(In the War)The lorries stop. We get out. In the dark we fall in and start to march somewhere. We are far from the line. It is nearly dawn.
My boots are twisted and hard after being wet. They cut into my feet. Every step I take shoots a pain up my leg. I limp as I march. The sun comes up and still we keep going.
We pass houses without gaping holes in them. Children peep out from behind half-opened doors and stare at us as we straggle past. Finally we come to a halt in a neat village. The inhabitants rush out to look at us.
There is no shortage of billets. Broadbent and I are quartered together in a real house. No barns or pigsties this time.
The house is occupied by an old woman about seventy, her husband, and two young women.
I limp into the dining room of the cottage. I sink into a chair. I untwist my puttees and take my boots and socks off. The sock sticks to my bloody foot. It is as raw-looking as an uncooked hamburger steak. The old woman kneels down by my side and takes my foot in her hand.
"My poor one ... my poor one," she says in French.
She gives hurried orders to her gnarled husband and to her daughters. They bring hot water and a basin of olive oil.
She takes my bruised foot and bathes it in the hot water. I wince as she immerses it. It stings. She pours the oil over the raw wound. It is soothing. She wraps my feet in makeshift bandages. In between whiles she tells me that she has two sons in the war. She takes two soiled photographs from a pocket-book and points sadly to the likenesses.
The daughters help me upstairs to a room which the old lady has set aside for me. As I go up the stairs Broadbent grins at me and says: "You sure get all the luck."
The mail for the battalion comes up. Most of the boys to whom packages are addressed are either wounded or killed. We share them among ourselves. Rations are plentiful too. There are no fatigues and wine is cheap here. Madame with whom we are billeted is like a mother to us. We begin to put on flesh.
In the evening we sit listening to her telling us stories of her two boys. The old man sits by and nods his head in agreement. We are becoming quite domesticated.
Recruits come up from the base. The battalion is being filled up. New officers are assigned to us. Discipline tightens.
We are taken out every morning now for two hours' drill. Broadbent is made a sergeant and I am given two chevrons. He jokes with me about my promotion:
"You know what a corporal is?"
"A batman for the privates. You get hell from the officers and no rest from your men."
There are new faces on all sides of us. Broadbent and I stick together. We have many things in common ...
We have been in this village more than a month now. At last the order comes that we are to move on. The villagers stand in their doorways and look silently at us as we are drawn up. One of the girls comes out and puts a parcel of food into my hands.
"Company, by the right, quick --- march!" The old lady runs along by the side of my section for a few steps.
She puts her face up to mine and kisses me. "Remember," she says, "take good care of your feet..." The girls and women wave their hands to us. A company of little boys --- those serious-faced little boys of northern France --- escort us to the outskirts of the village. We turn to the right and swing up towards the line.--- From Generals Die in Bed
Charles Yale Harrison
© 2007 Annick Press