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Posted on May 27, 2006 in Armchair Reading, Front Page Features

Fiction: Moving Out

By Roach

The day became hotter, foxholes became deeper, and rations began to disappear. More importantly, so did the water. We were warned to go easy on our canteens but it was just far too easy to have one more mouthful under that hot sun. It was almost as if the sun had become an additional enemy that had to be dealt with, and water was the only sure-fire way to combat it. The problem was alleviated slightly when Gallegos sent someone back towards where the weapons platoon ought to be to scrounge some water – if not from them, then from somewhere! They eventually returned dragging a jerry can of water with them, which Gallegos rationed out with exacting strictness. After that we tried to be more sensible about our canteens.

In the meantime Vest and I had finished digging our foxhole, not entirely to our satisfaction but certainly enough to give us some measure of protection; it was about a couple of feet deep but we would continue to work on it even after we had ‘moved in’ because as I might have already mentioned, in my opinion a foxhole can never be to deep!

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Plus, of course, there wasn’t too much else to occupy our time. The krauts were generally leaving us to ourselves and we weren’t doing anything to antagonise them. So we filled the time with watching our front, digging deeper in, eating the best parts of our K-rations and trying to keep the stoppers on our canteens. It was a classic case of hurry up and wait.

I did actually spend some time reading a newspaper I had snaffled when I had been loitering around Divisional HQ a few days earlier when we had been off the line (that’s to say several hundred yards behind it by way of a change). I don’t know where Divisional HQ had got it from but apparently Generals have the pull to get such things. Whatever, it was a limey newspaper, three weeks old, and full of positivity about what our boys were up to in Italy at some place called Anzio. The name didn’t mean a great deal to me but it sure sounded Italian.

Anyway, apparently the krauts there were running away like demented chickens and, as far as that particular newspaper journalist was concerned, it was like we had won the war already – which was certainly news to me because as far as I could tell, those krauts in the next hedgerow weren’t running anywhere! Still, on the other hand, I was also positive that I could put that newspaper to even more positive use if my huge stash of soft tissue paper tucked under my helmet liner ever ran out…

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Is that healthy reading, soldier? It’s good for my nerves, I tell you…

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So the krauts are running in Italy – what about the ones over here?! Catch it while you can…

The nearest member of our squad to us was Wiesel; he was about twenty yards away and virtually invisible, with Gallegos about the same distance again up from him and totally invisible. We couldn’t see anyone from our foxhole bar the occasional glimpse of Wiesel if he moved position in his foxhole.

At some point I crawled up to Wiesel’s position leaving Vest to maintain watch on our flank. Wiesel had certainly made himself a luxurious home-from-hole and when I dropped by was keeping one eye forward and one eye on some dime novel of dubious content. I had been there about five minutes when all hell seemed to break loose at the right hand end of the hedgerow.

Where one moment there had been silence, there was now a repeated succession of barks as M1s fired round after round, which was answered in kind by the instantly recognisable sound of burp gun fire. There were a few seconds of surprise, confusion and maybe even panic.

Then Gallegos appeared, frantically signalling to move nearer up towards that right flank. We moved up alongside his position where he ordered us to put down flanking fire on the copse. I didn’t have the faintest idea as to what was going on, and nor could I see a single kraut, but I squirmed into the base of the hedgerow until I could see the copse and then began firing round after round speculatively in the general direction of the enemy. I must have fired as many as three clips probably to very little effect, much as I had done earlier that day when we had attacked the hedgerow that I was now firing from.

As I was steadily firing rounds at an invisible enemy, I could hear Gallegos cursing on the field telephone, and screaming coordinates at somebody who’d had the misfortune to pick up at the other end. Gallegos slammed down the phone and yelled out the warning: “Incoming!” The curses must have done the trick as, a few seconds later, a short, sharp mortar barrage impacted closely to our men on the extreme of our right flank. I swear that I felt the concussion from where I lay; all thoughts of firing at the enemy were forgotten. Meanwhile, out on that extreme right flank things had also gone quiet; it was interrupted briefly by a few sporadic shots and then the silence resumed – and stayed resumed.

And I still didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on; Gallegos simply ordered Wiesel and I to return to our positions and stay alert, which we did, none the wiser, but with the adrenalin still flowing through our veins on red alert.

[continued on next page]

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