Just Good Friends
by Steve Barnes
It was general knowledge that, despite what the propagandists were telling us, the war in France, now in its second year, was not going well. The large number of wounded troops being off-loaded from the ships arriving daily from across the Channel docking in my small coastal town was all the evidence needed to convince us otherwise. Train loads of broken bodies were loaded hourly onto trains, to be sent off who knows where into the country to be patched up where possible, prior to being sent back to the ‘front’. The ‘lucky ones’, too badly wounded to repair were sent to convalescent homes to linger on for unbearable weeks or months before eventually succumbing to their injuries.
Although I was underage, my voice had broken and I was quite well developed physically, so it was an easy matter to convince the recruiting officer to sign me up, after which I joined a large group of high spirited young men singing patriotic songs in the street before being untidily marched off to a large hall to the encouragement of cheering crowds.
Once inside we had to strip off prior to being given a cursory medical, although just why I had to cough when a disinterested man in a white coat cupped my balls in his cold hand, was never explained! We were then ushered forwards to tables loaded with mountains of military kit and, as we moved past them, we were unceremoniously loaded down with all the clothing necessary for a new Private, topped off with a pair of boots which most obviously were not new! Finally we were presented with a tin hat and a monstrous great Lee Enfield rifle.
Thus equipped we were encouraged to move outside to a large marquee where we had to strip off once again and dress ourselves in our newly acquired kit. This prompted considerable mirth amongst us as we struggled with ill-fitting trousers, blouses, puttees, etc. and our worn-looking boots. Our civilian clothes were bundled into sacks which we understood would be kept in storage for our return, if we returned!
Herded outside once more, this motley gang of new soldiers was lined up in columns by a very red-faced Sergeant Major shouting at us to move off towards the nearby railway station. We were all talking excitedly to our nearest neighbours as though we were just good friends on a day’s outing with no thought or idea of the horrors which lay ahead of us when we eventually arrived at ‘The Front’.
(c) Steve Barnes 2020