Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Statues a Liberty by Brian A Skinner


It was hot. It was always hot in the desert during the day and the flies were everywhere. Private Jenkins 2576104 Linesman of the Royal Signal Corps at present attached to the 51st Highland Division was filthy and smelly. He was not alone. All around him were other unwashed and smelly people. There were no washing facilities in the desert especially when everyone was in full retreat. There was a slim chance of a wash up ahead though, they were nearing an oasis and Pte Jenkins hated to be dirty.


He looked around him at the lines of straggling men all looking much as he did, unshaven, unwashed, hungry, thirsty and all very, very tired. A group of men were laying mines and makeshift booby traps using grenades in an effort to slow the enemy advance but everyone knew that it wouldn’t make that much difference.


“Waste of bloody time mate,” commented Jenkins as he plodded by. A weary faced corporal looked up.


“Booby traps,” he said, “might delay them a bit longer.” Jenkins raised his eyes to heaven and walked on.


They reached the oasis and men began filling water bottles and splashing water over their faces. It was decided that they would rest here for a while and soon men everywhere were asleep, the fatigue of long hot days and freezing nights catching up on them. Jenkins however had other ideas and stripping his clothes off he plunged into the cool refreshing water of the oasis and washed the grime of days from his body. He also managed to wash the worst of the smell off his well-used and much worn uniform.


“Get on parade,” bawled the familiar voice of the Company Sergeant Major. Men struggled to their feet and Jenkins climbed out of the water and went toward his pile of clothes.


“Move yourself Jenkins,” yelled the CSM, “we haven’t got all day.”


“I’m just getting my clothes, Sergeant Major.”


“Never mind them, go as you are.”


“But Sergeant Major,” The CSM’s face turned very red.


“Get on parade - now!” he screamed, “Left, right, left, right, left, right.” Linesman Jenkins offered no further argument and apart from his I D tags he marched on parade wearing nothing but a stupid grin. Even in this situation men still managed to make what they considered to be funny remarks. ‘You’ll have trouble bringing that to attention,’ said one, ‘didn’t know there were women round here,’ said another.


A Major strode onto the makeshift parade ground and the whole Company was brought to attention.


“I said you’d have trouble bringing it to attention.” said a whispered voice. Jenkins grinned. He suddenly thought that the whole situation was immensely funny and had difficulty in suppressing laughter. The Major, trying to look important, glared at the ranks of men and opened his mouth to speak. It was then that he noticed the unclothed body of Private Jenkins 2576104 Linesman. His mouth closed with a snap and he marched toward the very clean soldier. He stood in front of him looking him up and down until he finally shouted.


“You are improperly dressed,” Jenkins heard one or two sniggers but stared straight ahead as the Major continued, “you haven’t got your hat on.”


Unable to control himself any longer, Private Jenkins burst out laughing. Not ordinary laughing mind you, but deep down contagious belly laughing and others joined in. Both the Officer and the CSM were momentarily stunned but before they could say anything there was the shrieking sound of incoming shells. Someone yelled,


“Take cover,” and everyone scattered. Jenkins headed toward his clothes.


He had been knocked out when the first of the shells had landed. When he came to, there was smoke and the not so distant hissing chatter of enemy machine gun fire. He struggled to his feet and wandered dazed and lost in the smoke towards where he thought the rest of the company were. His company was in fact pinned down by the machine gun fire he could hear in the opposite direction.


He staggered, still stark naked, out of the smoke and into the sun. A four ton lorry stood about a hundred yards away with several bodies scattered round it and he headed straight for it. As he approached the vehicle he realised with a sinking feeling that he was on the edge of the battlefield and almost behind the enemy lines. He looked at the bodies and recognised the face of the corporal who had said ‘booby traps might delay them’ and thought ‘some bloody hopes.’


Standing on the side of the truck away from the enemy he carefully opened the door. A croaking sound made him turn and he could see that one of the ‘bodies’ was still alive.


“The grenades,” he croaked pointing to an ammunition box, “Take the box.” Jenkins went to grab the man but he insisted, “The box mate, its got the grenades in it.” Jenkins picked up the box of grenades and put them on the front seat then he went back for the injured man. Letting down a side panel on the truck he hoisted the man on his feet.


“’Ere mate, you got no clothes on,” he croaked.


“Don’t worry chum you’re perfectly safe with me.” He slid the man onto the floor of the truck, put the side back up and climbed into the driving seat.


The engine roared into life and Jenkins tensed himself, waiting for the hail of bullets that must surely come but there was nothing. Selecting reverse gear so as not to drive over the bodies in front of him the vehicle trundled backwards. His foot pushed down on the brake pedal but nothing happened, the vehicle continued backwards.


“Damn,” he muttered as he dipped the clutch and tried to change gear on the move. The gears made a horrible grinding sound. He heard shouts and saw men pointing toward the truck and him. Suddenly there was an explosion and one of the machine gun emplacements fell silent.


‘Who the hells doing that,’ thought Jenkins as he crashed into first gear. The lorry lurched forward. He drove round the bodies and there was another explosion off to his right then another. He headed for the smoke.....


In 1998 Private Jenkins VC stood at the base of a bronze statue in Temsley depicting a soldier with a grenade in each hand. The soldier was fully clothed, complete with beret. To Jenkins it looked nothing like him which was just as well. He wasn’t a hero then and he wasn’t one now and he thought that the statue of him was one liberty too far. He had tried to tell them what happened but they wanted a hero at the time and he was it. The soldier he had put in the back of the truck kept muttering about the box of grenades before he died and the Major who had seen Jenkins driving the truck through field glasses had misinterpreted the whole thing. He shook his head sadly and gazed again at the statue. It was ironic to think that things would have been different if he’d had his clothes on or left the box behind.


He read the inscription again. Private Jenkins VC the Temsley hero who - he stopped reading, took a step backwards, saluted the statue and said aloud.


“Your booby traps worked after all Corporal.”


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