by Alex Gray
The character of men can be revealed in war.
|"Come here now, Private!"
War can bring out the worst in people but like the sun shining from behind a storm cloud, it can show character in the most insignificant of men. That was the case with Pat Simmonds, the son of the owner of a shabby old inn near Willowby. In that trench, five soldiers away in a mud pit armed with a rifle in his right hand, shells in his left hand and a water canister somewhere tucked in his belt, Patrick Simmonds shuffled across along the trench towards Sergeant Major Drake. Some of the five soldiers did not appreciate feeling the full weight of muddy army boots on their mud soaked trousers.
In his foolish mind and his kind heart he stood erect until a bullet from a German rifle whizzed past his flimsy helmet. You may say that he ducked but he dived down in the trench in such a manner that it was somewhere between fainting and falling. Perhaps, his comrades in arms felt his fear because they stiffened to such an extent that his actions had no painful effect on them.
When Private Pat Simmonds finally reached the muddy boots of Sergeant-Major Drake, he felt that the polite thing to do was to announce his arrival. His face might have been cloaked with mud and his once sparkling uniform might have long lost it's shine but he believed the correct etiquette would be to salute his superior officer, be it lying down or standing up.
"Go take up position next to Corporal Lynch and reinforce their position. Also deliver a message for him to stop mucking around and kill some Jerries! We are not here to play dragons and dukes, we are here to kill!"
Private Simmonds was under no impression that Sergeant Major Drake was there to kill but if it was anywhere else on the planet, he would still be the same bloodthirsty man that he was on the battlefield. He had not the faintest idea for the reason Drake assigned him the task, but in the army you had to respect the orders of your superior officer.
Simmonds was very willing to carry out the task because he was fighting for his country. He would have been very willing to crawl on his belly through the wet mud and endure the curses of the men in the trench beside him but the trench where Corporal Lynch was dug in was half a mile away in open territory and the officer was holding his own with the equal number of men where Pat Simmonds was.
Private Pat Simmonds believed that he was doing a courageous thing and would be commended for his efforts. However, when the firing ceased, Private Pat Simmonds was lying dead in a ditch.
"Why was he running over here to us; didn't he realise that it was suicide?"
Sergeant Major Drake stood beside Corporal Lynch then turned away saying: "No big loss."