Blood, Mud and Corpses (A Royal Zombie Corps Story)C. M. Harald / Fantasy / History & Fiction
Blood, Mud and Corpses
(A Royal Zombie Corps Story)
By C. M. Harald
Copyright © 2016 C. M. Harald
All Rights Reserved.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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"The war had been going badly for the Allies. The great offensive on the Somme had been a disaster. The casualty rates were horrific for both sides, one advancing into a hail of machine gun bullets, the other crushed under the weight of artillery.
The Battle of Arras was meant to be a turning point in the war. There were stories, rumours even, of strange events. Stories that circulated among us Tommies, of a phantom battalion that battered through a hail of machine gun fire, falling upon the Germans with unheard of rage. They called them Tigers."
Oliver Gill. Captain in the 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. Interviewed post-war for an unpublished research paper on the Battle of Arras, 1917.
"Without the timely intervention of the new forms of warfare, it is likely that the conflict would have been drawn out and significantly costlier in terms of lives. The extensive contributions of the new branches of the military, most notably, the Royal Tank Corps, the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Zombie Corps, had a significant impact on the duration of the war and substantially contributed to the successful conclusion of the endeavour."
British Government White Paper on the post-war reorganisation of the Armed Forces, July 1919.
'Stand to attention!' Spittle flew from the barked order, narrowly missing Alfie Marsh as he further straightened his already rigid body. This was barely better than before, and certainly not to the satisfaction of the drill instructor. It did not really matter how hard Alfie tried, as the new uniform was a size too big and even should it have fit perfectly, Alfie would still have looked scruffy in it, a special talent that he had always possessed.
The drill instructor, Corporal Simpson, walked around the new recruit, singling him out from the rest of the squad for that special, personal attention, that only an instructor could give. There was nothing new in this, Alfie had seen it happen a dozen times since he had arrived a week ago, he had been on the receiving end on the majority of those occasions.
'Boots are disgusting.' The corporal snapped, scuffing the imperfectly shining surface with his heel, 'I should be able to see my face in them.' It did not matter how many hours Alfie spent polishing the boots, he could not get them right, and on the one occasion that he did, they had been splashed by a puddle on his way out of the barrack block.
'Shoulders back, chest out.' Alfie braced even further in response to the command before the corporal continued to the squad in general, 'Useless, all of you. You're meant to terrify Kaiser Bill, not make him die of laughter.'
After a range of suitable insults, the drill session continued. Hours were spent marching around the parade ground in perfect order; dressing left and dressing right; forming fours and about turning. More than once their errors brought the complaint of 'bloody conscripts' from the drill instructor.
With a resigned air, the recruits counted off the minutes until 4.15, slyly watching the clock on the north side of the parade ground. Week after week of drill, spit and polish lay behind them, an almost unchanging routine designed to instil discipline and uniformity, while increasing stamina. At least they were getting better at the drills, steadily turning from civilians into soldiers, even if Corporal Simpson would not acknowledge it. None of them had volunteered for military service. They were among the first wave of conscripts to be called up after January 1916, following the introduction of compulsory military service. Most of the regular army had been destroyed in the brutal battles of 1914 and 1915, with the remainder brought back to Britain to train their replacements, or spread across the volunteer army to give the patriotic enthusiasts some experience. That volunteer army had enthusiastically answered General Kitchener's, and Britain's call, in 1914 and early 1915, The volunteers, hurriedly trained, had been entering the field for the last year.
'Bloody army.' Joshua Wells muttered when he thought the corporal was out of earshot, 'Should have volunteered for the navy when I 'ad the chance.'
'Rum, bum and concertina, eh?' Alfie quipped back the old saying about the navy.
'Silence in the ranks!' Bellowed the corporal.
Alfie Marsh had not volunteered at the start of the war, unlike his brother James who was now somewhere in Belgium with his regiment. James had joined in the period after the declaration of war when enthusiastic young men signed on for a quick and glorious war. With a great many of his friends, they had marched together to Canterbury to join up; they had trained together; and now the group of friends served together in the 12th (Eastern) Division. While the 'Pals' battalions had been highly popular, the conscripts that Alfie was among were mixed up across different areas to avoid any one community having to shoulder too many casualties from the conflict. There had been rumours of whole towns losing their young men in single battles as Kitchener's Army took the field.
Eventually the drill came to an end, precisely on time. The recruits were dismissed, and with the exception of those who were on fatigues or work parties, they were able to spend their time polishing their boots and preparing their kit for inspection the next morning. There was a subdued air about them as they wandered off to their evening of preparation. The work may be different from the exercise of the day, but it was still physically tiring as well as tedious.
Marsh was on fatigues again. He had lost track of the reason, as he spent most of his spare time receiving one punishment or another. It could have been that his bed was not correctly made or his frugal possessions not adequately stowed away; maybe it was due to a drill mistake, or because the crease on his trousers was not quite correct. All his instructors took glee in pointing out his many failures as a soldier. On this occasion the punishment was running laps of the parade ground carrying a full sandbag on his shoulders. The sand got everywhere, stinking of the stale dog-ends that had been extinguished in it at some earlier time. Alfie knew that after this punishment it would take him hours to clean up his kit, but it would have to be ready for the morning.
After a few weeks of drill, the training began to get interesting. By this point Alfie was almost able to keep up with the expectations about his appearance and kit, with much help from Joshua Wells. Wells was a slight young man, the same age as Alfie, from the east end of London. Wells had taken Alfie under his wing, in between trying to smuggle extra cigarettes to the rest of the squad. These cigarettes were 'acquired' at the central stores and then sold on for more than the going rate. There were plenty of ready takers as the weekly tobacco ration, while generous, was not enough for some. Very occasionally, Wells would sell on small quantities of contraband alcohol, but he was always careful as he did not want to draw attention to his activities by getting his fellow trainees drunk.
Moving away from the parade ground, there followed a few field exercises. The first night exercise had been a near disaster, with Wells preventing Marsh from wandering off on his own when the squad paused for a break in their marching. Alfie had disappeared into the woods to relieve himself, but had quickly become disorientated in the dark and had promptly fallen into a drainage ditch. Wells had tracked down his shouting for help and brought him back to the road. They had then both been on the receiving end of a long dressing down from the instructor, who had added an extra two miles to the route as a punishment. This had not gone down well with the rest of the squad and for the next few days, Marsh had found that his kit was tampered with prior to inspection; always something different such as a muddy handprint on his sheet or a scuff on his boots. After a while, the punishments from the squad had eased off as they saw him rise to the challenge and improve his soldiering. However, he was still not good enough for the instructors.
'Run towards Fritz, stick it in 'im, twist, thrust again and pull out.' Barked the instructor, his voice projecting across the assembled ranks while he