Come Home, Soldier
By Jack Douglas
To Winston Churchill for dedicating yourself to the protection of this beautiful nation.
Leaves from the vine
Falling so slow
Like fragile tiny shells
Drifting in the foam
Little soldier boy
Come marching home
‘We mustn’t attack through Belgium!’ said Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic — the Chief of Intelligence Department of the Serbian General Staff — of Major Voja Tankosic’s plan to attack France.
The Black Hand has been meeting in secret for almost a year now. Organising their plans to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
‘Belgium isn’t a difficult country to penetrate and deceive. Going through Belgium would be the easiest method of raiding France. France has a camp just south of Belgium. Since we are in Germany, it shouldn’t be too hard to get through Belgium and shoot down France’s main camp,’ suggested Milan Ciganovic.
‘You ignorant bastard!’ Yelled Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic; he slammed his hand against the wooden table within the warehouse that they were currently meeting. The walls shook. Shrapnel fell from the creaking roof.
They switched location every time they meet to prevent followers. Mostly for security said Colonel Dimitrijevic in 1911 when the organisation had been around for just a couple of months.
The room was pitch black except for a dim light shining through a hole in the ceiling. The crack provided just enough light for each member of the Black Hand to see the head of all the other officers.
‘Apis, calm yourself. Ciganovic, Belgium has a treaty with the United Kingdom. If either country is harmed or threatened in any way, the other is sworn to support and protect them. You should be smart enough to connect the rest of the data points and their outcomes. Apis, I say that we charge Ciganovic a penalty at any rate,’ said Major Tankosic.
‘You are in no position to press orders, Tankosic,’ responded Dimitrijevic in an almost eerie and queer voice. ‘I shall press the charges.’
‘Yes, sir,’ responded Major Tankosic solemnly.
‘Now, we need to discuss who we are going to assassinate to get closer to achieving the creation of a Greater Serbia,’ mentioned Dimitrijevic. ‘I say we attempt to kill Emperor Franz Josef of Austria. Are there any objections?’
‘None!’ Shouted all of the men in the room in perfect and definite unison.
The remaining pieces of the windows shook. More shrapnel fell from the ever crumbling ceiling. More light was let in through the hole. Dimitrijevic rose from his sitting position in his chair and jumped onto the table. Everyone was silent. There was a creaking noise every time Dimitrijevic shifted his weight even the slightest bit.
‘Who is going to assassinate him?’ he inquired of everyone.
Impossibly, the room got even quieter.
‘Nobody wants to assassinate the man that would turn this organisation right?’ said Dimitrijevic confounded. ‘Okay… If nobody chooses to speak, I will speak for them. Tankosic-.’
Major Tankosic tensed, and he felt his teeth grind. He did not want to be the one to assassinate Franz Josef. Why would he?
‘Thank you for your excellent idea.’
’Bloody Christ! I thought I was dead for sure. Who the hell does he think he is fooling? Thought Tankosic.
‘I am going to press some penalties. Ciganovic, you are going to be the head of the assassination. You shan’t be getting your hopes up however because, if anything goes wrong, you’ll be the bloody devil to blame. If you do not get killed by the French, I will certainly fancy killing you myself.’
19 Old Road Llandudno LL30 2NB UK; 28 April 1918:
‘Charlie? Charlie!’ demanded Charlie’s mother anxiously.
‘Yes, Mum?’ yelled Charlie in a high-pitched voice from across the house.
‘I need to speak to you.’
‘What about, Mum?’ said an anxious and concerned young Charlie. He knew it was not Mother’s liberal voice in which she was speaking. Something must be wrong. He hasn’t seen Father in a while. He never really thought about where he could have gone.
‘Just come here, Charlie. I need you to listen. Father is going to go away for a while. Don’t fret, though. We are going to write to Father every day.’
Charlie slowly walks over to his mother. She squats down to reach Charlie’s level. Now Charlie is frightened. If Father is going away for more time than he already has, it can’t be for a good reason. Additionally, if he will be away long enough for us to have to write letters to him to keep in contact, will he write back?
‘Look, Charlie… I need to talk to you about what is going on right now. I am going to tell you the story, and I don’t want you to ask any questions. It will only make the situation worse. I just need you to trust me.’
‘Okay, Mum. Please, tell me the story. I want to know now.’
‘Okay. There are two countries not too far from here, and they are mad at each othe-.’
‘Why are they mad each other?’
‘Charlie, don’t ask questions , remember?’
‘Good. I am going to continue now. Those two countries hurt each other, and now, they are offending other countries and bringing them into the battle. I need you to stay strong and be the man of the house for a while. Father is going to come home. Please keep that in mind.’
‘My I please ask a question?’
‘Go ahead…’ Said Mother reluctantly.
‘Okay. Is our country involved in the battle, Mum?’
‘Unfortunately, our nation is engaged.’
‘Is it because of the agreement we learned about in school?’
‘Yes. Germany attacked Belgium. France is involved, too. If one thing is for sure, it won’t be a disciplined battle. Let us hope it will remain a battle and not a war.’
‘What do you think?’
‘What do you mean ‘I think’, Charlie?’
‘I mean, do you think that the battle will turn into a war?’
‘I don’t know, son,’ Mother started to sob.
‘It’s okay…’ said Charlie, ‘it’s okay.’
They sobbed together.
Wolkersdorf, Austria; 1912
‘I would like to know why you failed, Ciganovic,’ demanded Dimitrijevic.
‘I swear it had nothing to do with me or my troop. The plans that you gave me for when to meet with him and what role I should be didn’t work out. I applied for the job as gardener just as you said. He stated that he already had enough gardeners for the gardens. When that didn’t wor-.’
‘I have heard enough, Ciganovic,’ Dimitrijevic cut him off, ‘You are blaming the failed assassination upon me?! I gave you the plans. You are the one to choose how to use them. Those plans were an outline. Did you expect that I would make you the perfect plans for everything?! I am extremely disappointed in you, your group, and what you have done to this organisation.’
‘I understand…’ replied Ciganovic in a timid voice.
‘Do you remember what I told you?’
Ciganovic took a deep breath and then unconsciously held it. He knew he was about to die.
‘You failed the assassination. The French unfortunately failed to kill you. So, I am going to kill you with my bare hands.’
Ciganovic lets go of his breath. It happened in what felt like a year but only occurred in a split second. Dimitrijevic lightly tapped his index finger on Ciganovic’s shoulder. Ciganovic flinched, tried to turn around but before he could, he felt a pain in his chest, he was forced to the ground, and he vomited blood and gut. Then, it was all over, his heart stopped, his eyes fluttered. Each time they opened and closed, the picture he saw got more splotchy, vivid, dark. Then, all went black.
Loos, France; September 1915
‘Half of our crew has just been shot down. We need to try a different tactic,’ explained Douglas Haig — one of the commanders of the British 1st Army, ‘I say that we use gas.’
‘What?!’ yelled Marshal Joffre, ‘We can’t use gas. That is utterly inhumane. Do you know what gas does to people?’
‘I am quite aware, but it is simply our only choice.’
‘You know it’s not our only option. YOU KNOW IT!’
‘Calm yourself! Our planes aren’t efficient enough. We need something that can knock them out. We are aware some of their weaknesses. They don’t have anyone covering the back entrance of their smaller camps in Southern Loos. If we fly around and drop the gas while we are flying up to the main field, we can hit a lot of people. Then, they’ll suspect the French because they had plans to do just we are going to do. If we can position ourselves correctly and time it just right, in 10 minutes, France will come and finish the job for us.’
‘Ah. You are taking advantage of two countries at once. That is rather smart of you…’
‘Thank you. However, there is one problem, we don’t have gas.’
‘Yes. That is certainly an issue. However, there are multiple tanks of Xylyl bromide at one of the camps in Wales. In fact, it is right by my families house. Perhaps I can get the gas and then take it back. While doing so, saying goodbye to my family for good.’ Said George Clarke confidently.
‘What do you mean, for good?’ asked Haig of Clarke.
‘Gas is incredibly dangerous. Especially Xylyl bromide. One malfunction and the whole thing blows up.’
‘Unfortunately, that’s a chance that we have to take. Clarke, I want you out of here by 2000. Back by 0800.’
‘Yes, sir,’ responded Clarke.
19 Old Road Llandudno LL30 2NB UK; 28 April 1918:
‘Good morning, Charlie!’ said Amelia excitedly.
‘Good morning, Mum! What are we having for breakfast?’
‘How about biscuits?’ recommended Amelia casually.
‘Oh, hmm. Let me rephrase that sentence. Biscuits with strawberries and cream?’
‘By God, it worked, Mum! I would indeed fancy some of that sustenance.’
‘Of course…’ replied Amelia who immediately regretted listening to George and his letters. What a man. He told her to treat Charlie well. She just didn’t expect to be told to feed Charlie her old favourite.
Amelia walked over to the pantry and removed some biscuits. Then, she strode over to the other side of the kitchen to obtain some strawberries for her nourishment requiring young child. After that, she put butter and cream in one cup and enclosed another cup around the top then shook it until both ingredients formed a homogenous mixture.
My very best thought Amelia.
She whipped everything together in the blink of an eye and walked over to Charlie, already sitting quietly at the table, to deliver to him a most divine treat.
Charlie took a single bite and for that single bite came a single word, ‘Scrumptious.’
All of a sudden, Amelia heard the faint sound of a battle plane. Soon, Charlie heard it too.
‘Mum, I hear an aeroplane. Are people trying to find us?’
‘Go to the basement, Charlie,’ commanded Amelia softly.
‘But I don-.’
‘NOW!!’ Amelia’s tone got much harsher and loud all at once.
Charlie rose from his chair and started toward the basement. Until, he realised that he forgot the biscuits.
Amelia looked out the window. The first thing she saw was a tank connected to the bottom of the plane. And then, she saw George.
‘Christ, if it isn’t George! Has he come from the trenches!!’ screamed Amelia. Her head all at once is going numb. Charlie, failing to reach the basement without obtaining his dolls, just experienced a ringing in his ears due to the yelling of his mother.
Charlie came running down the hall and peered through the adjacent window. There he was. Charlie and Amelia both froze. They couldn’t move. George was knocking on the door.
He let himself in. As soon as he walked in, Charlie and Amelia thawed and threw themselves at George.
‘Goodbye, Charlie. Goodbye, Amelia.’ said George solemnly. Amelia started to cry. The reason she didn’t know. All she knew is that George was home. Not anything he had just said.
‘I want to stay, but I must fight. I must endure the consequences it takes for me to know that you will be safe. This might be the last time I set foot on this wood.’
This time, Amelia heard him. ‘NO!! YOU SHAN’T GO! I don’t care about our safety. I just want you home.’
George looked at Amelia. They kissed. George left. Charlie felt like the world ended. They cried once more.
19 Old Road Llandudno LL30 2NB UK; 5 May 1918:
Amelia and Charlie received a telegram one week later. There was a gas explosion. 17 killed. A list of names. George will be remembered forever.