- Author: Andrew Wareham
Book online «The Death of Hope Andrew Wareham (book club reads TXT) 📖». Author Andrew Wareham
The War to End All Wars
- Book Four -
The Death of Hope
Copyright © 2020 Andrew Wareham
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“MrOrpington! A pleasure to see you. When were you released from hospital?”
“Four weeks ago, sir.”
The young second lieutenant spoke with aslight slur, his left upper lip thick with scar tissue that extended across hischeek, under the eye and round to the ear. His whole face was slightly lopsided,the scarring tugging at his right cheek and lips.
“I had feared that you might never returnto active service, Orpington.”
“I was lucky, sir. Three in the belly thatmissed liver and kidneys and everything important. They hurt, nothing more. Theone across the face took longest to heal, sir. Only just back to chewing solidfood. They wanted me to go back to hospital for another operation, or two orthree, to reduce the scar tissue. I’ve had enough of hospitals! I was passedfit for service three days ago and was permitted to join your 8thBattalion, sir. Might be an advantage of the scar, sir, giving me a bit ofleeway, you might say, the base-wallahs a bit nervous of the warrior returningto battle. Seems to be the way the bloody fools think in England, sir! I know Iam an extra – but only for a week or two, I expect!”
Richard grimaced. They had lost no officersin the three days they had been in the line. He was surprised, had expectedsome of the youngest to be rash in exposing themselves above the parapet. Theywere due to go raiding that evening and would repeat over other days; theywould certainly lose men.
“You are very welcome, Orpington. I am flatteredand very pleased that you asked to join me. We made a good team together in the3rd Battalion. For the while, until you join a company, which, asyou say, is inevitable, I think the best thing is for you to be my doggie, as weused to call it in the Navy. The Adjutant is worked off his feet and the Majoris busy as hell – I can make damned good use of a man with your experience andknowledge running chores for me, thinking as well as passing messages.Introduce yourself to Major Vokes and arrange your dugout with him – I thinkCaptain Hawkeswill has a spare bunk in his and it’s conveniently close to me.”
Orpington tried to smile, achieved anunattractive grimace and marched off to find the Major, exchanging salutes withSergeant Major O’Grady as he left.
“Sure and I never expected to see thatyoung man back again, sir. A good young officer and will be welcome, I cannotdoubt.”
“Badly scarred up, ‘Major. Pity for ayoungster of his age – he cannot be twenty yet. Not going to be easy smiling atthe girls.”
“That I don’t know, sir. Any lass whoturns her back on him for an honourable wound, well, he will be better offwithout her.”
“Easy enough for us old men to say, ‘Major.For a youngster it’s likely to be hard, nerving himself to be seen in society.”
“So say the greybeards, sir.”
Richard Baker was reminded that he was notyet twenty-one, by a matter of days, and was colonel of his battalion. Not the youngestin the BEF, he had been told – there were two other twenty year olds withbattalions of their own in the Trenches.
“Best he should be made up, do you agree, ‘Major?”
“He has the experience in the line, sir,and stood his ground at Neuve Chapelle. He will make the grade, sir. Lieutenantimmediately, captain in a month or two. Higher than that? Who knows, sir?”
The sergeant major evidently saw no greatmilitary genius in the boy. Richard would not venture to disagree – O’Grady wassoldiering before he went to school.
“I’ll speak to the Brigadier now.”
The telephone system cooperated andRichard had a clear line, could hear all that Brigadier Braithwaite had to say.At least a half of calls had to be abandoned because of the buzzing andcrackling that drowned their voices.
“Young Orpington is back from hospital,sir, and asked to come over to us in 8th Battalion. He’s still onlya second lieutenant. Permission to raise him, sir?”
“By all means, Baker. Good lad, that one. Welldone of him to come back – with his wounds he could have looked for a depotposting in England. Easy to argue that he had done his share. Now, these raidstonight… Are you sure you must go out with them?”
“The only way to know what’s facing us isto get a look at them, sir. I need to get across there once at least. Add tothat – it’s our first venture into action. I want the boys to know that they areto follow me. Like you, I am to lead my battalion. I am not to be nothing morethan the figure in the background who gives out the orders. If the time comesthat we have to stand firm against an advance, then they need to know that I willbe there at their front, as you were last autumn.”
Braithwaite was flattered, had to agreethat he had been well to the front in his day.
“Don’t like it, Baker! No choice but agreeto your actions. Don’t leave me having to write a letter to your littlePrimrose, young man!”
“Last thing I might wish, sir! I much hopethat I shall be able to write my own letters, sir… Not easy, is it? Writinghome and trying to say that all is well and