Meeting Some Allies
"Only the dead have seen the end of war." -Plato
That evening we stop our advance and end up encountering a small group of British soldiers. While our officers talk to their officers, Taylor, Flynn, a few others and myself go over and socialize with our allies.
I approach one British soldier and shake his hand. "The name's Hartigan."
"McKinley." He replies. "Where you from?"
I swear McKinley has the thickest eyebrows I have ever seen on a man. They seem to dominate his face; even his bright blue eyes which would have been attractive if one's attention wasn't drawn away from them.
"St. John, New Brunswick." I say, feeling proud of my city. "You?"
"How are things on your end?" I ask.
"Jerry's been stubborn, but I think we're close to getting him flushed out of France." McKinley shrugs. "From what I hear, you lads are having a tough time as well."
I nod. "Could be worse I guess."
McKinley's eyebrows shoot up. "Could be worse?" He snorts. "An optimistic bastard you are!"
I laugh and McKinely joins in.
Taylor comes over with a huge grin on his face. "Wow Hartigan you're actually making people laugh."
"Go to hell."
McKinley tries to stifle his laughter but fails miserably. Taylor looks offended. "Telling your friends to go to hell? That's not very nice Hartigan, what would your dear old mother say?"
"She isn't here." I shoot back. "And she isn't old."
Taylor exchanges glances with McKinley. "You see what I must deal with everyday?"
McKinley puts his hands up. "Now mate, don't get me involved in your lover's quarrel!"
This time Taylor looks appalled but its for real. "Lover's quarrel? What do you take me and Hartigan for?"
"He was joking."
"Well in that case, I forgot to ask for your name."
"McKinley smiles and shakes hands with Taylor. "McKinley."
We spoke with McKinely for a few more minutes before the group of officers dispersed and beckoned their men to follow them. I wave goodbye to McKinely and tell him to keep in touch.
We move on. Canadians going one way, British going another. We move with much caution, always on the lookout for snipers.
An NCO is shot and dies after our medics see to him. We learn fairly quickly where the shot came from; a bell tower. Flynn points at me and another soldier called Wright. "You boys go take that bloody sniper out."
We obey and head over to the bell tower. The church it belonged to was typical of French Gothic architecture. I had no doubt in my mind that it was once a magnificent looking building before the war.
I put my finger to my lips as we enter the church. I take light steps so my boots barely make a sound. Wright copies me. I look around and see a staircase that must lead up to the bell tower.
I point to the staircase and Wright nods. He hurries up the stairs first, his Sten gun at the ready, and I follow closely behind. We make our way up a winding staircase where the air is thick and stifling from the summer heat. A step creaks under my foot and we press ourselves against the wall so we cannot be seen from above.
Wright and I wait for a few breathless moments until I risk a glance up the stairwell. There's no one there. I look to Wright, flashing him a worried look. Does he know we're here now? I want to ask. Wright seems to understand and shrugs.
We continued up the stairs. The landing where the bells were once located was only a few steps up from us. Wright stopped and looked back at me. I nod to reassure him.
With that, we both charge up the remaining stairs and stop at the top of the bell tower, guns blazing. The sniper drops dead with a thump on the floor.
Wright stands over the corpse and nudges it with his toe. He's dead.
The sniper was a young boy just as I was expecting him to be. He bore markings of the 12th SS on his grey uniform which was now stained with blood. The boys eyes stared at us unblinking.
"You wanna search for a souvenir?" Wright asks me. I shake my head. I did my fair share of looting shortly after D-Day.
Wright goes through the boy's pockets and finds a knife. It is a fine looking blade that clearly belonged to the Hitler Youth. Finding the knife garners a smile from my companion and he pockets the knife without a word.
"Let's go, we're done here." He says.
We quickly go down the stairs and out of the church and join our platoon once more. We press on through the city until the sun vanished beneath the horizon.
Tonight our platoon is in yet another church. There are some civilians nearby who were kind enough to give us some candles so we won't be in the dark. I gratefully set my gear down next to Taylor's and lie next to him.
"Going to sleep already?" Taylor asks.
"I'm too tired to do much else." I yawn and wipe some sweat off my brow.
"Well move over a bit; you stink."
"You're one to talk." I scoff. "In fact I often stand up-wind of you so I don't catch a whiff of your over-powering odor."
"You're an asshole Hartigan." Taylor shoots.
"I try my best." I counter.
Taylor's voice drops to a whisper. "Not as much as Grayson!"
I stifle my laughter and turn over. I allow myself to drift into a weary and dreamless sleep.
The next morning, I join Taylor, Wright, Fylnn and Grayson for a cold breakfast of Compo rations (type E the cans say) and awful tasting coffee. The only good thing I find about type E rations is that we all get a pack of cigarettes, chocolate, soap, matches and latrine paper out of it.
Composite ration packs come in several types ranging from A to E and supplies enough tinned food for 14 men. Every few days we get a different type so we never really know what we're going to get. The extra items in our ration box are pretty useful and provide some sort of solace so I can't complain too much.
It's enough food for us to carry round for a few days. On some occasions we'll get the same box for several days in a row so our diet really doesn't change too much. That's when all the griping and general bitching happens.
"Coffee tastes like shit this morning." Grayson grumbles.
"No shit Sherlock." Flynn grumbles back.
I smirk into my canteen.
"I see you smiling Hartigan." Grayson snaps.
"I'm sorry Grayson but Sarge got you pretty good on that one."
Grayson glares at me but says nothing. Flynn just looks like he won a gold medal at the Olympics.
I shake my head and take out my notebook and jot down a few lines. Everyone around me here knows I keep a journal on me so they don't question the black notebook's presence. As far as I know, Grayson is really the only one who thinks it unmanly of me to write the way I do.
We're just about out of Caen now. Yesterday we met up with some British troops. They're a friendly bunch of people but they must be tired of all these foreign countries using their homeland as a base. If they are, they sure as hell don't show it.
I put my pencil and notebook away and resume drinking my coffee. Flynn pipes up. "I hope you're not writing anything insulting about us in there." It takes me a moment to realize he's joking.
"Oh no sarge, don't you worry. Everybody here is portrayed as the perfect group of angels."
Wright snorts. "You're so full of shit."