07 September 2007

Story: "The Big Push", Part Two

22nd February, 2008, 6:54 PM: Darkness had fallen over the trench belonging to the Windsorian Army’s Third Company nearly two hours before, and while Corporal Alun Graves’, a brunet, eagle-eyed, Action Man, Action Soldier, who was one of the last surviving veterans of the war’s opening days, eyes had long since adjusted to the gloom, as he walked down the line of soldiers standing at attention, waiting for 7:00 PM, and the signal to go over the trench’s top toward the enemy lines, there were one or two times where he had to hesitate while moving on the wooden duckboards that covered the trench’s dirt floor.

Graves was performing a last-minute inspection of the soldiers’ equipment webbing and weapons, a job, he thought, that would normally be the Platoon Sergeant’s, except that, with so many additions to the company, and the Windsorian Army’s ranks as a whole, in preparation for what was supposed to be the last “Big Push” of this war, and victory, he and the other corporals and lance-corporals were having to do much of the tasks that would normally have been the Company and Platoon Sergeants’ lots, since the former were swamped with the tasks of keeping so many new, and, in many cases, either trained but un-battle experienced, half-trained and in-experienced, or completely un-trained and inexperienced men organised and functioning even somewhat in the manner that a proper fighting company should be.

Hence, his checking the men’s equipment and weaponry to make sure that they were in working order, or, that they at least had equipment and weapons.

“Merrill (first name of Merrill Hassenfeld, who was in charge at Hasbro Toys when GI Joe was created in 1963-64, and regarded by most action figures as the primary “Creator”, or god-figure by them)”, Graves mentally blasphemed, as he walked down the line, stopping for no more than a minute to inspect every man’s equipment and weapons, before moving on, “what a lot of Odds and Sods, we’ve got here.”

While most of the men standing at attention in the three long lines of thirty men each, one ranked in front of the other, and crowding the trench so badly that there was barely room for Graves to walk in front of them, would probably have taken exception to his description of them, they would have agreed with him that they were a mixed lot indeed.

Every available Army occupation from clerk-typists for the General Staff, to cooks, cooks’ assistants, latrine diggers, mechanics, and even military policemen, was represented in the trench, as well as almost every civilian occupation found within the Kingdom of Windsor itself-everything from minor nobles, respectable businessmen, lay clergy, and stock brokers, to factory workers, shop assistants, rubbish collectors, rag-and-bone men, tramps, and even prisoners, along with their warders, from the city and Royal prisons.

Every racial and ethnic group possible, from Europeans and Africans, to Asians of various ethnicities, Latin and Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and many others, were found in those lines, as were Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Jains, and, of course, members of the majority faith, the Church of the Creators, which was both liturgically and organizationally much like Christianity, only with the names of the various Creators substituted for those of God, the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.

Of the latter, most belonged to the Official Church of Windsor, which had the King as its titular head, though there were also those present who belonged to the several Dissenting sects as well.

The ranks were also greatly varied in age and physical condition, ranging from Action Men, GI Joes, Dragon Models’, and many other sorts of figures, who, except for being customised to fit their individual and social roles, would have been considered C-10 or C-9, or practically fresh out of the box by action figure collectors, to those who were only C-4 or even C-3, or bad to poor shape, and good only for parts.
Then, there were, and this is what Graves found most disturbing as he made his way down the line, those figures who were only “Confies”, or newly psychologically matured, and even a few “Weebs”, who hadn’t even reached that stage yet.

“What the Levine (surname of Don Levine, GI Joe’s designer and akin to Jesus Christ in the Church of the Creators’ theology) are THEY doing here?” he wondered as he checked another soldier’s weapon, “They should be in school, or playin’ tiddelywinks, or somethin’ like that, not out here. They don’t have sense enough to tell a C.B (general figure slang for a Cherry Bomb firework) from a Green Gutter (also general military figure slang for a class of mortar fragmentation shell, usually green-coloured). Be absolutely useless out here. They MUST be getting’ desperate, if they puttin’ Weebs into the line.”

Graves finished checking the soldier’s weapon and handed it back to him without saying a word, then passed on to the next one, a Power Team figure dressed in a rumpled Soldiers Of The World Korean War Canadian Sergeant’s uniform that had seen far better days.

While he checked the webbing and equipment (the former was original to the outfit, with the pouches and such being moulded on, and inoperable) of his newest charge, Graves heard one such Weeb, a Dragon Kenneth, whisper to his friend, a blond GI Joe Classic Collection “blockhead”(so-called by action figure collectors and figures alike because of their square-shaped heads), “Oi, Georgie!!! You scared??? ‘Cos, I sure am!”
Georgie’s response was direct and immediate, “No, of course not. Only girls and sissies’d be scared.”
Graves said nothing as he finished checking his charge’s SOTW Lee-Enfield Mark Two rifle, and handed it back to him, then walked over to the Kenneth weeb, dressed in a mix of British military garb from various toy manufacturers, blue corduroy Ken doll pants, and a pair of knock-off GI Joe style short boots with a split running down the rear middle of the left boot, who was staring at him rather nervously as he approached, afraid that the big, tough soldier in front of him would laugh at him for being scared.

Instead, as Graves inspected the stripling’s equipment and weapon (a SOTW Colt .45 1911 automatic pistol), he told the youngster, “ Nowt wrong with bein’ scared, lad. It’s normal to be scared before a big push like this. Just don’t let it get in your way, and you’ll be fine.”

Graves knew that wasn’t entirely true, as sometimes, some people simply couldn’t push their fears of being wounded or dying out of the way during a battle, much less guarantee that the youth would be all right at battle’s end. No one could make that guarantee, really, and Graves knew it. Still, the boy needed bucking up, and it was sometimes better to feed a little white lie or two to someone who would otherwise be panicking and upsetting the unit’s morale, than to bluntly tell him otherwise, and make him not only useless to the unit and himself, but positively dangerous to both as well.

Graves gave the now considerably more relaxed weeb an avuncular smile, and a quick pat on the left shoulder, as he finished his inspection and got ready to move to the youngster’s friend. “The boy smiled back, and Graves said in his warmest tones, “There’s a good lad.”

His tone to Georgie, on the other hand, was a bit colder, and his words even harsher, as he checked the latter are gear and weapon, “Y’know, Lad. If you had any brains at all, you would be scared.”

Stung by Grave’s remark, Georgie asked, in a very un-amused tone of voice, “Yeah??? Well, how about you? Are you scared?”

Graves, who was now busy inspecting the equipment of the next soldier over, said, “Yeah. But, I don’t let it control me. I control it. That’s the difference, mate. Now, no talking in ranks.”

Suitably chastised, much to his friend’s amusement, Georgie said not another word.

Graves, after finishing his latest inspection, brought his left wrist, upon which was a watch with a glow-in-the-dark dial activated by pushing a button on its right side, saw the time, 6:56 PM, illuminated on the watch-dial’s face, and thought, “Bloody Hell, one minute to kick-off”, meaning the intense artillery, or “hurricane”, bombardment of the enemy’s positions, due to start in a minute’s time, “Better finish up fast before the Sarn’t and the Brass Hats get here.”

So, with two men left standing in the first rank of the assembly, Graves decided to dispense with checking each piece of equipment and webbing, settling for just a quick, cursory glance at them, and an equally fast visual inspection of the men’s weapons as well.

He hated having to use a short-cut like this, but, under the circumstances, there wasn’t anything else Graves’s felt he could do.

So, after giving the new, truncated inspection to the remaining duo of soldiers in the first rank, he shoved his way in between the crowded ranks of the first and second lines, grunting as he did so, and thinking that it would be a very unlikely possibility to get all of these men up and out of the trench when the time came, as crowded together as they all were.

Still, Graves managed to make his way up the line, all the while noting the presence of mixed items of various manufacturers, British Army, other armies’ and civilian clothing and equipment, and the array of weapons ranging from Dragon, 21st Century and Hasbro copies of the SA-80, the British Army’s current standard field weapon, to miniature Lee-Enfield SMLE bolt-action rifles, Martini-Henry lever-action rifles, Brown Bess muskets, various sorts of shotguns, hunting rifles and pistols, and even various kinds of pikes, halberds, axes, swords, daggers and knives, carried or worn by their various owners.

At the very head of the second rank, he even came across a golf club held by a vintage GI Joe Adventure Team Adventurer, who was dressed in, of all conceivable clothes, a navy-blue, pin-striped, three-piece suit, complete with watch fob and a black bowler perched atop his head.

This posh customer looked more at home in the offices of an accountant’s or a stock brokerage house, than in a trench, four minutes away from a massive infantry assault upon enemy positions, and Graves didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at such an absurd sight.

But, there the fellow was, and Graves kept his composure, though he couldn’t resist adding a humourous jab at the curious sight in front of him, “Evenin’, Squire??? And, where are we off to this evenin’, then???”

Nonplussed, the squire-turned-soldier briskly said, “The same destination as you, my dear fellow.”

Graves wasn’t sure whether or not to be amused or give Mr. Posh a good strafing for what would, in ordinary circumstances, be considered his rather un-military form of addressing a superior.

He decided on the former, instead. “Right. Now, is that golf club all you have on you? The enemy won’t be throwing golf balls at us, you know.”

Mr. Posh replied, “ Oh, no. The golf club, I brought from home, but they also issued me a pistol at the depot, when I reported there,” indicating a black pistol holster and belt around his waist.

Graves asked, “Mind if I have a look at your weapon, sir???”

The gent responded, “Oh, no. Not at all,” and pulled out from the holster, a Soldiers Of The World replica 1851 Colt Navy revolver, for the corporal to see.

Graves whistled and said, “That’s a bit of gun, all right. Ever fired one before???”

The gent merely said, “No, I haven’t. But, I imagine I shall pick up the general idea as I go along”, in an airily confident, throwaway, tone.

Graves thought, “If you don’t get yourself bloody well killed first, you might,” but merely said, “I see.”
At that point, Graves gave into the curiosity provoked by the gent’s appearance and rather blasé attitude, and asked him, “So, what’d ya do back in Civvy Street, Guv’nor??”

Without missing a beat, the “Guv’nor” stated, as though he were at a business luncheon, instead of in a trench and about to go over its top, “Ah, well, I’m a chartered accountant, with the firm of Shropshire, Derby, Leicester, and Davidoff. Perhaps, you’ve heard of us?”

Graves shook his head, “Sorry, no I haven’t.”

The gent replied in a rather crest-fallen tone, “Pity. Well, I suppose you wouldn’t have out here, would you?”

Graves matter-of-factly said, “No, I reckon not,” then looked down at his watch again. The hands on the illuminated dial said 6:56 and 30 seconds. Practically no time left to inspect any more soldiers and get back to his appointed place in time before the Company and Platoon Sergeants’ arrival, and, more importantly, his Battalion and Company officers’.

So, just before turning to head over to his designated spot just one step ahead of the first rank on its left-hand side, he said to the accountant –turned-squaddie, “Well, good luck to you out there.”
The accountant cheerily replied, “And likewise to you, erm….”

“Graves, Corporal Graves.”

“Nujoma, Samuel Coleridge Taylor Nujoma, at your service.”

Then, Graves turned around and headed to his spot, where, upon reaching it, he looked over to his right, and saw his mate, a fellow corporal and GI Joe eagle-eye Man Of Action named Jeff Baker, who was dressed in a 21st Century Toys Vietnam US Army Platoon Leader fatigues outfit, with a GI Joe green American helmet on his head, and armed with a GI Joe copy of an M-1 Garand rifle, looking at him with something of a half-repressed snicker at the little scene he’d witnessed on his face.

Graves returned a wan version of Baker’s snicker, then turned his head facing straight towards the trench’s front wall, as he, and the rest of the company, heard the Company and Platoon Sergeant’s approaching foot-steps.

The time was 6:56 PM, with 15 seconds to go before the bombardment commenced.

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