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Extracts from the book

Flies and worse in the Western Desert
A peculiar addiction to Irish lyrics
Burying the dead — Tebaga Gap
British Army at a minefield near Sfax, Tunisia
The countryside near Sousse, Tunisia
The Padre's tools of trade
A minefield near Takrouna, Tunisia
Kelly in Cairo
Housekeeping in a two-man bivvy in the rain — Sangro, Italy
Falling asleep on duty — Sangro
Kelly dies at the Sangro River
Civilians caught in the frontline — Castel Frantano, Italy
Getting sadness off your chest
Giant drunken zooming fireflies — Alife, Italy
Christmas 1943 — back from the front
Maori Battalion, Trocchio, Italy
Fear, and fear of fear — Cassino, Italy
A break from Cassino
All in a day’s work in the Cassino rubble
There for your mate at the finish — Terelle, Italy

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I lay still as the light grew. Warm, drowsy and relaxed, I was in luxury, knowing there was no need to be alert. Then as I woke more fully, my reluctant brain began its work and rushed unbidden memories to the forefront of my mind. I heard frantic voices calling under the road…saw a pair of drumming heels disappear beneath an avalanche of concrete… Robert’s body with loops of intestine bursting obscenely from its back…a Hun screaming as he writhed in the dust…four tumbled sacks against a kerb, wearing red cross brassards as large as flags.

I shuddered awake, throwing off a chill that stroked the nape of my neck with a frozen fear. I wondered how many other of the forms about me, seemingly still and peaceful, were actually fighting similar battles. Fighting memories that threatened to engulf them. Memories of friends that were no more. Memories of sights and sounds unbelievable in terror. Memories of deeds done with viciousness undreamed of. I looked around at them, the cream of men in my world, and the movement brought two pairs of eyes to focus on my own. Buster and Josh. Each of us could see our own thoughts mirrored in the others’ faces. For a long minute we lay thus, quite silent, growing comfort in the unspoken sympathy between us. Then Buster said: “We’ll get drunk to-night, Rod.”



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Copyright Roger Smith, 2000