It was the morning of 24 June. Before sunrise. The barrage had ended. Major Kestel ran out of the dugout, followed my Evans. She set about inspecting the Battalion, getting ready for the inevitable attack. During the inspection of Fox Company Evans had time to quickly revisit old friends. Tiscornia was inspecting the soldiers under his command. He quickly said to Evans, “You know, my first real battle was here. Tsiv River. Would be kinda poetic if I died here eh? Then I’d get to go home. Mary. Renoir. Stanhope. Sinclair… Have I ever told you about my sister?”
“Yeah,” Evans shrugged, “You said she looks like my wife.”
“Not just looked. Acted. Just the way she carries herself. The way she talks. When I see her… It’s almost like… About a month after I joined up, on the train back to Liguria, she got a fever. A month later…. I’ll see you soon Adelina.”
Tiscornia turned back to his soldiers, who were understandably shocked overhearing this conversation. Evans tried to reassure the soldiers, “Tiscornia helped make me the soldier I am today. Pay attention to him kids and you might make it out alive…” Kids… Evans was twenty one. But these new privates looked so young. God. Was it possible that they were eighteen? They looked fifteen at best. Had he looked this young two years ago at White Beach? Fucking Hell. These were someone’s kids. In less than twenty years this could be Mary or Graham or Paul. And in a few hours they were likely to be dead.
Major Kestel waved him over. Evans was glad for the excuse to turn away. If he looked at those kids any longer he’d start crying.
She was about to tell him something when a rumbling started up over from the Vledscan lines. It sounded like hundreds of tractor engines starting up. Major Kestel moved to the edge of the trench and looked through a mounted periscope. She stepped back with a worried look on her face, “Everyone to the firestep. NOW!” She turned to two of her runners, “Move to the D and E Companies and inform their commanders of my position. Tell them Machine Guns fire at 2 clicks. Mortars at seven hundred meters. Rifles at 500. See if any of them have Charles Rifles.” She turned to a third runner, “Find out from the Colonel what the HECK those things are.”
Evans peaked over the parapet. A long line of large metal… things were spaced evenly on the horizon. Black smoke billowed from them.
He heard shouts from the soldiers of Fox Company.
“The fuck are those things?”
“We’re gonna die.”
“Oh God. Oh God.”
Evans looked at one of Tiscornia’s kids. Her hands were shaking. He stepped over to her and patted her on the back, “Hey kid, what’s your name?”
“I… I’m Anna Sir… I mean Sergeant. I mean. I’m Private Howe.”
Evans smiled and said, “No shit. My wife’s named Anna. Where you from Anna?”
Howe put on a nervous smile, ”Didcot Sergeant. It’s-”
Evans cut her off, “East of Strongfield? I’m from Halton. Must have passed through Didcot a thousand times bringing crops to market. After this blows over, we should get together and chat. Not every day you meet someone from down the road of your hometown.”
“Yes… Sergeant…” Howe shuddered, “You’re Sergeant Evans, right Sir. I mean Sergeant.”
“Yes Anna,” Evans smiled, “What about it?”
“Is it true what they say about you Sergeant?” She stuttered, “How… How aren’t you afraid?”
There was a short blast of a whistle. Evans could see a flurry of activity around Major Kestel, but she didn’t seem to need him yet. He shrugged and dodged the second question, “What do they say about me?”
“Stop bothering the man Howe.”
“It’s fine Dom. I felt the same way my first show. Plus, what’s really my job right now? The Major doesn’t really need any sewing or typing done.” Evans turned back to Howe, “Continue.”
“That you rescued a intelligence officer by riding a horse through enemy fire. That you escaped a Prison camp. That you saved,” Howe’s voice became quiet, “Her Grace from a sinking ship by swimming her to a patrol boat under fire. That you got hit by an artillery shell and have been shot in the head. That you-”
“MOVEMENT!” one of the Sergeants to the right shouted.
Evans looked at Howe, “Don’t worry kid. You’ll be fine.”