Garrison Fields

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Chapter 43 - Luke comes home

It was now several months since Matthew had been sent to the army. They had received two shocks, the first was that as a fourteen-year-old Matt’s adult service would not commence until he was eighteen. At which point he would need to serve for three years. This would mean, he would be eligible for discharge from the army on his twenty first birthday.

However, the orphanage, not wishing to see these boys return to quickly to the parish with no trade and no prospects, always signed them as the guardian for a nine-year period. By that time, it was hoped that the boy was so institutionalised that they would stay for the full twenty-two-year term in the service of his country. Thereby giving the parish no further problems. This meant with a minimum of nine-years, he would be twenty-seven before his release from the colours.

There were two periods when Jane might be able to bring Matt home; the first of these would be up to his sixteenth birthday, the next time would be on his twenty first birthday, when after his initial three years of service he would be eligible to buy himself out from the remainder of his service.

The same fate would soon befall Luke. He was not as resilient and strong as Matt and although he had returned home to live with Derek and Jane, he missed Matt awfully when he had left the orphanage. Against her wishes, Luke wished to join up, believing that he would be reunited with Matt in his Regiment. Matt had sent Luke a letter saying that he had let his sergeant know that Matt would shortly be joining up. The sergeant had asked, if he wished to claim him for the battalion once his training had been completed at the training depot? Matt had confirmed this, so a letter would be sent to the training depot informing them of his brothers wishes.

When Jane learnt the news, she had been both pleased that their bond was so close and horrified she might lose Luke again. Derek had talked to Luke, but to no avail, his mind was set, the sea was not for him. The only thing that they could do was to observe his wishes, it would be better than him running away. They would take him to the recruiting office and make sure, unlike the Seaman’s Mission, he would only be signed for the minimum term.

As she opened the door on the General Wolf that Friday morning, the sixth of May 1910, the newspaper boy was walking down the road shouting a headline. Craning her neck, she couldn’t quite make out what he was saying, it must be a special edition of some importance at this time of day. Looking at old Frank Green approaching, an old retired soldier who had served in many campaigns before finishing his years down the shipyard as a general cleaner.

‘What’s the news Frank, what’s the boy shouting about?’ He looked at her very sombrely, standing quite upright as he said it and taking his cap off.

‘The King has passed away’. She let the men in then going back to the till she took a few pennies and went outside. The newspaper boy had just passed by and was walking down the road, bellowing out his sombre new. Shouting after him, he turned and came back to her. She relieved him of several of his newspapers of which he was more than grateful as he would have to stay out with them until they were sold. Returning inside they were, distributed around the men already assembled, there were not enough to go around so most shared.

Frank pulled on his glasses wrapping the wire round his ears before he began reading. Several of the men sat close, whether this was down to their poor eyesight or ability, cannot be known, Frank read the special edition to them. Each listened in silence as if it directly affected them, these men were of an older generation, for them it seemed like an end of an era, or perhaps a step closer to their own destiny. The last tangible link they had with the last century and the beginning of the close of the Edwardian era for these men. It was not a fresh beginning, for these men, but the beginning of the end of a way of life, as one door closed on a generation a new one opened for the next – God Save the King they murmured.

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