This is the final taster for Citizen Armies that I’m going to put up. And as there’s been a lot of stupid talk from our politicians about the ‘Spirit of Dunkirk’ and how wonderful it was, I thought I might counter it a little by letting one of my characters who was there, tell it as it was.
Jim and Rosie’s first daughter Gracie who has worked as a nurse since the war began, is getting married to her wounded soldier Sam and as you would expect it is a loving occasion.
Then they stood with their arms round each other until Bertie rose to his feet and interrupted them, saying, ‘Come on, Mooch. Cut it short. I got a speech to make.’
He was such an affable looking bloke with his chubby face, his broken nose, his wide spaced brown eyes and his mop of untidy brown hair that the room hushed for him and waited.
‘I asked my Mum what I was supposed to say at this wedding,’ he began, ‘and she said, ‘Tell ‘em a story. Everyone likes a story. Only make it a good un.’ So that’s what I’m gonna do or try to do. It can’t be a story about what Sam here was like as a boy on account of I didn’t know him then. We met in the army. So it’ll have to be a war story.’ And when Sam winced, ‘Don’t make that face. Truth will out you know. Well then, it goes like this. We was on a beach in France, not sunning ourselves an’ whatnot, but being strafed by Stukas, shelled an’ bombed an’ I don’ know what else. Thousands of us there was an’ we’d been waiting to be took off for so many days we’d lost count. And me an’ Sam an’ a bloke called Les, kept each other company an’ swapped ciggies when they was running low and huddled up together at night when it was bleedin’ cold. Pardon my French. An’ finally, it was our turn to wade into the sea and be picked up by one a’ the little boats. And then wouldn’t you know it, just as we was standing in line ready for the off, the Stukas came over, an’ we was machine gunned.’
‘Les took a hit, poor sod. We could see the blood spurting out of his leg. So he says, ‘You two go on,’ he says. ‘They won’t take me, not like this.’ And Sam says ‘Bugger that for a lark. You’re coming with us. Just hop on your good leg an’ lean on my arm. Don’t worry. I’ll take your weight.’
‘And that’s what he did. Must ha’ been nearly half a mile struggling forward with the water getting deeper with every step. But we got there and we was hauled aboard a fishing boat. And it wasn’t till then that we saw Sam had been wounded as well. Hadn’t said a word to either of us an’ his leg was bloody as Les’s.’ Then he turned to look at Gracie and spoke directly to her. ‘You married a hero, Gracie,’ he said.