War and History Fiction posted February 6, 2015


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Story five...

~ SHOT AT DAWN ~ ~ Almost A Hero~

by write hand blue













 

  STORY FIVE.
            by
Write hand Blue


                                            'Almost a Hero.'

                                               ≈♦≈




February 17th 1916

Near Reims, Northern France and well behind the allied front line.



Private Andrew Harris's voice slurred as his bloody mouth dug him deeper into trouble, "I'm not one of those idiots that gets themselves killed at the front for no reason. No Sireeh," he slavered, "I don't come from the Glasgow Gorbels for nothing!"

The jagged scars on his face bore testament to his character. He knew nothing else, fighting was his life: it was the way he had been dragged up.

Picked up by the Military Police for desertion, the handcuffs he wore made it difficult to keep his seat in the bouncing military police van. This was not the first time he had been escorted by two military police in this novel but uncomfortable form of transport.

His anger spilled forth in crazy drunken shouts, as he vented his spleen. "Took my Champagne; A WHOLE BLOODY CRATE--YOU BASTARDS!"

"You've been warned, Harris. If you want some more, just carry on," Sergeant Thomson dropped his rifle butt painfully hard onto Harris's alcohol deadened right foot.

"Corporal Jones, keep your eyes on our prisoner. He's dangerous when drunk."

The Private laughed as only a drunk could: loud and uncontrolled, "Haah!--Haah!--Haah!" He spat the words, "You should see me when I'm sober!"

An expression, perhaps a sign of hidden problems provided an unsettled countenance. Then the laughter burst forth again--disturbed and lengthy.

The Sergeant shook his head. "But for The Grace Of God." the rest he left unsaid.

In spite of the straw packing, the bottles clinked together in that rough wooden box under the seat. And a grin cracked across the Sergeant's face.

"Captain Greenly will be pleased with his bottle. Told me he liked French Champagne--he did too, and if I found any for him he'd see me right for extra leave, and gave me a wink."

A sound drew the attention of the Sergeant, as Harris purposefully coughed, spluttered and spat out onto the road, "Don't you dare spew up in here!"

Private Harris used a finger to block each nostril in turn, as he noisily snotted his nose. This left two lumps of congealed blood that looked like small black slugs on the grey van floor.

"You--Dirty--Bastard!" exclaimed the Corporal.

Harris started to laugh again. The van turned left and drove for fifty yards to a huge Manor House.

As they came to a squeaking halt, the extensive coverage of green ivy was the first thing that caught the eye. The three of them quickly climbed a flight of steps and entered a hall with a ceiling that rose out of sight. Baronial splendour fed the eyes of all who entered the fine sitting room on the right, only to be spoiled by the war department desks strewn about, seemingly at random.

Captain Greenly surveyed with disdain the dirty, battered and bloody figure that slouched in front of his desk

"Stand to attention in front of your Commanding Officer!" he barked.

A shrug of Harris's shoulders drew an annoyed look from the Sergeant.

"I don't quite know where you are heading, Private Harris. You disappeared again after you delivered your despatch. And what happened to your motorbike?"

"Sir, I ran into a German advanced raiding party. I did a quick one-eighty and darted back the way I had just come. They fired, and a stray shot hit the cylinder head. This caused me to crash, and I had to abandon it."

"So where have you been, and why were you found drunk by the military police?"

"I found shelter in a ruined farmhouse and discovered a hidden cellar."

"And you decided to loot the contents?"

"Sir, I had to hide there for four days."

"Take him to the cells. I've heard enough."

The Sergeant and Corporal marched Private Harris out of the room at double time. A certain Captain Henry Parker had been listening to the proceedings from a nearby desk and walked over.

"Captain Greenly, about this Private Harris, I have been looking at his record. What is your assessment of him?"

"He does not respond to discipline, is badly behaved and violent. He is something of a nightmare, actually."

"Is it true that he has had several near scrapes with the enemy? You see, I'm trying to get to know him." Captain Parker looked thoughtful.

"Yes, he travels about behind our lines as a despatch rider. This has brought him into contact with the enemy once or twice. As regards getting to know him, you're welcome."

"My assessment is that he is a psychopath and just what I'm looking for--a lone wolf." He handed a letter to Capt. Greenly.

A low whistle escaped his lips, "Signed by the secretary to the War Cabinet."

"To save you reading it all--basically you are required to help me in any way I ask."


♦♦♦

Later.

In a make-shift detention room, Private Harris sat at a table playing Solitaire. Outside an MP stood guard.

An ignored Captain Parker walked in, sat down, and without any preamble, announced.

"I have a task for you, Harris. You have a choice. Volunteer for this work, and your slate will be wiped clean. Or face a courts marshal for desertion during a war. I don't need to point out what the penalty will be." The Capt. waited.

The only response was a long look.

"By using stealth, I want you to kill the enemy. I want them to be scared for their safety. I want you to cause trouble to the Germans by any means. I want you, Harris, to put the fear of Christ into them. That is your mission."

Through an alcoholic haze, he had sat through the Capt's briefing in silent thought.

A slight nod was his acknowledgement.

"You are to be supplied with any weapons and equipment you require and issued with a letter of safe conduct. This will enable you to act independently. You are required to inform the relevant commanding officer when you operate in his area. Have you any questions?"

A silence descended.

"Well? Make no mistake; if you slip back to your old habits then you will be executed. I will see to that." He noticed that Private Harris looked excited.

"The main thing I want is a new motor bike. I need the speed to keep in front of the MPs." A slight smile indicated a sliver of humour. "Also some explosives and a German trench knife. They are so much better than ours when shortened. They penetrate better. And a sharp 'Cut Throat' razor," he said with an evil smile.

The Captain had a feeling that he had picked the right man.

"You start tomorrow!"


♦♦♦

Only days later, unrest on the German front line was detected by French spies, in areas where Private Harris had been active. Signal intercepts showed significant increased activity. It was too late for the Germans to catch him of course, because by then he had disappeared.

He employed hit and run tactics, and over the course of the next several weeks, he was a busy man. Captain Parker had tried to keep up with him, but his murderous Private was always one step ahead.

It was on the morning of the sixth of October 1916 when the Captain finally caught up with him in a small French cafe near Reims.

"Well Private Harris, how are you?"

"Dunno--ok I suppose," he answered guardedly.

"You haven't reported to me as you were ordered?"

"Yeh Well!"

"What's--'yeh well'--supposed to mean? And what about an occasional 'Sir'--now and then?"

"It's just the way I am--Sir!"

The Captain nodded. It was then that he noticed the blood encrusted around the nails of the Private's right hand. Looking up into his face, he could see black rims circling his eyes like a coalminer.

"What do you use to black your face?"

"Charcoal and beef fat--Sir!"

"Tell me about last night, Harris."

The Private took his time as he drained his tumbler of cheap red table wine and placed it onto the rough wood of the planked table.

"Last night turned out all right in the end. I crawled under our barbed wire and into No Man's Land at 2345 hours. As always, I used my two sacks sewn together to go over me with the two bamboo canes. Makes me hard to see even with the lights."

He stopped as he thought about it, and a slight smile visited one side of his face.

"I can't see where I'm going half the time, but then neither can the Jerries."

He paused as he looked at his empty glass. The hint was ignored.

"It's surprising how far you can crawl in two hours and how simple it is to climb into a German front line trench. All you have to do is follow the smell of their cigarettes. I
stalked silently into the trench and took my time as always, to become as one with Mother Earth--that perfect disguise. The first sentry was just a young kid to whom I gave a 'Glasgow Yawn'." he was soon quiet, and that was all right."

The Captain interrupted, "A what?"

"That was what I wanted the razor for; ideal for the job. One side to the other and down to the spine. Done in a second." The Private drew his index finger across his throat." It was the other bastard that was snoring on duty. He made so much noise as I gave him the same as his friend. I did manage to leave my calling card--I took another of these."

He fished about in his pocket and dumped five or six strange objects covered in dried blood onto the table. Close inspection by the Captain revealed them to be dried human ears.

"I couldn't hang around. It's a shame because I'm quite partial to their food. So I had to leave my five pound charge with it's thirty-second delay primed. It was a close squick, but I was able to leg it back to our lines in quick time. Shell holes, pools of black on a moonless night gave me cover. Those Hessian sacks broke up my shape too. Don't know if the Jerries were upset or not, but the gunners couldn't shoot for toffee last night. They couldn't hit a barn door."

"I spoke to the C.O. earlier, and he said there was a report of screams in the distance, followed by an explosion at about 2 am. Then the shooting started. You're creating a stir on the other side. Do you know the Jerries call you Schwarz Teufel? It means in English 'Black Devil."

"That's got to be worth a bottle of this cheap wine--Sir!"

"You have found your place in this army, Private Harris. I must admit I'm pleased with you. There's your bottle."

The Captain dropped a one frank piece onto the table and stood up.

His parting words were, "Keep up the good work, and make sure you don't go back to your old habits."


♦♦♦

He soon returned to his old habits and absconded. Wanted for killing a fellow soldier who cheated at a card game. He was picked up again by MPs--drunk. Eventually he was tried and found guilty of murder.

Three months later, Private Andrew Harris stood screaming and pleading for his life. Then an abrupt silence, as loud bangs drilled out his life. A smoke cloud drifted over his pathetic form.

"He never worried about killing others. Who would have thought that he valued his own life so much? This is the best thing for him, really. I've never seen such a dangerous man. Not the sort of person you want wandering about the streets after the war," said Captain Parker to a fellow officer...



                                                                                                       ≈♦≈















 


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Notes.
This story though fictional, serves to illustrate the range of offenses that attracted the death penalty. There were a few individuals that were executed for murder. This was in line with civilian courts who also used capital punishment for murder.

The Gorbels was an area of Glasgow, Scotland that was notorious for it's poverty, crime and violence. Clearing the tenement blocks in the 1960s and building high rise flats did little to change the bad name of the area.

Cut throat razors were/are a favorite weapon used by gangs and nut cases.

Once again as always I thank you all for reading and perhaps reviewing this work.

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