A couple of Tommies, no rank, stand on sentry duty at the entrance to a dugout. The sound of this boy calling for help upsets them.
“I can’t stand that racket.”
“Who is it?”
The soldier shrugs his shoulders as if he doesn’t care. They are joined by the company Sergeant who has a point of view.
“That’s the young lad went in for Jack.” The Sergeant says. He looks around at the unlikely lads. “Which one of you has balls of steel?”
“Which one fancies a few days extra leave in Arras?”
“Blighty for me. I’ve had no leave home in nearly two year.” Says the first.
“Any leave would do for me. I’ll do it.” Says the second.
“Wait on. I didn’t say I’d not go.”
“You were just about to call him a gonner.”
They argue. It is after all a life and death issue, though they treat it as if they are arguing over a bet of a few pennies. Weeks of boredom are relieved like this. They both volunteer. The Sergeant takes out a tuu’penny bit and they toss for for it. The first soldier wins and you’d think he was already off to an estaminet in Arras the the Red Cross tent for stationery and a letter home, a dip in a tub of hot water and a change of clothes that might turn out less ill fitting that these. He heads onto the duckboards with the Sergeant.
Moving closer along the ground towards the shellhole we pick out a dead soldier, it is Gartenfeld. The British plane continues to drone overhead. Ettie looks up. She spots it – a Bristol Fighter. She wishes she was up there rather than in this stinking hole of filth.
A Bristish pilot takes his time. There’s no trouble from German planes. They’re high enough up not to be bothered by rifle or machine gun shots. We pick out the pilot, Gustav – or as his squadron know him George Hepple.
We can make out the opposing trench lines, a massive crater, shell-holes and the devastation in No Mans Land. Away from the lines we see tracks, light railway lines and a canal picking its way across the landscape from north to south. The observer in the back of the plane, Anandale, leans over the side of the plane with a bulky camera and takes a picture over the German reserve lines. Far below mist forms and thickens along the length of a canal.
Gustav, as we’ll continue to call him, though his identity is unknown to all around him, swings the British plane towards the rising sun, then faces north. The coast and the English Channel as we know it can be made out in the far distance. The observer, Anandale pulls a plate from the back of the camera between his feet and puts it into a leather satchel, puts in a new plate, then raises the camera over the side of the plane to take another shot as they pass over a canal where mist forms, spreading out on both banks.
A moment later the plane is caught by an incendiary bullet and she hesitatess about changing her mind – would she be better off drowned or burned to death? The plane slews to its port side trying to keep the flames away from the fuselage as it attempts a swift and controlled desent. The flames catch and over the last hundred feet the descent is swift.
“Poor Bugger.” Mutters Ettie and a hundred men on both sides of the front line around them.