Eerie Gray Sky
It was the morning of February 14th, 1917. It was actually quite warm for mid-February. Lynn Fielding walked through the usual morning traffic, stepping carefully not wanting to slip on a patch of ice. There were signs up all over the streets promoting the war in Europe. They were all encouraging people to support the war one way or another; men should enlist, women should encourage them, children should do odd jobs around the community for free. Lynn had watched as one by her friends and colleagues had gone over seas, either to fight or work in field hospitals. She had been content and stayed working at the Toronto General Hospital, doing what she could on the home front.
Lynn was struck out of her reverie when someone grabbed her wrist. She twisted around trying to loosen her arm from the grip, which carelessly removed itself. She peered up into the eyes of her Jack.
“I guess you didn’t hear me calling you,” he laughed with a smile meant for her eyes only.
“I’m sorry Jack, I was thinking,” Lynn replied in her soft, beautiful voice.
“Well you do remember what today is right?” Jack asked her, acknowledging the blank look she was giving him, “Its St. Valentine’s Day, silly!”
“I knew that,” she lied; it had completely slipped her mind.
“Of course you did,” Jack teased, “I’ll pick you up after your shift at the hospital and we’ll go out.”
Jack gave Lynn a quick peck on the cheek and jogged towards the warehouses on the waterfront.
“Hello, love,” Jack greeted her on the bench outside the hospital. The sun was setting over the buildings in the west.
Lynn smiled up at him, she watched as he pulled out a white rose from thin air. Where he’d found one at this time of year she did not know. They walked to a cute little cafe near the lake while watching the sunset. There weren’t very many young couples out; most of the men had enlisted by now.
After they’d had dinner they continued walking along the boardwalk, even though it was started to get very cold, the couple didn’t seem to notice.
“Lynn, I want to talk to you about something,” Jack said nervously, quite unusual for him, “I’m thinking about enlisting.”
Lynn was speechless. Jack had told her about his brothers that were fighting over seas but he’d told her he had no desire to join them. She felt the tears beginning to well in the corners of her eyes; she couldn’t even bring herself to look at him.
Jack continued, “I’ve been hearing rumours about conscription being put in place, and I’d much rather go on my own will then be told to go like a child.”
Lynn was quite for a few minutes as they walked along the path. Jack didn’t force her to say anything, he knew her well enough by now that she was thinking.
Finally she spoke, “If you’ve decided to go overseas, then I will too.”
“No,” Jack said sternly, turning and facing her, “It’s too dangerous for you over there; even the crossing is dangerous now because of those dratted German u-boats! What would your father say?”
“Nothing, he’d have a heart attack about the idea to begin with,” Lynn retaliated.
“I should take you home, it’s getting fairly late not to mention cold,” Jack said grabbing her hand and swinging her around.
Lynn didn’t live far from the waterfront. She still lived with her parents and four younger siblings. It wasn’t a very spacious home and Lynn had to share a room with her sixteen year old sister.
It took about twenty minutes, which had been made even longer by the uncomfortable silence that fell upon them. All they could think about was what would happen to the other one if they went overseas. At last the house was in sight; Jack walked her to the door and kissed her goodnight. Lynn let herself in.
“Where have you been!” shrieked a high, angry voice.
Lynn turned and looked to look into her mother’s face. She looked at the clock on the wall; it was twenty minutes past her curfew. Even though she was a legal adult, her parents still enforced a curfew.
“Jack and I went out after my shift at the hospital, I’m sorry mother, and we didn’t realize how late it was.” Lynn pleaded with her mother, trying to worm her way out of trouble.
“Your father’s was minutes away from calling the police! You could have at least told us you were going to go out tonight,” Mrs. Fielding continued, “Go upstairs and get ready for bed.”Lynn bowed her head in submission and did as she was told, even though she felt like she was being treated like a nine year old instead of nineteen.
Jack entered the enlistment office the next morning. He looked at the other young men who were waiting to be called in. Some of them looked younger than eighteen; some looked like they were pushing fifteen. He gave his name to the clerk and waited. He thought about how Lynn would react when she found out what he had done. He knew she’d be angry but he stood by his choice like a true man.
Jack met Lynn in the park in front of the hospital. They were both quiet, neither wanted to tell their secret. Jack took a deep breath, reached into his pocket. Jack slid down to one knee in front of Lynn; he watched as the tears welled in her eyes, she had her hand covering her mouth.
“Lynn, will you marry me?” Jack asked.
Lynn nodded her head exuberantly, and swung her arms around Jack’s neck. She let the tears on her face run freely down her face. She looked down at the ring that was on her finger; although it was a simple silver band it was still beautiful.
Jack stood up and pulled Lynn along the path. He was leading her back to her house. He wanted her to tell her parents.
Lynn threw the door open, terrifying her sister Catherine. Lynn was grinning ear to ear, pulling Jack behind her. Mr. and Mrs. Fielding came to see what was going on at the front of the house. Mr. Fielding hobbling along with his cane; he’d been badly injured during the Boer War. He did not approve much of his daughter working in the hospital instead of going to university, but he’d been lenient and allowed her to work.
“Lynn, why is your finger shining?” Catherine asked curiously.
“It’s an engagement ring, Cat,” Lynn grinned, she felt superior to her young sister.
“It’s what!” Mr. Fielding yelled, glaring coldly at Jack, “Lynn you are not getting married, I won’t allow it.”
“I’m an adult I can do as I please,” Lynn raised her voice at her father.
“You are my daughter, you are not getting married, you will never see this man again, end of discussion.” He yelled at her like a barrage.
“Sir, you don’t have to worry about her never seeing me again, because I’ve enlisted in the army,” Jack interjected coolly.
“Good! That’s where you should have gone three years ago when you became eighteen!”
“I’m going with him then!” Lynn yelled fiercely at her father.
“Lynn Marie Fielding, if you take a step out that door, I will disown you!”
Lynn looked defiantly at her father and marched upstairs, a few minutes later she came down with the few belongings she had in a suit case and marched out the door. Jack was quick to follow her. Neither said goodbye. And neither saw the distraught look on Mrs. Fielding’s face.
“Charles, you have to bring her back,” she begged of her husband, tears running down her face as she replayed her eldest child walking out the door.
“No, she blatantly went against my rules and she is no longer a member of this family.” He replied angrily as he hobbled away.
Lynn stood on the platform as waved goodbye to Jack. He was hanging out the train window, a boyish grin plastered on his face. Lynn couldn’t help herself, she began to cry. She couldn’t but worry about the trouble he’d be getting. Lynn was leaving herself in a few days time, she was going to be stationed somewhere in Northern France at a field hospital. She watched Jack until she could no longer see him.
“Please stay safe Jack,” she whispered as if he was standing right beside.
Lynn couldn’t help but wonder what her family was doing right now, her parents were probably sitting in their tiny little living room, Edward would be sprawled across the floor with the youngest of the five children playing childish games, and the other two would be discussing boys and school and the war. How she yearned to be with them now.
“Three days and you’ll be leaving for the front yourself,” she told herself sternly, wiping away the furious tears around her eyes.
Lynn stepped off the gangplank. She was so glad to be on solid land again, she’d had awful seasickness on the way over. In the last few days it had gone away, she thought it had just been because she was getting used to the boat.
The military support was directed towards a warehouse where everyone was to sign in and would then be re-located to her permanent position. Lynn noticed there weren’t very many people who’d enlisted. It was already late March and it was cooler here than it had been back in Toronto. Lynn signed in; she was to be stationed at a field hospital near Vimy Ridge. Little did she know she was going to be fairly close to Jack.
Jack was on sentry duty. There was the occasional shot fired at something that wasn’t even there. The sentries got jumpy when they thought something was moving out in no man’s land. Who could blame them, the trenches were disgusting, and there were rats everywhere. The place reeked of death and hate. The mountain of Vimy Ridge shadowed the Canadians trenches.
“Jack, you’ve got a letter,” hissed someone from behind him.
“Kid, you know I can’t take a letter, I’m on sentry duty,” Jack hissed back without looking to the speaker, “I don’t want those Huns sneaking up on us on my watch, or at all for that matter.”
“I think it’s from that girl, what’s her name, Lisa?”
“It’s Lynn! Put it in my pocket,” Jack whispered frustrated, sleep deprivation was getting to him.
The two soldiers looked out into no man’s land. It was pointless, pitch black, there was no moon for the overcast clouds that hung over the battlefield. The smell of rotting bodies rose from the muddy field of barbed wire. The war was not the glory it had been cracked up to be.
Hours later Jack was off duty. The sun was beginning to rise in the east, giving enough light to read by. He had not forgotten the letter his young friend had given him. He now had a moment to read it.
I hope you are well. You know as well as I do that I cannot enclose where I am located. I miss you very much, I don’t have much to say. The trip here was strenuous. I hope you don’t think ill of me because I felt seasickness on the way her. I’ll right again soon.
It was short and to the point. Lynn’s sea sickness bothered him very much. He felt guilty, he knew it was his fault that she was even here and that her father had disowned her. Jack had nothing good to say right now, so he decided to wait to reply top her letter. He didn’t want to depress her about how awful it was living in this stink-hole.
Jack thought about the battle that was being planned. The generals were doing something that the French and British had never thought of, they’d been building a model of the ridge to help plan their massive offense. With luck it would work and they would break through the enemy lines.The generals were planning the attack for the early hours at some point next week. They were still working out the little details but word had it that they would be using heavy artillery as a shield. The closer they came to the battle, the quieter the trenches got.
The date had been set, Easter Monday. It was quiet among the trenches, it seemed that even rats knew that they would have a feast of their own soon. The Canadians went about their business, firing shells during the day, watching the lines by night.
At last doomsday dawned, at 0500 hours the barrage began. They woke the Germans from their sleep, though the Canadians had been awake for hours now. The dirt flew high as the shells fell. The constant explosions hurt Jack’s ears. He sat against the trench wall waiting for the last of the artillery barrage fell before they began their advance on the ridge.
The last whistling shell hit the enemy lines. It was time to move, the soldiers followed General Byng’s directions precisely. They hustled over the tops of the trenches, protected by the creeping barrage. Each platoon advanced towards their objective behind the curtain of shells the barrage was making.
Lynn fluttered through the room. There were men everywhere. Dying, suffocating, blood spewed across their faces, uniforms. It was heart breaking; she didn’t even have time to worry about Jack who was out there fighting for the ridge. Some of these men looked more like boys to her, than the age of eighteen. One man had a piece of wood through his chest; she knew he wouldn’t make it.
Death was ready to claim its victims. Nurses and doctors alike tried to save as many as they could, but they just kept coming in. Truck by truck. Some had lost limbs, other were suffering from multiple gun shots. Everyone could hear the artillery shells and gun shots from here. It was almost as if the shells were falling outside the hospital.
The days past, both soldiers and medical staff alike were weary. The constant explosions hadn’t let up, and it had become like a background sound. By the sounds of it though the Canadian Corps was winning.
The buzz of airplanes passed over the hospital. The sound of a whistling shell descended upon the small cluster of tents. The soldiers knew what was happening before anyone else, and those who could began running in all directions. Lynn made it to the front of the tent, and the last thing she saw was the eerie gray of the cruel sky.
Mrs. Fielding opened the letter she’d received a day ago. Her husband was out, and she knew it was safe to open the letter from her daughter.
April 6th, 1917
I know that you are Dad are not happy about what I’ve done, but I love Jack and I would go to the end of the world and back again for him. I hope everyone is well. I miss you all, including Dad. This war seems to be going on forever. You can tell Dad that I’m being discharged from my service. I know you’re probably wondering why, but Jack and are going to have baby. The reasons are obvious why I cannot stay. I shall be leaving at the end of the week.
Mrs. Fielding was so excited; it had been a while since she’d had any children of her own. She was glad that her daughter was coming home from that awful battle in Europe. She was getting up when a knock came on the door. She walked quickly. Two very official military looking men stood in front of her.
“May I help you officers?” she asked curiously.
“Mrs. Fielding?” one asked unsure if this was the right person, Mrs. Fielding inclined her head.
“I’m sorry but you daughter, Nurse Lynn Fielding has passed.”
She didn’t hear another word after that, all she could think about was how she’d never see her darling little girl again. Nor would she see the grandchild she would have had. Silent tears streamed down her face. The two officers had gone, but she still stood in the doorway, white as a ghost. When her husband came home, she didn’t know how to break it to him.
Jack sliced open the letter with his pen knife. He read through it silently, then read through it again making sure he’d read it correctly. He and Lynn were going to have a baby; she would have been dispatched already. He grabbed the second letter, not sure who it was from for the handwriting was different. He read through this letter and could feel the tears welling. He was lost, one moment he was going to be a father, the next his fiancée was gone.
Jack grabbed his pistol and held it to his head; he didn’t want to live without Lynn. He knew he couldn’t do it, he knew it was his fault that she’d died. The last thing he saw was the eerie gray sky.