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The Corporal

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The Corporal January 1st, 1915. The fog hangs heavy on the fields of Ypres. I am writing this in a state of deepest shock, for reasons I find hard to even hear myself thinking, and even harder to understand. Edgar is dead. Archie Gilliam, who wore a green apron and packed eggs every Thursday at the South Street butchers, he shot Edgar twice in the back of the head for desertion from His Majesty's Army. They used to play on the school football team together. As impulsive teens, they would bicker over who got to wear the number 10 shirt, because the striker always picked up the prettiest women. Now Archie had shot a volley into his team-mate's spine, and Edgar was dead in midfield - a casualty of war. So passes away the first boy of the Papworth Pals battalion. Without his comforting presence, I must admit I take no further joy in my own god forbidden existence. These events are beyond anything I could have come to expect when my father pressured me into following Edgar into the recruitment office in the haze of that patriotic dawn. Curse my flag-blinded eyes, and curse the cruel fate that dragged us to this end! ...read more.


I went with him, on Papa's insistence, and determined to make a new man of myself. It was clear that once he had sustained his first wound, Edgar had begun to question his presence in the trench at all. He missed little Susie dearly, and aside from his wretched poetry would scarcely speak of anything else. In one week I had seen him write five letters to her. They were all scribbled in silence and sealed without a word, as if to challenge me to ask exactly how much he could have to say. His behaviour toward me became progressively stranger, too. One time, after hastily ducking from the screech of an incoming shell, he grabbed my hand in his clammy palm and said "Susie, thank goodness you're alive!" He acknowledged his mistake, but from that moment on Edgar shot me long, uneasy glances, and began to edge his camp-bed closer to mine in the night. On Christmas Eve, I felt a faint stirring in the bunker's earthy dark. The other six men were all out on night raids or recovering from a gas attack: in the section of the quarters where Edgar and I slept, that night we were alone. The clink of a candle on the makeshift table lifted the lids of my eyes. ...read more.


He had squat shoulders, and an absolute determination that Germany was going to finish the war as the greatest nation on Earth. Though his cold disdain unnerved me, he was quite a talker once he found a topic. Even while smoking my cigarettes, he muttered incessantly about how this sort of thing "should not be allowed". Perhaps I have always found solace in the company of madmen. He ranted to me about Bavarian military history, and the corruption of modern art. Eventually, I extended my hand and asked him to join me in a gentleman's kickabout, offering my last dry smoke. The corporal looked me up and down, then asked me: "What is your name?" I told him the true German form, hoping to appeal more to his sensibilities - Henry Kaufmann. It was as if a bullet had hit him in the skull. His eyes bore into my face with an impossible disgust, as if I had smeared my cheeks with excrement whilst he adjusted his bootstraps. "I would never play football with a dirty Jew!" he spat, in a quiet voice of quivering rage. And with that he stood from his seat and retreated back into the trench, throwing my last dry cigarette into the sodden earth without speaking another word. I never learnt his name; I knew only that he wanted to kill me, like everyone else in his godforsaken country. ...read more.

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