P r o l o g u e
H e whistled a melancholic song about the Northern Heath, his home, as he strode out through the dew-fresh grass at the edge of the forest. He and his colleagues had sung that song many times during the war when marching along the dusty roads in Italy.
As the memories flooded back and the pain became unbearable, he stopped. On his shoulder was a bundle of twigs to construct a broom for his mother. He eased the bundle down and let the twigs collapse on the path. Then he removed his black beret and ran his fingers through his dark hair. He had been so young, only 19 years, when, because of his good education, he had been summoned to take charge of 180 men as a lieutenant. Good men were becoming sparse in 1942. Somehow he had coped. Probably not very well, he thought, but who cares? It was 1949 and life was back to normal. Or so it should have been. So many of those men under his command had died… comrades, friends, fellow soldiers. He felt responsible somehow, guilty, unhappy, and the ones that lived to tell the tale would remember a struggling young lieutenant, more eager to make friends than war. Two of his younger brothers had been killed during the conflict, and he had seen many men wounded and dying, not all of them Germans. They could have been friends with whom to share a bottle of wine, a few cigarettes and a hearty laugh. Instead they had to be regarded as enemies. He was good at making friends, carefree and jovial as he was, and he had loathed the open hostility of the war. He rubbed his forehead as if to wipe away those painful thoughts.
Mustn’t think about it anymore, must try and remember the good bits, there were good bits too… His agile mind combed through the memories when suddenly his lean face lit up with a smile. Ah yes, the olive tree, that was a good one. He and his comrades had mistaken it for a plum tree, and charging towards it, hungry and in expectation of a rare treat, they found themselves with mouthfuls of harsh tasting fruit bearing no resemblance to plums at all. Disappointed, they spat the unpalatable fruit in all directions. He could still feel the harshness
of those olives on his tongue. Wasn’t much of a laugh at the time, but in hindsight he could see the funny side of it. Couldn’t talk about it of course, people didn’t want to talk about the war, or anything connected with the war, let alone listen. Forget it, it’s finished, life goes on. That’s where the problem lay: he couldn’t. “Find yourself a Deern, a nice girl, and settle down, Wilhelm. That’ll keep you occupied,” his mother’s advice had been. Well, he wouldn’t find her here in the dew-damp grass at the edge of the forest. He sighed. Replacing his beret and picking up his bundle again, he headed for home.
As he strode down the narrow path through the meadow, he noticed a figure in the distance, bending down to pick something up. Screwing up his eyes against the morning sun, he discerned a young woman with thick auburn hair glowing fiercely in the brightness of the summer morning. Wilhelm stood in amazement for a moment or two. Who was she? What was she doing here? He slowed his pace. Noiselessly, keeping a close eye on the young woman, he walked towards her. His heart beat faster and his mind raced to think up the perfect thing to say. She looked up and let out a startled little gasp, clinging the bunch of harebells she had been picking to her ample bosom. Staring at him wide-eyed, she blushed and took a few steps backwards.
“Hello.” He smiled at her, heart pounding. “Nice, those harebells. One of my favourites they are. Lovely shade of blue, don’t you think?” He nodded toward the flowers in her tight grip. She relaxed her fingers and giggled, lowering her eyes.
“Yes, yes they are… very dainty.” Her voice trailed away, and looking up again she met his inquisitive gaze. She was mesmerised by the intensity of his look, as he was bewitched by the vibrant sparkle in her clear green eyes. So they stood knee-deep in the summer meadow gazing at each other in amazement, utterly lost for words, the only sound being the cheerful song of the lark, soaring in the uninterrupted blue of the summer morning sky.