London’s changed a bit since I was here last; more rubble than I remember and more fires too. Still it’s good to be ’ome, even if I am stuck in this old church ’all wiv a bit o’ Jerry metal in me never-you-mind.
Last few years I’ve been stuck in a trench somewhere in France, then last week we go over the top one last time and this whizz-bang comes out o’ nowhere. Next thing you know I’m wakin’ up in a puddle o’ mud in this foxhole wiv a pain in me bum.
It gets dark and the body snatchers are out dodging snipers and looking for live ones. I waves and they come drag me back behind lines where this doc takes one look at me and tells me I’m a lucky so-and-so ’cos I got a Blighty one. Next day I’m on the back of this ’orse and cart ’eading for a troop ship ’ome.
Next week they’re gonna try and dig the shrapnel out, then it shouldn’t ’urt so much. In the meantime things ain’t so bad. At least I still got all me arms and legs and stuff, not like some of the poor souls ’ere. Best of all it’s warms and dry ’ere, and there’s this geezer comes in once a day to see if ’e can do anything for us.
’E’s a rum ’un as well this bloke. Walks in bold as brass wiv a white feather in ’is cap. First time ’e done it, ’e ’angs up ’is coat on the door and starts wiping what looks like spit off of it. That’s when I noticed ’is left arm was all messed up, ’cos ’e only used ’is right one see?
Anyway ’e does ’is rounds and when gets to my bed, I asks ’im what’s wiv the feather, an’ ’e tells me some’un sent it ’im a last year when ’e got ’is call up papers and ’e refused to enlist. So I asks ’im is ’e a coward, and ’e smiles and says ’e doesn’t fink so, just that God telled ’im it’s wrong to kill and ’e wasn’t goin’ to be a part of this war. ’E tells me that the blokes we’re shootin’ at is just the same as us; they got wives and sweethearts and families and they’re only shootin’at us ’cos some bloke in their government told ’em they ’ad too. ’E says as soon as you kill someone, somefing breaks inside and you’re never the same again. ’E’d rather people called ’im a coward than ’ave to kill someone for no good reason.
D’you know I reckon ’e’s right. First time I stuck me toasting fork into one of them square’eads I felt so bad I about puked up me lunch there and then. Ever since it’s been like somefing’s missing or wrong inside, an’ I can’t do nufing to fix it.
So I asks ’im about ’is arm. Surely they don’t want ’im in the army wiv a messed up arm like that, ’an ’e laughs and says that ’e got that six months back. There was a Zeppelin raid and a bomb dropped in the street where ’e was walkin’. It didn’t go off straight away, but ’e sees this woman wiv a pram who’s just frozen wiv fear, so ’e starts runnin’ towards them to get them out of the way, ‘an just as ’e’s pushin’ ’em to safety, the ruddy thing (pardon my French) goes off and ’is arm’s all messed up.
So why d’you keep wearin’ that feather now I asks. You got your arm all messed up nobody’d fink you was a draft dodger wiv a wound like that.
He just smiles and takes off ’is cap an’ shows it me. Then ‘e asks me if I know what kind it of feather is. Just looks like a white feather to me I tells ’im. ’E keeps on smilin’ an’ sticks ’is cap back on.
It’s a dove’s feather ’e tells me. Whoever sent it me was trying to call me a coward for not joinin’ up, but they couldn’t have given me anything better to tell me I was doin’ the right thing.
Glossary of terms
Jerry – German
Whizz-bang – German 77mm shell
Body snatchers – stretcher bearers
Blighty one – wound serious enough to be sent home
Geezer; Bloke – slang for person or man
Rum ’un – strange one
Toasting fork – bayonet
Squarehead –German soldier
Pram – baby carriage
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