Echo beach, p.1
Echo Beach, p.1Ray Daley
Copyright 2/05/13 by Raymond Daley
A man in uniform normally projects an image of control. The young man standing in front of me who looked barely out of his boyhood did not. He oozed fear. And sweat.
Lots of sweat.
The men standing around him all wore the same uniform. They may have been in the same division but they were not his friends. You could tell by the small arc of space between them and him.
The fact that to a man they were all standing with their backs to him threw up red flags of warning, a complete give away. They were a unit, but not united. Regardless of the reason, be he a jinx, an albatross or a millstone, they had clearly but subtly chosen to shun him.
It just made things all that more easy for me. "Buy you a drink, friend?" I'd elbowed my way through to the bar and was standing next to him now, he was a little shorter than I'd thought but the difference was close enough. He looked at me as though I was the first person ever to speak to him.
He gave me that "What, me?" look.
I looked right into his eyes, fixed him with a smile and repeated myself. "Buy you a drink, friend?"
"You mean me?" he asked, still unsure if I was addressing him.
"Sure you, I'm not looking at anyone else am I?" I said.
He wiggled the half pint glass in his hand. "Another one of these things?" He looked at the barmaid, "Bitter was it?" and she nodded. I showed her the colour of my money.
Well it was mine now.
It hadn't been doing any good in the wallets of the two Military Policemen I'd been travelling with earlier. They'd been taking me to the Glasshouse and I'd decided I didn't fancy spending the rest of my war in a prison cell so I'd waited until we went through a tunnel and jumped out of the door, They were now long behind me and I was looking to find my way out of one life and into a better one.
The young Canadian soldier was only just eighteen and clearly petrified to be going to war. And to his death, I'd been listening to him bemoan his lot most of the evening from a safe distance. Little wonder his fellow countrymen were ignoring him, they assumed he was a coward, talking about being a conscientious objector hadn't got him out of military service the way he had assumed it would.
The jaded young lady behind the bar pushed two glasses of the same bitter over the bar leaving us alone quickly after I told her to keep the change from a pound note. She wouldn't be bothering us again, or overhearing our conversation. I passed him a glass and picked up the other.
"To your good health" I toasted.
He gave me a look. "I hope so." he said and drank most of the liquid from the glass with his first gulp. I offered him my drink as well which he emptied with equal gusto to his own.
"You don't seem happy." I said. He shook his head, the reaction I expected. "Wanna talk about it? A problem shared is a problem halved, they say."
"Not here, they don't want to hear me again." He indicated to the crowd behind us.
I glanced toward the door, then back to him. He got my drift, nodded and took the lead. I waited a few moments, giving him enough time to reach the door before making my way through the crowd.
Outside it was fairly bright for an evening, the moon made it almost pleasant for wartime. 'A Bombers moon' was the thought that crossed my mind. I tried to put that thought out of my head, there were no strategic targets anywhere near here that I knew of, I assumed we were safe out here for tonight at least.
"So what's the problem?" I asked him, fairly sure of what his answer was going to be already.
"We're off to war. Probably gonna get killed. I don't wanna die. I haven't even kissed a girl yet." His response was close enough to what I'd expected.
"When are you leaving here?" I asked.
"Can't say. Mission is hush-hush." he replied.
"Not the mission. Here, the pub. When are you due back on duty?" I asked.
"About thirty minutes or so. There's a truck coming to take us all back. This was our last liberty before we go." He knew even this was telling me too much but I don't think he cared any more. Either the booze or the fact of his assumed impending demise.
"Just don't go?" I suggested.
"Don't wanna get shot for desertion. If I'm gonna die, I'd rather go fighting." he said.
I paused. The night was silent apart from the hubbub of activity inside the bar.
"There's another way maybe? If you're interested?" I left my statement as open as I could.
He looked at me, clearly unsure but eager to hear any way to live. "Do tell?" he said.
"I'm guessing those fellas you're with don't really take all that much notice of you? Don't talk to you much?"
"They'd maybe struggle to describe your face if I went inside and asked them to?"
Again he nodded.
"What if you could swap places? With someone who wanted to go to war? Switched places, switched identities?" I made my suggestion and the silence fell again.
I could see him mulling it over.
"We aren't that different in height and build. I'm guessing your clothes would just about fit me, mine might be a little big on you but it'd work. Just a matter of switching photos on ID cards and I just happen to have a little glue I picked up just for that very purpose. I'd be you, you'd be me. You'd be more than welcome to keep whatever money you have on you."
I had his interest now.
"But what about the Army training?" he asked.
"It's okay, I did most of it before having a small issue that meant I had to leave the service in rather a hurry. I'd still like to serve though, I don't mind which Army." I said.
"So how do I get out of here?" he asked.
"Simple," I replied "We'll swap clothes, switch our photos and you can just walk to the nearest train station. Catch the next train away from here, I'll get on the truck in your place. You can live out the rest of the war right here in England as a civilian."
He was still unsure. I explained there was no point in him trying to go to my home, it'd already been bombed out of existence. A small lie, but one that would protect him as the first place those Military Police would start looking for me would be my last known address. I didn't want them to arrest him in my place, I hoped to reclaim my life after the war was over.
My crime wasn't terrible, I'd knocked out an Officer after a difference of opinion. He'd ordered me to do something and I'd refused. My escape on the train had been my only real plan, I hadn't had any clue what I was going to do once I'd jumped off. I had assumed I was going to find somewhere quiet like a farm and hide out there for a few weeks or months then gradually make my way back home and try to enlist again under another name.
I looked at him. "It's this or the truck, and that's gonna be here real soon. So you'd better make up your mind." I said.
He started to remove his tunic.
Echo Beach by Ray Daley / Actions & Adventure / History & Fiction have rating 2.8 out of 5 / Based on17 votes