John Myers knew that his father was a hard, somber and tacit man to begin with but after the death of his wife the rat catcher seemed to be more controlling.
True they lived in hard times, work was hard to find in nineteen fourteen but even John’s money was never his own. The weekly ritual was the same, he would bring home his pay and his father would take out his half of the rent and food and give him what remained. His only luxury was the occasional drink in the pub with his mates whenever he could afford it.
He said his ‘goodbyes’ to his work mates and walked the streets to the corner shop where he bought some food and a newspaper to take home. John looked at the front page in trepidation and folded it up, tucking it under his arm as he ran home.
He saw his grim faced father on the front porch sweeping it off with a stiff broom.
“Look at this, dad!” he cried.
William put the broom aside and looked over the headline. It stated that war had broken out. England was at war with Germany and Turkey and now she looked for volunteers from the colonies.
“You’re not going.” He said flatly.
It should have been the end of the discussion. It was never right for a young man to argue with his father but despite himself he pressed the issue.
“Look dad, you’ve been to the Boer War. I just want a story to tell one day like you’ve got.”
“What, you think it was some great adventure?” he erupted. “You’re not going I told ya!”
John stared pleadingly at his father and felt his own eyes water but fought back the tears knowing that if he cried it would only infuriate him further.
“You may hate me, son…” he continued in a softer tone. “…but at least you’re alive to do so.”
John tightened his grip on his rifle to still his shaking hands and looked down the line at his comrades. He remembered the night he slipped away and lied about his age.
The last nine months had oddly enough been the happiest he had ever known. He had been in the training camp in Egypt with these men and ate the same nauseating food. They drank together, taunted the pompous English officers, laughing and running away from capture for their insolence.
He quivered, fighting back a tear knowing that today was the day they would be ordered ‘over the top.’ It was no more than mass suicide since no man had ever made it to an enemy trench before being cut down by machine gun fire.
He felt a slight tap against his arm and looked to see his father in the uniform of a 'digger' beside him.
“Fix bayonets!” came a shout down the trench.
A concerted 'clicking' resounded as as the they were connected to rifles.
John never asked for explanations as there was no time but he knew that his father joined the infantry just to be with him. 'Why?' he wondered. He had never said that he loved him or given him a kind word that he remembered.
“Nothing up the spout!”
The shrill sound of a whistle sounded, signaling their exodus from the trench. It was the signal which John knew would inevitably end his life moments later.
He reached up to the edge when he felt himself spun around to face his father. There was a concerned look in his eye, then he suddenly raised his rifle and fired.
Pain erupted through John's shoulder as officers accompanied with diggers checked the trenches for the wounded along with any man who stayed behind.
Barely conscious, he listened as he lay in his own blood in the mud.
“Why aren't you advancing into no man's land?” the officer shouted. “Look at your mate beside you! You deserve to wear a Turk bullet not him! Take the cowardly dingo away.” he ordered in disgust.
“I want him shot tomorrow!”
John always loved a visit from Brian his eldest grandson. The impressionable youth was the only one of the family who took the time to go to the retirement village anymore.
“Do you have a story to tell about the war, Grandpa?” the thirteen year old asked.
“Yes...I do,” he answered then recounted a time when the bravest man he ever knew gave his life, so that he could live.
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