Gustav is alive. Shots ring out from the German trenches. There is machine gun fire from the British lines. Gustav tries to pull Anandale free. He won’t budge, his legs are trapped. Anandale hands Gustav the camera and plates. The plane plane. Anandale is resigned to his death. He shows Gustav that he has his revolver ready.
“The last one’s for me.” Anandale says.
Anandale nods his head at the flames. He isn’t going to let himself burn to death. Gusav makes his move. Taking the satchel of photographic plates with him Gustav pulls himself towards the British Lines.
Gustav struggles on, keeping low to the ground.
Ettie watches Gustav through her telescope and pin points the sniper. She points this out to Jack who takes a look, then adjusts the gun. Ettie watches as a spray of bullets pick out Loffner and fill his head, shoulder and body with bullets turning him into a broken pulp of flesh and blood.
“That’s it.” Says Ettie.
Jack takes the telescope so that he can look. There’s not much left. He shakes his head.
“Sixteen months I’ve been out here and I’ve never seen that … “ Says Jack. “Seen what a machine gun can do. I’m reminded of the Sixth Commandment, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai. ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”
“It’s time I gave it a rest.” He continues. “You know I’ve got my papers in for a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps?”
“Royal Air Force now. Since April.”
Gustav tumbles over the lip of a shell hole for cover.
Jack looks round as the bottom edge of the tarpaulin lifts. Seeing a German helmet he instantly falls on the soldier and pulls him in to the bottom of the pillbox. He gets a knee in the man’s back. George is resting on a makeshift bed – Jack gives him a kick to get up.
“Get out there and see if there are any others.” Jack calls. “We might be surrounded.
“Kamarad. Kamarad.” Calls the German soldier.
Jack pushes the German soldier up against the wall and takes a good look at him. George returns. No others. Together they get their German Prisoner to raise his hands and empty his pockets. Two packets of unopened cigarettes. Adi tries to give them to Jack. Jack won’t have them.
“No. Not me. Don’t smoke.”
Jack makes signs with his hands to indicate that he doesn’t smoke. Adi appears to understand this and agrees … he doesn’t smoke either. George takes one packet. Ettie takes another. Jack gives the remaining one back.
“The man’s like me.” Says Jack. “He doesn’t smoke. Uses them to barter.”
Reaching deep into one of the German’s trench coat pockets Jack pulls out a Mausser pistol.
“We’ll have this though.”
Adi is happy to let go of it.
“La guerre fini. It’s finished for you. Kaput.”
The German Runner looks in a breast pocket and takes out a picture. It is of a
“Mutti. Mien Mutti.”
“I get you. Your mother. She’ll be missing you. You’ll have to let her know you’re alright.”
Adi has no English. He makes gestures, as if to bury the picture in the soil.
Jack, George and Ettie appear to understand.
The German Runner looks at them blankly. He pulls out other bits and pieces from various pockets: a piece of black bread that neither Jack nor George will eat.
Ettie tries the black bread. There are stubs of pencil, a few coins, cuttings from papers … and a painting no bigger than a postcard. Jack takes the picture. The German wants Jack to have it. The German Runner tries to explain what it is. That it’s of a famous building in Vienna. Jack doesn’t understand a word.
Gustav gets behind a low wall where he is horrified to find rows of dead Guardsmen.
George hands Adi some tea. He offers the German a sprinkle of sugar. He doesn’t take the sugar. Jack goes back to the machine gun. He props up the picture so that he can look at it. Its a painting of a fancy church. The perspective’s a bit off. The artist has used a ruler on the brickwork. Very amateur. But done with an obsessive desire to pick up every detail. It makes Jack think for a moment about what he is doing. About what they are all doing there. Then it’s back to work. Jack has it all mapped out in his mind. He knows where he should now place a short burst. George steps in to feed the belt. The white terrier looks at Adi. Adi pulls and preens at his moustache with such nervous rapidity that it looks like a nervous tick. He kicks dirt at the dog. Ettie digs under her jacket and pulls out something wrapped in a piece of linen – a piece of meat. She clears a space to prepare it – bangs it flat to make it tender, cuts it into strips and pops it into a billy can with a little water.
There’s another machine gun burst. Gustav looks up when the machine gun fires from British Lines and heads in that direction. A shot cracks against the wall pinning him down. He’ll have to wait.
As the tarpaulin is lifted once again Ettie, the German Runner, Jack and George turn their heads. This time the head is dressed in a pilots sheepskin cap and he wears goggles. It’s the pilot from the downed R.E. Observer.
“Bloody Hell.” Jack calls out. “It’s turning into the Central Station on match day.”
“You got the chips I ordered?” Asks George.
Gustav clocks the pot and aroma of something cooking.
“Thanks for the cover.” Gustav says.
“You’re from the R.E. Observer?’ George says.
“Who’ll be next?” Jack asks. “The bleeding Kaiser and King George V dressed up as the ugly step sisters from Cinderella?”
“They send their apologies.” Says Gustav. Looking over at the German he asks. “Who’s your guest?”
“Him?” Says Jack. “He’s our war artist.”
“A student of the Academy of Art in Vienna taken up residence,” he says.” Ettie explains.
A shell hurtles in their direction, then another, and another as a barrage begins. Everyone presses themselves into the wall of the pillbox. Ettie finds herself pushed up against the German Runner. Ettie remarks on the German’s impressive moustache – more ferret than facial hair growth.
“You could put that down a hole and it would come out with a rat. If I could grow a moustache I’d have one of those little chappies under my nose the size of a hairy postage stamp, just enough to absorb the drips if I had a cold. Like Charlie Chaplin.” Ettie says.
Then she tries some German.
“When did you learn German?” Jack asks.
“I didn’t. I just told him ‘in England it rains a lot and the King collects stamps.’ I learnt it when I was with Miss Ethne, from Ollie … you remember, Miss Ohlendork her German Governess.
Adi moves away from Ettie.
“You know the British think this spot has been retaken by the Germans… that’s how it looks from up there.”
“How about we declare our neutrality?” Geroge suggests. “Like Switzerland. We stick up a flag claiming independence from the Empire, Germany, France and Belgium.
“They’d still kick the shit out of us.” Jack says.
A shell lands a the entrance blasting away the tarpaulin. Something hits George who lets out a terrible grown. As the dust settles Jack goes over. There is a deep gash in George’s belly. Jack is joined by Ettie.
“Let me.” Says Ettie.
Ettie does what she can. There is a jagged piece of shrapnel embedded in his groin.
“You’ve caught a Blighty one.” Said Jack.
Ettie speaks with Jack.
“That piece of shrapnel has to come out.” Ettie says.
“Can you do it?”
“I’ve see it done. It’ll take a couple of minutes. There’s no anaesthetic. If I don’t get it out it’ll go septic and he’ll die … Two, three days tops.”
Jack puts the machine gun back on its legs. He then pokes the end back out between the sandbags. He looks over the gun, very quick, routine, pulling back the crank, checking for faults, cleaning out debris. He then gives it the shortest of bursts.
“Shame I have to advertise we’re still here but if they don’t know the gun’s still in action they’ll come over and take a look.”
Gustav Hamel looks about him at the others. Jack makes the introductions.
“George Wannop from Cumberland. This one calls himself Adi. The dog doesn’t know who he is. I reckon it’s Willy, Sergeant Barwick’s dog. This Adi fellow calls it ‘Foxl’. Dog doesn’t know the difference. I think it’s gone death from all the bombing. And my sister. Henrietta Bloody Wilson. A darned fool if ever I’ve I knew one. She’s been following me about since we were this high. Gustav looks into Ettie’s eyes. They know each other. Though this might not be the place to let on.
“Flight Lieutenant George Hepple, R.A.F.” Gustav says by way of an introduction.
Gustav & Ettie study each other. They speak out of earshot of the others.
“I thought you’d be a Captain by now.” Ettie says.
“I didn’t know you’d joined the machine gun corps.”
“This isn’t my day job.” Ettie says. “I came in to get Jack.”
(Takes her nurses uniform in a back pack – to avoid ebing shot as a spy? Changes back into Nurse Heni to comfort dying soldiers in the ditch)
“I need one of you over here.” Jack says. “The belt’ll jam otherwise.”
Ettie goes over. She lifts the belt of .303 Amo and feeds it into the machine gun as Jack lets off a few bursts.
“There’s no relief coming.” Ettie says. “That’s what I came out to say. They’re pulling out. No one could get to you.”
“You know me.’ Ettie says. “They gave up. Left you for dead … or to be picked up by Jerry.”
Gusstav goes over to speak with Adi.
“So who are you?” Gustav asks in whispered German.
“I’m an Artist.” Adi replies. “I was at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts before the war.”
“Why do I think you’re making this up?”
Adi points at the postcard sized painting he gave to Jack. George takes a look at it – not impressed. He hands it back to Jack who wouldn’t know the difference.
“And now you’re in the Army.” Gustav says. “A Corporal I see.” Gustav gets Adi to stand, to raise his arms, so that Gustav can check his pockets. Adi flinches as Gustav goes into the back of the coat and gets a bayonnet point pressed against his throat to keep him still. Adi shakes, he wets himself. Urine soaks through his trousers. Gustav watches it seap, steaming over the bench and into the mud and sludge on the brkoen concrete floor.
“You speak good German for a Tommy.” The German runner continues, as if nothing is amiss. “With a Munich accent.” He adds, saying a truth that Gustav finds hard to hige. “Is that where you come from.” Adi continues.
“Don’t worry about him.” Jack says. “We’ll send him down the line when we get relieved.”
“This one’s relieved himself already.” They laugh.
As Gustav helps himself to the contents of Adi’s pockets he continues to ask questions. He finds two items that Jack had failed to find – the note that Adi had been trying to deliver and a loaded Mausser pistol.
Adi convincingly feigns indifference to both items. His war is over he believes, a period in a British prisoner of war camp. So what. So much the better. His war was over and he’d come out unblemished, his face, his mind and his limbs in tact.
Adi says nothing. He’d heard of Sheile. A pervert. Not his kind of artist at all.
“Did you come across Egon Sheile?” Gustav asks. “He was at the Academy. Isn’t Klimt a tutor? Gustav Klimt?”
In a split second Adi’s expression changes to one of hatred.
“You speak very good German. If you’re not German, then my name’s not Adolf Hitler.”
Gustav ignores the man. ‘Everyone lies in this war,’ Gustav thinks to himself. He has found that sons of farm labourers are now sons of farmers, a brewer’s clerk now manages a pub owned by his family and no-one – no-one will admit to being in domestic service … and here we have a nurse posing as a Tommy machine gunner. The ultimate conceit. Or is that his? The son of German surgeon, and the daughter of a Cabinet Minister. ‘What does it matter?’ he thinks toi himself, wishing that all would be good in the world if only he could have a drinl. ‘God has decided to kill all the men of working age in Europe,’ he thinks to himself – to give the place up to Asia and the Americas. Gustav shuffles over to Jack, the one they’e all turning to in here, the man with his finger on the trigger who can keep the gun in action and the Germans behind their line.
“He says he was an art student,” Gustav says to Jack alone, “at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. A drifter. He’s a shifty blighter.”
Jack shakes his head; he’s more willing to take the man for granted.
“He’s no different to any of us – just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Gustav has his doubts. He hands the loaded Mausser to Jack. Jack appreciates that with their backs turned the Jerry could have turned this on them at any time.
“One for my grandchilren, I think.”
Gustav admires Jack’s optimism. Like the others around him he feels his end is neigh – that is, except for this German Corporal whose arrogance would deflect a blast of shrapnel at 10 foot.
Gustav pulls back the man’s greycoat and looks at the insignia on Adi’s uniform and informs the occupants of the pill box who they have with them.
“He’s a corporal.” Gustav catches Adi’s eye; it is a look of distrust of each other. “He’s in the List Regiment. Bavarian Infantry. He’s a dispatch runner.”
“Well, we’ll not get that back to the C.O. in a hurry. You’re our first visitors in four days. We’re supposed to be three days in here.”
Gustav talks to Jack alone.
“The List Regiment have been moved up from Verdun. They’re planning a big push right here just as our lot are pulling out.”
“You’re the last man standing.” Gustav continues. “They’ll get at this spot then push right through the line and on to Paris.”
“If I desert my post, that’s me finished. If I fail to keep the gun in action, it’s field punishment No.1 at the least.”
Catching the drift of this George makes a contribution.
“We take the gun with us.”
Jack gives the group a cursery glance. He’s not up for it.
“I’ve never left a position. Never.”
“They’ll bomb the hell out of this place.”
“We go we’re dead.’
“We’re all dead.” Says Gustav. “We’ve been dead since the day we were born.” He clicks his fingers. “We’ve jsut never known the second of our demise.”
A whizz bang flies in, sounds like it is on a course to destroy the pill-box they are in then explodes short.
Gustav reads the message that Adi has failed to deliver. He reads it. He could translate from German concurrently but thinks twice of doing so, not least because of the look Ettie is giving him. He play acts a boy with elementary German, consciously puts on his natural English accent from his mother’s native Hampshire with unnecessary enthusiam.
‘That bugger on the machine gun must be constipated because he hasn’t had a shit in four days.’
“What’s that?” Asks Jack, figuring out that the reference is to him.
Gustav looks back and forth between Jack and Adi.
“You’ve got a sniper on your arse.” Gustav says. “You’ve got a latrine pit?”
Jack leaps on Adi and tries to pull his head from his shoulders. No one does anything to stop what can only end in the German being throttled. Ettie steps in.
“Jack, he’s bloody u.s. to his lot and ours. Let him go. He was just doing his job.”
“Have you seen behind the wall? Look in the ditch there. I’ve rolled six men in there … all killed by his … his accomplice to murder.”
“Murder in war?You’re daft.”
“They put their heads up.” Adi continues. “Tell him that. They want to die. Who would stand up like that if they didn’t want a bullet through the head?”
Ettie can’t listen anymore, she scrambles out under the tarpauline. She scrambles low through the muck and water to the smashed stone wall a few yards from the pill-box, leaning round the side she sees in close up the most blatant horror of the war – many dead men, some not quite so. Broken bodies, torn bodies. A sight more horrific than anything she’d see in the field hospital – these are the men, the bits of men, that will never make it back on the a stretcher. Dead or alive they will be left here to rot or to be minced into the soil. There are three, perhaps four Grenadier Guards, all in thier late teens or early twenties, just alive … another ten very dead – some are green, some are grey. One a leg ripped away from his torso has his fingers in the wall and is just a nod away from making his face a target. Ettie watches as this boy’s last effot on earth is to pull his head over the wall – a bullet takes him in the face and blows the back of his head off and he slumps back to earth. The others around him are to weak to move away from the human debris, they barely even flinch.
A Sergeant who is missing his right arm and leg looks up at Ettie.
“You’ve come for Jack?” Ettie nods. “The lad deserves it. A credit to his mother that one. He’s been out every day to see that we have a little water or a bite to eat. To take away the dead. You could roll that one into the shell hole.”
The Sergeant nos towards the lip of a shellhole. Nervous about these things having been trapped in one herself Ettie snatches a nervous glance. It is gross – an arbatoir of human skin, limbs and offal.
Driven by sympathy Ettie changes back into her nurses uniform to do something she does best – comfort the dying.
“You want to stay? You go to this amount of trouble to get Jack back the ndecide to stay?” Asked George.
“For now.” Ettie said.
“For now. You’re crackers. You don’t know if you’re coming or going.”
“It’s a Wilson trait.’ She said.
“That’s Henrietta for you.” Said Gustav, forgetting that he wasn’t supposed to have met her before today.
Jack and George turn to look at Gustav. He’s given something away – that Ettie and he know each other. Adi looks equally troubled by it.
“What the hell.” Ettie says. Chances are they’ll all be killed at any moment. She removes her balaclava and helmet, removes her mittens and takesw fomr water from the cannister to clean away the grime on her face. Jack, of course, knew who she was a few moments after she entered. Gustav figured it out too. This left George and Adi in the dark.
“May I present Miss Henrietta Sarah Wilson.” Gustav announces, first in English, then for the benefit of their German prisoner, in his language.
Jack, used to his kid sister’s antics growing up with her in County Durham finds this all bafling. He’s starting to put two and two together though – the key is this George character from the R.F.C.
“George Hepple?” Jack asks. “Trained at the flying school in Crail.”
George nods his head, though with one eye on the German. This is sensitive information after all.
“You’re the wonder kid. The one who took to flying like a duck to water – loop the loop on your second day. My brother told me about that.”
Jack soaks a rag in water and uses it to clear away the grime and dried blood from Gustav’s face.
Now he gets it.
“That’s how you two met,” He says, point first to Gustav, then to Ettie. “At that display of flying skills at Carlisle Racecourse.
“We never met.” Gustav adds, meaning him and Jack.
“Didn’t need to. I was there with my brother Billy. You took this clown up for a spin and she lost her hat as you flew over the crowd. You’re the one that got us interested in flying.”
Jack tried to put his finger on it – George reminds Jack that they have company in the form of their German prisoner. Nothing should be discussed openly in front of him.
“You’re German – this one’s right.” Gustav shakes his head – this isn’t something to discuss here.
George asks Jack to stop. He seraches for the words – an explanation. It comes from Ettie.
“Jack, he’s English. His father is German, but he’s lived in England all his life and his mother is English. The family are even registered now – regiesterd aliens. His father was surgeon to the King and Queen. How more English coudl you get.”
“Even if their surname’s Saxburg-Cobourg- Gotha.”
“Hemel. Gustav Hemel. You flew a Bleriot monoplane.”
“They changed their name to Hepple.”
“So why dod all the papers say that Gustav Hemel was lost over the North Sea (English Channel) in May 1914? They thought he was spying for the Germans. Am I right?
Ettie shakes her head.
“He always wanted to fight with us, for the British. He always wanted to use his flying skills but they wouldn’t have allowed it.
“Hed’ have been intered.”
“What have you got in there?”
“Photographic plates. They show the build up of German troops right here – just as we are prepared to pull out.
Adi, listening intensely to the exchange though not beng about to understand works out that those photographic plates must not get into British hands. He sees a hammer, is able to reach for it and takes a lung a Gustav’s direction. There is a scuffle.
“He’s more trouble than it’s worth. He’ll get the lot of us killed. See how he lunged at George.”
“He’s not George.”
“He was after the plates. To destroy them.”
“Because I am a good German and I am fighting for the Fatherland while you play games.
You are a boy, a child, playing games. Not knowing what you stand for. For … for fun and games. Is this what it is for you? THis girl .. this boy/birl, and flying –“
“None of us here thnks this is a game. Having your eyes blown out, our your guts spilled is not a game. Seeing a friend burned alive in a crashed plane not six hours ago. That is not a game.”
Your legacy, what will that be? If you survive. What a lark.”
“There’s no point staying here.” She says. “We should all go back. We can’t hold back the German army single hanaded.”
“Not before dark.” George says. “Anything moves out there gets shot.”
“Perhaps we could send Corporal Hitler here,” says Gustav, “back to Loffner asking him not to shoot at us?”
“Take ‘Henrietta’ here … and the German.” Says Jack. “I’ll stay until I have my orders. They found Sergeant Stones, one of ours, behind the lines after some push had been on and he was shot for desertion. They’re not getting me on that.”
Ettie shows Jack her I.D. Bracelet
“Billy died in the clearing station. Williams took me for Billy. Said I was right to try to bring you back.”
“You’re finished here. The 50th move north of Ypres tomorrow. You’re taking over the line from the French.”
“No point going out in daylight. They’ll see you from the ridge. Jerry doesn’t let a thing move around out there during daylight.”
Meanwhile they’ll blast us to pieces.
“Are you German?”
Gustav shakes his head. He’s had enough of Corporal Hitler. He doesn’t like him. A shell comes down close by, shaking the pillbox, loosening the earth and giving everyone the shakes. When the dust settles Ettie takes a look at Gustav. He’s in a bad way. Ettie calls Jack, GUustav and Adi over. She uncovers the wound as the men hold Gustav down. She then takes a couple of minutes to dig out the piece of shrapnel stuck in his groin.
“What possessed you to come out here?” Gustav asks Ettie. “Into the front line. “No one wants you here.”
“I told you. I wanted to find my brother Jack.”
“Or you wanted to be part of the fight?”
We’re all part of the fight. The Boche saw to that by bombing civilians. I saw Anna. She’s taken your mother’s name.
Ettie steps away from Gustav, takes off her trench coat and jacket and lifts her vest. George sees the bandages wrapped around her chest.
“Are you injured?”
Ettie begins to try to unwind the bandage around her breasts. She struggles. She gets George to help. He holds back.
“Come on.” Ettie says. “Don’t tell me you haven’t see a woman before.”
“I’d be worried for both of us if we take him back with us.”
“I don’t like the look of him either.”
He looks like the type who would say anything to get off the hook. He’ll say there’s a woman passing herself off as a soldier … and a German passing himself as a British Royal Air Force pilot.
Ettie takes the bandage over to Gustav and binds his wound.
We’ll get a stretcher out to him.
“We’ll have to take him.” Ettie says. “They’re finished here. That’s what I keep trying to tell you. We’ll have to find a way to et him back ourselves. Gustav looks for water from a petrol can – there’s nothing.”
“You’ll have to get water from a shell hole.”
Gustav and Ettie leave the pillbox to look for water. While doing this a shell comes over. Gustav pushes Ettie into the earth. There is no explosion. Looking round they see a green gas emit from the broken shell casing. They dash for the cover of the pill-box. Ettie pulls on her gas mask.
They make a dash for the pillbox.
“Gas!” Ettie cries
Jack pulls on his gas masks, Ettie and Gustav pulls on gas masks. Ettie then helps Gustav on with his mask.
Adi doesn’t have a gas mask.
“They used to tell us to make water onto a handkerchief and place it over your mouth.”
“It’s the urine. It reduces the effect of chlorine gas.”
Adi starts to choke. Jack stands up, takes his hanky and manages to piss on it. He offers it to Adi. He won’t take it. They try and force it over his mouth.
Adi is having nothing of it.
“I’d prefer to die.”
Gustav removes his mask and takes a deep breath – in doing so he is committing suicide. He hands the mask to Ettie who passes it to Adi who pulls it on. Jack is unable to watch Gustav choke to death or to fulfil their promise to each other – he gets back to the gun and lets off a few rounds. Adi leans over and grabs his Mausser. He gets up and puts a bullet through George’s head. All turn to Adi.
“I wouldn’t let a dog suffer like that.”
Adi makes them all keep back, pointing the gun at each of them in turn. Then pointing it at JACK. He forces JACK off the gun, makes him raise his hands and takes him towards the exit.
The dog scurries away. Adi lets off a shot and misses. Seeing the leather satchel full of glass photographic plates he picks them up too.
Adi makes Jack lead the way. They leave.
A mortar from the British side lands near them and takes Jack’s arm off. Adi leaves him.
Somehow Jack is rescued … or sits out the war in a German POW camp?