Bertie never talked about the trenches.
He’d watch those grieving mothers in widows weeds look askance when they passed an office-Johnny in the street. Their eyes cried out, wanting to understand why this man walked untouched while their Tommy was just a name on the town memorial – no stone, no coffin, no grassy patch to lay violets come the Spring. These perfect men had shuffled important papers, made decisions that liberated Antwerp, won back Messines and Passchendaele. But though their bodies were intact, their pride took a beating – every sideways glance a punch, every insinuating conversation a sabre to the heart.
No such worries for Bertie. The withered arm, heavy as a sandbag, was sign enough.
This man did his bit. This man was comrade to our lost boys.
Though he accepted the shy kisses from the women, the grateful handshakes from the old men, he kept the secret of his Blighty one*.
The game of poker in a moonlit trench. The aces tucked in his puttees. Angry words and fists thrown.
A sniper’s shot.
No, even though guilt gnawed like rats in his chest, he never told.
The world needs heroes.
* To have a ‘Blighty one’ meant to gain an injury that involved being sent back home to Blighty (Britain) and away from the trenches, either for treatment – or if the injury was bad enough to stop you fighting – for good.