Family

FAMILY

BY EDWARD DRAKE

A young man leaves his loved ones to begin what he believes to be the greatest adventure of his life.

When the dream turns into a living nightmare, he will realise just what he gave up.

Ambleton Train Station

( Yorkshire, England 1916 )

Suddenly the carriage shook and the train started to move. Our journey to France was now underway as we struggled to stay on our feet. I was starting out on the adventure I had dreamt of for many a night. I fought my way through the press of bodies to the open window, needing to see my family one more time. Finally I was there and peering along the railway platform to the cheering crowd. I could just about see mother with a handkerchief held to her face as the steam and smoke surrounded them. Frank was by her side and also father who stood smiling and waving amongst the other families and friends. And running alongside the train, with the younger children, was Rosie, screaming out my name in excitement.

Bye Harry!  Bye Harry!’ she yelled as she vigorously waved a small Union Jack flag in the air. The window space was very tight now with the lads jostling each other and straining their necks out to see their own folk. All good fun as we cheered.

But where was Annie, I thought, immense disappointment hitting me. She should be here to see me and say farewell as I leave. I was feeling almost angry and wished she could see me now so I could at least see her and say goodbye. I never wanted to break her heart. I thought she would be proud of me. She had been upset last night as we spent our last few hours together but this was our last day.

Suddenly I saw her running down the platform, chasing the children.

I’m sorry! So sorry!’ she screamed as the train’s speed increased.

I love you! Don’t forget me!’ I shouted back, as the train turned the bend and into the countryside with Ambleton station now out of view. Did she hear me I wondered?

We finally left the windows and made our way to our seats in the carriage amongst all the baggage. They had given us a lot of personal equipment which we had to keep by our side whenever in uniform. Woe be tided the soldier who arrived at camp without his full kit. The atmosphere amongst us was still jovial as we settled down and the jokes were coming thick and fast. Our regiment was on its way to war to fight the enemy. The British Army was the best in the world and no one could defeat us, I thought to myself.

I found a place in the corner and propped my head against the side panelling. All my training camp friends were there with me. Eddie, Bert, Fred and Sam, were all older than me but as we shared the same tent whilst training we had all got along well with each other. As the youngest, they had taken me under their wing although it did seem strange. My final days at school had seen me as the oldest but now in an adult world the tables had been turned and now I was the youngest. Some of the other soldiers started telling stories while others pulled out playing cards to help pass the time.

I settled back and realised at the age of eighteen I was now embarking on my first adult adventure. We were the East Yorkshire Regiment, part of the British Expeditionary Force and finally on our crusade to fight the evil German hordes. It was so exciting and all consuming. I had made my decision and now I was leading my own life. I had seen the recruitment posters for Kitchener’s Army and I had read them on the shop windows, as others crowded round boasting to friends that they would be joining soon. Anne had seen me peering over with interest and had shouted to come away. But I had made my decision although I knew she would be upset.

As the speed of the train gained momentum, I looked out onto the passing countryside as it rushed by. Vast fields of green with cattle and sheep busy grazing without a care. The smoke trailed long behind as the carriages passed over the tracks and the gentle rhythm of the ride sent me off to sleep as my eyes relaxed and my thoughts took me to another place.

xxxxx

It was the first day of school and I was so excited to be in my last year as a schoolboy, with the prospect of a future life of work was looming. I was walking to our local school early that morning with Frank and Rosie. The autumn leaves lay thick on the ground and I was busy kicking the large piles as they covered the ragged footpaths. Frank showed no interest but I loved the spray of coloured leaves, all shades of gold and brown, floating up in the air. Rosie loved this time of year too as she jumped up to catch them as she skipped merrily along.  My first day was always exciting as I looked forward to spending time with my school chums who I had not seen for weeks during the holiday period. We always had news to tell of our lazy summer days.

As we arrived at the old school building we made our separate ways to our classrooms as we arrived late as usual. I had to shake the leaves off Rosie first though as they had tangled in her hair. Once we had taken our seats, our new teacher, Miss Anderson, welcomed us all and started with registration as she called out our names to check attendance. Today however, as I looked about the classroom for my friends as I sat down at my desk, I noticed a new girl sitting behind in the back row. I turned back to face the front and waited patiently to learn her name.

Anne Porterfield!” Miss Anderson called out after what seemed like ages.

Yes Miss” replied a timid voice from behind.

I turned around immediately to make the connection and was met by the new girl seeing my reaction and smiling at me in response. My heart melted as I looked into the eyes of the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. With freckles and golden hair tied in pigtails I took a liking to her instantly.

The school days passed very quickly and I had not spoken to her properly yet. The new girl was the centre of attention as she was smothered with questions from enquiring minds. At break times, and out of class, she would always be with other girls her own age. Us boys did likewise, huddled in groups talking, joking and often playing football or rugby. I was also too busy with my friends and could spare no time to speak to girls. Sometimes we would pass each other in the school corridors but we only offered discreet smiles to one another, too embarrassed to say anything. Once I did bump into her by accident but was speechless and blushed instead. I was angry at myself for such feelings which were new to me. I could speak to anyone, any place and at any time, so why did I feel so foolish? It would all change later though after school closed for the following summer.

One of my favourite pastimes during the summer months was to cycle to Whitby by the sea to fish for crabs.  I loved it and any large crabs I caught would be taken home for mother to cook. They always made for a tasty meal and father loved them. The journey was long but I enjoyed cycling along the country lanes as I accelerated fast down the hills, the hedgerows rushing past. I had my favourite location at the end of the northern stone pier, built to protect the fishing fleet moored further inland in the small harbour. I would always leave home early at daybreak to stand a chance of being in time to claim the spot before the local lads arrived. Once there, I would park my cycle by the railings and take my metal bucket and school bag to unpack. Out would come the fishing line, complete with hook and lead weight. Next, would follow the wrapping paper containing the worms, dug out from the ground the day before. I had to be careful though, as my lunch was also in similar paper.

I would then sit myself down by the pier edge and prepare to add the bait and unwind the line over the side as the attached weight ensured it would drop into the sea below. I always leaned over and followed its path so it did not snag on the way down. The line would continue to be dropped until the weight reached the sea bottom. It took only a matter of minutes to do and then I could relax as the cold breeze made me shudder and the familiar sound of the waves hit the pier below.

Behind me was the familiar wooden bench empty at this time of the morning. It would not take long before the elderly regulars would arrive and spend the day warning me about the sharp hook and the dangers of falling into the sea. Although I had cut myself many times, I hadn’t hit the sea yet and was not about to start today. But I did enjoy the laughs we had together. The days spent there were long and I always enjoyed watching the colourful boats returning to port after fishing the seas the night before and the ever present cries of the seagulls circulating above. I also liked to look far out to sea and wonder what lay over the horizon.

By mid-morning the day was getting warmer and the wind not so fierce. I was quite pleased with myself as I inspected my bucket yet again to see the three large crabs with their giant claws waving about as if in protest. I had also caught a lot of smaller crabs and seaweed which I sent back over the side. Feeling well satisfied with my success so far and with plenty of praise from the full bench behind, I decided it was time to eat. Out of my bag came the second wrapping and into my mouth went the jam sandwich which had been hastily put together in the early hours of the morning.

Have you caught many then?’ I heard a young girl’s voice ask as she giggled from behind me.

I turned immediately, nearly losing my balance on the stony edge, to see who had asked. And there, standing on her own, with a lovely beaming smile and long flowing golden hair was Anne.

Err yes, I’ve caught three today’ I replied as I made for the bucket. “Three big ones” I added.

I know you’ she said pleasantly surprised. ‘Harry Atkins from school.’

‘Yes and I know you Anne Porterfield’ I answered surprising myself in a calm confident voice.

Anne sat down next to me and explained that her mother had come to Whitby to visit her sister and had brought Anne with her for the day.

‘I find it very boring visiting relatives’ she said. ‘So I decided a take a walk along the pier.’

I explained that I often cycled to Whitby to fish for crabs to eat. We sat together talking for a while before I decided I was bored with fishing.

I have an idea’ she remarked excitedly.

‘Let’s ask my aunt if you can leave your cycle with her and you can show me around,’ she suggested. ‘Come on, she lives up the cobbled alley of Clarks Yard over the bridge.’

We began by walking up the hundred and ninety-nine steps to the Abbey high above and along the cliff top by the old grave stones. We had not gone far, when we settled down amongst the long grass and continued talking as we looked out over the blue sea together. And as Anne spoke, my thoughts turned to what lay over the horizon again. It was not long before the wind picked up and so we decided to return to the streets below.

We made our way to the Fish Market to see the trawlers off loading their catches and the women working hard preparing the fish. I left Anne to buy some chips to share and as I was returning, I was distracted by a group of lads assembled around a poster displayed in a nearby shop window. My curiosity got the better of me as I pushed forward and started to read the Kitchener recruitment poster. I hadn’t quite finished, when Anne called out to me, so I left the group and returned to her.

As we sat together eating, she told me that her aunt worked filleting fish and that the real reason her mother was visiting, was to see if Anne could get work there.

We spent the rest of the day walking along Sandsend sandy beach, splashing and chasing each other and paddling in the cold sea water together. We had such fun which seemed to pass so quickly. As the daylight began to fade, we walked back slowly together to Clarks Yard. I thanked Anne’s aunt and mother for looking after my things and gave them one of my crabs as I said goodbye. I said thank you to beautiful Anne and wished her, in front of her mother, a good night, and returned home with my days catch.

I could not stop thinking about Anne as I cycled home in the dark. Later on that evening, at the dinner table, I appeared to lose my appetite, as I struggled to eat my crab. I thought about her constantly as I tried to sleep until finally drifting off late into the early hours.

The next time I saw Anne was also by accident. One glorious summer’s day, several weeks after our day together in Whitby, my brother Frank and I went to Farmer Roger’s farm to help. It is a tradition in this part of England for local people to help nearby farms bring in the annual harvest. We went there to collect apples from his large orchard. The men would shake the tree branches and the women would collect the fall into baskets for the tractor to collect. The elements were kind to us as the sun shone brightly as Frank and I cycled to the valley where the farm had stood for many years.

As we arrived that day, I recognised some of the young men and women already assembled by the hay barns at the rear of the farm. We rested our cycles against the nearest fence and joined the others as Farmer Rogers and his work hands appeared, to organise this year’s event.

Out of the small crowd, a young woman pushed her way through, to meet me. It was Anne with her hair tied back and a big smile on her face.

Hi Harry, I was told that you might be here today’ she said.

‘Good to see you again. This is my younger brother Frank. He loves the apple harvest’ I replied.

‘Hello Frank. My name is Anne’. Frank seemed embarrassed and pulled away to join one of his friends who were waiting for him.

Don’t worry about him. He’s a little shy talking to girls’ I said, appearing confident despite being far from it.

‘Can I work with you today?’ she asked jumping up and down on the spot.

‘Of course you can, I would love that’ I replied feeling a blush coming on.

We spent the rest of the morning working hard whilst talking and laughing together. She told me more about her family and that her mother liked me and enjoyed my crab that her sister had given to her. Soon it was midday as the farmer’s whistle sounded for lunch. We were exhausted and grateful for the break. We made our way to the trailer where Farmer Roger’s wife gave out sandwiches and juice to drink. Anne and I collected our food and climbed over a nearby fence into the neighbouring field.  We found a quiet patch of grass and settled down to relax and eat.

The work had been very tiring so after we had finished eating we laid down on the grass together and stared up at the clouds slowly floating across the blue sky. I found talking to her so easy now and wondered why I had found it so difficult before. After a while, knowing that the whistle would sound again soon, Anne sat up and started making daisy chains as she continued to talk. I did the same and teased her about her liking for butter after seeing the yellow shine as I placed one under her chin. We did not have to wait much longer though as the whistle went a few minutes later.

We worked hard again during the afternoon and before long, Farmer Rogers was calling out to us that the work was finished and thanked us all as we made our way home. Anne walked away, busy talking with her friends she had come with, towards a different footpath. I was disappointed to see her go, but as she was leaving she stopped and turned round, as I looked back after her. She then ran in my direction and stopped in front of me. Anne stood there with her blue eyes staring at mine before reaching over, said thank you for the day and kissed me on the lips. It was my first kiss with a girl. As I stood there trying to comprehend what had just happened, she ran smiling back after her friends and disappeared from view into the dense woodland ahead.

I turned around to look for Frank still in a state of shock and with a beaming smile on my face. I found him standing by the fence astride his cycle and shaking his head with a wide grin.

Now now alright, whatever you are going to say, just keep it to yourself’ I responded before he could say a word.

Come on, race you back home,’ I challenged him as I started to pedal.

xxxxx

Just as I dreamt of racing Frank, my world exploded as I awoke from my sleep. It took me a few seconds to realise where I was and grateful that it was nothing too serious.

 ‘Sit down Eddie,’ I called. ‘Stop messing about.

Sorry sleepy head but I need to find the toilet, too many farewell drinks before we set off,’ he replied as he staggered about.

I watched him disappear along the corridor as the others continued with their card game. I stood up to stretch my legs and get a better look at the passing scenery. We continued on our journey through a rural village as several buildings passed with local onlookers waving frantically to us. I waved back trying hard to keep my balance as we went. As the carriage continued to sway from side to side I returned to the corner seat of my original place and soon made myself comfortable. As before, with the gentle swaying of the journey it was not long before I settled to sleep again.

xxxxx

My dreams took me back to the Beverly Training Camp. I had just arrived after taking the Kings shilling several weeks earlier and joined. My joy at having made my first big adult decision was still with me and my first big adventure had begun. However, I was soon brought down to earth with a bump as the reality of my decision dawned on me. I was standing in line with the other new arrivals as we waited outside the first of many pitched tents. The first day was simply queuing for form-filling, health inspections and the distribution of equipment kit. It was not until we were given our clothing and while standing with the others admiring how we looked in the uniforms of the British army, that I felt like a soldier.

At the end of the day, we finally met our training instructors, who called out the allocation of sleeping arrangements. We were then directed to our tents and told to get an early night due to the promise of an early morning start and weeks ahead of training, tough training too, to become soldiers ready to fight a war. The passing days were very gruelling as the army did its best to teach us how to march, be disciplined, keep our equipment clean and make us physically fit by plenty of running and tough exercises. We were also shown how to defend ourselves, shoot with rifles and put through hours of bayonet practise. Although I had never slept away from home before, I had no time to dwell on such matters, as sleep came quickly to my body and mind.

During those long days, I also got to know the men I shared a tent with. Eddie, Bert, Fred and Sam were all local lads with tales to tell. We shared many times laughing at ourselves as we tried to cope with all that the army could throw at us.   Before we knew it though, the training camp was over as we marched together and then presented ourselves. I remember how we all stood to attention as the commanding officer Captain Richard White spoke of how proud he was of us all and that we were ready to serve King and country in the battles ahead. I had never felt so proud of myself. Finally we were dismissed to return home to prepare for the journey ahead to France.

I was so pleased that the training was over and to be returning home to tell my family what I’d been through. As I arrived at my front door, I was overcome with relief to be home. I opened the door and their stood mother with open arms and a big hug. And then there was father, Rosie and Frank. And to my surprise Anne also appeared. I was so pleased to see her again as we all settled down. I then told my story to them all. Father looked proud, mother seemed concerned, Frank and Rosie spellbound while Anne, in all her beauty, appeared withdrawn and upset.

We left my family later that evening as Anne and I walked away towards her home through fields and lanes we knew so well. She was quiet and obviously upset despite trying to keep cheerful at seeing me again. For the next few days, we spent as much time together as possible, often walking through the summer countryside as birds flew overhead.

One glorious afternoon, we wandered through fields of wheat before finding a suitable place to stop and lie down. We would spend hours holding hands and looking up at the blue sky as clouds floated slowly by above.

‘I’m as happy as a sand-boy’ I told her as we lay side by side.

‘And I love this time of year’ she said.

Anne loved the countryside and the wildlife. She told me about her love for butterflies and ladybirds and would point out any that passed by.

‘Try catching one but don’t hurt it will you?’ she asked.

We even saw a small field mouse scamper up a wheat stork and scurry away with the food as her golden hair shone in the sunlight. Soon our conversation turned to the subject of my imminent leaving to France.

I don’t want you to go. Please stay here with me. It feels right being here together,’ she said.

I have made my decision. I feel I have to do this. This is who I am’. I replied.

You are only thinking of yourself. What about me?’ she asked.

Anne, I love you,’ I replied. ‘Don’t worry, I will be home soon and we will be together again,’ I tried to reassure her.

Why didn’t you talk to me about it first?’ she asked again.

It was my decision, not yours to make for me. You are just like my father, telling me what I should and shouldn’t do’ I replied. ‘I am my own man now’ I added.

Go on then, go to France, see if I care!’ she shouted as she stood up and ran off. I slowly got to my feet and looked after her but she had gone from view. Why did she react like that I thought to myself.  Not knowing what to do, I decided to walk home, thinking she would be back to see me soon.

But I thought wrong. I did not see her again so when the time came, I made my way to the train station accompanied by my family and close friends hoping I would see her there.

xxxxx

We finally came to a stop at the coastal port of Dover and the first part of our journey was over. We made our way as directed by officials at the dockside to join a queue already forming by those soldiers who had arrived earlier. The mood was good as we stood waiting in line as the cool breeze picked up. The daylight was starting to fade and lamps were being lit around the quayside loading area. The ship was the biggest thing I had ever seen as sailors moved around on board making ready for the voyage ahead. A group of officers appeared and immediately made their way along the gang plank onto the vessel. Then three more walked past us as they made their way to the front where they stopped.

They turned and faced the waiting line of expectant soldiers. As I stared back at them, and to my surprise, I then realised that I recognised one of the faces. He looked very smartly dress in his uniform and resembled Sir John Weston’s son, Robert. I could not be sure as it had been a long time since I had last seen him and I was standing a fair distance away. Suddenly the officer I was staring at was joined by a sergeant and the two commenced walking back along the line. They appeared to be talking to some of the waiting soldiers, maybe checking that everything was alright with all. As they approached, I was sure it was Robert. Finally they drew up alongside where I was standing and recognising me, he smiled and said

Well, well, well, if it isn’t Harry Atkins’.

Hi Robert’ I replied ‘sorry sir, I mean’ I replied, pleased to see him again.

I felt on top of the world addressing an officer and a friend, in front of the others and me just a private. Even the Sergeant looked surprised.

See you on board later and we can catch up on old times,’ Robert said and smiled as he clapped a hand on my shoulder.

He then turned away and carried on with his inspection. We continued to stand there waiting and as we did my thoughts went back to the first time I met Robert.

I remember it well. I was with father and the horses in the courtyard when Robert wandered in one morning with one of the stable lads. From that day on, we got on really well together despite my fathers reluctance to do so. He warned me whose son he was and it was better that I did not spend time with him.

I liked Robert, so I did not heed his warning. Despite attending different schools, we spent the holidays together. Often we would go exploring around the estate and nearby farms. We even learned how to drive a tractor by borrowing one to lark about on. Sometimes we even made mischief in the village by playing knock and run on people’s front doors. A favourite past time was messing about in the local rivers and streams. One part of the river where the water was deep, a rope hung from an over hanging tree branch and we had such fun taking it in turns to swing on before dropping into the cold flowing water below.

One summer we even found an old boat and spent days sailing up and down as pirates. We also waded in the shallow waters catching frogs and tadpoles and carrying them with us in water-filled jam jars. We tried to keep the frogs as pets but ended up letting them go at the end of the day. We kept the tadpoles though to watch as they grew into frogs. Often we would make a place in hay stacks and watch the dark shadows of moving clouds roll over the land. Autumn was always the best time to go climbing trees and looking for the largest conkers to battle each other. Winter was the time to go sledging down Bishop’s Hill on anything with a flat surface. They were certainly good times. But, as we grew older, we spent less time together as Robert was away at boarding school. Seeing him again today was good as the memories came flooding back.

I was distracted by a loud call and then the line ahead started to move. We embarked onto the giant resting in the water alongside the quay. It was exciting as I had never been on a ship before. It was not long before we were on board and each finding a place to sit and rest with rifle, bayonet, helmet and haversack close by. Time once again to sit and wait. It was several hours later that word passed around that we were to spend the night aboard due to bad weather in the English Channel. We were not allowed to leave ship and soon food was made available as we made our way below decks to collect our share.

The night passed slowly as thoughts focused on the next day and what was in store for us all in France. After little sleep, Eddie woke us in the early hours, to tell us that the crew were preparing the ship to put to sea. He led the way up onto deck as we squeezed past stirring bodies in battle green. Once there, we found a space, from where we looked out onto the quayside as we slowly drifted away. Standing facing us at this early hour were several spectators waving goodbye and wishing us luck. The breeze was fairly light in port but as we slowly made our way past the opening, the wind arrived with vengeance. The ship started to sway and roll back and forth forcing us to grab hold of the nearest railing.

The darkness of the night slowly faded into grey and the hint of rain was in the air. Several of the younger men were wrenching over the side but one lad more than the others. Some of the watching crowd were laughing and jeering at his predicament but I was shocked that they would do so as I watched with the others and thought of my brother Frank.

Frank Atkins was my younger brother and I was always worried about him. It was if we were chalk and cheese. He did not have the same ‘get-and-go’ attitude to life as me. I loved the outside but Frank preferred to stay indoors. For as long as I can remember, he had spent a lot of his early childhood sick with coughing and spluttering most of the time. Mother put it down to the cold winter chills he felt. When I would be out enjoying myself, Frank would be indoors playing with his favourite toys close to mother. It was always a struggle to get him to go to school as he hated having to mix with other children his age. He was very shy and retiring. Often I would see him at school by himself or with his one and only real friend, James. The times when he did venture out with me was when we went off to Green Wood, a dense playground of tall trees to climb and bush to explore. We both had a passion for the challenge.

I recall us telling stories to each other, with our wide imagination, as we lay in bed late at night wide awake. I look back at those days together with Frank with much affection. But as soon as others joined in our fun, he would be back to his shy retiring self. If he was not with mother, I tended to look after him most of the time but when I met Anne I had left him, except for harvest time.

Seeing the young soldier so sick and on his own reminded me of Frank and I immediately felt a sense of responsibility so I walked over to him. As I approached, I saw him wretch over the railing yet again.

Hi, my name is Harry Atkins,’ I said. ‘Are you alright? I received no reply except for another bout of heaving into the sea below.

I’m sorry’ he muttered ‘But I’m not feeling well. My name is Albert Carter. It’s the first time I’ve been on a ship,’ he quickly added before he had to reach over the railings again.

Yes mine too,’ I replied as I held onto the railing tightly as the ship rolled again.

Albert continued to hang over the side as we continued with our conversation. I learnt that he too had signed up after seeing a recruitment poster, prompted by his father saying it was the right thing to do. His mother had died soon after giving birth to him and his father had struggled to cope ever since. Albert felt he had no choice but to leave to make a new life for himself. Like me, he had also looked forward to the sea voyage as an exciting experience only to be disappointed after eating too much last night.

I wish the ship would stop so I could stand up straight for a moment’ he said angrily. ‘Give me ground under my feet, anything except this.’

We carried on talking despite several disruptions as fresh urges overcame him. As we spoke, it was not long before I realised that the sea was calming and the sky brightening up as the sun tried to penetrate the clouds above. I turned and looked back towards home and felt a slight fear as the coastline slowly disappeared from view. I was on my own now.

I told Albert I was rejoining my friends and that he was welcome to join us. He declined my offer, reluctant to leave the railings. He reminded me so much of Frank and how he would look at my age. I said cheerio, re-joined the others and settled before looking skywards as the first beams of sunlight shone through the clouds.

I could not stop thinking of Frank and I wondered what he was up to now after I had left him on his own. My thoughts took me to an incident not too long ago. I was at school and walking with class friends about the playing field when I heard a commotion by one of the sheds by the main school building. I came across a group of lads shouting and jeering and I pushed my way through to see the cause. There in the middle lying on the grass was Frank with a bleeding nose and in tears. Standing over him was an older lad, big and strong, with his hands on his hips looking down

And that’s what you get if you don’t do what I tell you!’ he bawled out.

What are you doing to him!’ I shouted as I barged him out of the way to get to Frank. I then turned to confront the bully as two of his friends moved towards me.

What’s it to you?  Mind your own business Atkins!’ he thundered.

After plucking up the courage, my answer was my fist hitting him in the face so hard that it hurt my knuckles.

He’s my younger brother, that’s my business!’ I said as the bully was sent sprawling to the ground. Spurred on with renewed confidence I then turned to face his two friends as they moved forward.

Do you want the same?’ I shouted at them. They stopped immediately.

Now get lost all of you!’ I shouted as the small crowd broke up. The bully struggled to find his feet and then ran. He has not bothered Frank since.

I smiled to myself and felt proud of my actions that day.  Suddenly, it dawn on me. I had left Frank alone and I was not at school any more to watch over him. Questions flooded my thoughts of whether Frank be able to fend for himself?  What had I done, I asked myself.

As the French coast came into view, I was gripped by a sense of excitement and apprehension swelling up inside me. The mood of the men on board was changing likewise for the good as our crusade continued. The silence as we left England had been replaced by an air of expectation as talking broke out amongst my fellow passengers. I could now make out some of the coastal buildings as smaller sailing boats came out of port to greet us. I was expecting to see a new world as I peered out but disappointingly it all seemed very familiar to what we had just left. It was not long before I could see the quayside as we passed the entrance to the bay and I noticed a flag of blue, white and red for the first time fluttering in the wind.

Slowly our ship passed others already tied to the quayside with Union Jacks painted on their bulkheads. It then dawned on me, that we were not the only ones arriving that day, as I turned around and noticed other ships slowly following us into port. Finally, our large vessel came to a stop as the ship’s captain masterly controlled its speed. Then the crew threw out mooring ropes to the waiting Frenchmen on shore who efficiently caught and tied them to points along the side. The excitement amongst us was building as the gathered crowd on the quayside began waving and shouting while young children waved more coloured flags. It was a great feeling, as if we were returning heroes yet we had not done anything yet. All a little unreal really but I was enjoying it all.

Soon our waiting on deck was over as we filed down the secured gang plank and onto French soil at last. There to greet us was a high ranking official dressed very smartly in a suit and hat with large coloured ribbons wrapped around him. He hugged our officers and kissed each one on the cheek to our amusement and their embarrassment.

Bonjour!  Bonjour!’ he shouted out to us all.

After wading through the gathered celebrating crowd, we managed to make our way to a clearing, where we were told to assemble in marching order. We were all laughing and smiling as the French greeting was so unexpected. Apart from the language spoken to us and the writing on the surrounding buildings, the place seemed no different from back home. As I stood there in order I looked about me trying to take in the party atmosphere. It was not so bad after all, I thought to myself. Then I noticed Albert standing next to me with a broad smile across his face.

Hi Harry, don’t mind if I join you now do you?’ he asked.

Once all off ship and lined up to march, Captain White gave the word and we set off through the town as people looked on. It felt good as we warmed to our welcome despite the weight of rifles and equipment. It was not long before we arrived in the town square and were greeted by yet more crowds and to our surprise a brass band started to play. It reminded me of our village Harvest Fete, a time I loved, when people would celebrate with displays of home baking and nature’s latest crop of

delicious fruit and vegetables galore. Everyone about me seemed so pleased as we were directed to an area where tables of food and drink awaited us.

I never did see Robert again. Maybe father was right and that class does affect how you live your life. I was disappointed all the same. However, I had met Albert, who still accompanied me as we ate whilst sitting on cold paving stones. The food was French and different but we were grateful all the same. Albert was not too sure as his stomach ached after the wrenching it had suffered a few hours earlier. Despite also feeling uncomfortable by the rolling of the ship, I was able to control my stomach, much to my surprise.

Now we were finally in France and as I sat there eating, I realised I had achieved one of my dreams as I had made it across the horizon. If only my family could see me now, how proud they would be.

The French people were great as they mingled amongst us and tried out their knowledge of English. They were so pleased to see us as they told us of the effects of the war on their homeland and their hatred of the Germans. For us to be there fighting alongside the French was seen as a great sacrifice to them. We spent several hours in the square whilst arrangements were being made about our next move. Rumours surfaced that we were to spend the night in town and be able to visit the local sights. Others circulated that the British and French had stopped the Germans and that the war was over. I felt a little disappointed as we had only just arrived. Bert told us to ignore them but spirits were still high with the news.

The rumours came to nothing as we were all called to order in front of the gathered French town folk. Disappointment was apparent amongst us as we learnt of the preparations to continue marching further inland rather than staying for the night. Orders were shouted and rifles slung on shoulders as we formed up. The brass band had finished with their unfamiliar tunes and had moved on as we marched out of the square, our new destination unknown. Albert was still by my side and in good spirits. Sam was showing off as usual with his new words picked up from some jeune mesdames (young French ladies) very eager to learn a little more English. Bert was also keen, pointing out French signposts and had us laughing at his prononciation.

We spent most of the day walking along rural roads and lanes as military vehicles of all types passed us by. Eventually we reached a small collection of farm buldings and stopped as several farm workers greeted us by the road. We were dispersed to buildings of all types and I was lucky to be directed to a hay barn with my friends. We soon found a place to settle and made ourselves as comfortable as possible.

Before I sat down on the hay, I took my muddy boots off to rest my aching feet and blisters. I then took a few minutes to look around at my new surroundings and it immediately reminded me of the fun Robert and I had in our days as boys together in the hay barns. As I sat there reminiscing of times past and watching the others, I heard foreign voices from outside. I rose up to satisfy my curiosity as several people entered the barn carrying armfuls of food and containers of drink. We were all pleasantly surprised to see them and a cheer went up to show our appreciation.

I returned to my place in the hay and settled to satisfy my hunger and thirst whilst still watching the generosity our new hosts, the farmer, his wife, children and family friends. I was truly thankful to them and their hospitality as they showed us how grateful they were. The farmer and his family looked poor but what they had they were prepared to share. Once I had finished, I settled back to rest as my tiredness was overwhelming. I continued to watch them as an elderly woman slowly approached me. I reacted by getting to my feet to meet her and as she got nearer she reached out with another drink for me.

Si jeune’ ( So young ) she said quietly ‘Vous etes juste un petit infant’ ( You are just a child ) .

 She was very charming and polite and she hugged me as my mother had often done and I felt a little embarrassed. But deep down inside, I enjoyed the affection shown by her. As she left and I settled back down, my thoughts turned to my mother.

Martha Lees entered service with Sir John Weston’s staff as a chamber maid shortly after leaving school. It wasn’t long before she stole my father’s heart as he worked in the stable yard and their courtship developed. Mother had always been brought up as a follower of God and attended church every Sunday. As children, Frank, Rosie and I, always went with mother and father to the village church to listen to the teachings of our dear Lord.

Listen to everything you hear from the priest,’ she would say, ‘and you will learn life’s lessons, live a fulfilling life and go to heaven.’

To be honest, I never really understood it all as I never got to see God or Jesus Christ or visit heaven despite asking mother if I could. Her answers to my searching questions always made me even more confused but if it made her happy, I was happy to play along.

Mother and father always dressed up on Sundays, mother in her best dress and father in white shirt and tie and the shining polished shoes. Rosie, like mother, also loved to wear her favourite flowery dresses and red shoes. I hated wearing shirts buttoned up at the neck as it was always tight but father made Frank and I wear them. I did enjoy singing the hymns though and tried my hardest to be louder than father but never was. I tried to understand the sermons but gave up and day dreamed through them instead.

Mother was also a very good cook and we all liked it when we sat around the table to eat Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding. We would always wait until mother finished in the kitchen before saying grace together and then tucking in. Afterwards, we would settle down in front of the burning log fire and the glow of candlelight, to listen to father tell us one of his many stories. Mother kept a clean  house and the sweet scent of wild flowers adorned every room. She always had a kettle simmering on the stove and loved it when family relatives and friends came to visit and always greeted them with a big smile. She had taken to Anne straight away and asked her for her mother and father to visit, but they had not yet.

I remember her on the station platform as she embraced me farewell as I towered over her. She was a small buxom woman now with long brown hair tied back and pure blue eyes. Her cheeks red amongst the lovely smile she always gave. As tears welled up, she found it difficult to cope with the imminent leaving of her first born. She had taken comfort by hanging onto Frank. She had given us years of love and tender care and this is how I repaid her, I thought to myself. As I thought more and more about her, I was overcome with feelings of homesickness as I fell deeper into sleep despite the rumblings of thunder slowly echoing from afar.

I was woken up by Albert shaking me as thoughts of home quickly vanished and I was brought back to reality. The first signs of daylight were visible now through the barn window as we stumbled about searching for our kit before making our way outside. I heard a cockerel crow as farm life woke to the new day.

We left the farm as the locals waved farewell and the sun was rising. Our spirits were high again as our journey continued. I felt good after sleeping well and joked with my friends as our boots hit the muddy road. As we walked away on this clear day, we soon came across a trickle and then a constant flow of people making their way in the opposite direction. All types of transport including bicycles, horses and carts, tractors and trucks passed us while others made their way on foot. These people all looked very distressed and tired but some did smile at us as they passed. All were carrying what little belongings they could.

We continued on our way in silence many not believing our eyes. My feelings went out to the elderly as most struggled on and the bewildered looks on the children’s faces as they walked together holding hands. And yet all about us was the stunning and very picturesque French countryside. It all seemed so unreal. My attention then turned to a little girl walking slowly along the road who was quietly crying as she held her mother’s hand and a small doll in the other. I was in shock again. I was on my way to fight and had not given a thought to the children involved. As she walked past my thoughts turned to my little sister, Rosie.

Rosemary Atkins was my baby sister and the apple of father’s eye. She had mother’s looks with brown curly hair, freckles across her face and a lovely smile. She reminded me of myself as she looked on life as fun and loved the outdoors. Often whilst out walking with the family she would disappear in bramble bushes looking for blackberries to eat and finally surfacing with berry juice covering her mouth and cheeks. She also loved to chase the rabbits on the village green. Another favourite past time of hers was to watch mother baking cakes and licking the bowls out afterwards as the mix covered her face. Rosie often got up to mischief but father could see her doing no wrong.

My earliest memories of her as a little girl was of her being frightened of the dark. Often in the middle of the night, she would make her way to mother’s bed or mine complaining of something sinister lurking on the roof or by her window.

I remember the time when the bond between the two of us grew when I had taken her with me to the estate courtyard one day after church. I had recently learnt to ride a horse on my own and now wanted to show Rosie how easy it was after Frank declined. It was quiet in the yard and just as well as I struggled to fasten a saddle onto one of the smaller mares. After several attempts and Rosie’s interest starting to wane, I finally managed it although I wasn’t too sure if it was tight enough. Showing off to keep her interested, I walked the horse to the mounting steps and asked Rosie to come closer to stroke her.

She was a little shy at first but after I had coaxed her some more she was fine patting the horse’s coat gently. I took my eye off her for a minute to check the reins as Rosie made her way round the back of the beast to stroke the other side. As I was tying the horse to the wall so I could help Rosie to get on, I heard her scream out loud. I ran to find her lying on the cobbled ground after the horse had kicked out. I shuddered in shock as I went to her. I panicked not knowing what to do as she lay still.

Help!  help!’ I shouted out loud. ‘Someone please help me!

Before I knew it, one of the older stable lads came to my aid. I did not realise he was about the place but so pleased that he was. As he knelt down by my side, to see her, Rosie started to stir.

Are you alright young one?’ he asked.

Harry!’ she mumbled as she started to shed tears and make a grab for me.

Thank God you are alright Rosie’ I replied as I hugged her tightly to me.

We spent several minutes together locked in the embrace before we separated. I thanked the stable boy as he advised us to return home and started to untie the horse and lead it back to its stable.

‘Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone, but remember, next time make sure you ask first and that someone older is about to help,’ he told me as we wandered out of the courtyard.

On the way home, Rosie quickly recovered from her ordeal and we stopped off at a field full of strawberries to eat. Rosie told the family later that day and I was verbally punished for being so stupid but I had learnt my lesson. It could have been so much worse I thought quietly to myself.

Thank God it was not as I looked back down the road at the little French girl.

Later that day, the stream of refugees slowed as we sat down on the grass verge resting our aching feet.  It was soon obvious that we must be nearing the battlefield as rumbling thunder could be heard in the distance. Our final destination was getting closer. I was then distracted by some military vehicles stopping by us and food and water was distributed amongst us.

‘We must be close now’ said Albert as he looked out over the countryside ahead.

I wish someone would tell us what’s going on’ Eddie muttered as he stood with Albert to gaze out.

Nobody tells us anything’ Bert moaned as he joined the others.

Look you lot, look at these poor souls’ Sam called out as he pointed down the muddy road.

A group of weary looking soldiers were slowly approaching with downcast faces and bandaged, bloody wounds as a new horror stirred inside me as I starred back at them.

The earlier high emotional feelings of excitement and expectation had disappeared as we looked on. Most of these men wore British Army uniforms but there were others too that I didn’t recognise. I also noticed the look of resignation in their eyes. They must be French, Dutch and Belgians, Bert told us as we watched them continue on past us. One collapsed to the ground but was immediately offered assistance by some of the lads.

Lieutenant Clifton, one of our officers, seeing the effect they were having on us, quickly called us to order and we responded by rising to our feet and forming up again. More casualties passed us as we stood still in silence, the reality of our situation dawning on us.

After almost an hour we finally set off again and walked off the muddy road and along even muddier tracks between hedgerows and open fields. We crossed over an old railway line and came across more casualties having their wounds dressed and being carried away on stretchers. The sound of war ahead was growing louder and a feeling of real apprehension was building amongst us as we slowed struggling on through the thick mud.

It was not long before we reached the frontline of the battlefield as we rushed forward the best we could and kept our heads down. The mud and our struggles became even worse as we filed down into the narrow crudely dug out trenches which appeared to meander for miles in both directions. At least it offered protection as explosions sounded out all around. As I looked about this place of hell all I could see on the muddy land were shell holes, craters and debris scattered everywhere.

Was this to be our final destination?’ I asked myself as the daylight started to fade. We continued following the man in front as we were led off to the right, passing other weary looking soldiers who were standing and sitting against the sides of the trench walls. Some of us fell as we made our way in the muddy quagmire but soon regained our balance as others provided a helping hand and pushed the fallen onwards.

More lambs to the slaughter’ said one onlooker.

Just out of school’ said another sarcastically.

As we continued, the shelling died down and soon we were passing yet more casualties making their way back towards normality and assistance at the rear of our location. Soon, as night started to fall, we finally came to a stop. As I looked around, I realised my dream had turned into the darkest of nightmares, just as whistling sounded overhead.

‘Get your heads down you idiots!!’  shouted a stranger.

The shells exploded deafeningly all around us. I quickly followed Albert and squeezed into an opening in a pile of sand bags and at last had found a roof over my head. I saw him dive into a corner holding his helmet over his head and I did likewise as the sound outside grew in volume. I laid there in terror, shuddering and in shock. It was not supposed to be like this I thought to myself. I was feeling sick and scared in the darkness.

I remained frozen for what seemed like hours as I tried to comprehend the chances of being injured or killed in this hell hole that evening. My heart thundered in terror. This was worse than anything I had ever witnessed, let alone experienced. My breathing increased with each petrifying explosion and I found myself mumbling ‘oh God, oh God, oh God,’ over and over again.

After a while the intensity of the shelling died down again but I dared not move. The screams of the wounded and dying echoed in my head for so long, my stomach going over with each distressed plead for help.

Food was given out but I could not eat. I had never been through such an experience before and wanted to go home. I had so wanted to be my own man and make my own decisions. This was my first and I had messed up. It had gone so awfully wrong.

The early morning darkness was slowly turning to grey as the dawn broke amidst looming rain clouds above. The trench was filling up quickly with rainfall as I stood slumped up against the muddy bank. My army boots were not much help as my feet constantly fought to keep a grip on the slippery ground.

I shivered again. The early morning cold had penetrated my soaked clothing as my freezing hands tried hard to maintain a grip on the rifle I hated but could not leave. I had never felt so cold as I tried to control my shivering. My breath was pouring out small vapour trails in the damp air as we all stood motionless not knowing if an enemy attack was imminent or not. Nothing but silence except for the pitter patter of the rain. No birdsong to greet daybreak. Yet still we remained in our positions for what seemed like hours and no one spoke except for the coughing and moaning.

The night had been pretty uneventful with the odd shell exploding now and again and enemy sniper fire to keep our heads down. I kept thinking why are the Germans wasting their ammunition as only a fool would peer over the trench top except those who had pulled the short straw and been given night watch duty with crudely made periscopes attempting to see in the darkness. The poorly built shelters of sandbags, corrugated iron and wood had provided little cover from the elements but a least some escape from the previous days horror.

No one slept and the early morning drink of weak tea had been very welcome served hot which warmed the stomach and kept the hunger pains at bay a little longer. The cold and rain was ever present as bed fellows to the uncontrollable feelings of terror and fear as body parts lay strewn about the muddy ground.

As Sergeant Baron staggered up and down the line again and again he began bawling out constant instructions and advice, and my thoughts turned to my father, who had often spoken to me and Frank in the same way.

Stand up straight and listen to what I’m telling you!!’  he would shout out in a loud deep voice as if we all had hearing problems.

My father and I had not always seen eye to eye as I grew from an obedient young lad into a troublesome youth with differing views on life.

You are still young and know nothing of the world’ he would often shout.

Arthur Atkins was a very proud man with high family valves of what is right and wrong, no doubt passed on by his father who, we were often told, had had a very tough life before sadly passing away a few years ago. My father worked hard as a farrier, like his father before him, looking after the horses on the large country estate owned by Sir John Weston not far from the village. Sir John was a wealthy man who spent a lot of time away in London working for the Parliament. At least I think that is what he did. When my grandfather died, the position and the tied cottage were rented out to father with the employment by Sir John where together with my mother they had raised our family. I was suffering very much from homesickness now as I thought about them all.

Father was very tall, strong and proud with greying hair and still, as he had done for many years, went to work first thing in the morning as dawn breaks. He plied his trade in the blacksmiths yard where I would often find him wearing his leather apron with sleeves rolled up either stoking the fire, heating the circular horse shoes in the warm glow or forging them on the big black anvil. Many a time I would wander after school into the yard to find him bent over along side a horse with its leg firmly held, hammering a new shoe into place with nails as hoof clippings lay about the ground.  The best times though that always made me smile, is when I remember as a young boy holding his hand as we walked about the estate, surprised at how huge and rough his hand was, no doubt moulded by many years of hard work through weather good and bad. And they always made me feel safe and secure.

When he wasn’t working, we often spent a lot of time together. My earliest memories are of us in the stables, the courtyard and outside on the grass where he spent hours teaching me how to behave with horses and learning their ways. He would show me how to brush their coats and scrape soil from under their hooves taking care not to harm the tender inner skin. He would also ask that I help muck out the stables which was hard work but I always tried to avoid it by leaving it for the stable lads to do. Then I recall, as I smile to myself, my first time in the saddle and my feelings of elation sitting on a beast so tall and strong and high up from the ground. It did not take me long before I was holding the reins and riding about on my own. My father said I was a natural and born to ride. As I grew older, on some occasions, we would ride together to exercise the horses and have such fun. I remember so well, and with fondness, those days being together and my love for horse riding.

As my father’s first born he would spent many hours trying to teach and install into me the rights and wrongs of good and bad behaviour. And how important it is to do a fair days labour for a fair day wage. I also remember the days that, try as hard as he could, his frustration at not being able to teach me the fundamentals of the class society and the unfairness of a few wealthy people ruling over the many poor, despite working for Sir John, who was not aware of his views.

Always make the most out of what you have’ wise words I can hear him saying now.

 ‘Always remember Harold, that the man of the house is the breadwinner whose responsibility it is to put food on the table for his family’ he would say as he had done throughout my entire life.

As I grew up and into my later childhood years, father’s kind and generous demeanour began to change. The bond between us started to wane and fragment as our views and behaviours contrasted with each other. He began to spend less time with me and more time away from home at the end of his working day at the village ale house. Returning home more often than not ended up with conflict as I often had to stand in front of him defending my mother from his verbal onslaughts over the most trivial of things. Mother would always defend his behaviour as overwork and general weariness but I could not understand the change and still do not know why. Mother always believed it was not her place to question him and that God would come to his salvation.

However, I also remember those good days as a young boy when he would greet me with open arms and a big smile on his face. The rides on his strong shoulders, the play fighting and the times when we would fall about laughing at some funny remark said. But what haunts me the most is the look of resignation he had on his face at the station as I said goodbye whilst shaking his large rugged hand, before hugging him and then climbing aboard the train.

As I stand here in another world, the pains of home sickness pull on my emotions even more and my thoughts turn to feelings of guilt as if I am responsible and to blame. Is it my views and opinions that he cannot comprehend? I have to make my own way in life now.

I start to feel and understand his hurt having made it known to him that I did not, and have never wanted to, be his apprentice and learn the farrier craft. This must have proved a big disappointment to him and therefore maybe the main reason for the arguments between the two of us after I had summoned the courage to tell him. Perhaps it was also the reason for the many late nights of drunken stupor.

I start to feel for him but I still have no desire to become a farrier, a craft requiring many years of training handed down from one generation to the next. Should I feel guilty for wanting a different life from what had been expected of me? I have always wanted to see the world and all it has to offer. My grandfather and my father’s life were hard with little reward so it is not for me. Is this the reason I joined the army? Is this why I now feel so alone? Is this the hell that my mother and father had often spoken about?

Suddenly I was awoken from my thoughts by a loud shrill from a whistle which I realised straight away meant only a thing. A shudder ran down my spine and I was in shock again. The moment I had always feared was upon me. I knew I had to react but I stood still and motionless. I then heard my father’s voice wishing me well as we said our goodbyes at the station.

What should I do?’  I asked.

My world was starting to turn upside down. I tried to move my legs and with help from someone pushing from behind, managed to climb the embedded wooden ladder which ascended to the top of the mound. I could hear shouts of encouragement and promises to give the enemy what it deserved. Many whistles were being blown all around as the rain continued to fall and the wind started to blow.

‘Forward my lads!’ called out Captain White before he blew several long blasts of the whistle he had used as a referee for rugby games at home.

As I climbed, trying to keep hold of my rifle, I took a quick glance either side of me in search of Albert. He had promised faithfully to be alongside me when we moved. To my horror I could not see him and feelings of panic were starting to stir. About halfway up I missed my footing on the ladder and fell thinking I had been hit by a bullet. As I landed in the mud I was greeted by,

Come on you, get a move on, we haven’t got all day, stop messing about’ said the familiar voice.

Albert is that you?’ I called out as I panicked. ‘Where the hell have you been?’

‘Caught in the latrines!’ he laughed nervously.

Finally I reached the top to be greeted by the strong wind and a view of the land around me. Albert joined me and I was so pleased to see him. I soon collected my thoughts and, with rifle held firmly in the grip of my cold hands, looked towards the unseen enemy ahead. I was feeling a lot better now as I lifted my legs to run across the muddy ground with my friend alongside. My initial shock was draining away, replaced with an air of confidence and it didn’t seem to be too bad after all. My spirits were up and I was running with the rest of the lads to victory.

Come on!  Come On!’  I screamed out loud.

 ‘Forward my lads!’ repeated Captain White.

The world around me then exploded as shells and bullets soared towards us and exploded horrifically, tearing up bodies and churning great mounds of the muddy field. I saw many of the men I had known since training fall or disappear in an eruption of mud and red mist. I saw Sam fall, his chest torn open with gunfire. He cried for help once before falling silent, never to speak again. Bert and Eddie were gone, blasted apart in an explosion of shrapnel and limbs. Captain White, relentlessly blowing his whistle and urging us on as he led from the front, carrying only a pistol, was struck by a hail of bullets, his hat flying past me as I ran.

Although my entire being and soul wanted to turn and run back, not stopping until I reach safety and then a ship home, I continue on, marching forwards as I fight off the choking  acrid taste of mud, smoke and blood in the air.

And then it hit me. The pain of the thump was instant as I fell backwards from the force onto the ground. I lay there in shock as the world erupted around me, trying to establish what had happened as I looked up into the grey sky above. Then I realised I did not feel too bad, just a little shaken. I thought to myself, what am I doing lying here as others ran past? I need to get up and run. I tried to rise up, tried to stand but I could not feel my legs and could not understand why. I turned my head to one side to look for Albert to help. All I could see were the backs of men as they ran past. But just ahead I suddenly noticed a body lying in a heap, cold unmoving eyes staring back at me. It was Albert.

No!’ I screamed out loud in horror. Then I felt a slow pain from somewhere down below gradually hurting more and more.

What is happening to me,’ I thought as the pain increased. I began to shake and panic.

I don’t like this’ I told myself. The pain was hurting so much now and my hearing was going as the silence grew. The pain and fear was now unbearable as I began crying in this enclosing world of my own. My head was spinning but distantly I heard my mother’s quiet and gentle voice.

Do not worry my son, I am here with you,’ she said softly.

Tears welled up as I reached out for her not knowing where she was. As I was rocked by another explosion, mud raining down upon my helmet, nearby I could see my mother’s face smiling down on me. I cried again unable to stop as I looked into her eyes. I could see tears rolling down her cheeks as she smiled.

Please do not cry Mother.  I am alright really. I just cannot get up’ I mumbled, a trickle of blood dribbling down from a wound at my forehead.

Of course you are my darling’ she replied.

 Suddenly I heard a huge bang as my hearing of the outside world returned followed by the sound of shouting, screaming, gunfire and the falling of debris about me. A mist of thick smoke had settled upon the battlefield, a cloud wrapping around me and everything.

What is happening to me?!  I am frightened Mother!’ I cried out as everything went quiet again.

Hello Harold,’ replied a timid voice.  ‘What have you done?’ she asked. It sounded like Anne but I could not see her.

Anne! Anne!’  Where are you?’ I screamed out loud.

I am here beside you as I always am. Please don’t cry. Let me help you,’ she said softly. Still I could not see her. I longed to see her beautiful face and lovely long golden hair.

 ‘Your mother and I are here. You left us all but we are with you now,’ she said sweetly and as she did I could suddenly see them all at home smiling at me, like the day I came back from the training camp.

I’m so sorry’ I sobbed. ‘Am I being punished for leaving you all?’ I cried.

Of course you aren’t,’ they replied and as they smiled back, I felt a falling sensation.

 ‘You know I can’t live without you Anne….. Anne?’ I asked quietly as I suddenly could see them no longer.

‘We are always here for you,’ my family said in unison.

‘And will always love you,’ Anne whispered alone.

I felt reassured, relaxed and at ease now, having seen them all. Even the pain that had wracked my body had numbed, but my eyes felt heavy. The mist around me had become thicker still, although directly above the sun was shining brilliantly.

I lowered my head back to the ground, my strength gone, and I close my eyes, content as the darkness slowly overcame me.

The End

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