compared to the manner in which the Irish officers have been trained.

29 November 1915

I was not allowed to keep my journal while I was attending the course, not that I had much time to write anyway. Twelve of us were sent, from Captains down to Subalterns, and we were ordered to ensure that we carried ourselves with pride for our Battalions. We were not able to take our servants with us, and I could see some of my fellows looking decidedly worried at having to maintain their uniforms themselves. It is quite amusing to see how some of my fellow men have become rather too used to having the assistance of a servant to polish their boots for them.

The journey to Sandhurst was fairly quiet, since we are all representing different regiments. I am the only Irishman present, the others being sent from English Battalions, but the others are reasonably friendly. I will need to get used to being with men that I do not know, since I may find myself deployed to other Battalions before this war is finished.

The Academy is set in vast acreage and looks grand when you approach it. One of the others, Collins I think his name was, assured me that the buildings are ‘Georgian’ as in the last lot of Georges, rather than the current King. We were not to spend time there, but rather in outbuildings on the other side of the lake, since we were not cadets there. Looking about, I realised that I must be the oldest Officer recruit present, since the cadets that we passed could not have been more than twenty years old. They certainly gave me some questioning glances as well, but I chose to ignore them.

The course, such as it was, merely repeated most of what we had learned at Blackdown, although with a little more detail. We were taken outside and spent an entire afternoon at target practice, first with our pistols, and then with rifles. It was quite a change to be able to fire off the guns without fear of using up the precious ammunition as it was quite plentiful. We were also given a chance to see a lewis gun team at work. This is a new weapon that we were very privileged to see in action. It will be used in conjunction with the Vickers guns that our teams are currently operating, but it was an impressive weapon to see. I would not wish to be in the firing line of this deadly killing machine.

Although we were not cadets, we were allowed to go up to the mess for dinner, since we are serving officers, and could hardly be kept away. The young lads are used to officers attending the academy for short courses, and so paid us little heed, but we had a good dinner and the drinks were a little cheaper than at Blackdown. Collins also taught me a new card game, which I shall fox my fellow officers with now that I have returned.

I had thought that the idea of being sent on a course was quite pointless, however, the experience has been remarkably refreshing after the weeks of stagnation at Blackdown. I have learned a good few things about musketry that I had no clue about, and have noted this down to pass on to my platoon commanders.

30 November 1915

A terrible day. I can only thank Almighty God that none of my boys were involved, but we are still unable to comprehend how something so awful could happen in a training camp of all things.

A group of Subalterns were receiving training on the handling and deployment of hand grenades when one of the grenades exploded prematurely. The young lad unfortunate enough to be holding the device was killed instantly, while three of his neighbours were horribly maimed. No one can work out how the grenade could have exploded, because even the sergeant has confirmed that he had not pulled the pin.

The entire consignment of grenades that we have received has been quarantined while they are inspected and, if necessary, defused. The sergeant is still in shock, while the platoon concerned have been confined to barracks for the rest of the day, along with the Battalion Chaplain to allow them to recover. We all know that we will need to face the horror of losing our friends on the battlefield, but this was something that no one envisaged or was prepared for.

2 December 1915

For those of the Irish Battalions, today will be a proud day, as we are to be inspected by the Queen. I have awoken far too early, and write this to the sound of snoring from the other beds. Fortunately, my candle has not disturbed them.

We have had to put aside our shock over the accident, since we must put on a good show today. I suspect that Her Majesty will not have been told about the disaster, and so we must not behave as if something is wrong. I have a strong feeling that the excitement of a Royal inspection will ensure that.

William has woken and sworn at me, I shall blow out the candle.

I have never felt such pride as I did today. The batmen were up long before us and our uniforms were beautifully cleaned and ready for us when we rose for breakfast. Immediately afterwards, we carried out a very detailed inspection of the men, and sent a few back to their billet to clean some item or other. Only when I was satisfied did we assemble on the parade ground for a further inspection by the senior officers. As we are to be seen by Royalty, the CO supervised the inspection, which was carried out with a fine tooth comb. I was delighted that ‘A’ Company passed muster, and that only one soldier of ‘D’ company was pulled up for a mark on his rifle, which he was able to wipe away in front of the sergeant, after the appropriate ‘bawl out’ that we have come to expect. The Rifles were not quite so fortunate, as one of the Company commanders had not been as fastidious as we had been. Twelve of his men, including one of the lieutenants were pulled up for shoddy care of their uniforms. Fortunately, there was plenty of time for them to hurry away and make good their errors.

The weather was good, although rather cold, so we had little choice other than to shiver in our uniforms while we assembled for the Royal inspection. The Queen then arrived, dressed in furs against the chill of the day. She walked among us first, speaking only with her escort, before taking her place on a specially constructed dais so that we could perform the march past.

We followed the 8th Battalion, while the Munsters marched behind us, but I had the privilege of calling ‘Eyes Right’ to my Company as we passed the dais, and my men turned their heads as one while I saluted the queen, followed immediately by my Platoon commanders. The entire ceremony was very short, but we were informed that the queen was most impressed with us.

We were given a good feed for lunch, in honour of Her Majesty’s visit, before returning to the usual matters of the day. I spent the afternoon dealing with administrative matters in the billet, with Charlie constantly coming in and telling me how proud he was to have seen the Queen. His interruptions were rather annoying, but I did not have the heart to send him out and spoil such a wonderful day.

6 December 1915

We have finally been given notice that we will sail for France on 16th December. I realise that this will mean more training before we are sent to the front, but at last I feel that our months of training are finally going somewhere.

10 December 1915

Although we do not leave for some days still, it is my responsibility to ensure that my company is ready to leave. I have so many things to attend to before we go, ensuring that my men have the appropriate papers, not least the passes that they need to board the ships that will take us to France. I must also ensure that their uniforms have the correct insignia, so that we do not end up with half our men disembarking with the wrong battalion on the other side of the Channel.

There is so much kit to be inspected, as we will not have the chance to obtain any missing items once we are on the trains, and I would not want any of my men to be unprepared once we are settled in our next camp. Medical cards are to be updated, along with the paybooks, although I am grateful that all of the men can now read and sign their names. Perhaps the only thing that I do not need to worry about is my own packing as Charlie is responsible for that. Already he has made four lists, which I have added too, although most of my additions will likely have to be forgotten as I need to be able to carry everything myself.

My field glasses arrived from London today, as I was the only Company commander without them, and such implements are not provided by the army. I also have a brass whistle that sits neatly in a leather holster on my belt, which I will use to signal to the men to go over the bags in an attack. This is not to be used for any other purpose, and I hope that I am not called upon to use it for a good while. There is no reason for me to take the sword with me, and I wonder why we were requested to purchase it in the first place, so I have packed it in the valise that I will be shipping back to Ireland. Only the most senior officers seem to carry their swords around with them on a regular basis, and I have heard that quite a few junior officers have found their swords mysteriously missing on return from active duty. I would rather such an expensive item be safely at home than stolen and sold.

I will have a valise that will be taken on the mess wagon, but the items that I require for my needs while we are travelling will need to be carried in my pockets and backpack. The amount of essential equipment that I must carry hangs from me like adornments on a Christmas tree. I have heard the other officers refer to such an analogy, but only now do I understand what they meant. I have practiced walking around while carrying this, and found it most exhausting, however since the men must carry even more than I do, I will not complain, except, perhaps within my journal.

Letter to Mary McGee 13 December 1915

I am sorry that I have been unable to write to you for a few days. I can tell you that we are to leave for France very soon, but I cannot say anything more than that. I know that you were hoping that I might be granted some leave to come home for Christmas, which is what I would have dearly wanted as well, but it cannot be.

Everything seems so real now, I have to read any letters that my men send to make sure that they are not giving away any vital information that might be of use to the enemy. There are so many things that could be mentioned, unwittingly, that could help a spy to gain information and it is the job of the commanders to ensure that anything that is deemed ‘sensitive’ is blacked out of the text. My own letters to you will also be given the same treatment once we reach France and so I feel that I cannot be as open with you as I have in my earlier letters. I beg you not to believe that I have become cold to you in any way.

I hate reading such intimate correspondence, as I feel that I am prying in to matters that are of no concern to me. Nothing that I have read so far would be of use to a spy, although that may well change once we are in action. It is, indeed, tempting to say where I am, or where I will be, if only to give you some assurance of my safety, but that cannot be allowed. This will be the last letter that I can send to you freely, knowing that it will not be censored.

I do not want my feelings for you reported to any other, and so I will say all that I would wish to say in the months to come now. I love you, my precious wife, and long for the day when this war ends and I can come home to you for good. I will carry your picture with me even as I go into battle, as my talisman to keep me safe. Perhaps it is a foolish notion, but do you remember the night that I asked you to be my wife? You recall that we looked up at the sky and I showed you how to find the North star? Each night, I will look up at the sky and find that star, and I beg you to do the same, if you do that I will know that you are with me.

I wish I could write more, but I have just received orders that require my immediate attention, and I do not know when I will have time to write again. I miss you every waking moment, and dream of you each night and of the moment that I return home to you.

You may write to me by sending your letters to the depot in Dublin, and your correspondence will be sent to my location, where ever I may be. I promise that I will write again once I am settled overseas.

Farewell my dearest.

16 December 1915

We have begun our journey to France, beginning with a train journey to London. I am comfortably settled in a first class carriage with some of the other Company commanders, but I would much rather be with my old friends. One of the men here is smoking the most foul smelling tobacco I have ever had the displeasure to inhale. I am the only member of the Company who does not smoke, which is quite a curiosity to the others in the carriage, but since I hate the smell of the stuff, I see no reason to subject my lungs to such vapours.

Arrived at Waterloo station for the boat train. My first duty was to call the men to order and have them settled in their carriages, before I was able to get on the train myself. This time, I was able to join my platoon commanders, along with the two Patricks, and we left the station in quite a merry mood, talking about how this reminded us of our journey through Wales. I expected the journey to be swift, however, we are to sail from Southampton, and the trains are slow and keep stopping. It took us nearly six hours to reach the port, by which time everyone was tired and bored, even Pat, who is usually the most raucous of comics.

Once we found our men and called them to order, we waited for orders, only to be told by the Maritime Loading Officer that we could not embark as there were rumours of a Submarine patrolling just beyond the Solent. They had two Naval destroyers out trying to sight it and chase it off before they could let anyone board. We were herded off to wait in some of the draughty buildings that would normally house the maintenance workshops. At least we were able to secure some hot soup and tea for the men, since no refreshments had been provided on the train. It tasted bad, but it was food and so no one complained. The MLO confirmed that there would be no sailing this night, and so the men were left with little choice other than to bed down where they were. The officers were given permission to find rooms in nearby hotels, and a good number collected their Batmen and vanished. I was quite proud that we Irishmen all decided to stay with our men.

The weather has grown bitterly cold now that the night has drawn in, although we have been given some braziers to try and give us some warmth. I am using the light from the fire to see by as I write, although it is difficult with my hands being so cold. Charlie’s mother sent him some gloves with the tips of the fingers missing, and he asked her to send another pair for me, which are helping prevent my hands from seizing up. I truly hope that we are not expected to stay here for too long.

17 December 1915

The Submarine, if it was ever there, has not been sighted, and the destroyers have returned to port. The Captains have declared that they are satisfied that the danger has passed, however the weather has now turned and we are not yet certain whether the MLO will allow embarkation on the grounds that the crossing may be too rough. I am not looking forward to spending hours on a boat as it is, and so the thought of a rough crossing is already making my poor stomach churn.

We have been given a rather meagre breakfast, consisting mainly of porridge, although some of the officers were able to pilfer some bacon from the mess hall. Those who had found hotels for the night also returned well fed, while the rest of us made do with some revolting tea, although mine tasted a little better due to some whisky from Pat’s hip flask.

The MLO has just announced that we are to sail today.

At last I am settled, and I know that this is what my life will become for the next few months. We commanders are obliged, quite rightly, to see to the needs of our men first and so we had them all stood and fully inspected half an hour before we were called to embark. There are two steamers due to make the crossing, and we were on the second boat, so we had to wait for the first to be loaded before we could call our men forward.

The first boat looked rather fine, and must have been a passenger ferry before the army commandeered it. I heard some lone officers, who are returning to France with us, complain that it was their rum luck that they were not going on that boat, but thought little of it as I watched the lengthy procedure of embarkation. Each man had to hand his papers to a policeman for inspection before he was allowed to board, which I thought rather odd since all of us had been together from the moment we had left Aldershot. They were then allowed up the gang-plank into the ship, each platoon led by their commander, while the Company commander brought up the rear.

Eventually the ship was full, and the staff came over to us. Our ship was far smaller, and appears to have been a pleasure steamer. The lone officers embarked first, and then we were brought forward. I was asked a few questions, such as who I was and which Battalion we were, before having to stand aside while my platoons were checked. One by one ‘A’ company was passed to board and made their way onto the ship, while my CSM checked a list that he had of all of the men’s names. It is still quite possible for a man to decide to make a run for it before it is too late, however, our company was all present and correct, allowing us to embark.

As we came aboard, we were both presented with a piece of paper that turned out to be a letter from Lord Kitchener. I pocketed the letter as I had no time to read it as I had to see to the men. We were quite fortunate in that our men had been given space on one of the upper decks. There was a large pile of life jackets, and it was our responsibility to ensure that all men were issued with one. My platoon commanders carried out this duty with great efficiency, before leaving the men with their NCOs so that we could find somewhere to settle ourselves.

It was quickly apparent that the steamer was not designed for the number of men that she was expected to carry, and there was nowhere for us to go other than out on the deck. As we were one of the first aboard, we have been able to bag space under some awning towards the stern of the ship, and I am grateful that it is within crawling distance of the rail, for I have no doubt that I will suffer as I did when we crossed the Irish sea. Stephen, who has no such difficulties, winked at Charlie and gave him a small bottle of what turned out to be brandy to give to me while we were at sea. I cannot see how it will stop me puking, but at least it will disguise the horrible taste once I am done.

A lot of the men came up on deck as we cast off and finally left port, wanting to witness the commencement of this great adventure. Perhaps now, more than ever before, I have realised just how real this war has become. There is no going back now, we must surely only be weeks away from the trenches. Some of the men on this ship are little more than boys, and their excitement is deeply sobering as I wonder how many of them really understand what we are letting ourselves in for.

We are being escorted by the two destroyers that spent the last night patrolling the Solent for the mysterious submarine, however that will not be sufficient to keep the hounds at bay and so our route will not be a straight run, we can expect to be aboard this wretched tub for hours as she zig-zags her way to France. I can already feel my stomach quailing at the prospect.

18 December 1915

We have arrived at Le Havre after endless hours of pure hell. The crew of the ship swear that the crossing was a calm one, but the state of the vessel when they finally allowed us to disembark leads me to beg to differ. I have no idea how the men fared, I was unable to go below to check on them, since to stand was to invite a bout of retching. Stephen and William are both keen sailors and so had no such difficulties, but found that the men down below were in a similar state to myself. They were grateful to be in one of the upper decks, which allowed them access to the rail, so there was not too much of a mess where they had been settled. I have heard that those in the lower decks did not fare so well, and I cannot bear to imagine what that must have looked, and smelled, like.

As for myself, I spent the journey curled up on the deck with my lifejacket for a pillow. Charlie found some tarpaulin that he draped over me to fashion a blanket, and also aided me innumerable times as I dragged myself to the rail and puked over the side. At least I wasn’t alone in that unseemly show, several of the more senior officers were stationed permanently at the rail, looking just as green about the gills as I did. I was, however, amused that they were standing alone, while I had my Batman fussing over me like a mother hen.

When I wasn’t actively emptying my stomach, I was trying to sleep, something near impossible in itself because of the noise. Men were talking away like old women, some singing, others retching over the side, which merely served to turn my stomach. There were moments when I was sorely tempted to sit up and yell at them all to be quiet, but the mere thought of lifting my head made me queasy and so I kept still.

As soon as someone shouted that they could see some land, the decks became crowded with men wanting to catch their first glimpse of France. From where I was lying, I found that I could not gather the enthusiasm to be interested in the sight before me. I am quite sure that the place looked no different to Southampton, and I half feared that we had doubled back to throw off the Submarines. Thankfully, it turned out that we had, finally, made it to France.

Perhaps it was fortunate that we were kept on the ship as it docked, allowing me an hour to gather myself before we began the arduous task of disembarking the men. It was very late in the evening by the time we set foot on dry land again, and so we were taken to a ramshackle camp for the night. Again we spent an hour billeting the men, before we could finally settle ourselves. Once again I was force fed dry bread, and this time a little milk as no one trusted the water. I am feeling a little better now, but the thought of a full meal is beyond me.

19 December 1915

Another train, this time even slower than the one that took us to Southampton. Once again, we are crammed into compartments like sardines, but this time it seems that we have been given carriages that have already seen some shelling as the window will not close, and there are rather suspicious marks on the upholstery. I honestly believe that we could walk faster than this train is going, and I think I will poke Stephen in the eye very shortly if he does not stop looking over my shoulder as I write!

We began the morning with parade and roll call, followed by a hasty breakfast and kit inspection before we marched to the station. There, we were given an advance of our pay in Francs so that we would not go short for the period until we are paid in full.

I was appalled to find that the men are to be housed in cattle trucks. These men are about to go and fight for the freedom of the French, and this is how they see fit to transport them to the front. To their credit, none of the men complained, allowing themselves to be herded in, 40 to a truck so that we could continue our journey.

There are no refreshments on the train, although it seems our resourceful batmen have smuggled some bread and cheese on board. They could not give us tea, as there is nowhere to heat water, but some roughly made sandwiches appeared just after noon, followed by some rather stale, but still palatable, cake. Just after we had finished our meal, the train ground to a halt for no apparent reason, and so we all got off to stretch our legs. We were stationary for nearly two hours and, despite the chill, we walked to a nearby village, where a good deal of food was purchased, along with a flask of hot water, which we used to make some tea. There was even time to return the flask before the train moved off. I am quite certain that the stop was deliberate so that we would go and spend our money in the village.

I have been asleep, apparently for two and a half hours, but we are still miles from our destination. The others have cheerfully described another unscheduled halt, this time for just short of an hour, and I am rather perturbed to find that we have stopped yet again. I am wondering if this is a form of training that angers us so much that we are like Viking berserkers when we finally face the Germans.

We have been on this wretched train for an entire day, and we cannot have travelled more than twenty miles.

I am vastly hungry.

Stephen’s Batman came round with sandwiches. The French bread is not as robust as ours as it is already stale, but he had managed to find some meat paste at the village. We found, as soon as we tasted it that the ‘meat paste’ was actually fois gras, at least that was Pat’s opinion. I think I have had this once before, at a Christmas ball in Dublin so I cannot be certain. It has to be said that none of us really cared that much because it tasted excellent and more than made up for the toughness of the bread.

It is nearly midnight, and we have stopped again. It seems that the driver is tired and wants to sleep for the night. If he had gone a little faster and not kept stopping earlier, we might have reached our destination by now.

20 December 1915

With sleep a distant wish, and nothing better to do, we abandoned our compartment shortly after 1 am to go and check on our men. We found that they had all poured out of the cattle trucks and had set up a camp, of sorts, in the field beside the tracks. We were able to locate our men, who seemed well enough, if a trifle fed up. It seems that the driver has made off to a town about a mile from the line to stay at a hotel there, leaving his firemen in charge of the locomotive, and all of us cooling our heels in the middle of the French countryside.

The engine fire has been doused, so the night is very quiet, except for some occasional thunder in the distance.

It is not thunder, we can hear the firing of guns.

Two older Officers are on the train with us and believe that the guns are at least twenty miles away, but the wind is blowing in the right direction for us to hear them. One is of the opinion that it is our Artillery giving the Boche what-for, the other is certain that they are being fired by the Germans because it sounds like the guns are facing towards us. Both, however, are completely unconcerned by the noise since, they claim, it is not a barrage, but merely one or other side taking ‘pot-shots’ at the other.

Now that I can hear the guns, the war is more real to me than I had ever thought before. Even when we were on the ship crossing the channel, when I thought we were finally on our way to battle, it was nothing to the fear that I feel within me now. I might die here, and certainly many of my men will, those same men who are settled around their small fires making muted conversation to try and forget the occasional explosions that they can hear in the distance.

Although the night is cold and the guns haunt us from afar, I cannot return to the train to sleep tonight, and have settled in my sleeping bag near to the men, in the hope that their soft buzz of conversation will soothe me to sleep

21 December 1915

The train finally pulled in to the rail head at 9.30 am, leaving us all fed up and exhausted. The worst thing is that we still have nearly ten miles to travel to reach our training camp at Choques. The railway does not go all the way there, and there is no further transport laid on, so we will have to march.

Arrived at Choques in the afternoon, to find the training camp set up just outside the town. Once we are let loose on the fields of France, we will be responsible for finding our own billets, but for the time being we are still being mollycoddled, if you could call being holed up in tents such, by having our accommodation provided for us.

The march itself was as laborious as the many route marches we had undertaken during our training, only the roads seemed even harder on the men’s feet than the tracks we pounded in Aldershot. As Company Commander, I was expected to ride to the camp, and the requisite nags had been brought for us, so there was no way that I could duck the proposition. All of the other Captains would be mounted, and my men looked at me expectantly as my horse was led over. I rather expect that they were looking forward to watching the unseemly spectacle of me trying to mount the damned animal rather than not wanting to look the lesser Battalion because their Captain cannot ride. Fortunately for me, I was spared the embarrassment of being unable to hoist myself into the saddle by one of the sergeants, who gave me a sprightly leg up allowing me to mount with more élan than is usual for me.

I then took my place at the head of ‘A’ Company and had the men called to order, before we marched out with, what I thought, was great panache. Only after we had travelled out of sight of the railhead did the commanders relent and allow the men to be easy. We made a good pace for the first hour, but the cold began to get to some of the men, loaded down with so much kit, that two collapsed after a particularly steep climb. The sergeants began bawling at them, but when Gerald removed one man’s boots, his feet were covered in blood, while the other had been felled by exhaustion. I ordered that both men be put on the mess cart as it would be impossible for them to walk any further, let alone keep up the marching pace.

The men were all shaken by their comrades’ sudden collapse, and so I decided to forego the aid of the sergeant when I went to remount. My feeble efforts to clamber back onto the horse provided enough comedy to settle the men, and we were quickly on our way again. We could not slow our pace, since we had been delayed, however there were no more casualties before we reached our destination.

We passed by the town, which is quite small and most certainly not prepared to house or feed the sheer numbers of men passing through, which explains the rough camp that we have found ourselves in. I am fortunate, that I have a tent to myself, although Charlie is also there most of the time. The four platoon commanders have to share a tent, with their batmen pretty much bivouacked beside them. We have been told that there are plans to build more permanent accommodation, like some of the billet huts that are being used by some of the other Battalions. I prefer the rough and ready conditions that we currently have, since it will surely get worse than this once we reach the front.

Again, the needs of our men came first. Our two casualties were taken to the medics, and the others allocated to their tents, while our belongings were unpacked. Our batmen are more than efficient, needing no prompting from us to prepare our accommodation, and to begin cooking for us while we are busy with the men. Already, the commanders of the other companies are complaining that we always seem to have a hot meal ready for us, while they must make do with cold fare.

I find it hard to believe that we are only a few days away from Christmas, and that I will not be home to celebrate this year. I try not to think that this may be the last Christmas that I ever see.

Looking up from the manuscript, Tony tried to picture the idea of not knowing if you would live so seen your next Christmas. They often told each other that they risked their lives as Federal Agents whenever they went out into the field, but none of them really took much notice of that, beyond making sure that they were as careful as possible while out there. Even when he had been told he had the plague, and knew that there was nothing that they could do to treat it, he hadn’t given the matter much deep contemplation, perhaps because he hadn’t really had the time.

It had to be hard, waiting for something to come that you knew might kill you, but knowing that you had to face it anyway. It must have been really hard on Captain McGee, with not only his own life to think about, but that of his men as well. Did Gibbs ever feel that way when they went out after the more dangerous criminals? The man might be a tough ex-marine, but Tony knew, in his heart, that Gibbs always did.

Words in this post: 6479

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Fri Nov 02, 2012 2:46 pm 
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Chapter 10

Tony looked at his watch, it was still reasonably early, and so he decided to stay put a little longer.

24 December 1915

For the first time, the men have seen the kind of training that we will receive here, and I am not sure that we are prepared for it. For the past two days, we have carried out the usual aspects, drilling, target practice, and the like, but while we were on route march, we passed a field that was full of trenches. These will be used to train us in the art of trench warfare, while another field, further on, was less torn up, and will be where we are taught to construct and maintain the things. The talk in the mess from those who arrived before us does not encourage me, since they have all complained bitterly about the poor training received in England, and how unprepared the man are when they arrive. I have that to come in the next few days.

Despite the harsh conditions that we are now experiencing, there is an excitement in the air over Christmas. We will not be in the trenches and so I know that there are festivities planned for tomorrow. We have arrived too late to organise anything, but those already here have put on a concert party to which all are invited. There will also be a good lunch for us, which will give our Batmen a little time to themselves for once. We officers have been told that we must attend the lunch with our men and not hide in the mess, not that any of my officers would have done any different. I have noticed that we have some rather prestigious regiments represented here, and the Officers there are quite fearful snobs over fraternising with their men.

Father Joseph has obtained agreement to hold Midnight Mass, and so many men have decided to attend that he has been forced to abandon his original plan to say it in the dining hall. Instead, we will hear mass in the open, with the sound of Guns in the distance.

25 December 1915

The most extraordinary thing happened as we assembled for Mass last night. At the stroke of Midnight, the firing of guns ceased, and we have heard no more so far today. I was woken at my usual time by Charlie, who gave me some biscuits with my morning tea, where he had found them I did not ask. He wished me a ‘Good Christmas’ and hurried away to prepare my uniform for the morning. The small package that I had asked Mary to send arrived yesterday morning and so, once Charlie returned I was able to hand the package to him. As I had hoped, my dear wife had found all that I had asked her to seek out.

I was most delighted by Charlie’s smile when he found the small book of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I had never thought him to be one for old English, but he treasured his own little book, and I was quite disturbed to discover that he had lost it at some point on the channel crossing, no doubt while he was helping me crawl to or from the railing. I would never have known had not William’s Batman told him how sad Charlie was to have lost it. There were also some acid drops, a packet of cigarettes and a scarf that Mary had knitted for him herself.

My own present from Mary was a similar scarf, and also a brand new luminous watch. I have seen some of the officers with these, which allows them to see the time in the dark, and had wondered where I could find such a thing. Lastly, she sent me a copy of the New Testament, which she had written a delightful message within, and four bars of chocolate for my kit bag.

Between us, we had all managed to buy chocolate for the men, along with a packet of cigarettes each, or a pack of tobacco for the pipe smokers. We handed these out at morning parade, at which point the camp sergeants came with tins of more tobacco from the Princess Mary. While the men hurried off to breakfast, the officers all made for the mess where a hearty supply of eggs and bacon had been laid on for us.

After Church parade, we were at leisure for the morning, with lunch to be at 1 pm. Although it was cold, the weather was dry and so most of ‘A’ company assembled on the parade ground and got up an informal football tournament. I was not required to play on this occasion, but the officers v. NCO’s ended with victory for the NCO’s this time. After that, there was a spontaneous singing of carols, that kept us busy for the remainder of the morning.

I cannot complement the cook house enough for the wonderful lunch that they laid on for everyone. They must have roasted hundreds of chickens, and several pigs as there was so much meat to be had. The potatoes were both mashed and roasted –roasted potatoes, I cannot recall the last time I had such a delicacy! – and stuffing, made with onions and some herb or other as there was no sage available. There were mounds of cabbage, and some turnip as well and we all had a good feast in the presence of the camp CO, who sat at his table looking like he was Father Christmas for the day.

There was very little that we could do in the afternoon after the feed that we had experienced, and so we left the men to have some time to themselves while we officers holed up in my tent for some card games and whisky. We could have adjourned to the officer’s mess, but we all desired an hour of our own company. Halfway through the afternoon, both Patricks put their heads through the flap and demanded admittance, bringing some rum with them. I do not like rum and so did not partake, but the others were distinctly merry by the time we returned to the dining hall for yet more food, made up mostly of sandwiches from the leftovers from lunch.

The evening was given over to the concert party, which was put on entirely by men from the camp. They had even dressed one poor lad up as a girl, but he sang rather sweetly, and took the ribbing and cat-calls from the audience with good grace. I am surprised at how many of the more fierce looking men in the camp are comics at heart, as there was a good deal of knock-about humour. There was also a good deal of singing, which the men often joined in with, although I found that I was unfamiliar with many of the songs. We finished up the concert with whisky laced cocoa at just after 10 pm, before making for our beds.

It is just after midnight, according to my luminous watch, and I can hear guns again.

27 December 1915

This is the first moment that I have had enough energy to write in my journal, such is the demanding nature of the training that we are now undertaking. We spent the whole of the morning yesterday being given a lecture on the tactics of trench warfare, while the men were drilled and marched. Once we re-joined them the whole Battalion was taken over to the two fields that we had seen. ‘C’ and ‘D’ company were taken to the far field where they were to spend the afternoon learning how to construct a trench. We, on the other hand, were to spend the afternoon learning how to exit and attack a trench.

We were all packed into a short section of trench, in full kit, with the officers at the front, and the NCO’s at the rear, to make sure that all of the men got out. The company commanders were also given dispensation to blow our whistles for the purpose of the exercise. For the first exercise, the training sergeants yelled instructions at us, giving the orders that we would have to give once we were in the field. We then blew our whistles and I climbed out of the trench, followed quickly by our men, and I will own that I did not hang about, as they had all fixed bayonets, and had rather little control over them while they were clambering up the ladders to get out. We then ran, screaming like banshees, towards another trench twenty yards ahead of us, where we halted.

Twelve times we repeated this exercise, by which time I was so tired I missed my footing on the twelfth attempt and tumbled off the ladder, landing on one of the men. To my surprise, the Sergeant did not yell at me to get up and keep going, instead yelling ‘Your Captain’s dead! Platoon commander take charge!’. William seamlessly took command and got the men out of the trench, leaving me in a heap on the duck boards. I was not hurt, thankfully, but the sergeant’s words made me shudder. As I am the first one out of the trench in an attack, I am likely to be the first one to take a bullet, perhaps even before the men have started climbing out. At least the others have the brains to step into my boots if such an event were to occur for real.

Even though we were all exhausted by our efforts, we were then ordered to exchange places with the other companies. They had constructed a fairly impressive section of trench that we were required to continue. Fortunately, this time only one or two officers would be required to supervise the men, and I was able to sit the exercise out for about an hour, as my shoulder was beginning to ache from my fall. Not all of the men could work at the same time, and so frequent changes of working party meant that we all were given a turn at construction, while others were engaged in shoring up an older excavation.

By the end of the afternoon, I could hardly lift my left arm, and so returned to my tent, where Charlie discovered a large bruise once we had released my arm from my shirt. All that he could do was apply some arnica and help me to dress again, however I woke this morning feeling even worse. Once again, all we could do was apply more arnica, and hope for the best.

Today has been spent in the same vein as yesterday, although the Sergeants realised at once that I simply could not pull myself up the ladder, and ordered me out of the trench at once. I will not have this luxury when we are in the field, but my presence was not helping the men in any way while they were training. Instead, I was left sitting on a blanket looking rather useless, but taking in everything that the sergeants were saying. Their main task today seemed to be to persuade the men to act on their own initiative if they found themselves without an officer leading them.

I asked one of the sergeants about this, and he replied that there have been reports that the Boche are deliberately picking off the officers because the men become like headless chickens if their leaders are compromised. He admitted that this was not in the regulations, but that he thought it foolish to leave the situation as it stood. He then grinned and told me that I needed to get myself a Tommy uniform as well, as he had heard that Officers were going to be asked to disguise themselves as men in the field. I told him that, if I had known that I would not have paid so much for my uniform, which gave him a chuckle.

My shoulder is still a little sore this evening, but the MO has checked me over and is happy that no lasting damage has been done. I feel quite the invalid of the Company, with my chill, my ankle and now my shoulder, while my other Officers have been completely uninjured throughout their time in training.

31 December 1915

The past few days have passed in a whirl, and we are all beyond exhaustion, with nothing but the sure knowledge that this can only continue until we move to our first billets before we go to the front. I know this must surely only be a few weeks away now, and my enlistment seems nothing but a distant memory. I would dearly wish to sleep the night away, however there is a party in the officer’s mess to celebrate the new year, and my presence is required.

1 January 1916

We saw in the new year with a prayer, rather than a toast. Major Stapleton of the Rifles stood and asked God to have mercy, and make 1916 the year that this madness ends. We all raised our glasses to this, before then wishing one another a happy new year. Outside we could hear the men whooping and singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’, but for some reason we could not muster up that same optimism.

A few Battalions are due to leave in the next few days, with nowhere to go other than the frontline, and the reality of war can no longer be hidden. We all know that we are sharing a drink with men who may be dead before the month is out. Part of me is hoping that I am injured early on so that I can be sent home, but that is dishonourable and cowardly. No matter how afraid I may feel, I need to be with my men, for they will also be afraid and I must be the one that they look to give them the courage to go into battle.

That does not stop me hoping that we are sent somewhere quiet, for it is known that there are some parts of the front that have seen no action at all, and may never do so. The one place that men hope to be sent at this time is the area around the Somme river, which has seen no action for months. I have heard that the men shout greetings to each other from either side of No man’s land, and that fatalities are rare. Perhaps I am cowardly, but I would dearly wish that my men could be posted to such a place.

10 January 1916

We have spent the past week in such intense training that I have hardly had a moment to myself, and now we are quite simply on our own. Our orders have arrived and we are not to go to the Somme, we have been posted to somewhere near Loos, I am not allowed to say where exactly, even in my own journal, and I am not supposed to keep a journal once we reach the front. I cannot imagine not being able to recall the daily events of my life here once I am home, and so I will make an effort to hide my journal in my backpack.

11 January 1916

We left the camp not long after 8 am, and marched to the town where we are to be billeted before we are called to the front. It is a pretty town, although there are already the marks of shell fire on the outskirts. Despite this, most of the populace are still holding on here, not least in fear of losing their possessions and livelihood. We were fortunate to be one of the first Battalions to leave, and so our billeting officer, Michael, went ahead with one of his sergeants to find us a decent spot to set down.

By the time we arrived, he had managed to persuade the owners of two adjoining farms to put us up. The farms are to the north of the town and well sheltered from any potential shellfire, while the outbuildings are solid enough to keep our men warm in the winter chill. Michael and Gerald have taken their platoons to the smaller farm, while I will billet with Stephen and William and the rest of the Company. There are better places to be had as far as we officers are concerned, with some quite smart town houses, however that would leave our men scattered all over the place and we would much rather have them together where we can keep an eye on them.

I know that we will not be called to the front for at least seven days, and so I am now completely in charge of the men, without any help from training sergeants or experienced officers. Father Joseph has informed us all of his billet, a rather nice house beside a church, so that we will be able to call upon him if we need to. Other than that, I must await further orders and keep my men ready for battle, if that were possible.

The farm that we are staying in is a little run down, not least because the farmer was serving with the French army and has been declared missing for some months. His wife believes him dead, but does not seem too distressed as she smiles at us while her small children peep around her skirts each time we come into her kitchen. As well as the money that she is paid to keep us, we have organised the men to clear some of her land so that she can at least plant some potatoes when the weather improves. It keeps the men busy and helps our host, so there is no grumbling as the men dig their way through the hard earth.

12 January 1916

There has been a marked change in the way that the children act towards us. Now that they are used to so many men being around the farm, they are more friendly and have already picked out the men who have children of their own. Those of us who are not blessed with children have little idea what to say to them, beyond offering them chocolate, but the fathers in the platoons play games with them, keeping them busy during the day.

One of the Staff captains turned up this afternoon with a French man in tow, who is to be my interpreter. Since none of us know a word of French, beyond Bonjour and Merci, he will help us out with any future negotiations with our French friends. His name is Jacques, and is a very jolly chap, at least fifty years old, with a red face and large moustache that makes my effort seem even more of an insult to facial hair. He also has lots of stories about the soldiers that he has previously worked with, and is more than happy to share them, whether we want to listen or not. I have also persuaded him to teach me a little French for myself.

As to our actual accommodation, we three are sharing a large room, in which there is one bed, which I have, while the others make do with straw mattresses on the floor. Our batmen are housed in the two rooms next door, and there is a small room at the end of the landing that serves as a bathroom for us. The lavatory is out in the yard, while the men have dug themselves several latrines well away from the outbuildings, so that the children do not wander into them by mistake. I have managed to arrange with our mistress that we can return here once our first foray to the front is complete and Jacques will stay here too while we are at the front. I do not know if this is the correct procedure, but I am determined that the men know that they have somewhere familiar to return to when we are resting.

13 January 1916

We woke to find that it had snowed in the night, fortunately we have been supplied with winter coats, and the men were up early engaging in rather energetic snow-ball fights. Not long after, the children were up and around, so some of the men took them to the small meadow at the front of the house to build snowmen. We were provided with rations late yesterday evening, and so the men are being given their first taste of what will become the staple of our lives, bully beef. It is tinned, and looks deeply unappetising, however the flavour is not as bad as the appearance suggests. We also have bread and Jam, biscuits and tea with some sugar, and chocolate. The men are making the best of the supplies, cooking them up into a stew of sorts, while we are served by our Batmen. They are more fortunate to have access to the large kitchen, and so their attempts at cooking with our rations were a little more controlled than the pots balanced over wood fires.

Our batmen are also cooking for our hostess, which she finds delightful. Jacques keeps laughing as she talks to us, because he knows that she is attempting to flirt, and we are not biting. I do not believe that it is because we do not find her pretty, but the words of the message from Lord Kitchener are still strong in our minds and we are determined to be gentlemen, at least my fellow officers are. I am a husband, so I have no such concerns over the looks of a French widow.

Tony found himself sniggering a little at that entry, for a moment deciding not to believe that a Soldier, hundreds of miles away from his wife, would not be tempted by a pretty widow. After all, it was not as if the woman would call his wife to tell her. He then thought back over all that he had read so far, the man who wrote these words was not a DiNozzo; it would be quite plausible that he would keep his hands to himself rather than cheat on his wife. In all honesty, Tony realised that if he found someone special, he would not cheat on them either. He liked to fool around, and played the field for all it was worth, but if he was with someone he did not cheat on them. He had too many cringeworthy stories about his father’s exploits to fall back on to remind him to stay on the straight and narrow.

15 January 1916

I am becoming a little irritated by the repeated attempts of our hostess to engage one of us (she does not appear to care which) in a tryst of some sort. I understand why she is doing this, as she is a lone widow with a large farm and several children who needs a man to work the land with her. She is surrounded by men each day, although I have noticed that she does not show much interest in the other ranks. Again, there is little doubt over her reasons for this, since most of the French know that the private soldiers are likely to be poorer than the host giving them shelter. Officers are, by and large, of a wealthier status and so would bring money as well as manual labour. Such logic is somewhat flawed in that the Officers are unlikely to give up our means of wealth to take her up on her offer. Even if I were not already married, I would hardly abandon my occupation to become a poor farmer.

This, however, does not stop her in her attempts to draw one of us in. She has taken to ‘accidentally’ blundering into our little bathroom while we are washing or shaving in the morning. I have not yet had the ‘pleasure’ of one of her visits, most likely because she has seen the picture of Mary that I keep well displayed beside my bed. The others, particularly Stephen, have been disturbed, and have now posted their batmen outside the door while they are busy. News of this development has reached the men, and they find it most hilarious.

When she is not being foolish, our hostess is quite amiable and allows the men to play football in the yard. In return, they continue to carry out small jobs for her and we all rub along quite well. The children are now all completely fearless with us all, and provide us with much laughter with their attempts at English, and ours at French. Jacques helps us immeasurably with communications, and so the state of things at the moment are quite agreeable.

16 January 1916

We shocked the locals by attending church en masse this morning, the priest was bewildered as he has never known his church to be so full. Without the Chaplain available to say mass, this was the next best thing, and it seems to have endeared us to the locals as well.

17 January 1916

Our few days of respite are over, and we are to undertake our first duties in the trenches. We are not to fight, instead we will be in charge of organising the ration parties to go up to the lines, at least for the next few weeks.

18 January 1916

We have marched up to the divisional HQ, just behind the lines. I can hear explosions rather near for my liking, which appears to be shelling from the German lines. The men there seem quite immune to the noise, handing me the details of the requests from the five sections that we are to supply. The Quartermaster is quite used to green officers arriving to carry out this task, and has explained what we must do most efficiently. As there are five sectors to be supplied, I must lead one of the parties.

Utterly exhausted, and have only an hour’s rest before we must go up again.

Our first duty was to draw the rations in accordance with the amounts requested by the commanders that we are to take the supplies too. We then had to divide the amounts up in accordance with the different companies that the commanders were in charge of, which took us far too long, even with the quartermaster’s staff helping us – and this will be the only occasion that they will. It is quite a complicated procedure, since everything has to go in a sack together, and we have no containers for tea or sugar. We must put the tea in one corner of the sack, and tie it closed, and sugar goes in the other corner and is also secured. We must then put the tinned food in, followed by bread on top so that it is not squashed. There are also horrible ration biscuits, that have been christened ‘dog-biscuits’ by the men. Once the sacks were prepared, we collected jars of rum and also cans of water which we had to carry by hand as there are no supply carts. Once the rations were divided, we split the men into five groups and each led off our respective parties in the direction of the trenches.

It was a fearful distance, with no guide other than the direction that the sound of shells and guns was coming from. On our way we saw a number of men coming down the line, either with injured comrades, or runners with messages for HQ. They were able to keep us on the right track until we found ourselves facing the first of the many communications trenches. This would be where we would have to go our separate ways to hand over our rations, before meeting up again. Even as I was directing where the others were to go, a shell flew over our heads and landed not ten yards from where we were standing. Everyone threw themselves to the ground, as we have not yet been issued with protective helmets, but the shell turned out to be a dud and did not explode.

We all picked ourselves up and went our separate ways. I led my party down into the trench that we were to follow, and was met by a Sergeant who asked if we were the relief company. I informed him that we were carrying rations, and he sighed and shrugged, before pointing to a heap of helmets. There are currently not enough to be issued to all men, and so only those going to the front line are issued with them. He asked us to return the helmets as we were leaving. Once we had donned the tin hats, which left me with little alternative other than to hold my cap, along with the jar of rum that I was carrying.

We reached the company HQ without incident, to be met by a Captain who looked me up and down and asked if I had gone quite mad. I asked what he meant, only for him to point at the jar of rum and ask me why a Captain was carrying the rations. I replied saying that I thought that my men had quite enough to carry already, but he just chuckled mirthlessly and nodded to his men, who quickly took the rations from us. He asked if there was any post, but I had not been given any letters or parcels. He nodded and suggested that this might be brought up later with the ‘hot stuff’. I had not thought that we would need to return later, but did not make my surprise known as I led the men back out of the trench.

Now that I was relieved of my burdens, I took a moment to look about and take in what a real trench looked like. At that moment, the ground was frozen, and the men were making the best of it wherever they could find to sit down. Some were smoking, others reading while a few played cards. They seemed completely unconcerned by the shelling, which seemed to be sounding a little further up the line. They had done their best to make the place as clean as possible, but it was nearly impossible when they were surrounded by earth and mud. Despite this, I hope that, when we are eventually called upon to take our turn at the front, we are posted to a trench like this.

All of the Company made it back to the rendezvous in good time, and we marched with perhaps unseemly haste back towards the relative safety of the divisional HQ. We had had to leave the helmets as we left the trench, and I fervently hope that the new supplies that have been promised are received with all speed.

I had thought that our day’s work was done, only to find that we were to go back with hot food later in the day. There had also been a delivery of post although this had already been sorted into companies for us. We had only an hour to rest before we were to begin the return journey, and most of us just lay down where we were to try and get some sleep.

For our second journey, we were laden down with large dixies full of stew, and the post, which included a few bulky parcels addressed to certain officers. I decided to send the same parties to the same destinations that we had visited in earlier, and we found our way easily enough. This time, we had to wait for the stew to be doled out from the dixies, and we were then presented with all manner of debris to carry back to HQ for disposal. I was also given the day’s letters to be posted back home.

We finally made it back to HQ as dusk was falling, at which point we were sent back to our billets. We must return at dawn tomorrow to carry out this task again.

Tony stopped reading for a moment, a little disappointed that there was no great battle to mark Captain McGee’s arrival at the trenches. Flicking through the pages, he saw that he was nearly halfway through Tim’s manuscript, if this was all that the Captain did while he was in France, this was not going to be an interesting read. Looking at his watch, he decided to finish for the evening and made his way home.

Words in this post: 5435

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:50 pm 
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Location: Wales
Name: Erica
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Chapter 11

Tony was in a reflective mood as he sat at his desk that morning, Ziva kept giving him quizzical glances, and eventually put down her pen.

“Will you be joining us today Tony?” she asked.


“Will you be doing any work?”

“Oh…sorry Ziva, my mind was somewhere else.”

“I could see that. Let me guess, France 1915?”

“1916 actually, Uncle McGee had a nice Christmas, and is now a food carrier.”

“Food carrier? I thought he was a soldier, not a waiter.”

“Looks like he spent his war delivering rations and post.”

“Someone had too Tony.” Ziva observed. “And, you will likely find, if you read on, that all infantry units spent some time doing such work. Do not believe that this man did not see action simply because his current task is taking rations to the front line.”

“What do you know about it Ziva? Did Israel take part in that war?”

“You know that we did not, Israel did not exist then. I do know that efficient supply lines did not run themselves, but given how many men actually died during that war, there is little chance that your Captain did not find himself in action at some point, if only to fill in the cracks.”


“Yes, replace men who were killed.”

“Oh, you mean gaps Ziva.”

“Why not ask McGee about it when you go the hospital this evening?”

“Like he’ll answer me.”

“He may do, if you ask him very nicely.”

Tony smiled, a little sadly, but appreciated the touch of humour.

Tim’s father was at his son’s bedside when Tony arrived to take his shift. The man looked beyond exhaustion, but sat straight as he gazed silently at Tim. He turned sharply at the sound of Tony’s arrival.

“Sorry, sir.” Tony began.

“You may as well come in, not that it will do much good.” The older man said, a touch of bitterness in his voice. “The doctors keep telling me he’s getting better, but I just can’t see it.”

“He has to get better sir.” Tony replied, confidently. “He has a book to finish.”

“Not that first world war nonsense, surely?” The Admiral asked. “He has been digging through those two boxes for months now; I didn’t think it would come to anything.”

“There…there’s a manuscript.” Tony admitted. “Do you know much about Captain McGee?”

“Nothing at all, those boxes were in my father’s attic when my mother cleared out her house last year. She was going to throw it all away, but Timothy…he insisted on taking the papers, something else to clutter up that pig-sty of an apartment of his.”

Tony was a little offended on Tim’s behalf at that statement, the apartment was chaotic, but it was definitely an organised chaos. He watched at the Admiral stood and picked up his coat. With one last look at his son, and no acknowledgement to Tony, he left the room.

“Alone at last.” Tony said, grinning at the man on the bed. “So…I have to ask you, were you disappointed when you found out that your uncle was a food carrier…?”

Abby was due to relieve him, but she was late, and so he had no time to go anywhere other than home after his visit. For some reason, he felt a little cheated that he had not been able to get over to Tim’s apartment to read some more. As soon as the next working day ended, thankfully without a case, he went straight over, only stopping at a drive-through burger place on the way.

21 January 1916

Our duties are to be four days delivering rations, and three days off. Today will be our first period of rest since our tour began.

We dismissed the men early this morning after roll call, and they soon disappeared off in the direction of the town. It is not much of a distance, and there are still a good number of shops and cafes still open there. I took advantage of the peace to write to Mary, before Jacques took me for a tour of the town. He is very good company, and I am grateful for someone who speaks the language to help me in my first forays into this country. He knows which are the best hotels, which do not fleece the foreign officers, and also showed me where the cafés that are frequented by officers are located.

We walked into a slightly less smart quarter of the town, not so much for my personal benefit, but so that he could show me where to find some of the more popular brothels. He knows that I have no interest in such pursuits, but my officers and men are not saints and Jacques has decided that I should at least know where they may go. Even in such a sordid matter, there is still a chasm between what is available to the officers, and what the men can expect. I was deeply embarrassed by his commentary as he took me from one establishment to the next, but it seems that his tour was worthwhile as a group of five men from ‘A’ Company stumbled out of one of them right into our path.

I found myself looking at my watch, since it was still early, but the lads were unrepentant, and as they are on their own time, and using their own pay, I cannot really censure them. Instead, I stood aside and allowed them to pass, the message from Lord Kitchener about behaving with propriety burning in my mind. Jacques merely laughed and led me back to the main square where we went to his favourite café.

While we were given coffee, and some rather sweet biscuits, Jacques tried to teach me a little French, mainly the names of things I would order at a café, and also how to understand the prices so that I would not be fleeced. It seems that he also knows some German, since he was living in Alsace when the war began. He found it most amusing to try and teach me some of that language too, but I refused, for fear of being thought of as a spy.

By afternoon, it seemed that the sight of me near the brothels had somehow spread around the company. We met William and Michael as they were leaving one of the hotels, and they asked if I had enjoyed myself there, clearly under the impression that I had used one of those establishments. Presumably either the look of pure horror on my face, or the great bellow of laughter from Jacques persuaded them of their error. Michael assured me that they meant no harm by their comments, and they have assured me that the men do not believe that I would act in such a manner either. William then asked Jacques if he could direct him to where the brothels were, so that he could also keep an eye on the conduct of his men.

I vow that I will never approach that part of the town again under any pretext.

I returned to the farm quite early, and learned that a good number of the men had visited an army run cinema in the evening, where they had been shown some Charlie Chaplin films. I noticed a few of them in the farm yard attempting to impersonate the great man, and failing rather comically. I have been left alone for a while, and at this moment feel quite lonely. My adventures today have reminded me just how much I miss the company of my wife and it depresses me that I must wait until perhaps 1917 before I may be allowed to go home to see her again.

25 January 1916

We have suffered our first casualties of the war, thankfully neither was killed, but both men will be out of it for some time. Our ration run had been completed and we were marching back down the line, when a shell burst close to us. We had no time to find cover, only to drop to the ground and pray. Although the shell did not hit anyone, two of the men in Gerald’s platoon were hit by flying debris. Once was badly concussed, and the other had his arm broken, but at least neither appears to have suffered anything that might become infected. Our mishap was seen by an ambulance crew and they took the men immediately, allowing us to continue unhindered.

For the first time, both Gerald and myself have to make casualty reports, and it is quite a different matter from writing fictitious reports at the training camp. We were able to complete our task quite quickly, and I then ordered a full kit inspection to attempt to divert the men’s minds from the shock of what had happened. I fear that matters will only get worse, and so we must be ready for the moment that we lose one of our own to death.

1 February 1916

I feel like I have been organising rations for my entire life. We are never welcomed with our supplies, always meeting with complaints of our apparent tardiness, even if we have been delayed by shelling or gun fire. Those at the front call my men ‘delivery boys’ as none of us have yet served at the front line, and I sense that the jibes are beginning to anger them. While I am offended on their behalf, our losses have been minimal compared to those in the units at the front, and if the price for their lives is being called a name, I will gladly accept the insult.

4 February 1916

I have escaped from the farm for a night, and have taken a room at one of the hotels in the town. I could go out for the evening, but all I wish for is some peace and quiet, just for one night, with no one snoring, no angry shouts from the outbuildings and no reminders of what we are here to do. I did go out for a meal, and was given a good dinner at the café that Jacques recommended, and then returned to the room and shut myself away for the evening.

If you close the window, and the wind blows in the right direction, you cannot hear the guns, and you can truly believe that you are not at war. I enjoyed such quiet as I lay on the bed reading that it was all that I could do to get myself to sit back up and write.

In the peace of this evening, I have been able to put aside the concerns that dog me, that I have the lives of so many men in my hands. It helps that I must lead them, rather than sit miles behind the lines and send them to battle with no clue as to how they may be faring, but I would rather not send them into danger at all. We are all afraid, no matter how we boast of wishing to have our turn at the Boche, and perhaps I have more to fear than most, for it is not only my life at stake, but those of the men under my command. I know that it can only be a matter of time before we must go into battle ourselves, and it is something that I dread.

I think I will stop writing now, it seems that I cannot keep my thoughts on anything else when my journal is before me.

7 February 1916

We have been ordered to the front. We are to take our first tour in the front line tomorrow.

8 February 1916

I did not sleep last night, which is of little help as I will be awake for much of the night to come. We assembled for roll call at 9.00 am, and left Jacques with our hostess as we marched out to meet up with the rest of the Battalion. The 8th Dublins are already at the front, and we will be joining them, along with some of the other Irish regiments holding other sectors. As far as I know, the current orders are that ‘A’ and ‘B’ company will alternate with ‘C’ and ‘D’ Company in the front line over the next week or so before we return to our billets, and this will be the form. We will be relieving the current incumbents tonight.

As we were leaving, a cart rolled up with two sergeants settled in the back with a stack of helmets for us. There are, at last, enough helmets to go around and we have been issued with our own to carry as part of our pack. The men’s helmets are dull green, while we officers have some sacking material fitted over the top of ours, although why this should be I am not certain. Either way, we will be required to wear them while in the front trench, and so we must take care of them.

The march up to the trenches was a cold one, with flurries of snow in the air. I could sense the disquiet in the men, as there was no singing, and only a handful of them were smoking. We know now that there is no avoiding the likelihood that we will soon face our first fatalities and even the most optimistic of us cannot hide from that.

It was still daylight when we reached the communications trench, where the battalion that we were to relieve was waiting to go. We will stay where we are for the time being, and then move up to the front line after dark, to replace the men currently stationed there. Our orders are to stay there for two nights, and then exchange places with our opposite numbers and return to the reserve trench. This will continue for the next two weeks until we are relieved by the companies that are leaving tonight.

We waited until about an hour after dark, and then moved up to the front line trench, a difficult task in the dark. There we took possession of the trench and allowed the others to leave. I had my platoon commanders organise sentries immediately, while I looked out the dugout that is to serve as Company HQ. Here I found Captain Mulroney of ‘B’ company already ordering his batman around. He is a decent fellow, but rather prone to foolish comments about looking forward to ‘kicking Fritz in the altogethers’. Unlike myself, he has lived in England for some years, although his parents are Irish, and he chose to enlist in Dublin because he ‘liked the style of the badge’. He keeps telling me how much he likes my ‘lilting Irish brogue’ a term that I do not really understand, but I allow to keep the peace.

There are other dugouts along our sector of the trench where the platoon commanders are settled, while the men must make do with what shelter they can find. As soon as I had found our HQ, I left Charlie to unpack and made a round of the sentries to see that all was settled. The night was decidedly quiet, although a few men were already on the fire steps with their guns hoping to start sniping. What they hoped to hit in the darkness is anyone’s guess.

As this is our first night in a trench, we are not expected to send any working parties out into No man’s land, but this will not be allowed again. I have already found a note from the previous commanders of places where wire needs to be re-laid or repaired. There is also a rather ominous note suggesting that we ought to carry out a trench raid while we are here because they did not get around to sending one.

I am not sending my men out into No man’s land for such a purpose when we have only just arrived.

We had time for some tea and biscuits while Mulroney and I divided up the Officer’s watch. Much of that responsibility will fall to the platoon commanders, but we cannot expect to be spared, and he has chosen to take first watch. I will now try and get some sleep before he comes to wake me for my turn.

9 February 1916

Mulroney woke me for my watch at 2 am, I had a few moments to wash my face and hands, and then stumbled out of the dugout still half asleep. The men were sitting around looking vastly bored, and I began to wish that I had organised a working party to keep some of them occupied. Even the over-eager would be snipers were now sitting on the fire step waiting for something to happen. We could hear shell fire further down the line, but the Germans opposite us did not seem to be in any mood to disturb us.

With this in mind, I stepped up onto the fire step, and peeped through the loophole to get my first view of No man’s land. All that I could see was a mass of barbed wire, and then darkness, with no sign of any movement. Almost at once, I felt myself being pulled backwards, and turned to find Stephen behind me. He quietly reminded me that I should not be looking out through the loophole if I was not intent on sniping, and to use a periscope instead. I had not even thought to bring the contraption that I had stowed away with my equipment. Rather than return to the dugout to retrieve it, I left the duty of watching over No man’s land to the sentries and the other officers and continued on my rounds.

Shortly after 3.15 am, a very-light went up about 500 yards to our left, followed by some rather loud rifle fire, and the rat-a-tat of a machine gun. We all leapt up and snatched up our weapons, fearing an attack, even though there was no sign of anything moving in front of us, but the firing died away and then all was quiet again. We relaxed our guard a little, but I found that the men were no longer quite so relaxed, and no one put their rifle down.

Finally at 6.00 am, I called Stand too, and we waited for the sun to come up. Dawn and dusk are the times when a trench raid is most likely, and so we must be prepared during the half hour before sunrise and sunset. As soon as it was light, I nodded to the platoon commanders and they doled out the morning rum ration. I returned to the dugout to find some tinned sausages and bacon being cooked for me, washed down with a large mug of tea. Even in such primitive conditions, it is a welcome sight to have a hot breakfast.

As soon as breakfast was over, I had to oversee kit inspection, then set everyone to work either cleaning kit, or filling sandbags, while the men selected as snipers began their watch rather too eagerly on the fire step. They are all rather keen to bag a German, although no one has fired off a round yet. We are still too used to the lack of ammunition to want to waste any at the moment. I fear that this will not last long.

I had barely finished my rounds when I was called back to the dugout as the field telephone was ringing and Mulroney was nowhere to be found (he had gone to ‘inspect the latrine’ as he called it). I found myself speaking to the Colonel at Division HQ who was demanding a response to a message that he sent up the previous day. I apologised and told him that I had not been present at that time and that I would try to help as best I could. He wanted details of any spare helmets that we had lying around the trench.

I was, therefore, obliged to go around the trench again, this time checking for any helmets. Finding none, I attempted to call Division HQ, but the connection failed. I was tempted to send a runner, but felt that spare helmets was not a good enough reason to waste a man’s energy. Mulroney will attempt to contact HQ again later.

Most of the day has now gone, eaten up with paperwork and sleep. We had some tinned meat and potatoes for dinner, cooked up by Mulroney’s batman, who seems to believe that Charlie is quite useless. Having seen the state of Mulroney’s uniform, I beg to differ, but I need to keep the peace and so have said nothing. One thing that the man cannot do is keep papers in order, which Charlie is a dab hand at. Already we have been the first to send in most of the daily reports to Division simply because he has devised a simple filing system that keeps all of our records in perfect order.

I had time to catch up on some sleep in the late afternoon, before being woken for tea – bread and jam – and the evening Stand Too. My final act for the evening was to organise two working parties to repair the wire in accordance with the list left for me. I am writing this by candle light in the dugout while I listen for any rifle fire – my men are out in the open as I write, and I can only hope that they return unhurt.

11 February 1916

Led a working party myself last evening, to repair part of the parapet that fell in following a shell burst two days before we arrived. No man’s land is an eerie place, where to show oneself by day is to invite an early grave. By night, we are largely safe, since snipers cannot see us, although sometimes the machine gunners take random sweeps out into the darkness in the hope of catching one of us. I have noticed that we tend to flit around No man’s land rather a lot in the dark, while the Germans sit snugly in their trenches. I believe it is the misguided notion of our Generals that we must show the Boche that we are in charge of this patch of nothing between our trenches. I presume that, if we do not, no one would bother to move and the war would never end.

Our work was carried out with all speed, except for a moment when we all threw ourselves into the mud when we heard a machine gun. It turned out to be one of ours, a few yards to our right firing off at the Germans for much the same reason as their somewhat random firing towards us. No one was hurt and we got back to our trench without incident.

12 February 1916

There are rats in the dugout, I felt one scurry over me while I was in bed this morning. Mulroney saw it while we were at breakfast, and simply took his revolver and fired at it, leaving a rather large hole in the floorboards. We have not had a decent wash since we arrived here, which is bad enough, but the fact that we are sharing our home with rats is quite disgusting.

15 February 1916

We have withdrawn to the support trench, as reserves, although we are still busy maintaining the trench. The dugout that we are in at the moment is rather musty and damp, while the men are starting to scratch from lice.

17 February 1916

My shirt is crawling with lice, I am utterly horrified. My uniform is filthy and I really want a bath.

19 February 1916

Four men sent to hospital with dysentery, at least ten others showing signs of it. We have to go back to the front line this evening, but I am not sure that we will have enough men still standing at this rate.

21 February 1916

I have forgotten what it is like not to be tired, on top of everything else, we have received a memo from HQ reminding us that we must check the men’s feet to ensure that they have taken the necessary precautions against trench foot and frostbite. Thankfully this is not a duty that falls to me, but I am quite certain that the men’s feet would not get so wet or cold if they had riding boots like the officers. Their puttees cannot protect them from the sodden mud that is seeping through the duck boards, and the water is just soaking down into their boots. I have heard that some men are deliberately attempting to develop either these conditions to get them out of the front line, and right at this moment I do not blame them. We are all crawling with vermin, our clothes and bodies all stink, and if I see another rat I swear I will shoot it myself.

28 February 1916

We are due to be relieved tomorrow, and so Mulroney has decided to end his first tenure with a trench raid. I want no part of it, since I have no desire to invite hostilities when we have not been disturbed by the Boche opposite us. I have received reports of rather heavy shelling and resulting casualties in other parts of this sector, but we have been quite fortunate. There have been casualties, although thankfully not within my own company, and other than a few successful hits by our snipers, no real damage done by us either. Perhaps that makes me disloyal or a coward, but at this moment all I care about is getting my men out of this hole alive.

The raiding party has returned, but Mulroney is not with them, he was killed as they were dragging two Germans out of the trench. Somehow the men got back with their two prisoners, but they had not treated them well. I had little choice other than to attempt to call HQ, fortunately this time the line was working, to report what had happened. The Colonel was appropriately sad at the loss of Mulroney, but delighted that we had prisoners, and ordered that they be brought to HQ as soon as we were relieved.

I had the men brought to my dugout, mainly to stop the men shouting abuse and trying to hit them, since their Captain was dead. One of them could speak some English, and thanked me for showing a little mercy. He is an officer, and the man with him the German equivalent of a private. We spoke a little about what had happened, and I could hardly condemn them for killing Mulroney when he had brought a raiding party over their heads. If anything, they seemed relieved to be captured, although I sensed some trepidation. I believe that they are perhaps glad to have been removed from the trenches, for they will be kept in camps well behind the lines for as long as hostilities continue.

My next duty was to complete a report of the raid on Mulroney’s behalf, and then go and speak with the ‘B’ company commanders. After a discussion, we have put Pat O’Nally in temporary command of the company to get everyone back to the Billets safely.

It has just occurred to me that Mulroney’s body is still lying somewhere out in No man’s land. I feel that we should retrieve it, however, he fell almost at the parapet of the German Trench, so to do so would invite more casualties. Five of his men have decided that they wish to attempt this, and I have reluctantly given my consent.

All five have returned with the body, one approached waving a piece of bandage to effect a white flag, and the Germans allowed them to take their Captain without incident. I was led to believe that the Boche were little short of savages, but this night I am humbled by their humanity.

Tony considered the final passage for a good few moments, he knew almost nothing about the First World War, but one thing he had always thought was that men were killed by the thousands, not by the tens or hundreds. The thought that one side would allow the other to recover the dead, and that they would be acknowledged for it seemed to completely wrong.

He smiled, though, at the manner in which the entries had changed once the men had reached the trenches, and the less than sanitary conditions there. The Captain had gone from reflective to snarky in the space of only a few days. For a moment, he wished that he could have met the guy, to ask him about it all. Such a pity that it had taken this long for someone to dig this diary out.

29 February 1916

It is quite strange to celebrate the passing of a leap year with something as simple as a hot bath and a shave. We stopped at the divisional bath house on our way back to the billets, and I hope that my shirts are free of lice after being blasted with steam.

I found some survivors in the seam of my shirt, our hostess has some irons, which she has put on her stove to heat for Charlie to attempt to kill them.

2 March 1916

Stephen has been using his camera in the trench, which I completely failed to notice until he returned from the town with his developed photographs. Most are of the men, including one of our merry band of snipers in action, their heads covered with sacks. I was not amused to find one of myself, fast asleep on my bed, in broad daylight, still in my great coat. I am not certain which day this was, as I was always too tired to do much more than hang up my revolver and pull off my boots. I have not asked him to destroy the picture, but I have insisted that he does not photograph me without my knowledge again. He nodded, but he was decidedly unrepentant.

4 March 1916

We are supposed to be resting, but we have been called upon to fill more sandbags to be sent to the front. No one has said why, but there is little doubt that further trenches are being constructed, although none of us know where. The men are grumbling, however there is little that we can do if the Colonel at Division HQ orders it. Thankfully, the complaints are being directed against him, rather than myself. I have promised that, once they are done, they can spend the rest of the afternoon at leisure. This sped up the work considerably so that they would have time for a game of football before it got too dark to see.

5 March 1916

We do not have church parades out in the field, but Father Joseph visits all of the resting brigades on a Sunday to hear confession or lead prayers. I have noticed that a good number of our men who seemed largely oblivious to the presence of God before we came to France are now quite passionate in their faith. Father Joseph is most tolerant to any who are not of the Catholic faith, and does not demand adherence from Protestants in exchange for leading their prayers.

More than anything, he is quite determined to come with us to the front as soon as he can, since it troubles him that he may not be able to give us any blessings if we are mortally wounded. I, personally, do not think that God will be offended if our souls come un-blessed, as long as we are true in our faith in Him.

7 March 1916

I have received a letter from Mary with a parcel of food. The food has been squirreled away with some other items received from home to come up with us to the front when we next go. Mary is a little concerned that there is growing unrest in Dublin, and is considering going to stay with her mother for a while. It is moments like these that I wish that I was not in France, so that I could see for myself whether the ‘unrest’ that Mary fears is real, or whether some of our friends have exaggerated matters. I have written to her to tell her that she must do what she thinks is best and to write to me to tell me where she is once she has decided.

9 March 1916

We are to return to the front at the beginning of next week. The news was met with dismay by the men, but they are resigned to another two weeks of rats and vermin.

11 March 1916

The Army ‘cinema’ put on some films for the men, and I went along this time. We were shown a film about how things are going with the war, which none of us believed, and then some comic films, although not those by Chaplin, accompanied by a decidedly out of tune piano. I have not seen a film before, and it was quite a sight to behold watching something that had happened more than a year ago being played before my eyes. I am not sure that such things will replace the theatre as a form of entertainment, but they are a welcome diversion for the troops.

Tony chuckled to himself at such a sentiment. To someone who loved movies as much as he did, the idea of someone going to see a film for the first time a the age of 30 seemed completely outlandish. He wondered whether the Captain had come to see how cinema had grown since those early days, or whether he had ignored it all and gone back to visiting the theatre when he had returned home.

Looking around, he yawned, but wasn't ready to leave. Gibbs always went for coffee at such times, and so Tony decided to take a leaf out of the boss's books and made straight for the kitchen.

Words in this post: 5708

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Sun Nov 04, 2012 1:47 pm 
Mossad Liaison Officer
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Joined: Sat Jul 14, 2012 9:21 am
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Location: Wales
Name: Erica
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Author's Note - Warning - This chapter will include depictions of battle.

Chapter 12

After a few minutes figuring out how to make Tim’s coffee machine work, Tony filled up a mug and settled back down at the desk. Judging by the thickness, he was about halfway through the manuscript, but he resisted the temptation to look at the last entry.

13 March 1916

We have been sent to a different trench, and it is in far worse condition to the last one. I sent no work parties out as we were too busy attempting to shore up parts of the trench walls, and re-lay the duck boards, which were half submerged in foul smelling mud. I fear that the latrine has somehow leaked into it, and so we have filled in the one that we found, and dug a new one further into the ground behind the trench.

Our neighbours across the way are also rather disagreeable in comparison to those who allowed us to collect Mulroney’s body when we were last at the front. They seem to be a little closer, and think nothing of calling over to us with claims of bad things that are happening in England. I have forbidden the men to respond, simply because I do not want them to hear the voices and realise that we are Irish. English news means nothing to the men, but if they heard ill news from home, I am not sure what they would do.

At least Pat is still in temporary command of ‘B’ company, and so spends much of his time in my dugout. No matter how bad things seem to be, he always has a grin and a joke for us all.

14 March 1916

Wet and cold. Lots of rats in the trench, and a number seem to be sheltering in our dugout. I shot one this morning, and Pat keeps asking Charlie to cook it up for our dinner.

15 March 1916

I fear that Charlie has taken Pat up on his request, dinner this afternoon was revolting.

16 March 1916

Back in the reserve trench, conditions little better, and now the blasted Germans are shelling us.

17 March 1916

Four men hit by a shell, not even at the front line. All killed.

19 March 1916

Back at the front line again, shelling has stopped, but the blighters are now taking pot shots at us with their rifles. I sent our snipers up right after stand too with a promise of double rum ration if they bagged at least one Hun each. Stephen watched the show through his periscope and confirmed six kills. They have stopped shooting at us.

20 March 1916

Returned to reserve trench, first moment I have had to sit down since we got to the front line. I did not realise how hard it would be to deal with the loss of four of our men. They were part of Michael’s platoon, and he was quite beside himself as he was nearby, but protected by a bend in the trench. Somehow, we have managed to pull ourselves together and work through all that needs to be done, not least because the worst job was sorting through the mess that the shell had left attempting to put four smashed bodies together so that we did not bury one man’s arm with another man’s leg. The chaplain attached to the Leinsters was nearby and came to deal with the burial, after we had prepared the bodies.

We could not spare all of the men, and so I asked that only Michael’s platoon join us to form a burial party and we all hurried out of the trenches. We had to bury the bodies with unseemly speed, but the Chaplain was most moving in his short address. We have identified the men, and have laid simple crosses with their names on so that we can find them if we are able to produce more fitting markers. I then took on the task of writing to the family of each of the men, attempting to tell them what had happened without being too graphic. Thankfully the men did not know what hit them when they died, and so did not suffer, but it is a dreadful thing to have to report to a man’s loved ones. By the time I had finished, I had no energy to write about the day in my journal and, if truth be told, nor did I have the stomach for it.

I know that I will have to do this again, and perhaps with a much larger loss of men to deal with, but I fear that I will never be able to harden myself for the task.

23 March 1916

Took a working party into No man’s land to replace more of the wire cut by the recent shelling. Only four of us, myself included, did the work, I took the others simply to keep an eye out over towards the German trench with their rifles at the ready. The Boche must have seen we meant business as they did not give us any trouble.

Five men hospitalised for dysentery, one showing signs of trench fever, so sent off as well. I hope to God that neither malady spreads any further or we will have no one left to defend the line.

25 March 1916

Back to our Billet again, and we have news that our six invalids are recovering well. A new officer has also arrived with the Colonel. He is a lieutenant, and the Colonel has promoted Pat to Captain, which has been received with great joy by everyone except Pat’s platoon. The new lad seems to have been plucked out of school, but he is keen as mustard and seems to know how to handle himself already.

27 March 1916

The men have settled well enough after the dreadful events while we were at the front. The Colonel advised us to keep them busy at first, and then perhaps encourage some team sports once the immediate shock had worn off. We have followed this advice throughout the weekend, and let up today with some football during the afternoon. It did not all go as well as this, a few of the men appear to have found some alcohol, and made some very unpleasant remarks to Father Joseph on Sunday. We found their stash – cheap whisky – and have poured it away before putting all of the men on a charge for drunkenness. They will be confined to their billet for the next few days, under Michael’s watchful eye. In strictness, I should report them formally, but I will not do so this time. I have, however, warned them that I will not be lenient in any way if they do such a thing again.

1 April 1916

The farm children tricked Charlie into going into the cellar to find something for them, and then locked him in for much of the morning as a joke. It seems that they like to play pranks on this day as much as in England, but Charlie was not amused, since he is now very much behind with his duties. The other batmen have, thankfully, rallied round to help him out, but my clean shirt was not ironed when I asked for it. Fortunately, the evening was unusually chill, and so I hid the wrinkled garment under my great coat when I visited the town in the evening.

3 April 1916

Orders from Divisional HQ have put us back on ration duty again for two weeks. Much grumbling from the men now that the Boche are being more free and easy with the whizz-bangs.

4 April 1916

Another parcel from Mary, this time with mittens for the officers. She has also asked how many men we have in the Company as she has gathered some friends who wish to knit some mittens for them as well. It is a delightful thought, although I believe a little too ambitious seeing as it would likely be summertime before all of them would be finished. I have suggested that she perhaps wait until the summer to start, so that they have enough by the time winter comes again.

Although the weather is a little warmer, the mittens are a great help in protecting the hands of the men who are carrying the dixies as the handles can become rather hot. As long as they return the mittens to us after we have completed the ration delivery, I am sure that Mary will be glad that they were of use to us.

6 April 1916

Unable to get to the trenches with the rations today, shelling simply too fierce and so we were ordered to withdraw. We will not be popular when we attempt a fresh run tomorrow.

7 April 1916

Shelling was hard again today, but I am proud to say that the men insisted on making the run anyway, as we simply cannot leave the troops at the front without food or water. God was watching and we made the delivery without incident.

10 April 1916

Spent the last three days going back and forth with extra things, not just food, but extra wire, sacks for the production of sand-bags and all manner of other items. I believe I managed about four hours sleep during the entire time.

We are resting today, thankfully, as we will be back on the job again from tomorrow. I think someone has pilfered some of the chocolate from the rations as the farm children seem to have found a ready supply from somewhere, and know that I keep mine well hidden.

12 April 1916

Received a very cool welcome when we arrived with the rations today, as two men had fallen into a flooded shell-hole, so their sacks were sodden. Thankfully the sack carrying the day’s post was dry. We had the pay master with us too, which was a very welcome sight to the men. The down side was that we had to stay with him while he paid all of the men, forcing us to leave more than an hour after we had arrived. It was after dark when we got back to HQ.

13 April 1916

Pat has managed to get an afternoon pass to go to the town. We may be at war, but we have not forgotten that Easter is close at hand, and so we have decided to do what we did at Christmas. Pat is charged with buying enough cigarettes and tobacco for everyone, and also as much chocolate as he can carry. We would hold off, but with our return to the trenches imminent, we need to ensure that we are prepared.

14 April 1916

We are to leave for the reserve trench this evening. Our bags and valises are packed full of hidden booty to give to the men on Easter Sunday.

15 April 1916

Same wretched trench as last time, even more unsanitary than it was when we were last here. Shot two rats already.

18 April 1916

Memo received from HQ complaining that we are not carrying out enough trench raids. It is all that we can do to shore up this wretched trench, along with orders that we received on 16th to dig two spurs out into No man’s land. I have just realised that I have not touched my Journal for two whole days, and may not have time to write again for several more. I have no wish to send my men over to the other side to try and take prisoners, since they are more than adequately protected by wire that our artillery seem completely unwilling to cut. The Boche seem happy to sit in their trenches and shout abuse at us, and I am quite willing to leave them to it.

20 April 1916

One of the ‘B’ company Lieutenants led a party over towards the German trenches. No prisoners, but a length of Boche wire taken. They brought this to our dugout with an air of triumph, which made Pat bellow with laughter. He pulled out the memo demanding more trench raids, and showed me the last paragraph that suggested sending German wire as proof of a raid. We have far too much to send, but the idea is to cut a little off every few days and send it with a false report of a raid.

I am not sure that this is quite what the Colonel had in mind, but if it keeps us safe in our trenches for a little while longer, I will write whatever he wants to read.

21 April 1916

It is Good Friday today, but we hardly noticed it as we moved forward to the front line in time for Stand Too before dawn. It is my usual practice to refrain from eating meat on this day, but here we have no choice other than to eat what is put in front of us. Heavy sniper fire during the morning, and someone called out that they could see gas, which caused us to hurriedly put on our gas hoods (the ‘gas’ turned out to be mist). I am sensing a change in mood from across the way, as if they are no longer in any mood to ‘live and let live’ with us.

23 April 1916

Surprisingly quiet today, we were back in the support trench, and were able to hand out our gifts to the men. The ration party did not arrive yesterday due to heavy shelling, and so the chocolate was eaten before the men had even sat down. There was plenty of work to do, but we were visited by Father Joseph, who will spend the Easter week with us. His motives are noble, as he wishes to understand the difficulties we experience, but I fear that he may come to regret his decision.

25 April 1916

The Boche were shouting across to us quite early this morning, something about unrest in Dublin. I listened out for some time, but could not make out what they were saying. I decided to call through to HQ to ask if any of what we had heard could be true, as I feared how the men would react if they thought their loved ones might be in danger. I was fortunate to get through to one of the staff officers who told me that there had been a revolt in Dublin, and that an Irish Republic had been declared. I asked what I should tell the men, and he could not advise me, other than to do what I thought was best.

By the time I got back out to the men, they had managed to glean more details from the Germans than I had heard from HQ. To my surprise, they were outraged that such a thing could be happening when the country was fighting for the freedom of others. If any were in support of this damned foolishness, then they kept their own counsel. For now, there is little more that can be said, as it seems that the Boche are feeding their men bad news from home, and there is little that I can do to stop them.

26 April 1916

Very quiet today, little in the way of shellfire. I think Fritz is up to something.

27 April 1916

Returned to the reserve trenches tonight, still very little news over what is taking place in Dublin. There was another false alarm over gas about an hour ago, this time it was smoke that the men mistook. Pat has ordered a kit inspection to stop the men gossiping over the matters at home, but there is little else that we can do to p

29 April 1916
Holy Mary, Mother of God! Deliver us from this living hell.

10 May 1916

The Battalion, or at least what is left of it, has been withdrawn from the trenches and are now well behind the lines in a rest camp. I have had no opportunity to complete my journal these 11 days, and if truth be told, little inclination either. I still find myself trembling when I recall all that happened in those frightful days, but I must not allow such horror to pass without record.

I had been writing my journal when we were visited rather unexpectedly by a Major Brocklehurst, newly attached to divisional HQ but not himself of any Irish Regiment. I believe he was with one of the Guards regiments, but with all that has happened I can no longer recall. I had to abandon all that I had been doing to provide him with a verbal report of what had been happening. Before I had had a chance to complete my report, there was a wild cry from without that the frontline trench had been overwhelmed with poison gas, and that the men had not been ready for it.

I did not wait to be ordered, and snatched up my coat and revolver, along with my gas-hood and helmet. Only as I was leaving did I think to ask the Major if he would come too, which he assented to. Charlie was at my heels, before the Major stopped him and asked him to run back to the far end of the communication trench and call for stretcher bearers. He nodded, and saluted in preparation to leave, before the Major rather carelessly ordered him to stay put in the dug-out once his mission was complete as he wanted a cup of tea waiting for him when we were finished. I did not protest, as I did not appreciate how matters would go at that time.

‘A’ and ‘B’ company were in the reserve trench, while ‘C’ and ‘D’ company had been at the front line. All of the men were near frantic to get going into the fray to find and rescue their friends, and so I ordered them to put on their hoods, and led them towards the front line with all speed. What we found there will haunt me to the end of my days.

None of the men had put on their gas hoods, fooled into thinking that the foul vapour was more smoke like the earlier ‘attack’. I have never seen such a hellish scene as the men lay writhing on the ground, their faces blackened and burned, while others spewed out foul detritus from their mouths. We could hear the shouts of the Germans, coming closer as they made to attack the trench, and so we were forced to take positions amongst our dying comrades. I found Stephen, somehow, and ordered his platoon to hold the trench and provide cover for the stretcher bearers while they evacuated any man who still lived. We had no choice but to leave the dead where they lay.

The Machine gun crew had been gassed with the rest, but our gunners left their weapon and took up position with the abandoned gun. I remember them firing and yelling at the same time, while the others took aim with their rifles. What followed was all confusion in pitch black night, as the Germans came towards us, only to halt at our wire, where we shot them down without mercy. I had once thought these monsters humane, but at that moment, I wanted them all dead. We were able to drive them back, and so I ordered a charge myself, blowing my whistle for the first time in action. We scrambled up and managed to get through the wire, but the Boche then turned to face us again, and the fighting that followed lasted for much of the night. Many were killed, but I had little clue of what was happening in the confusion.

We drove the Boche back, and returned to our trench, where I found the Major with Stephen, helping to keep the evacuation of the living from stalling. The gas had dissipated, which allowed us to remove our hoods, but it was too late for the poor souls who had been in the trench when the gas had tumbled down over the parapet. Everywhere I looked all I could see were the dead, in various poses of pure anguish.

We then became aware that someone was calling for help just beyond the parapet, and realised that one of our men was trapped in No man’s land. Perhaps I was still too furious with the Boche to think, but I clambered back up and crawled over to where I could hear the pleas for aid. As soon as they saw movement, the Germans began firing, but the lie of the land protected me as long as I dragged myself across the mud without raising any part of my body. I made it to a shell-hole where I found one of the younger lads, no more than 18 or 19, with a bullet hole in his leg. He could not possibly make it back alone, and I could bring myself to leave him. Already the sun was rising, and I knew that I had only one chance to get us safely back to the trench before the light exposed us to the German guns.

I still do not know where my strength came from, however I managed to drag us both back across the mud, despite heavy fire. I called out and a line of men stepped onto the fire step so that I roll the lad over the parapet and down into their waiting arms. As soon as they were clear I made to climb down, before four men stepped up and told me to roll myself in for them to catch me. Even now, I cannot believe that I dared to do such a thing.

The Major clapped me on the back and told me ‘that was a good show’, which I appreciated, but almost at once, we heard the Boche making ready to attack again, this time in broad daylight. We had no choice but to fight them again, and the same pattern continued for much of the day, until we finally managed to repel them completely as dark was falling on the 28th. We could not rest, or stop to evacuate the dead, for fear of yet another attack during the night. Thankfully, we were not disturbed again.

We thought it was over, but just after dawn on 29th, we saw another deadly cloud of gas slipping over the ground towards us. In the confusion, most of our gas hoods had been forgotten and were now nowhere to be seen. I feared that the trench would descend into panic, as we could hardly stay to be gassed, but could not leave the trench undefended either. The gas was, perhaps, halfway towards us when the wind suddenly changed, wafting the vapours back towards the Germans. We could do nothing other than listen as the men in the trench descended into panic as the gas reached them, before listening to the same cries, screams and choking that had greeted us on that first night. I knew that they were dying as horribly as our men had but, may God forgive me, I had no pity for them.

Only then were we able to begin to take stock of all that had happened. There were so many dead that I could not count them all. ‘D’ company was all but destroyed, with all officers either dead or wounded, and only a handful of men left. ‘C’ company had fared little better, with one platoon officer and perhaps fifty men still able to fight. I had no choice other than to take command of the few who had not been harmed, and ordered them to evacuate immediately, and to assemble at the Company dugout in the support trench. The Major then took charge of them as some were too stricken with shock to put one foot in front of the other. I then turned my attention to those of us who had not suffered from the gas.

Stephen and his platoon had escaped with only two casualties, both lightly injured, and so he also withdrew his men to help get any remaining gas victims out of the communications trenches to where motor-ambulances could take them to the field hospital. Gerald quickly found me, but we could not find Michael or William, while their platoon seemed in near complete disarray. Even as we tried to account for our men, the trench was filling with more troops to relieve us. We knew that we could not establish what had happened while in the trench, and so turned to the awful task of recovering the dead.

Gerald took charge of clearing the trench, and I took a number of men up into No man’s land to recover as many as we could from there. We were left undisturbed as we picked our way through the dead, at least at the start. I quickly found both Michael and William, both killed by machine-gun fire, and then stumbled across Pat O’Nally, good cheerful Pat who was always smiling no matter what was thrown at him. I found Paddy a few moments later, shrapnel ripped through his abdomen.

I cannot begin to comprehend that only Stephen and I remain of the original six. I knew that we all faced injury or death, but to lose so many in such a short period has almost felled me.

There were so many men dead that it took most of the night to retrieve them. At around 3.00 am, we saw some Germans walking about, recovering their dead too, and tried to ignore them. The one memory that will stay with me came about half an hour later. I looked up for a moment and found myself looking at a German, perhaps 10 yards from me. I could see in his eyes that same pain that I was feeling. He gazed at me for a moment and simply said ‘Warum?’ I knew from Jacques that that word meant ‘Why’ all I could find to reply was ‘I don’t know’. Whether he understood me or not I do not know, for he then turned away and I did not see him again.

We eventually cleared the dead, with the help of the 7th Leinsters, and some Inniskillings and brought them all to where the men that had evacuated the sick earlier had spent their time digging a large mass grave. It sickens me, even now, to know that men that I knew, that friends were laid in that grave without a stone to mark their own resting place. Several chaplains, all Catholic, were present to oversee the burial, so the men’s souls were blessed on their way to the Lord.

I finally returned to the dugout at just after 11 am on 30th, three days after leaving it. Major Brocklehurst was still there, calmly drinking tea, and Charlie, thank God, was with him. As I walked through the entrance, the Major pushed a mug with a large slug of whisky in it across the table towards me, which I gulped back without a word. I now had hours and hours’ worth of work before me accounting for all the dead, wounded and missing, along with writing condolence letters to families and making reports of any acts of bravery by the men. The Major stood up and clapped his hand on my shoulder, telling me I had done a 'top-hole job', and that he would be making a report into my own conduct. He then walked out of the dug-out and merrily made his way back to Division HQ. I very much doubt that he even remembered who I was by the time he got there.

Stephen then came into the dugout, and Charlie poured him a good measure of whisky as well. He and Gerald were already working with the few officers still standing from the other Battalions to account for the men we had lost over the past few days. He told me that they had carried out a roll-call, and that there were no less than around 750 officers and men missing from the roll. They were in the process of accounting for those not present, starting with the dead, as we had been able to identify them from their identity disks. They would then move on to the injured, who would be recorded and reported by the field hospital, so that any still unaccounted for would be listed as missing. I wanted to protest, as this should be my job, but I found I could not speak. I heard Stephen say something to Charlie, before he walked out of the dugout. Charlie then led me over to my bed, and made me lie down, insisting that I rest a while before I begin my work. I am ashamed to admit that, for the first time in my entire life, I cried myself to sleep.

Charlie woke me about two hours later, as the work could not wait for me to rest myself. I found my boots had been removed and a blanket laid over me, and I gave thanks to the Major for holding Charlie back. He gave me a mug of tea and said that the Major had told him that he had given his order deliberately to keep Charlie out of the fighting that he knew would come as he would be a comforting presence for me in the days to come. How the Major could have known such a thing I cannot say, but I will be forever grateful that he did.

I joined Stephen and Gerald, who had almost completed their work in identifying the lost men. We had approximately 179 men killed, either by gas or in the fighting that followed, with the rest injured. A few men were fortunate to survive the gas, but I doubt that they will fight again. The most pitiful figure was the 12 men listed as missing. It is my hope that they will be found attached to another Battalion in the confusion, but I fear that their remains are still out in No man’s land, and I no longer have the means to go and find them.

The next five days were spent making the reports, both of the dead and injured, and also giving the names of those we thought deserved recognition for their acts of bravery. We then began the awful task of writing to the families, where we could trace them. The task should have fallen on my shoulders, but there were just too many, and so my few remaining Platoon commanders all settled with me to help with the dreadful task. Thankfully, the relief Battalions left us in peace and did not attempt to turf us out of the dugout until they knew we had completed our work.

Our men, during this time, were all but left to their own devices, although there were a few NCO’s able to keep them in check. Eventually, I ordered them back to their billet, saying that we would join them when our work was done. We finally reached the farm on 6th May, where the mistress kindly filled a tin bath for us. It was not ideal, since we all had to use the same water, one after the other, but it was a welcome gesture that we all thanked her for. Corporal Feaney then risked a charge of insubordination by ordering us all to bed. Charlie told me that we slept for around 15 hours each.

I awoke to find that we were being withdrawn, and we had only two hours to pack ourselves up before we were to march to the Railhead. I dropped ‘A’ Company down to three platoons, and kept Gerald in charge of two, while I took the third. Stephen took command of ‘B’ Company, with an NCO in temporary command of a platoon for him. ‘C’ and ‘D’ company merged together and managed two platoons between them, and so their last surviving commander, James Rafferty, took charge.

We were a sad sight as we marched away, so diminished from our proud arrival in France only a few months before. As we marched towards the Railway, fresh troops were coming the other way and I could see the trepidation in their faces as they saw how knocked about we were.

The train journey was appallingly slow again, with broken windows, no means of refreshment and broken seats. Worst of all was how much space we had in our compartment, I could not help but recall how cramped we had been when we had last travelled in this manner.

We arrived at the camp to find that we were all in tents, and there is a hut that serves as a mess. Our NCO, Thomas White, has been promoted to Lieutenant, and Stephen is now Captain of ‘B’ company. We will be sent fresh officers and men in the next few weeks, but for now we are practically ‘surplus to requirements’, and I am glad for that.

Tony blinked in shock as he finished reading the entry, so long after the short sentences before. He pulled out his phone and googled ‘gas 1916’ to see whether Captain McGee’s words could be true. After a full false starts, he tracked down something on Wikipedia. The entry was not extensive, but it gave a brief description of the Battle of Hulluch, which matched the dates exactly. He shuddered as he realised that the horrific loss of life had been very real.

Closing the manuscript, he sighed and decided to have a good dose of whisky before he went to bed.

Words in this post: 5638

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Mon Nov 05, 2012 4:15 pm 
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Chapter 13

Ziva was about to leave for the hospital when she stopped by Tony’s desk.

“You have been very quiet today Tony.” She observed. “Is something wrong?”

“No…well, not really.” He shrugged. “Something I read last night in McGee’s manuscript.”

“What did you read?”

“That Captain…his men were gassed and loads of them died. I guess I sorta knew that kind of thing happened, but I wasn’t expecting it.”

“I very much doubt that Captain McGee was expecting it either.”

“No, the diary entry on the night it happened stopped mid word.”

“Are you going to the hospital tonight?”

“Yeah…actually, do you mind changing shifts? I kinda want to see what happened next.”

Ziva smiled, and nodded.

“Very well. You go now and I will relieve you at 20.00.” she said, before turning and walking out of the squadroom.

Abby was at the hospital when Tony arrived, having stepped in so that the family could go and have dinner together, perhaps for the first time since the accident. For once, she was subdued, which worried Tony immediately. Abby was the eternal optimist, so if she was down, things had to be bad.

“Hey Abs.” he said, absently, hoping she would perk up; she didn’t.

“I’ve been talking for two hours and nada.” She mumbled. “Is he ever gonna wake up Tony?”

“Yeah Abs.” He replied, with a confidence that he did not feel. “When he’s ready. You know McGee, likes to move at his own pace.”

“I can’t think of anything else to say.”

“Now that is a first!” Tony joked, desperate to lift the mood. “Abby Sciuto speechless! Time to get going Abs, I’m here ‘til 20.00 then Ziva will take over .”

“I thought Ziva was coming earlier.”

“We traded.” Tony replied, deciding not to elaborate.

“Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Abby nodded, before stepping over to the bed and kissing Tim’s forehead. She then wandered out looking more despondent than ever.

Tony then sat down and sighed heavily.

“You’re playing a dangerous game now Probie, there are few men brave enough to make our mistress of the dark sad.” He said. “Now, I’ve had some thoughts about your book, I think you need to add some notes here and there, just to tell people where your uncle was when all this stuff happened. I had to Google that gas attack, so…I guess you need to , well, cut out the middleman so that people know what battle he was talking about.”

There was no talk about movies this time, Tony concentrating instead on his ideas of what readers would need to know, not least where the mysterious ‘town’ near the Hulluch trench was. He kept up his monologue for nearly two hours before Ziva arrived to take his place. She stood at the door for a few moments, listening to him as he gamely discussed what he had read the night before, knowing that he would get no response. Only when he paused for a moment did she speak up.

“I did not realise that you were so invested in this man Tony.” She said, softly. He turned round and said nothing. “You seem to prefer movies to books.”

“Would it sound stupid if I said that, I keep forgetting that the guy writing this isn’t our McGee, that he was real.”

“I do not understand.”

“I keep picturing McGee when I think about this guy. Does that sound creepy to you?”

“No, after all, the photograph showed a striking resemblance. As long as you remember that the man is not our McGee, then I see nothing wrong. Are you going to read some more tonight?”

“Yeah…I just want to see if they are okay after the gas attack. Yeah… I know how sappy that sounds.”

“It sounds very nice Tony, now get going.” Ziva said as she shooed him out of the room.

12 May 1916

I have received word that my recommendations for commendations have been accepted. Twelve of our privates, several who died , were mentioned in despatches, two of our NCO’s will receive the Military Medal, and a third the Meritorious Service Medal. Stephen will receive the Military Cross for holding the trench so gallantly protecting the stretcher bearers. I would have recommended everyone for something if I could, for it is a gallant man who even sets foot into this war in the first place.

To my astonishment, I have also been awarded the Military Cross for my conduct in the field, in particular returning to No man’s land to retrieve the injured soldier. I had not thought to be so fortunate, and would not have received the recommendation had not Major Brocklehurst been present. Any act of gallantry must be witnessed by a senior officer before a recommendation can be made, so an award to a Captain is almost unheard of, as we are the most senior rank usually within the trench during action.

This news could not have come at a more fortuitous time, for the men are all most despondent after the dreadful events of the last few days. Nothing can prepare a man for the true horror of watching his friends die around him, but we must learn to harden ourselves to it, because we cannot be kept out of the line forever, and will surely be returned to the trenches before the year is out.

14 May 1916

We officers have decided that we must draw a line under the awful events that we have lived through. Father Joseph has agreed to hold a memorial service for our lost comrades today, and from tomorrow we will look forward once more. We will reduce our harrying of the men with inspections and parade drill to keep them from dwelling on the bad things.

Father Joseph was with us when the attack came, although he was forbidden to follow us into the trench. Instead, he stayed with the growing number of wounded, giving comfort where he could, Extreme Unction or Last Rites where he must, even to men who were not of his faith. He was most moved how those who were not Catholic accepted his ministrations with gratitude. Never in his life had he been forced to administer to so many men at one time, leaving him as shaken as the rest of us.

He was with us when we buried the dead, helping to lead the burial service with his fellow Chaplains, and saw how the horror affected us all. No other man could have compelled the men to join him to remember the dead as he did.

The rest of the camp seemed to carry on around us as we assembled for our service, however a few stopped and watched what we were doing as Father Joseph led our prayers and spoke at length about the noble sacrifice that our friends and comrades had made for a cause that was not of their making. Yet he also reminded us that we must not dwell upon the past, as our friends would not wish such a thing. They cannot fight on, but we can and we must – for them as much as for our French and Belgian friends. He asked us all to lay our grief aside, as a tribute to those we had lost, and remember them with a smile, for the laughter that they had given us, rather than a tear because they will no longer be at our sides. All of us were both moved and heartened by his words, and I felt a lighter mood from the men as they dispersed for dinner.

I looked out of the mess window this evening to see the lads playing football, the first time they have done such a thing since we came here.

15 May 1916

I have begun to receive letters from the relatives of the men that we lost. I was not expecting such a thing, and they are quite difficult to read. Most are a reply of thanks for my taking the time to write to them. One, however, was a widow, who had received a letter from Gerald, who was writing to me because she did not believe his words. I had read his letter; the man had died horribly from the gas, although Gerald had lied, as we all did, and said that the man’s end had been swift. He had actually known the man, and had given a heartfelt tribute in his letter over the man’s good nature and loyalty, but his poor widow could not bring herself to believe that her husband was dead.

We had taken great care to identify the dead and, even if Gerald had not known the man’s name himself, his identity disks and pay book were on him, and so there was absolutely no doubt. I have heard of men being declared dead, only to turn up a few days later having been lost in the confusion of battle, but this was not the case here, and I was forced to tell her this. It broke my heart to write that letter, knowing that perhaps an officer might have to write to Mary to tell her of my death.

18 May 1916

I was greatly astonished today to receive word that two of our missing men have been found. They had become separated from us during the attack and, for some days, had been blundering around trying to find us. Finding us gone from the billet, they reported to Divisional HQ to ask where we had gone. Thankfully their tale was believed and they were not accused of desertion, and so they will be here within the next day or so.

The news has been met with great delight by the men, some even declaring that it is a miracle, although Stephen is quite brazenly of the opinion that the two took advantage of their circumstances to find themselves a little entertainment before returning to duty. I can see his point, since they were missing for so many days, but the news has cheered the men so much that I do not intend to hold any inquiry and will accept the decision of HQ.

19 May 1916

We were woken this morning by a great commotion in the section housing another Battalion. They were ordered to return to the trenches yesterday afternoon, and the news was greeted very poorly by some of the men. I have found that most will accept such news with resignation, while others seem almost murderously excited at the prospect of returning to the one place on earth where they can kill other men without punishment. A few, however, will show fear and one or two may act on that.

I dressed quickly and went to see what all the fuss was about, to find that a young lad had attempted to flee the camp rather than return to the front. The sergeant that had caught him sneaking away was not from his regiment, and was bawling him out while he stood there, his eyes wide with terror. I am not sure how old he was, but he looked like a child, and may well have been.

We were all warned, that we must be alert for under age soldiers and, where we find them, have them sent back to England at once. I am confident that our Battalion has no children hidden in our ranks, although we cannot prove it if they look older than they are. It seemed that the officers of this regiment had missed this lad, as I could honestly say that he did not pass for 18 under any light.

I was about to withdraw, when one of the other officers called me over and asked me to take charge as they had no Captain at that moment. I was very reluctant to do so, as I was uncertain how far my authority could be accepted as I was not of that regiment. The sergeant had already arrested the lad, and so I looked at him for help, only to find that he had little idea how to deal with this matter either.

Rather than perhaps make any mistake, I sent one of the others to the camp HQ to report the incident, and then questioned the lad myself. Since the sergeant had put the fear of God into him, I decided not to shout, and spoke to him as kindly as I could. At first, when I asked him his age, he told me that he was 19, but I warned him that falsehood was a sin, and asked him again. This time, he admitted that he was 16 years old, and that he didn’t want to go back to the trench. If this boy had been over 18 years old, there is no doubt that he would have been Court-Martialled, most likely for cowardice. That charge holds the death penalty.

We were then joined by one of the Staff officers, a rather indecisive Captain who goes by the unfortunate nick-name of ‘Don’t know Harry’. He seemed quite delighted to have a potential case cowardice to ‘make an example of’ until I told him that the lad was under-age and needed to be repatriated with all speed. His look of disappointment made me shudder.

23 May 1916

I am finding life at the rest camp increasingly tedious. We are kept reasonably busy on some days, with fresh instructions on the use of bayonets, or endless target practice. We drill the men every day, and order inspections far too regularly simply to give us all something to do. Unlike our last billet, we are not near any large towns, although there as a much smaller town about half an hour’s walk from here.

Jacques has arrived with our two missing men and, while they were greeted with great delight by the men, I took him into my tent and asked him if he knew what had happened to them. As Stephen had suspected, they had admitted that they had found their way to the town and spent a few days there, before their pay ran out and they went to HQ with their story. I should be angry, but neither man is particularly intelligent, and if I were to question them, they would both fail to realise that they had done anything wrong. It would not have occurred to them that their prolonged absence could be construed as desertion, they just wanted a good time and, when their money ran out, they went back to work.

I cannot allow such behaviour to go unchecked, since we have impressed upon the men that they cannot simply wander off without permission. Neither meant any harm by their actions, but if I allow this to pass, others might believe that such undisciplined behaviour is acceptable. Rather than shame them before the entire Battalion, I ordered only their platoon to the parade ground, where I admonished them both publicly for their thoughtless behaviour. I am quite certain that my own words meant little, but the look of near betrayal on their comrade’s faces proved to be far more powerful than anything that I might say. I had them confined to the secure huts for two days to think on their foolishness, and then spoke to the other men of the platoon.

I reminded them that their comrades had not acted out of malice towards their lost friends, but merely from ignorance and, as long as they had understood their folly, and did not repeat it, their behaviour should not be held against them. I hope that my words have some influence, but I have asked Thomas to keep a watchful eye to ensure that no one exacts their own punishment on the men.

25 May 1916

I have received a most welcome memo from HQ advising of a change to the regulations. It is no longer obligatory for an officer to wear a moustache. This has been enacted after an officer was court-martialled for being clean shaven, which in a time of war is bordering on complete insanity. Rather than forcing the man to accept being cashiered for the offence, someone with a grain of common sense changed the regulations.

The sorry excuse for a moustache is now gone, and I feel all the better for it.

27 May 1916

There was some bother at the camp HQ, with several battalions moving in or out that I fear that we have been quite forgotten. No one has come to give the men any training, or even sent me any orders over what we are to do for the time being. I have no idea how long we are to be here.

While such limbo is rather frustrating, it is also quite liberating, as we are freed to run things as we see fit. We have the men up for parade each morning before breakfast, and then carry out an hour of drill, followed by full kit inspection. As we are not in the trenches at the moment, we have abandoned the rather unpleasant duty of foot inspection, which is a relief to everyone. I will then lead us all for a route march with Jacques as a guide so that we can find our way back. This takes us up to the mid-day meal, which keeps us all occupied for an hour.

In the afternoon, if the weather is good, we will play various team games, while some men have taken it upon themselves to attempt to teach their illiterate fellows to read. I have Thomas oversee this activity while Gerald supervises the sports, leaving me with some free time to keep up with paperwork that does not seem to leave me alone, even when we are at rest.

There are always somewhat pointless memos coming through from the senior officers that mean very little to us here on the ground. Even in what I consider to be a well behaved Battalion, there are the usual petty incidents that I must review and adjudicate, from small thefts to drunkenness and, on very rare occasions, fights between men. I must organise the men when the paymaster comes around, and will constantly be providing senior officers with details of how ready we are for battle, even though they seem quite happy to leave us where we are.

Evenings fall into three types, those spent in the mess, those spent here in my tent, usually writing to Mary, and the few occasions when I can obtain a pass to walk to the small town. There is very little to do there, with just two small cafes and a rather grubby looking estaminet with an owner who keeps thinking we are Germans. I will only go to this town if I am desperate from some absolute solitude, which is thankfully rather rare.

I am starting to think that if we all left the camp en masse, they would not even realise we had gone.

29 May 1916

I have, at last, received orders confirming the imminent arrival of some fresh troops to replenish those lost from both our Battalion, and the 8th. They should arrive in the morning.

1 June 1916

Our reinforcements finally arrived today, having been delayed on the train (no surprise there). I now have a fourth platoon again, bringing my company back up to strength, along with a new young Lieutenant to command them. His name is Edward Murran (although likes to be called ‘Bertie’) and he is only twenty two years old. He has the unabashed optimism that we all enjoyed before we saw action, and it seems to be rubbing off on the others, which can only be a good thing.

The other fresh troops have been added to ‘C’ company and have formed a new ‘D’ company with a full complement of officers as well. The new blood seems to have rejuvenated even the most jaded of us, but I cannot help but wonder how long it will be before we are sent off again.

5 June 1916

Bertie is a man who seems full of the most astonishing notions and ideas, and today pointed out to me that, since 1916 is a leap year, we should have had an ‘Olympic Games’. I have vaguely heard of this sporting event, since it was held in London in 1908, but had not considered something so trivial in the light of where I am. I asked him why he would mention such a thing, and he grinned and sat down opposite me.

I was surprised when he suggested that our Battalion hold an ‘unolympic games’ to help the new troops settle in with their new comrades. His idea was that the ‘events’ should be as ridiculous as possible, such as apple bobbing (if we could secure any apples!) or a three-legged race. Charlie was in the room with us and liked the idea at once, adding that we should ask the men for ideas.

I, for one, found the idea a good one, but I fear that some of our other new officers seem rather straight-backed to consider making fools of themselves in a three-legged race. I would prefer that, if we are to do this, the officers and NCO’s must take part as willingly as the men. Bertie then added that, while they might not want to take part themselves, he would vouch that all of them would act as judges for those who wished to compete.

I called the other officers over while we were in the mess this evening and put Bertie’s suggestion to them. To my surprise they were all most enthusiastic, although the men I thought would not wish to take part themselves did ask to be excused. They have, however, agreed to help referee or judge as Bertie predicted.

6 June 1916

We have announced our plans to the men at parade this morning, and requested suggestions for events for our games. The NCO’s have since reported the ideas to us and, while some are clearly jokes, such as trench-wire cutting, and grenade throwing, there are some interesting ideas. We have come up with a day’s worth of events, and have been granted permission to hold our tournament. They are as follows.

Three-legged races (men only)
Tug-o-war (men only)
Puttee binding (officers only)
Leapfrog race (NCO’s and men)
Blindfold drill (officers and sergeants only)
Backwards racing (men and officers)
Jockey race (Officers and Sergeants only)
Horse tacking (men only)
Apple bobbing (men only)
Pillow fight over water (men only) I hate to add thank goodness!

Each company will delegate a team to represent them in each event, just as would happen at the real Olympic games, and we will hold the event (weather permitting) in four days’ time.

8 June 1916

Rather unpleasant order has come down from HQ that we must all check our men for venereal disease. I have absolutely no idea where this order has originated from, since none of our men have had the chance to contract anything since we left our first billets. I passed on the order to my platoon commanders and, as expected, was met with near mutiny at the suggestion. How on earth are we to judge whether any man has contracted anything? None of us are doctors, and the idea of asking our men to allow us to examine them so intimately is quite insulting.

The MO at the camp has also received orders to ensure that the inspection is carried out, and laughed so hard that his assistants came rushing into his office fearing that he was under attack. He has sent a message to each Company commander to tell them not to bother as it is impossible to detect such diseases until they are so far advanced that the afflicted man would have been forced to report sick anyway. We will simply say that we carried out the inspection and leave the men alone.

10 June 1916

Our luck was in with the weather, which was warm and sunny, and set fair for the day. As I had hoped, the men were very much enthusiastic over their ‘Unolympic Games’ and we had a good number of entries for each event from all four companies.

Bertie had mentioned that there should be an opening ceremony, and Father Joseph kindly did the honours for us. We did not hold a parade of athletes, which is, I understand, one of the elements of the ceremony, but we did sing a couple of music hall songs to enhance the mood.

We had to run the three legged race over two heats as we had two sets of contestants from each company. The first heat was very competitive, and was won by a team from ‘D’ company, with ‘B’ company in second place. The second race was far less organised, with the teams from ‘C’ and ‘B’ company tripping each other up twice on the way. Their antics were clearly meant to entertain, and the audience obliged with cat-calls and good natured hoots of derision. Those that finished first and second in the heats raced in the final, so we had two teams from ‘D’ company, one from ‘B’ company and the other from ‘A’ company.
To allow a fair rest to the teams who ran second, we delayed the final while we held the tug-o-war heats. ‘A’ company had been drawn against ‘C’ company, and went first, with much yelling and encouragement from their fellows. I was pleased that our men won quite easily, although ‘D’ company beat ‘B’ company quite comprehensively.

For a comical interlude, we held the puttee binding event, although to qualify for the event the officers had to have not worn puttees at any time during their training or in action. I, sadly, qualified and so was called upon to represent ‘A’ company, against two Lieutenants and a subaltern from each of the other companies. We were then given a set of puttees and were required to put them on as quickly and as neatly as we could. The men have to do this every single day, and likely will not recall how difficult it was when they first attempted to wind the wretched garments around their legs. Our efforts were met with jeers and laughter, although I am pleased to announce that I came second, if only because the man who finished before me stood up and his left puttee unwound and fell off his leg just as I was getting up.

We moved the horse tacking competition to the morning as the horses would be needed in the afternoon for a riding lesson. I am not sure what the poor animals thought of the whole proceeding, but the sight of men who had no knowledge of horses attempting to fix a saddle and bridle was distinctly amusing. The event was one by the lad from ‘B’ company.

We then completed the first two events with a surprise win for the ‘A’ company three-legged team, and a close win for the ‘D’ company tug-o-war team.

The leap-frog race had only one heat as it required a four man team from each company to leapfrog over one another over a course of twenty yards as fast as they could. The actual act of leap-frog is not difficult, but when added to the need to be as fast as possible, the resulting race was a disorganised shambles, which caused great hilarity. I am still not entirely sure who won, as the event was declared a draw between ‘B’ and ‘D’ company.

After a brief stop for sandwiches and tea, we adjourned to the large water ditch at the far end of the field. There is a log suspended across the ditch that is often used for training, but also used for the purpose of two men attempting to knock each other off the log using sacks filled with feathers.

By now, our antics had drawn the attention of quite a few of the other men in the camp, and the watching crowd had swelled considerably by the time Harry Docherty was declared the victor of the pillow fight, another win for ‘D’ Company.

The next challenge was the blindfold drill for the Officers and Sergeants. This was open to all of the officers, and so most of us gamely took part, while those who refused were called upon to judge who was the least out of place by the end of the drill. To make matters even more confusing, the drill sergeant was also blindfolded so that he could not see what we were actually doing. All began well, but quickly descended into confusion as we all began turning the wrong way, or stepping in the wrong direction. By the time it was over, and we removed our blindfolds, we were astonished at the mess that we had made of things. I am glad that the camp CO was not there to see it, but the men were greatly amused. Gerald won, as the only one to have correctly carried out every single order of the drill.

Next came the backwards race, which was open to all ranks. We were not surprised that there were only 8 competitors brave enough to run pell-mell backwards along the twenty yard course. Rather than have heats, they raced together, with nothing to guide their direction. As with the leapfrog, the results were satisfyingly hilarious, particularly when one competitor ended up going off course and catapulting into the crowd. No one was hurt, as they caught him easily enough, but he was out of the race, which was won by a lad from ‘C’ company.

We then strung up some apples, for the apple bobbing competition. We would have used water, but there were not enough buckets to hand, instead, the men had to race to the suspended apples, catch them with their mouths and eat them with their hands behind their backs, and then race back to their marks. I have never attempted such a thing, and it is not as easy as the notion sounds, as the apples rolled around as the men tried to bite into them. It took the winner nearly 10 minutes to eat his apple, but it was another win for ‘A’ Company.

The final event was the Jockey race. For this, only one team from each company was allowed to take part, and so it was quite natural that the company commanders should take that responsibility. Each of us were to be carried by one of the platoon sergeants as they ran the twenty yard course with us on their backs. It was a brave thing for the Sergeants to do, since none of us are particularly small or lean men, but we all chose the strongest of our men for the job, and had practiced beforehand, so knew that they could carry our weight.

As we were preparing to start, the officers judging the events announced that companies ‘A’ ‘B’ and ‘D’ had equal wins – as they had counted the leapfrog race draw as a win for each company. This made us all determined to win outright. I am sure that our sudden competitive air wrought a similar effect on the men, and the moment that we began the noise was astonishing. All of the men were yelling support for their Officers, while those who were not of our Battalion were laughing uproariously at the entire spectacle. I am delighted to report that Sergeant Spiller carried me expertly and we won the race, giving us the largest number of points.

There were no actual prizes, as we had none to give, but the enjoyment on the men’s faces was reward enough for everyone. Bertie is most pleased as the platoons all came together just as he had hoped. Sergeant Spiller is not quite so pleased as his back is aching from his efforts.

Tony could not help but laugh as he imagined such an event taking place in the middle of a war zone. Would something like that happen now? He doubted it somehow, since the men fighting these days were all professional soldiers, rather than civilian volunteers. They played baseball, or basketball when they could, but something as deliberately ridiculous as an ‘Unolympics’ seemed impossible to imagine in the modern world.

He left that night with the image of Gibbs, the Gunnery Sergeant trying to carry his commanding officer in a race, and it kept him sniggering all the way home.

Words in this post: 5438

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Tue Nov 06, 2012 2:22 pm 
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Chapter 14

The day was going slow, with no active case to occupy them, but a call came through just after lunch from Penny to say that Tim was showing signs of reacting to various stimuli, although he had still not opened his eyes. It was good news, but they still found themselves wishing that the call would come to say that he had woken up.

Each day that he lay there unmoving weakened his muscles, and it was likely that he would be faced with a long rehabilitation once he did wake. Even Gibbs was starting to consider the possibility that Tim might not be able to return to his team as a field agent. When he wasn’t there, the others would discuss how they might find a way for him to stay on the team in a non-field agent capacity, but the truth was that he would have to be moved somewhere else if he could not retain his field agent status.

With little to occupy them that evening, Ziva joined Tony at Tim’s apartment. She had decided that the place needed dusting, and left him at the table while she went about her business.

12 June 1916

I received my Military Cross this morning, presented to me by a General Whittaker who had come to the camp for this purpose. The medal itself is not worn with the uniform, except for special occasions, but I have also been given a small ribbon that will be sewn above my left breast pocket on my jacket to signify my award.

The award is something to be proud of, but with it came orders that I have been granted one week of leave to start on 24 June. I will not be able to go home, but instead I will be able to go to Paris, and I will be able to meet Mary there. I am almost beside myself with joy, and wrote a small note to her at once.

The camp CO took me aside and said that I was fortunate to be granted this leave as there is definitely something big happening to the south of us, with troops and guns moving through on a daily basis. He knows that we Dublins will not be involved in whatever this may be, and so my leave is not in danger of being cancelled, but I have been warned that there will be more fighting ahead for us later in the summer.

I should be afraid for that, but at this moment I really do not care.

Letter to Mary McGee 12 June 1916

I have wonderful news. I have been granted leave for six days to visit Paris, with the express intention that you may join me there. I would much rather come home, but home leave is something that I cannot hope for until I have been in France for a year.

I will reach Paris on 25th June, and ask you to speak with Mr Chambers to help you to make arrangements to travel there.

If this is not possible, please write to me at once, if necessary I will see if I can arrange for the Army to help you to travel.

I will write again with more news in the next few days. Please do all that you can to join me, I long to see you again.

16 June 1916

I have received a letter from my father. He has made all the arrangements and will bring Mary to Paris to meet me, as he has no wish to see her attempt the journey alone. Her own father is not in the best of health, and so would not have been able to travel, so I am eternally grateful to my father for his assistance.

We have all noticed that something is definitely going on, and rumour has it that there will be a very big show around the Somme. With the way things are going at Verdun, I am surprised that we are even considering an attack, when we should surely be offering assistance to the beleaguered French. It is, however, a well-worn joke amongst the lads that our Generals often act first and think afterwards. At this moment, I am inclined to agree.

19 June 1916

There is no doubt now that there is going to be an attack on the Somme. Several of the regiments at the camp are to move out tomorrow take part, although it is now confirmed that we will not be one of them. The men are most disappointed to be kept back from this, as there is no hiding the vast numbers of men and guns being sent there. I pity the Germans who will face this mass onslaught, but am grateful that I will not be part of it, if only for my own selfish reasons.

21 June 1916
The camp is quite empty now, with only those of us not to be deployed still remaining. There is talk that this attack will put us in Berlin by Christmas, something that I would hope for if it would allow us to go home.

24 June 1916

I woke this morning to the sound of many guns in the distance. The word is that this is the bombardment that signifies the start of the battle. I, however, have little care for that at this moment. I dressed early, and checked all that Charlie had packed for me before heading out to walk to the railhead. The train bound for Paris would be leaving at 10.00 am, although I had few hopes that it would start at that time. It was not a long walk and, for once, the train had few men aboard, so I have a compartment to myself.

Charlie has packed rather a lot of sandwiches for me, as this train is just as ridiculously slow as all others that carry British troops. There will be no opportunity to purchase refreshments enroute, and so the provisions are most welcome.

The train has stopped, I can still hear the guns, far worse than anything I have ever heard before. I fear that they will be audible in Paris.

Slept for a while lying on the seat with my head resting on my pack. Train moving, but very slowly. I am glad that asked Mary to meet me tomorrow, I will not reach Paris tonight.

30 June 1916

I am completely unashamed that I did not write anything in the last week.

I eventually arrived in Paris in the late afternoon on 25th. Mary was staying in a small hotel just off the Champs Elysees, and so I began to walk along the platform to find where I might hail a cab, only to find Mary standing there with my father. He had somehow managed to discover where my train would pull in, no doubt through some of his friends in the Army, and so they had been waiting at the station for most of the morning. She ran over to me, and burst into tears of delight as she threw herself into my arms. I am quite sure that her display was thought unseemly by some of the ladies who witnessed it but I did not care.

My father shook my hand and then looked me up and down as if to satisfy himself that I was still in one piece, before leading us both out to the street where he already had a cab waiting for us. I have never seen Paris before, and found the place to be delightful, with wide boulevards and beautiful buildings. I could not quite believe that I would be residing in this wonderful city for a few days with my wife at my side.

We reached the hotel, where my father left us, having taken rooms elsewhere to give us privacy. He may join us for dinner at some point, but until he is required to escort Mary home again, we will be alone.

I was rather moved to find that my father had paid for a delightful suite, with drawing room and a private bathroom. I spent nearly five minutes staring at the enormous bath, complete with taps so that I did not require the water to be brought to me, which amused Mary considerably. Perhaps I should have spent the afternoon taking Mary for a walk, but instead I had a hot bath, which I enjoyed immensely.

We did not go out for dinner, instead patronising the small bistro that was part of the hotel. My long journey had tired me too much to want to go too far when I could spend a quiet evening with my wife. We then left the whole world behind and returned to the suite to be alone together.

Paris behaves as if there is no war, full of life and gaiety that completely belies the horrors that I have left behind. Although Mary knows about what happened with the gas attack, we did not discuss it at all, preferring to enjoy the short time that we would have together. We visited the Notre Dame in the morning, where I stopped to light a candle for my fallen friends, and then took a stroll in the Tuileries Gardens in the warm sunshine. There were few men of my age around, most likely having been sent to the front, as most men that I saw were British officers in uniform. We saw some Scottish officers, all wearing their fine tartan kilts. Mary was distinctly impressed that men could look so fine in such short skirts.

One evening we also visited the Opera, although I had little idea of what was happening, since I do not know enough French to understand the programme, while the opera itself was in Italian. The music, however, was beautiful and the Soprano perished rather movingly at the end. As we were leaving, we met some other officers from the Dublins, but from the 7th Battalion. They were due to leave in the morning and so had decided to go to the Opera so that they had something to talk about when they reached their camp. Had I not been with Mary, I might have joined them for a drink in the bar, however, instead we returned to our hotel.

Dinner with my father is always a formal occasion, and my uniform received Mary’s most intense attention before we met him. I believe that she would give Charlie a run for his money with the way that she inspected every stitch and button before I was allowed to wear it. The joy of wearing a uniform is that I am not required to dress for dinner, although my father had brought his most formal tails with him. He took us to a very expensive restaurant and treated us to a five course dinner with champagne. Unlike Mary, he wanted to know about all that had happened in France, and I found it quite difficult to speak of the losses we suffered in April while he made his way through the cheese course. I did not complain, for this is a small price to pay for the freedom he has allowed us for the remainder of the week.

The days seemed to fly too quickly, as they were full and delightful, but now I am on the train once more, having bid a sad farewell to my wife. Mary was so very upset, and even asked me to return home to Ireland and leave this war behind. I wanted to, but I have a duty to my men and had no choice but to kiss her and bid her my own farewell. I managed to keep my own tears from falling until I was on the train, but the compartment quickly filled with other men, and so I was forced to control myself.

“That is so sad.” Ziva said, disturbing Tony as she read over his shoulder. “Surely they would not have laughed at his sadness at leaving his wife.”

“Different times Ziva.” Tony shrugged. “It was nice that they got together though.”

“I am surprised that the people of Paris were so uncaring about the war on their doorstep.”

“I guess I’d be a bit like that if there was war on our doorstep Ziva.” Tony replied. “If you think the end may be coming you might as well enjoy what little time you have left.”

“I have finished my dusting now, will you be staying a little longer?”

“Yeah.” Tony nodded. “I’ll call for some takeout.”

“I will see you tomorrow then.”

“’Night Ziva.” Tony grinned, hardly noticing her leave.

1 July 1916

Reached the railhead at last this morning, and managed to snatch a lift from a supply truck back to the camp. I arrived to find the men in high excitement as the guns have stopped, and so the attack must have begun. Although we can hear the noise from the heavy guns, rifle and machine gun fire is not loud enough to carry to where we are. At this moment, I was not interested in what might be happening on the front, I must see what work I have to do.

I arrived at my tent to find a rough uniform waiting for me. I had been warned that we are to be disguised as Tommies if we go into action to attempt to confuse the Germans, but the thought had not crossed my mind since then, and I was rather bewildered to find the uniform there. Charlie was rather worried at how he was going to fit the uniform into my valise when we return to the front, as I will be required to wear my own uniform when not leading an attack. I, on the other hand, must now learn to wind puttees correctly as I will have to wear them.

2 July 1916

The news from the front today has left us all silent and stunned. After days of shelling, we had all thought that it would be a short order to take the German lines and begin forcing the Boche back to their own borders. How wrong we were.

We do not have much information, but no one can hide the numbers of wounded being evacuated throughout the day. Our camp has become a temporary dressing station, if only to give the wounded a rest before they continue to the field hospitals further behind the line. They arrive in their droves, and only some continue on from here. The officers have been drafted in to help to maintain some semblance of order so that those in most need are cared for first, but there are so many simply fading away before our eyes.

Father Joseph is the only Chaplain currently in the camp, and he cannot keep up with the numbers. We are trying to single out those who are in most need of the Last Rites, but we lost ten men before Father Joseph could get to them, and so all that we could do was say the Lord’s Prayer for them as they slipped away. I can see the look of pain in Father Joseph’s eyes that he could not be with each man at the time of his death. Those I pity most are the ones that were dead before we reached them, and so had no one to comfort them in their final moments.

This is worse than the gas attack, even though the men here are not of my Battalion. We feel so helpless as the medical staff are overwhelmed with casualties that need immediate attention before they can be moved. The weather is stiflingly hot, and we cannot provide them with anything to ease their discomfort. There is water, and we try to give the men as much as we can to cool them, but the heat is festering wounds faster than the doctors can treat them, and already men who might have been saved had there been better equipment now seem done for.

In the late afternoon, a truck pulled up with more medical staff and supplies, so that we were able to set up canvas to cover the men who were still lying outside. While they took charge of the living, we were charged with recording the details of the dead, who will be taken elsewhere for burial. There were too many to count, and we know that this is a mere fraction of the losses sustained yesterday. Even now, we do not know exactly how many men perished in the fighting, as I believe information is being kept from us so as not to worry the men.

I fear, however, that it is the very lack of information that will worry the men more.

3 July 1916

The Company commanders have been called to meet with the camp CO, and he has given us the first, honest, report of what happened on 1 July 1916.

The guns did not achieve their objectives in most of the sectors to be attacked, and so the enemy was not obliterated as expected. The British troops attacked, only to find that the wire was still intact ahead of them, and the Boche numerous and well-armed in their trenches. The results were horrific, with nearly 20,000 men dead. I cannot even begin to comprehend how so many men could die in a single day. The number of wounded that are not yet dead is close to 36000, with many missing as well.

The CO attempted to be optimistic by saying that some of the objectives set were met, but even he could not find it in his heart to claim that this was worth the vast number of men lost. There will be no grand push now, no race to Berlin. I believe that we will be lucky if we have even moved forward a single mile by the time this is over.

We decided that we should not hide the truth from the men, since if this does not end quickly, we could be sent there. I suspect that we would rather go back north again than be posted to the Somme. I recall thinking how jolly it would be to be sent there when we first arrived; what a ridiculous joke that has turned out to be.

As I suspected, the men were as horrified as we had been at the news, but they seemed then to grow determined that they should be allowed to go south at once to avenge their lost comrades. I had little choice other than to assure them that their time would surely come. I pray, however, that this horror is not repeated and the battle succeeds before we are called upon to fight it.

5 July 1916

We are to leave the camp, although thankfully not yet for the trenches. I know that this is the first step on the road that will takes back into action, now that we are at full strength again, but we will still have some respite. Although the casualties are not as appalling as they were four days ago, there are still too many wounded being brought back down the line.

Our new billet is to be in a small town, and the Battalion is spread around a number of houses there. I am billeted with Stephen and Gerald over an estaminet, which is most convenient for us in that we have ready access to food. I have been unable to establish a formal mess for our company, but the owner is quite happy for us to congregate there each evening as long as we do not make too much noise.

6 July 1916

This town is much smaller than our last billet, but there are very few men here, since most have gone to fight. I have noticed that some of the women are more than happy to find themselves surrounded by our troops, and there have already been a few, not very discreet, liaisons. Most seem to be business arrangements that have suited both parties, but one or two have decided that they have met the love of their life, even though the women in question may still have husbands alive.

Although we try to impress upon the men that they will not be here for any length of time, and that the chances of returning are slim, we cannot stop them dallying with the ladies of the town if their attentions are welcome. As far as I am aware, no one has acted badly against the women of the town, not least because I have told them I would shoot them myself if there was any such misconduct.

So far, we all seem to rub along together quite well, since the men buy goods in the shops, which pleases the townsfolk. They also get decent money for putting us up, which also eases the discomfort of a house full of rough soldiers. There was fierce competition to house the officers, and then several tried to take in more men than there was space for just to make money. Stephen was attempting to act as Billet officer for us, and Jacques had a very enjoyable time settling the disputes on his behalf. I know that it is our money that they welcome, rather than us, but I also feel that they are grateful to have a town full of soldiers, just in case the Germans appear suddenly on the horizon.

10 July 1916

We may be away from the camp, but this does not prevent the news from reaching us. There is heavy fighting, but no apparent success to show for it and no one can hope to put the events in a positive light. As each day passes without resolution, our chances of avoiding this fight lessen. I do not know why I am so pessimistic this time around, but for the first time I have considered writing a letter to Mary that can be sent in the event of my death. Charlie keeps telling me not to do it, as it will jinx me, but the thought of her not having a last word from me haunts me.

16 July 1916

For the past few days, the weather has been unpleasantly warm, but overcast and damp, which has not helped the mood of anyone. Today, however, was bright and sunny, so I had the company assemble for a route march into the country side. Jacques had studied the map, and spoken to a few of the locals, who had told him about a spring a few miles to the west of the town that is quite beautiful. We set off at around 10 am, without telling the men where we were going, and ignored the grumbles that such a good day could be wasted.

The march was at a slightly slower pace through some delightful countryside. Here, some farming is going on, and there are some crops of wheat ripening in the sunshine. I have no idea who will harvest them, and may offer the men up to help out if we are still here. There were copious wildflowers in the banks of grass at the side of the road, and some of the men were snatching the odd bloom up, here and there, to brighten up their caps. As our ‘route march’ was not for the purpose of training the men, I did not object and allowed them their small moment of enjoyment.

We reached the spring, which turned out to be a fairly large pond where a river met a copse of trees. The sun was rather high, and the weather had turned rather hot. I could see the men looking rather longingly at the river, and so allowed the charade to drop and admitted that they had been marched here for an afternoon at leisure. As soon as they were dismissed, the men bolted over to the water and were out of their uniforms and in the river within moments. The officers retired to the more secluded privacy of the copse, where we also enjoyed a swim and some time at leisure.

Shortly after our arrival, a cart arrived with some food for the men, another detail that I had neglected to mention. The men had sandwiches and beer, although we had wine with ours. Jacques then appeared with a wet sack and triumphantly told us that he had managed to collect a good supply of frogs for us to try. I had seen frogs legs offered on the menus in Paris, but had never dared to try them. We had some paraffin stoves on the cart in case we wanted tea later in the day, and so Stephen’s batman gamely agreed to attempt to cook some for us under Jacques’s instruction. Charlie refused to have anything to do with the operation as he didn’t like the idea of killing the poor frogs just for their legs.

They were gone for quite a while before returning with the finished dish, which we were all obliged to try. In truth, the taste was not unpleasant, perhaps reminiscent of extremely tender chicken, fried in butter. Jacques was delighted that we had tried this very French delicacy, and declared that he would seek out some snails for us when he had the chance.

We had some tea just after 3.00 pm and then called the men back to order ready to march back again after a rather jolly day.

I hope that there can be more such days before we are sent back to the front again.

18 July 1916

More bad news from the front, none of us can understand why the Generals keep demanding that we fight on when things are so bad.

20 July 1916

One of the men was caught attempting to elope with a young French girl, thankfully not from ‘A’ company, so I am not the one who must decide what to do. The lad cannot seem to see how his actions appear, as he seems to believe that all they needed to do was go to the next village, get married and come back again. The girl’s father is furious, and is demanding restitution as his daughter has been dishonoured. Both swear that their union has not been consummated, but that seems to mean nothing.

The company commanders met this afternoon to discuss what we should do, as there was no intention to desert, so the regulations are strangely silent on this situation. The soldier professes absolute love for the girl, however they have known each other but a few days. I courted Mary for nearly a year before I dared to ask for her hand, but I understand how the fear of impending death can hasten feelings of longing. Marriage is out of the question, as the father has forbidden it, while we can find no punishment in the regulations that seem to fit the misdemeanour. I suggested sending the lad to another regiment, and this was, eventually settled upon. Whether our decision will be seen as correct higher up the chain of command I do not know, but to us it seemed the only feasible outcome.

The poor lad was heartbroken as he was sent away, not only from his sweetheart, but also from all of his friends. The romantic in me hopes that he will stay faithful to the girl and return to her when the war is over, but in truth I think that he will soon recover from his feelings once he is with a new platoon.

22 July 1916

I have been ill again, this time with a dreadful bellyache. I was awake for the whole of Sunday night with my head in a bucket, while poor Charlie had to clear up after me. All of yesterday was even worse, and the other officers were considering having me sent to hospital with dysentery. Thankfully by the evening I felt better, and spent all of Monday asleep.

I have spent the entire day in bed, and still feel rather weak, but much better than I was. Gerald has been carrying out my duties for me while I was ill, and I am quite grateful for the respite.

23 July 1916

I was out of bed today, but still feeling rather sorry for myself. I have not been able to consider food at all, but have managed a small amount of tea. This evening Charlie brought up a jug full of poppies to cheer the room up, and I had a little bread and a nip of brandy. It is rather hot in the room, even with the windows open.

25 July 1916

I am feeling much better, and returned to my duties today. News from the front still not good, there is heavy fighting but still little progress being made. Land is being taken, but then lost as troops find themselves without support from reserves. I feel useless sitting on my hands here with an entire Battalion ready to fight.

27 July 1916

Fearfully hot today, I am glad, for once, that we are not having to experience this weather in a stinking trench.

Another parcel from Mary, with a delightful letter. The parcel was full tins of food for me to take when I next go into the trenches. She has read about the best items of food to provide soldiers with when they are in action. I looked through the tins and found stewed steak, lamb stew along with sausage and bacon. Best of all, there are tinned peaches, and condensed milk, which will give us a decent change from bread and jam for tea.

1 August 1916
I think that Divisional HQ has forgotten us. If we all returned to Ireland I am quite convinced that we will not be missed. This infernal heat is going to drive us all mad before too long. How do the French stand it?

Tony had to chuckle at the snarky comment, but he could understand the frustration. If the fighting was as bad as Captain McGee thought, it must have been insane to be stuck out of the action. He recalled the times that Gibbs had been ordered not to do something, but had done it anyway. Somehow that sort of behaviour in that war might well end up getting everyone killed.

He knew nothing about the First World War, but the figures that he had read for the casualties seemed completely exaggerated. He decided that, if he had the chance, he’d look up this battle to get to the truth.

Words in this post: 5118

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 1:48 pm 
Mossad Liaison Officer
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Location: Wales
Name: Erica
Aliases: Conuiren, Cerci Dweeb
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Chapter 15

Ziva was surprised to find Tony at his desk when she arrived that morning. Even more surprising was the look of concentration on his face.

“Is there a case that I did not know about?” she asked, making him jump.

“No…it’s something I read last night. I thought the guy was making these figures up, but he wasn’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“I guess I didn’t take much notice in history classes, but this battle in 1916, the losses in one day were incredible, if that happened in Iraq we’d have no army left.”

“Which battle do you mean Tony?”

“He’s taking about the Somme.” Gibbs said, walking in with his coffee. “Learned about it when I was doing my training, part of the how not to fight a war stuff.”

“Oh, I see. The losses were bad?”

“We’re talking extreme Ziva, 20,000 dead in one day.”

“I hope that McGee’s ancestor was not one of them.” Ziva gasped.

“No, he’s stuck on the sidelines.”

“Thank goodness for that.”

“He doesn’t want to be there.” Tony muttered. “Not sure I’d think the same way.”

“If my friends were fighting and dying, and in need of my help, I would think as he does.” Ziva insisted.

“I guess you’re right.” Tony nodded.

“You would be first in line.” Gibbs added, looking Tony right in the eye. “And you know it.”

It had become the unspoken agreement that Tony would take the first shift in any evening that he was due to go to the hospital. No one minded that much, they all could see that the manuscript was keeping his mind from dwelling on his own misplaced sense of guilt over Tim’s injuries. While he was there, he gave a critique of what he had read since he had last visited, or asked questions that he knew would not be answered. Once he left he would go to Tim’s apartment to read more.

5 August 1916

At last! We are to begin our journey back to the trenches, although we must still wait until the end of the month. Our company has been ordered to attend a training course to refresh our musketry skills, and then another to remind us about trench maintenance. We are all itching to go, since we have been stagnating far too long.

9 August 1916

Our first course is too far to attend on foot, so we must waste yet more hours sitting on achingly slow trains. The weather is still stifling, even with the obligatory broken windows. As soon as we were moving, we stripped to our shirtsleeves and just sat in our compartment flapping books or papers to try and fan ourselves. Just after midday, we rebelled and demanded that the train stop to allow the men time to get out of the trucks and cool down. It was a good thing too, as several seemed on the verge of heat stroke when we stopped.

By the time we arrived at the camp for our training course, we were so exhausted that it was all that we could do to get the men settled. No one ate that evening as the heat had robbed us all of our appetites.

10 August 1916

The men seem in much better fettle today, perhaps the knowledge that they will be firing their rifles all day has cheered them up.

The first morning was spent with a very boring lecture reminding us all about the care and cleaning of our weapons. Thankfully, there was very little in the way of fidgeting from men who had spent most of their time cleaning and re-cleaning their rifles over the past few weeks for want of anything else to do. We all then went out for target practice, which the men thoroughly enjoyed.

There is an officer’s mess here, although it is unpleasantly warm in the evenings, and there is little ventilation in the room. Most of us have spilled out onto the grass outside as the evenings are so light.

12 August 1916

After three days of firing our rifles at targets, I am not sure that we have learned anything new about musketry, but the men enjoyed themselves. Yesterday ended with a very spectacular thunderstorm, although it has not cleared the air.

14 August 1916

The battle seems to have stagnated, except for the constant killing and wounding that the men are enduring while they move nowhere.

15 August 1916

We are now on our way to our trench maintenance course, it is a little cooler, but windy and showery, and the rain keeps blowing into our compartment because we cannot close the wretched window. We have halted for the night, but cannot leave the train as it is raining ridiculously hard.

16 August 1916

I am of the belief that, now that we are to spend five days digging trenches, God has seen fit to send us nothing but rain. Perhaps He is preparing us for how things will be when we reach the front, but I would rather He waited until we actually got there.

18 August 1916

Lots of rain yesterday and today, our trenches are filling with water and it is most unpleasant, particularly as I am not wearing my riding boots. Can one contract trench foot in a training camp?

19 August 1916

Gave up on puttees, now back in my long boots. Please God, we have seen enough rain today, please give us some dry weather for the last two days.

20 August 1916

A dry day at last, but our trench collapsed in on itself overnight, and the mud is too soft to shore the wall back up. Sandbags not helping as just as soaked as the earth we are attempting to excavate. Uniforms filthy and tempers very short.

21 August 1916

Course finished, but we are to stay here for the moment as I have received orders that we are to go to new billets in the next week. Our return to the trenches has begun.

22 August 1916

The mood in the company is now very different, since we know that we will soon be back in the fray. Those who came to us more recently are itching to be gone, while others, the gas attack foremost in their minds, are no longer quite as determined as they were while we were stagnating in the rest camp. I sense that same difference in the officer’s mess, since the new lads have not yet seen action, while the rest of us still recall the horror of those few days fighting for our lives trampling over the bodies of the dead.

Now that we are going, I find myself afraid, trying to bring to mind how I had wanted action instead of inertia. Now that action is coming, with only the promise of more heavy losses before us, I would give anything to be forgotten once more.

24 August 1916

Inspected my kit today, in an attempt to keep my mind from our imminent move, but everything in my valise reminds me of what I have left behind, and what I may never see again. I have written two letters to Mary, one that I have posted today, the other will remain with my effects in case I can send her no more.

25 August 1916

Found my farewell letter today, read through it and realised how ridiculous I was being yesterday, have burned the thing.

27 August 1916

Began preparations to move out tomorrow. There is no escape for us now. Stephen considered, only half-jokingly, whether we could convince the camp CO that we had fallen into madness so that we could be sent home. Charlie thought he was deadly serious and warned him most sincerely against such a course of action, as he had heard that some men who were suffering from shell-shock were being shot for cowardice. We assured him that we were jesting, but I have noticed that he is watching us rather closely this evening.

I am not sure if what Charlie has heard is true and, even if it is, we would not presume to mock those who have this terrible affliction by attempting to fake the condition.

29 August 1916

We have finally arrived at our billets after perhaps the worst train journey yet, dreadfully hot, but with torrential rain for much of the day. After days of hearing nothing, there is a barrage being fired somewhere to the west of us, reminding us all of how close to the battle we are.

Reported to divisional HQ to be told we were back with the 16th Irish, and would likely be back in action by the start of next month. There have been a few gains, but I cannot see how they have been worth the huge losses that we have sustained. The senior officers attempt to find success in this mess somewhere, and have regaled us with tales of the prisoners and guns captured, glossing over the blatant fact that we have not moved as far as they had expected when this battle began. All that I know for the moment is that we will soon be on the move again, and so I have warned the men not to get too comfortable.

31 August 1916

We have moved again, now at a rest camp in preparation for the last leg of our journey into battle. The day is fine, but there has been so much rain over the past few days that the ground is churned up and very unpleasant to walk on. Already my duties are increasing again as various orders keep coming down the line demanding inspections, details of equipment held and anything that is needed. Gerald asked to requisition a boat home, which cheered me a little, but instead I was forced to requisition all of the forms required to make casualty reports.

There are rumours that we have a new weapon to throw at the Germans, although no one has managed to glean any more than that. They keep being referred to as ‘tanks’ but how such items will help us I do not know.

1 September 1916

Very little time to rest for anyone as we attempt to prepare the men for battle. Their kit is up to scratch, but they all seem to have acquired more than they can reasonably carry. I suspect that they have added ‘souvenirs’ to their packs that have found their way back from the front. I fear that some of those items may have been pilfered from the dead while we were helping with the casualties. Already I have confiscated several German weapons, items we are forbidden to carry with us, along with other bits of rubbish taken from German trenches that had been taken before the original thief had been injured.

2 September 1916

We are to leave in the morning, for yet more billets, but we will be in the trenches within the next two days.

3 September 1916

Arrived at billets, we will be in reserve trench tomorrow. I can already feel my skin crawling in anticipation of the rats and lice.

4 September 1916

No hope of sending any working parties anywhere, the Boche are shooting at anything that moves. Orders received for our objectives, we are to attack, something that I am not certain we are truly prepared for.

5 September 1916

In front line, no rest for anyone as there are orders coming in by the moment, sentries under constant supervision. We are to push forward tomorrow, although I do not know whether I am to wear my own uniform, or disguise myself. I have asked for clarification, but the response was to do ‘what the hell I liked’ uttered in a rather unpleasant tone. I called my platoon officers together to deliver the orders given, and we will make our move before dawn tomorrow.

19 September 1916

These are the first words that I have been able to write for some days. I am so very tired, and it is difficult to recall what happened to me. My left shoulder is heavily bandaged, I think that I was hit with a bullet. I don’t know where anyone else is.

21 September 1916

My shoulder is very painful, but my mind is clearer as I have been dosed up with morphine for several days. I can recall now that I was shot while we were moving into battle, although the aftermath is a fog of half-remembered moments. I can recall someone screaming for stretcher-bearers, but not being carried out of the battle, which must have happened because I am at the field hospital . I think that I remember the advance dressing station, or at least some filthy pile of mud with someone winding a bandage around me. I think I was alone at this time, I do not remember anyone with me.

The doctor has told me that I was in a bad way by the time I was brought here, and that they operated to remove the bullet with little hope that I would last the night. I have no memory of reaching the hospital, or the days that followed, but the doctors are amazed that my shoulder is healing. I had hoped that they would decide to send me home, but it is likely that this will not be required, as I can convalesce in France and be back at the front sooner.

I am not sure that I want to go back to the front at all.

22 September 1916

I had a visitor today. Stephen came to see me, having been given a few days leave for the purpose. His news was not good, as we had been somewhat battered again, and half of the new officers were killed on the 9th, although the attack they undertook was successful. My first thoughts were for my own company and things were only a little better there. We had, by some miracle, not lost any officers other than myself. Stephen’s batman was killed, as were five men from Thomas’s platoon. Most of the worst casualties fell in the other companies, and there were many. The Battalion has now been withdrawn from the Somme and has been sent north again.

Stephen saved his worst news until last, handing me orders from Division. The 9th Battalion has gone north, but I will not go with them. My absence has been too long, and they have sent a new commander to take charge of ‘A’ Company. Although I knew that this could happen, I was not expecting it, and it greatly distressed me. I asked if Charlie would stay with me, but that will not happen. Stephen has taken him on instead, rather than send him back to the ranks, and has promised to take care of him. He stayed for an hour, and left some letters with me, which I will have to read later, as I cannot bring myself too now.

I do not know what is to become of me.

23 September 1916

I read my orders today, a new battalion of Dublins has arrived in France, and I will be attached to them once I am recovered. They are, at the moment, receiving the same training that we went through when we arrived, and I am expected to be recovered enough to take charge of a company by the time they are ready to go into action.

I then managed to read the letters sent by my friends, many of whom I may never see again, and I found myself wishing that I was recovered now so that I could go back to them.

I have never felt more lonely in my life.

24 September 1916

The doctors are pleased with my progress, and I can sit up for longer periods as each day goes by. Today I am out of bed and seated in an armchair, although I have not asked where the chair came from. I am in a ward containing 10 beds, and 7 of them are currently filled, all with officers as we are separated from the men once we leave the dressing stations. Most of the others are Lieutenants, although we have a major and a colonel also with us. Neither appears to have come by their maladies in the field of battle, but they seem to expect more attention from the doctors because of their rank. I keep to myself, but I have heard some of the others grumbling to each other.

We are cared for by four nurses, who seem to never sit down, such is the demand made of them. They are all English, and seem to be from good families rather than from English hospitals. I understand that many young women have volunteered to take up nursing posts as a chance to escape from the idleness of their lives at home, and one can only commend them for that.

The nurse that I seem to have most to do with is Nurse Haversham, who has cared for me from the moment I arrived. She is, perhaps, a few years younger than me, and I am astonished that she has found the courage to come to France alone to nurse wounded men. Her manner with us changes depending on who she is caring for at the time. Some of the lieutenants are hardly out of school, and her manner with them reminds me of the nanny that I had as a child. At the same time she will brook no nonsense from our more senior officers, and is not afraid to speak sharply with them.

We me, she is neither. Instead, she is honest at all times and I like to think that I am her favourite, although from the way she treats the younger lads, I suspect they would feel that she liked them best. I have learned that, when I was first brought to the hospital, she wrote to Mary of my condition, and continued to write to her every single day to tell her of my progress. I recall nothing, but the others say that she read Mary’s replies to me while I was unconscious, and then gave me the letters to read for myself when I was able too. I have asked her why she would do such a thing, and she admitted that her own husband was somewhere in France, and she hoped that if he were hurt a kindly nurse might write to tell her about how he was.

I am feeling very low after learning that I am to be parted from my battalion, and she has listened to my useless complaints most patiently. Perhaps, if this war ever ends, I will be able to find her once more and allow Mary to thank her in person for her kindness.

25 September 1916

A large parcel has arrived from Mary with yet more food for me, along with some more mittens in case I lost the others that she knitted before. I am not sure what happened to the tins of food that she sent before as we took them into the trenches but they were not eaten by the time I was wounded, so there is little doubt that some others have enjoyed them instead. I will own that I behaved a little childishly with the tin of chocolates that she sent, waiting for the colonel and the major to be absent from the ward before sharing them with the other patients. Since they are both so dreadfully tedious, none of us cared a single jot.

26 September 1916

We are finally making gains in the battle, although details are scarce. The weather was quite pleasant today and I was allowed to sit outside for the first time. I was joined by Lieutenant Torridge from the Bedfordshires, and he told me that he had received a letter from a pal who was still at the front. I had no clue as to what had happened after I was wounded, but he said that everything started happening once September set in.

He had seen the ‘tank’ that we had heard about, and said that it was a strange, very slow, contraption encased entirely by metal and armed with cannon, machine guns or both. They have had limited success, but they have put the wind up Fritz as we have stolen a march on them with our innovations.

I could not say where I was at the time, but since it is now in our hands anyway, we were due to take what had once been the village of Guillemont, and advance into Leuze wood, we were pleased to discover that we have moved on quite steadily since then, and perhaps we might push the Boche back a good deal further before we must cease hostilities for the winter.

28 September 1916

I have received a letter from Charlie, which has delighted me as I had not thought he would write to me now that he is attached to another officer. He told me that he missed my company, but that Stephen is very good to him, and makes him laugh almost as much as I did. He has also been commended with a mention in despatches for staying by my side and pulling me out of the battle when I was wounded, which gives him great pride. I am rather disappointed by that, as I would have thought a medal would have been a worthy reward.

The Battalion has been in and out of the trenches, not the ones that we were in when we were first deployed there, but some Boche trenches that were taken while we were in the south. The dugouts that they constructed are luxurious by the standards that we have lived in, and set deep underground, out of reach of the most heavy shell. I fear this must be the reason why our artillery failed so tragically in July, if Fritz was buried so deeply.

They had to walk down a steep flight of steps dug deep underground, and lined with wooden boards all the way. Beneath, they found a network of rooms, full of fine furniture not doubt stolen from the homes that they had passed by. Charlie was in particular rather envious of the rooms set aside for the Boche servants, since they had to bed down wherever they could find space in our dugouts.

He also had to tell me that they lost Gerald Aherne to a sniper bullet two nights before Charlie’s letter is dated. He was leading a working party laying wire when it happened, although the men were able to return his body to the trench. A cemetery has been established nearby, and he has been buried there, which is a comfort to know. I am still haunted by the mass graves that we were forced to use when we buried the dead at Hulluch. I wish those men could have had marked graves of their own.

There were three photographs with the letter, no doubt the last that Stephen will take that will include me in them. I have packed them away in my valise with the others that I have kept over the past few months. Once I return home, they will be mounted in an album as a memorial to my days here.

There is a small chapel in the hospital, I went there this evening and said a prayer for Gerald’s soul, and asked God to spare the lives of my few remaining friends.

Tony sat back and rubbed his eyes, looking up at the clock as he yawned. It wasn’t particularly late, and he was tempted to keep reading, but his head was starting to ache. He wasn’t due to visit Tim tomorrow, so he decided to call it a night and reluctantly went home.

Words in this post: 3996

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Thu Nov 08, 2012 2:42 pm 
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Location: Wales
Name: Erica
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Gender: Female
Chapter 16

After another slow day, Tony made no pretence that he was heading home as he left the office. They all knew that he was completely taken up with reading Tim’s manuscript. Even Abby and Jimmy knew about it now, and couldn’t understand why their movie mad co-worker would be hurrying away each night to read an unpublished piece of writing.

If he was honest, Tony would not be able to explain either, but he had been sucked into the life of the man who had written this diary nearly one hundred years ago. Perhaps Tim had felt that way when he had first looked through the original papers, since he had certainly been interested enough to type them all up.

Gibbs had let them go a little early, and so Tony went straight to Tim’s apartment, with the number of the nearest Chinese take-out in his hands.

30 September 1916

I have been released from the hospital and moved to a convalescent home that has been set up in a commandeered chateau. The building is spectacular from the outside, but within is rather shabby as the owner is no longer wealthy enough to maintain it. He has given the Army the use of the building in return for our carrying out some repairs while we are here.

The chateau is so large that I have been given a room to myself. This is a privilege given solely to the ranks of Captain and above, although my room is very small. I am more than grateful to give up space in return for the peace that solitude brings. I have a bed, and a table and chair that I can sit at to write, and that is all that I need.

We have a sunny lounge area to rest in during the day, and delightful formal gardens to stroll around, with a large dining room and mess for the evenings. I must share the bathroom that lies at the end of the corridor, but that is distinctly better than a muddy latrine and no bathing facilities at all.

We are cared for by nurses and male orderlies, since some of those here are in need of more intimate care that would not be proper for a lady, but they are not as pleasant as the nurses at the hospital. I have presumed that this is because we are now all considered to be on the mend, and a more robust care regime is required so that we can be put back on our feet and sent back to the front as quickly as possible.

I will be required to carry out physical exercises each day to strengthen my shoulder with the aid of one of the orderlies. While I will be glad to have full use of my left arm again, I am finding movement rather painful at the moment, and do not look forward to having to move my shoulder at the instruction of someone who will give me no quarter if I ask for rest.

Despite these seeming disadvantages, there is quite a jolly air about the place, and I do not think I will be too unhappy here.

1 October 1916

My shoulder is on fire, I cannot write tonight.

3 October 1916

It has taken two days for the exercises that I must do not to hurt almost beyond endurance. The pain was so bad on Sunday that I could not do anything, and was put to bed with a dose of morphine that knocked me out for at least 12 hours. Yesterday was almost as bad, but I did not require such extreme pain relief, while today was a little less painful again.

I am trying not to make a fuss, but even the merest wince is frowned upon by the demon that is my orderly. I suspect that he has not even seen a trench, let alone fought in one, and so I find his lack of sympathy most trying.

I try to stay positive, since things could be far worse. I discovered yesterday that there is a section, closed off from the rest of the home, where the staff attempt to deal with men afflicted by shell-shock. I have never had the misfortune to have suffered this affliction myself, or seen it in any of the men that I have served with, but some of the nurses here say that it is a frightening thing to see. My orderly says that half the battle is trying to discover who is actually sick and who is pretending because they are simply cowards who want to go home.

After some of the things that I have seen, I would not blame any man for attempting to pretend he has any condition that might send him safely back home again.

I received a letter from Mary, in which she is filled with the notion of becoming a nurse and joining me in France. I found the notion rather amusing, because she is vastly squeamish and shudders if I cut myself shaving. I realise that she is thinking of Nurse Haversham, but I have replied to tell her that, by the time she would qualify, if the war wasn’t over already, I would be back at the front and she would not be able to look after me. I hope that that will be enough to deter her, so that she remains safely at home, and I have one less thing to worry about.

5 October 1916

I at last feel as if the exercises are doing a little more than make my arm painful. I can now move my arm a little more freely, and was able to hold a glass of water in my left hand today.

6 October 1916

Some of the patients here will be leaving in the morning to return to their battalions, and so we had a grand farewell party for them this evening. We were given a fine dinner, far better than the usual fare that they give us, and then an evening entertainment was put on by the staff for us. We were most impressed that the ladies in the show were actually played by women this time.

We ended the evening with dancing to some Strauss waltzes in the gramophone, which was quite delightful to watch. I did not dance myself, as it would not be right to dance with another woman while my wife is not present.

8 October 1916

My orderly has heard that I used to play the piano when I was younger. I have not touched the instrument since I left university, however, he has decided that it would be an excellent way of training my left hand to become more nimble again.

I found it almost impossible to play a note with my left hand, not because my arm is painful, but because I can no longer read the bass clef, and had no idea what I was trying to play.

10 October 1916

The hospital chaplain has taken it upon himself to teach me piano, as he agrees with the orderly that it would be a good way to help strengthen my arm. We spent nearly two hours playing scales with my left hand to remind me of the bass notes.

I shall not tell Mary about this when I return home in case she demands that I give recitals to our guests.

12 October 1916

The doctors are very pleased with my progress, and believe that I will only need perhaps a week or two more before I can began some light training. This will be undertaken here at first, and then I will go to a training camp until I am ready to join my new Battalion.

I am glad that I am nearly recovered, but the reminder that I cannot return to my own Battalion still rankles with me.

13 October 1916

We were woken early this morning by the sound of a gunshot, and I have learned today that one of the lads that was due to leave in a few days has taken a bullet through his head rather than return to the fray.

Everyone is bewildered that he has done such a thing, as he seemed most glad to be going in the last few days. We are all afraid of what we must return to, but to take one’s own life is a mortal sin, and I fear for the man’s soul.

This event has left us all deeply unsettled, as it had reminded us all of how close we are to facing our own mortality again.

14 October 1916

Managed a fairly long walk today through the grounds of the chateau. After the dreadful events of yesterday, it felt good to clear my head. There is a grand view across a very picturesque valley at the end of the garden, and I sat on a bench and looked out at it for more than an hour.

16 October 1916

My ‘light training’ has been brought forward and consisted of thrusting a rifle and bayonet at a suspended sack for nearly an hour. My shoulder ached somewhat, but I am pleased that I completed the first day of ‘training’ intact.

17 October 1916

Target practice today, both with the new revolver that I have been issued (my other is most likely still in the mud outside Guillemont where I fell) and the rifle. My aim is still good, but I am beginning to wonder whether I am being rushed through my training to be returned to action sooner.

18 October 1916

The bandages have been removed permanently, and I have seen the scar on my shoulder for the first time. It looks rather impressive, although it is quite obviously healed now. My only weakness is the lack of use of my arm while my shoulder was healing, but that will soon fade. I hope that Mary will not be too shocked by it when she sees it.

20 October 1916

As I suspected, I have received orders to join my new Battalion at their training camp. My doctors have approved my release and I will go in two days’ time. I have told no one as I do not want the fuss that we had when the others left.

21 October 1916

Someone has announced that I am leaving. I could not find out who, but I arrived in the mess for dinner to find everyone waiting for me, with a paper hat that I was forced to wear throughout the meal, and then in the mess afterwards. It looks like the hats that we used to fold out of newspapers to pretend to be pirates, although they have not painted it black as I used to as a child.

I was rather embarrassed, but if I am honest I did appreciate the gesture.

22 October 1916

Left the home quite early, although I was given a lift in a staff car to the station. There were a good number of lone officers travelling to join up with various battalions, and I felt none of the companionship that I had when I travelled with my own men. We were crammed into a compartment, and I did not feel that I could write anything while in their company.

I managed to persuade a motor-lorry driver to give me a lift to the camp, while the other officers were left to walk, on account of my being a newly recovered invalid. I was so tired that I was quite prepared to be a little untruthful about how recovered I actually was. On reaching the camp I reported to the HQ and was sent directly to the billets of my new battalion. I will be in charge of ‘C’ company.

The platoon commanders are all complete novices, just as I was when I first came to France. I fear that they have been told some ridiculous stories about me, as they seemed terrified of me when I first entered the mess. I hope that we will be able to settle together before we go into battle.

25 October 1916

The past few days have been completely exhausting as we are due to go to the trenches soon, and no preparations have been made. The battalion came here in the expectation of being attached to the 16th Irish Division, but have now been told that they will be attached to the 63rd Naval Division, which has caused great consternation. I fear that some of the men have come to believe that this means we will be sent off to sea and it has been quite a feat to persuade them otherwise.

The commanders were completely unprepared for the task that they are about to undertake, not least because they have been left quite without guidance from senior officers who should know better. I have had to make the arrangements for my company, and then show the others how to make those same arrangements for theirs, leaving me with no time to myself at all. I know that, once we are in the face of the enemy, this battalion will fight as bravely and skilfully as all others that I have seen in action, but I fear that we may find ourselves in a fix with the administration if I do not keep a close eye on my fellow Captains.

27 October 1916

Matters are finally settling between myself and the other officers in the mess. I have found that they are in awe of the fact that I hold the Military Cross, since so few captains have received this honour. Now that I have explained that my actions were no more brave than my fellow officers, only that there was a senior officer to witness it has brought me down from on high to their own level. We are now rubbing along together well enough, although I still miss my former company. I try to keep abreast of all that is happening on the front, but often news from other sectors does not reach us for days for fear of spies. It is my hope that, once this battalion has seen action, we will be attached to the Irish Division and I may fight alongside my former battalion once more.

31 October 1916

We are to go to the trenches in the morning, however, the men have decided to mark Halloween, by slipping out of their barrack huts and banging on each other’s windows at a ridiculously late hour. I have sent the platoon commanders out to order them all back to their beds so that we can try and get some sleep before we leave tomorrow.

2 November 1916

We have reached the reserve line after a long and very arduous journey from the camp. We were not far enough away to be brought any distance by train and so had to march all the way here. There were no horses, so I had to march too, and the roads were appalling for most of the way. The men were, at first, most buoyant at the idea of finally having the chance to give Fritz a bloody nose, but our journey took us through the areas that have been captured during the current offensive, and they have seen the true horror of what has gone on here for themselves. I could sense the growing trepidation with every step.

Our home is a former German trench and I was surprised to find that it was constructed in much the same manner as those described in Charlie’s letter. My dugout is particularly fine, still containing the furniture that was there when the Germans left. I have a very comfortable bed, although I can already feel lice returning to my clothes, and a completely separate room to carry out company business.

I have, at last, also selected a new batman, John Winslow, who is not actually Irish at all, but was resident in Dublin and so joined up there. He has the advantage of having been a gentleman’s valet, and his attention to detail is almost as good as Charlie’s was. I do not like to admit it, but he is also a better cook.

3 November 1916

While the dugouts seem quite comfortable, the trench itself is just as revoltingly muddy as I recall when we were at Hulluch. There are rumours that some of the German lines that are further back than us had room to house the men below ground as well as the officers, but these trenches are more hastily constructed. It seems that the German officers are not as concerned about their men as we are. I find that most bewildering, as our first duty is always to see that the men are settled before we turn to our own comforts.

Our sector seems quite quiet at the moment, with other forces advancing more steadily to the south of us. I do not believe that we will be this quiet for long.

5 November 1916

Called to Division HQ. I hope this will be the orders that the offensive will end for the winter.

The news is not what I had hoped. We are to attack along the Ancre river – although I will not be able to divulge any details until after we have succeeded, or failed, in our objectives. I am concerned that we are to fight so late in the year, with the weather already atrocious and the days shortening rapidly. Perhaps I am no longer as optimistic as I once was since my wounding, but the coming attack does not sit well with me. I have written a letter for Mary again, but something is stopping me from burning it this time.

9 November 1916

I have comfortable bed, but have not laid in it for nearly four days. There are orders coming back and forth almost by the minute. We have working parties going out every night, although why we are bothering when an attack is imminent I really do not know. I am tempted to ask the men to come back with some Boche wire to send to HQ to pretend we went out.

We watched some planes flying over us this afternoon, where they engaged Fritz to the east of us. The men were complaining that they were too far off to see clearly, but I had a good view through my field glasses. It was most chaotic, but rather exhilarating to watch.

11 November 1916

The artillery have begun their barrage in preparation for our advance. I have never listened to such a thing before and it is deeply disturbing when they are behind us, firing over our heads, rather than in the distance as we try to sleep in our billets. For the first time since Hulluch, I am very much afraid.

12 November 1916

We cannot attack from the trenches, and will need to spend the night out in the open before we attack tomorrow at dawn. The day has been cold, but reasonably dry, so I hope that it does not rain tonight when we leave the trench to prepare for the assault tomorrow. I will not take my journal with me as it will be securely locked in my valise until I return. While I trust the men of my battalion without doubt, some of the other officers have been complaining about thieving from their belongings. I have little of value, but that does not mean I wish to lose anything.

Letter to Mary McGee, written 5 November 1916

My dearest Mary.

I pray with all my heart that you never see this letter.

I am due to go into battle in a few days, and I want to leave word for you in the event that I do not return.

I want you to know that my only regret in this whole endeavour was that I have been forced to spend so much time apart from you. I carry in my heart those few precious days we shared together in Paris, just as I carry your picture, which is so dear to me, next to my heart as I go into battle.

I have never been unhappy in my life, but I never really knew the meaning of happiness until the moment you became my wife. You have made me the happiest man on earth for the few precious years that we have been together. Yet I cannot go before God without begging you not to grieve too deeply for me, for I would not rest easily if I thought you could not find happiness with another when your heart is less grieved.

I made a will before I left for France, and Mr Chambers holds it for me. He will be executor, and will see to the necessary details for you.

I am sitting here feeling quite melancholy, for there is so much that I wish to say, but I cannot find the words to express it. Perhaps I am hoping that I will come home after this whole wretched business is over, and burn the letter in the fireplace while you are not looking.

I pray that this insanity does not go on for too much longer, already too many young men have been sacrificed at the altar of war, and I am no longer certain what it is we began this war over. I am quite certain that the men who fight against us do not know either.

Now that I am gone, do not abandon the good work that you have done for the poor widows of Dublin who have lost their menfolk. I have always been deeply proud of you for your work with your charity, and I know that you will continue to do that good work in my memory.

I must go now, for even though we do not go into battle for some days, there is so much to be done. I have only one last thing to say and it is this. I have always loved you like I have loved no other, and I will love you even when my soul is with God. I will watch over you, my most darling wife, until we are reunited in God’s grace.

Your loving husband

Tony stared at the words in front of him. That was it? He read the letter again, and then a third time. He couldn’t be dead! It had to be some sick kind of a joke! Before he knew it, he was on his knees searching through the boxes for some more journal entries to prove that McGee had been mistaken in his manuscript. There was nothing there, and Tony realised with great horror that Tim’s ancestor had not survived the war.

There was nothing to say what had happened to him, and Tony felt cheated on his behalf that his life had ended so suddenly.

13 November 1916, that was just a day before his 31st birthday. Had he died on that day? Or perhaps the day after? In between his musings, Tony felt a growing sense of emptiness that there would be no end to the story, that Captain Timothy Michael McGee had never returned home.

His phone suddenly rang, and he nearly ignored it, but instead picked it up rather listlessly.

“Yeah.” He said.

“Tony?” Ziva’s voice sounded excited. “I am at the hospital. McGee woke up a few minutes ago. He’s going to be alright.”

Relief flooded through him.

“I’ll be right there.”

A/N - Sincere apologies for not providing a warning at the start of the chapter - but I did not want to signpost what was to come and risk reducing any impact.

Words in this post: 3971

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:05 pm 
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Chapter 17

He arrived to find everyone there already. The doctors were attempting to send them all away as the evening was so late, but no one was willing to go. Only the family had spent time with Tim since he had regained consciousness, but the others were quite prepared to wait all night to have their turn too. Eventually, the McGee’s agreed that each of them could have a few minutes with him before they all left for the night to allow him to rest.

Tony waited his turn as patiently as he could, hoping that Tim wouldn’t get too overwhelmed before he had his chance to speak to him. They had agreed that he should go last as he was the last one to make it to the hospital, but by the time Ducky came out that patience was fast running out.

When he finally made it into the room, Tim looked half asleep, but he turned his head slightly to see who had come in.

“Hey McGee, glad you’re back with us.” He began, more jovially than he felt.

“Good to be back.” Tim replied, his voice faint and hesitant. “You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“No, you aren’t. What’s wrong?”

“Look, I’m really sorry about all this, if I’d checked the room better before we went in this wouldn’t have happened.”

For a moment, Tim looked rather bewildered, before he remembered what Gibbs had told him about the accident.

“Wasn’t your fault Tony, you know that.” He murmured.

“I guess… but…”

“Don’t make me shout at you.” Tim cut in, his voice only a little stronger.

“Okay… I guess I don’t want you shouting at me right now huh?” He watched as Tim smiled a little, before his face became serious again.

“You found my draft.” He said. “Have you finished it?”

“You knew? You heard me talking about it?”

“Yeah. You’re casting suggestions all suck.” Tony couldn’t help but chuckle at that.

“I finished it today. I…I wasn’t expecting it to end like that. Do you know what happened?”

Tim sighed and shook his head a little.

“Tony, will you do something for me?”

“Name it.”

“There’s a green folder by my typewriter, inside there’s a letter to the War Graves people in London. I was going to post it the weekend after that op. Can you send it off for me?”

“Sure, I can do that. What are you hoping they can say?”

“I want to know if his name is on the Thiepval memorial, and if they can tell me who to contact to find out what might have happened.”

“Yeah, I think I want to find that out too.”

Tim yawned and closed his eyes. Tony looked at the nurse monitoring Tim who smiled back and assured him that Tim had just dropped off to sleep. Disappointed, he got up and went back out to where the others were waiting.

“He’s gone to sleep.” He said. “I guess we’ll have to come back tomorrow.”

“Are we on call this weekend Gibbs?” Ziva asked. “I really cannot recall.”

“Nope.” Gibbs replied, although the look on his face told them that he was going to make sure that they weren’t on call.

“Then I will come back here tomorrow morning.” She resolved. “What about you Tony? I can drive us both here.”

“No need Ziva. I have to run by his apartment tomorrow to find something to post for him. I’ll come after that.”

He was over at the apartment early the next morning and found the folder, which he had not taken any notice of before. Inside there were lots of scribbled notes that Tim had made, dates and names of places that showed he was researching the details of the war to put with the entries. With those notes was the letter that Tim had asked him to send. Taking the envelope, he hurried to the post office.

Once he reached the hospital, he found that Tim had a little more energy and had asked to see him as soon as he arrived. Feeling quite privileged, Tony made his way to Tim’s room right away. Tim was awake, but lying quite still, since his muscles were still very weak. His voice was a little stronger though.

“Letter’s on its way to London.” He said, by way of greeting.

“Thanks for doing that Tony. I really need to know what happened to him, and I couldn’t think where else to start.”

“Is this Tipval monument a cemetery then?” Tony asked.

“No, it’s Thiepval, and it’s a large stone and brick structure dedicated to the missing from the war. All of the men listed there have no known grave.”

“So…you think that your uncle has no grave at all?”

“I don’t know, but I’m guessing that.”

“Do you know what happened to his wife? Did she come to the States? I don’t get how all his stuff ended up with you.”

“I think she emigrated in 1919 or 1920.” Tim admitted. “I found a letter she wrote to my great-great-grandfather asking if he could help her. I think that, by then, the fight for Home Rule had pushed the war veterans aside as embarrassments for fighting for the occupying enemy. She just wanted to escape from that, and so left Ireland. I found that letter while I was looking for anything that might show that the Captain had actually survived. I’ve found some stories of men being declared dead, only to turn up a few days later in a field hospital. I was hoping that might have happened, but I found nothing.”

“Did she marry again?”

“I don’t think so, she left everything to my great grandfather, including all of the stuff in the boxes. He must have just stored it all away, but Penny found it all when she was clearing out her attic. She was going to throw it away, but I started looking through it and asked if she minded me taking it as it looked interesting. She was fine about it.”

“Your Dad wasn’t impressed.”

“Is he ever?” Tim grinned, sadly. “I don’t listen to him about stuff like that anyway.”

“What gave you the idea to type the thing up anyway?”

“I don’t know. I was reading the diaries and I guess I reacted the same way that you did when I found that letter to his wife. I felt that I’d come to know him so well, and then he was gone.”

“Like losing a friend?”

“Kinda, I guess. I have vague memories of my grandfather talking about his great-aunt Mary, just in passing, but he never mentioned anything about her husband, it’s as if he’s been completely forgotten, and I just didn’t like that. I saw that some soldiers had made their diaries into memoirs, so I guess I wanted his words out there so he wouldn’t be forgotten again.”

“So, what happens next McGee? Now that the story’s ended.”

“It hasn’t ended Tony, it’s only just begun.”

All thought of the manuscript left everyone for the next few weeks as Tim slowly began to recover. He was forced to undergo physical therapy to strengthen his muscles again, and the doctors would not release him from the hospital until he could get to and from the bathroom by himself. He tired easily, and so when not being seen by his therapist was under strict orders to use a wheelchair if he tired, and not to be a hero. His body might not be recovering as quickly as he wanted, but Tim’s mind was as sharp as ever. There was no permanent brain damage, and he was itching to get back to work, even though he knew that was weeks away yet.

Four weeks later, Tony went over to Tim’s apartment to check for any mail and found an envelope with ‘Air Mail’ printed on it. Picking it up, he realised it was a reply from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, so he snatched up the other mail, not even checking if any of it was junk, and hurried to the hospital.

Tim was now able to spend some time out of bed, and was settled on a sun lounger in the small garden area behind the hospital. It was quite warm weather for mid-October, but the sun wasn’t too strong, so he had been allowed to sit out for a while, although the nurses were checking on him every few minutes. He was dozing when Tony burst out of the door and hurried over to him.

“You’ve got a reply!” he said, making Tim jump, his eyes flying open with surprise. “The war graves guys have written.”

Tim took the letter, but his fingers were not yet quite nimble enough to open it.

“Can you open it Tony, I just can’t right now.” He admitted.

“Do you want me to read it to you too?” Tony teased as he tore open the letter.

“You may as well, since you probably want to know what they have to say even more than me.”

“Okay, here goes. ‘Dear Mr McGee, Thank you for your recent letter enquiring about the possible location of your ancestor Captain T M McGee MC. I was interested to learn of your project, and saddened that you have no history of what became of the Captain. I have, therefore, undertaken a little research on your behalf to establish what facts that may be known.’ Gee, this guy is formal isn’t he?”

“What does he say Tony?”

“Okay! ‘Captain McGee was reported missing on the evening of 13 November 1916 on the opening day of the Battle of Ancre. His status became missing presumed killed four days later after the battle ended without any sign of him, or his remains. Sadly, that status remained unchanged even after the war ended.’”

“So…they never found him.” Tim murmured, his eyes sad. “No wonder his poor wife never married again.”

“Hold on, there’s more. ‘His name was included on the list that would eventually form part of the great Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme battle, however, in 1924, two farmers found the remains of three soldiers in one of their fields while digging an irrigation channel. Two of the bodies could not be identified, but the third was that of Captain McGee, as the remains still carried his identity disks. Accordingly, his name was removed from the list of missing, and he was buried, with full military honours, in the Ancre British Cemetery.’ McGee, the guy has a grave!”

Tim was quiet for a long time as he took in the news. Why he felt such relief he really didn’t know, because it didn’t stop the fact that his ancestor had died so pointlessly.

“Why wasn’t that news with the papers in the box?” He asked.

“I don’t know, oh, wait a sec. ‘The War Graves Commission attempted to contact his widow, but unfortunately she had left the address that was held on the military files, and we could not trace her to tell her the news.’ No wonder she didn’t know. ‘I hope that this information is enough to help you in your research, however there are a number of online resources that you can use to find more detailed information. Our own website includes details of the locations of all war grave sites, including plans of the various cemeteries. If you would like to ask any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.’ It’s signed by a guy called Martin Cauton. He’s listed loads of web addresses too. We could really find out some stuff.”


“Hell yeah! I’m way too invested now!” Tony grinned.

Once again, it was the waiting game as Tim continued to improve, but not fast enough for his liking. After another three weeks, the doctors finally agreed that he could go home, as long as there was someone with him at all times. This time, the nannying job would fall to Penny, who insisted on moving into his apartment with him, despite the lack of space. She insisted that she had slept on floors all over the world and would not take no for an answer, even when Ducky offered up his spare bedrooms for them both to use. Tim wanted to go home, and so he would.

Once he was settled, the others were able to visit him. Tony waited for the others to come and go before he finally showed up. He persuaded Penny to go out for a few hours while he was there, and the moment she was out of the door he pounced.

“So.” he said. “Where do we start?”

Tim nodded and pulled himself out of his computer chair, slowly making his way into his bedroom. A few moments later, he returned with several things, one being a sword, and he asked Tony to pull up the desk chair.

“This was his sword.” He said, handing the ceremonial weapon to Tony. “You remember he sent it to Dublin before he went to France?”

Tony gingerly drew the weapon, and had to agree that it was exceptional.

“This must have cost the earth.” He said.

“Apparently, these swords aren’t that valuable as they were a requirement for all officers at the time.” Tim replied. “I think he was very proud of it though. I also found this.” He handed Tony a long flat box, which he opened to find a medal. “That’s his Military Cross.”

“Can I pick it up?” Tony asked.

“Of course.” Tim grinned.

Tony lifted the medal out of the box, and examined it closely. The ribbon was still quite robust, two white vertical stripes with a purple stripe running down the centre.

“It’s made of silver.” Tim explained. “The symbol in the middle of the cross is the Royal Cypher of George V.”

“I didn’t know you had this.”

“I had it locked in my safe. I wasn’t going to leave something like that lying around my apartment.”

“What’s that you’ve still got then?”

“You recall that he said that, when the war was over, he’d put all his photographs in an album? His widow never got them out of the envelope he put them in, so I did it for him.”

“No wonder we only found that one picture!” Tony said.

Tim handed the album over and Tony opened it up. First were some of the pictures taken in Dublin with his wife. Unlike the rather natural pose in the photo on Tim’s desk, these looked a little awkward, although he was more relaxed when his wife posed with him. Turning the pages, he found some of the pictures that had been mentioned too. One of him writing very studiously, no doubt the first picture that Stephen Mallon had taken, another of him looking very muddy, wearing only one boot, a very pissed expression on his face, the working party mishap.

A few of the pictures showed the infamous moustache, which made Tony laugh, while another showed Captain McGee all but passed out on his bed in what had to be the dugout he had been using. Eventually he found the picture of the six trainee officers together that Charlie Connor had taken. Beneath, Tim had written the name of each man in the order that he appeared on the photograph.

“Their names were on the back of the picture, probably for Mary to identify.” Tim explained. “See that picture there?” He pointed to one of a young soldier stood next to the Captain. “That’s Charlie.”

“He looks so young!” Tony gasped.

“A lot of them were Tony.”

“Do we know if he survived?”

“Not yet, but I mean to find out.”

Whenever he had a spare moment, Tony was over at Tim’s apartment trying to help his friend piece together some of the facts to weave into Captain McGee’s story. They were able to discover that both Stephen Mallon and Charlie Connor had survived the war, Charlie eventually having made Lance Corporal shortly before the war ended. Although they could not trace what had become of either man after they were de-mobbed, they both were relieved that at least two people had still been alive to remember the Captain after the war ended.

As each fact was uncovered, Tim began to order the diary into chapters, and added a few introductory paragraphs to each to explain a little about the events referred to until he had a decent draft. His publisher was not impressed that his latest effort was not a novel, but neither of them cared, since this had become too personal for them to give up. Rather than use ‘Thom E Gemcity’ Tim decided that, if he chose to publish, he would use his own name.

Eight months had now passed since Tim’s accident, and they were both now attempting to fit the project around work, it seemed never ending.

“There’s still something missing.” Tony complained as he looked through their third draft, this time on Tim’s computer. With both of them now involved, it made no sense to re-type the whole thing each time they wanted to change something.

“What can we have missed, we’ve got a glossary for all the military terms he used, we’ve clarified all the locations, what else can we do?”

“I think you need to finish off by telling your story in all this, how you ended up with the stuff, and how you put this all together in the first place. You once told me that the story was only just beginning. I think it needs to end with you.”

“With us you mean.” Tim replied.

“Whatever, but I really think it needs something like that, rather than just the letter to Mary…the end. Why not put a final chapter in talking about finding out what happened to him, and to some of the others. Something a bit more positive.”

“Okay Tony.” Tim nodded. “I’ll think about it.”

“Trust me McGee – I’m right about this.”

“You always say that!”

“Well…usually it is true.” Tony grinned. “Then we can talk about who can play him in the movie version.”

“If you suggest Steven Segal again I will take this sword and…”

“Okay! I won’t!” Tony grinned, pulling out his phone. “So, Pizza or Chinese?”


“Well, We’ve got a lot to do, and I’m hungry, aren’t you?”

Words in this post: 3068

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

 Post subject: Re: Voices From the Past
PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2012 12:53 pm 
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Tim was very quiet as Tony drove along, and he was too busy concentrating on the road ahead to say much either. This had been his idea, but he hadn’t really figured out how to cope with the French road network when he had decided they would hire a car. Tim had suggested getting in touch with a tour company, but Tony would have none of it, now he was beginning to wish he had listened.

The past couple of days had been really hot as they had meandered their way from Paris and into the province of Picardy. After the long flights, it didn’t seem right to hurry, so they had had a full week, which had been spent trying to find some of the places that Captain McGee had mentioned. They had found their way to Loos, and from there had found the village of Hulluch, along with three little cemeteries of varying size. There, they had found a number of graves belonging to men from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, but none of the names were known to them. Tim had not expected to find anything, but Tony had been quite disappointed.

Now they were back in Picardy, having spent a couple of days traipsing around the various villages that had formed part of the battle front in 1916. They had gone to the Thiepval memorial, although there were far too many names there for either to spend that long seeing if they could recognise anyone.

Today was the last day before they were due to head back, and it would be the most important one as far as Tony was concerned. They were visiting the Ancre Cemetery, and would now, hopefully, find Captain McGee’s grave. After the heat of the previous few days, a cool breeze had sprung up in the morning, and the temperature was much more acceptable today, which would make their final stop more pleasant.

Tim looked out at the landscape as the fields whizzed past. He noticed the occasional poppy in flower on the roadside as they went, and it reminded him of the afternoon that the company had marched out to the spring for an afternoon of leisure. He wondered if any of the men who had picked flowers to put in their hats on the way had selected these bright red flowers. If anything, they seemed fitting to remind everyone of the blood spilt so uselessly all those years ago.

“This is it.” Tony suddenly said as they approached a brick red wall with a gravel layby in front of it. “There are already some people here.” He observed as he parked just past a large mini-bus.

“That doesn’t matter.” Tim replied as Tony turned off the engine. He got out of the car and looked around for a moment. “I should have brought something Tony.”

“Like what?”

“Flowers or something. Don’t people put flowers on graves when they visit?” He then looked around before hurrying over to the grass verge beside the road. Tony watched him make his way along the verge, picking a few poppies from out of the grass until he had five. He then wrapped the stems in a clean tissue and poured some of his bottled water over it and returned to Tony. “Okay, let’s go in.”

They made their way up the steps and into the cemetery, where Tim stopped dead, suddenly very pensive.

“There’s so many.” He gasped.

Tony looked around at the lines of graves neatly set in rows with a central lawn that led to a large cross at the far end of the cemetery. Just in front of the cross there was a party of school-kids, but the rest of the place was deserted. He dug into his pocket and pulled out the copy of the layout that he had downloaded from the war graves site, and the grave reference that belonged to Captain McGee.

“It’s this row here.” He said, pointing to the one closest to the right hand wall. He then led Tim over, but stood back as he began to walk along the row.

“Aren’t you coming?” Tim asked.

“Not right away, I think you should say hi to him first okay?”

Tim nodded, a little unconvinced, before he began to walk along the row, reading each headstone as he went. Tony watched, a little apprehensively, as he got closer to the end of the row without stopping, hoping that he hadn’t made a mistake. Tim then stopped, hesitated for a moment, and then sat down in front of one of the headstones.

He looked at the stone for a good while, taking in the beautifully kept little patch of flowering shrubs growing in front of it. He reached forward and ran his fingers gently over the crisply engraved letters on the white stone, ‘Captain T M McGee MC, Royal Dublin Fusiliers.’ There was no date to signify when he had died, unlike some of the other graves, since the exact date of his death could not be known. Below his name was a wide cross, with the emblem of his regiment carved into it, with a small comment underneath, ‘Forget him, no we will not’.

Tim suddenly felt quite wretched, since his own family had pretty much forgotten him. He laid his little posy of poppies with the other flowers and sighed. Should he say something? He decided that he should.

“I guess I should say hi.” He began, softly. “You won’t know me, I’m your brother’s great-great-grandson, but I’m called Tim too. I’m sorry no one came before, we just didn’t know you’d been found.” He felt silly, but couldn’t stop himself. “I found your journals, and I’d very much like to publish them if you don’t mind. I think you deserve to be heard after so many years forgotten.”

He looked at the graves beside the one in front of him, and noticed two more, no doubt the other remains found with him, but their stones said only ‘A Soldier of the Great War’ with a simple cross carved below. He swallowed hard.

“I wish I knew who are in the graves beside yours. It must have been so hard for their families to know that they could never have a grave to visit. I guess I had a few moments knowing how they must have felt until we found out you were here.”

He felt a presence beside him and looked up to find that Tony had, at last, joined him.

“You found him okay then.” He said, softly.

“They’ve looked after him very well for all these years.” Tim mumbled. “They remembered him even though we didn’t.” He looked stricken, and so Tony settled beside him.

“You didn’t know anything about him until a year ago. You’re here now, and I’ll bet he’s feeling glad that you’ve made it to see him at last.”

Tim couldn’t help but laugh and he nodded a little.

“You’re right, I guess.” He nodded, but then his mood changed again. “This isn’t fair, he was just an ordinary guy! He didn’t deserve to die like this.”

“Pretty much everyone in this place was an ordinary guy, even the ones who were in the army before that war started. None of them deserved to die.”

“It seems so pointless, I’m not even sure what they were fighting for!” he looked down at the grass, his mood tinged with bitterness.

Tony knew that it was too late to regret what had happened to start the war, and that some humour was needed to bounce Tim out of his mood. He lay down in the grass and held up his camera to take a picture of the grave.

“Don’t mind me, I want a decent picture without the grave looking weird.” He said. “Tim’s just too fussy, but I guess you’d want me to get it right too wouldn’t you? I’m Tony by the way, nice to meet you at last.”

As he hoped, Tim was now giggling a little at his antics, even as a tear escaped from his left eye.

“You’ll like this camera, much better than the one your buddy was using, you don’t even need film in this one.” He continued, talking to the grave as amiably as if Captain McGee was sitting in front of him. “This one does colour too, and you don’t have to take it to a…where did he have to take his film?”

“A chemist Tony.”

“Yeah, to a chemist to have it developed. I can show you the picture right now, and the one of Tim sitting in front of you. Look.” He turned the camera round and made to show the photograph to the stone.

“You’re being dumb now Tony.” Tim laughed.

“Yeah, but you’re laughing now and that’s all that matters.” He replied. He then showed Tim the pictures that he had taken, first of the grave, and then one that he had taken before of Tim reaching forward and touching the writing on it.

They then realised that someone was standing behind them.

“Can I help you two gentlemen?” he asked, looking rather amused.

“Sorry, I was just trying to cheer my friend up.” Tony admitted.

“Who were you disturbing?” the man asked, leaning around and reading the grave. “Ah yes, Captain McGee. I’m not sure we’ve had any visitors for him before.”

“No, I only found out he existed about a year ago.” Tim replied, still sitting in front of the grave. “He was my great-great-uncle.”

“Do you know much about him? We only ever find out very basic facts about those who are buried here. When we find out stories, we can bring the school parties over to tell those tales to them.”

“He left a journal, which I’m hoping to publish eventually.”

“That would be extremely useful, anything that gives more insight into the lives of the men who lived, and died, in the trenches is worth reading.”

“You think so?” Tim asked, a little heartened.

“I certainly do. I act as a guide for battlefield tours and the like, so I’m always delighted to meet relations of the residents here.”

“I’m a bit late.” Tim shrugged.

“You’d be surprised at how many of these graves have never seen a visitor from any of their relations. There’s no shame in that, at the time most people simply could not afford to come here, and by the time they could, a new generation who didn’t know the deceased just had no interest. But as long as someone remembers them, that’s all that matters.”

He then sighed and looked around at the restless group of children standing by the exit.

“Speaking of no interest, I shall get that rabble out of your hair. I wish you luck with your book.” He then turned and went over to the children, ushering them out as quickly as he could.

They spent an hour in the cemetery, now that they were alone, Tony wandered around looking at the other graves, but Tim stayed where he was, no longer speaking, just making the short time he would have there count.

Eventually, Tony came back and pointed at his watch. Reluctantly, Tim got up and looked down at the grave.

“Goodbye.” He said, softly. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back again, so I hope that you are resting in peace.”
He then turned to Tony.

“I’m ready to go.” He said, smiling. “I’ve got a book to finish.”

The End


Words in this post: 1925

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer - Douglas Adams 1952-2001

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