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BY ROGER SMITH

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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THERE FOR YOUR MATE AT THE FINISH — TERELLE, ITALY

I went in to Ginger, alone on a stretcher in a little alcove at the back of the regimental aid post. He opened his eyes as I squatted beside him. The doctor had made him comfortable; he was no longer in pain but was very, very weary. It took him seconds to blink, and the smile he greeted me with took minutes to develop. Time — and very little of that — was all there was left of this life for Ginger. He seemed to consciously squander each second with an appreciative luxury, as if it would last a hundred years.

I grinned back; there didn’t seem to be much I could say under the circumstances. Slowly, slowly, he spoke to me, with no distress or sense of urgency, enunciating each word clearly and pausing between phrases.

“It’s damn silly, Rod — the crazy bastards. Blow bloody great holes in a bloke, and then expect him to live. Can’t be done, Rod.”

There seemed no point in contradicting a statement we both knew to be true. It was a prospect that left him regretful but undismayed, so I just asked if he would like me to roll him a smoke. With great economy of effort he nodded his eyelids. I took out my tin of weed, glad of something to do, and rolled and lit a cigarette. I turned to put it to Ginger’s lips and discovered I was alone.

 

 

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Copyright Roger Smith, 2000