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Authors: Margaret Tanner

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“Yeah, hit
my head on a rock, I think. Must have been out cold for ages, when I came
around, you were gone.”

“Lucky
you’ve got a hard head.” Danny grinned at his friend. “You’d have…

A heavy
barrage of gunfire was followed by an attacking wave of screaming Turks. The
fighting became savage. Danny wielded his bayonet fiercely, cursing and yelling
as a primitive madness overtook him.

His unit
repulsed the attack, and as he took several shuddering breaths, he glanced down
at the beach then wished he hadn’t. God, it was terrible. Those poor devils in
the later landing crafts were being slaughtered by Turkish artillery before
they even got out of the water.

“Forward
men,” their captain urged, and Danny nearly tripped over a body as he charged
toward the higher ridges.

He cursed
the scrub-covered terrain as he dropped into a dugout, dragging Ernie with him.
“We mightn't get hit by a Turkish bullet,” he panted, “but these bloody
prickles could kill us.”

Why had
Ernie enlisted, if he didn’t have the stomach for fighting? His face had turned
a horrible puce color beneath the dirt and grime and he was giving huge,
shuddering sobs.

The dying
screamed and moaned all around them, as the stretcher-bearers started their
grim work. A sudden volley of machine gun fire, more intensive than before,
caused a man to dive into the dugout with them.

“What the
hell?” As Danny climbed out from beneath the soldier, he whistled in surprise.

“Jim
Bryson, fancy meeting you here.” They shook hands and slapped each other on the
back. “How are things? Plenty of wounded, I suppose?”

“Hundreds,
Danny. I never thought it would be like this.
 
Have you seen my brother anywhere?
  
Wally and I were together when we landed, but now he's disappeared.”

“He'll turn
up, probably have a smoke somewhere.”

“Suppose
so.
 
Well, best be off. I’ve lost me
mate.” Frowning, Jim glanced around.

“He's not
in here.” Danny grinned. “Have a swig of this.” He pulled a small flask from
one of his pockets and the three of them had a mouthful each. Ernie's hands
shook so much he could hardly hold the flask, so Danny steadied it.

“Your mate
seems in a bad way.”

“Yeah,
cracking up fast.” They both stared at Ernie who shivered and moaned. “Come on,
you'll be all right, just keep your head down.”

Shrapnel
poured down on them without respite. “You'll get killed for sure, Jim, if you
try leaving now. Wait until it gets dark.”

“You're
right, not much use getting myself killed. If only I knew where Wally was.”

“Come on,
you two, a fellow will end up with the bloody willies. Think of something
cheerful. Heard from home lately?”

“Mum wrote,
nothing much doing there. Laurie still writes?”

“Yeah,
we'll be getting married when I get back.”

“If she'll
have you.” Jim grinned. “Wally fancied her, but she gave him the brush off.”

They tried
to get Ernie to join in with them, but he huddled in one corner, groaning and
holding his head in his hands.

“You should
try getting back to the others now, Danny.”

“Why? I'll
see those Turks in hell before I move.”

“You could
end up getting isolated. If something happens we mightn't be able to get you
back. Some of those poor devils.” Jim waved his hand toward an area beyond the
dugout. “Have been lying out there for hours. It's too risky trying to bring
them in until it gets dark, and then I doubt if we'll find them all.”

“Help me,
for God’s sake.” A lull in the firing allowed the desperate plea to reach them.

“Jesus,
there's someone out there alive.” Danny started climbing out of the dugout as
the voice kept calling.

“Do you
want to get killed?” Jim tried to haul him back. “You were always reckless, but
this is bloody stupidity.”

“I wouldn't
leave a dog out there.” On his hands and knees, Danny crawled over piles of
bodies, sprawled out where they had fallen.

“Where are
you?” He flattened himself on the ground, grazing his cheek on a rock as
someone opened up with a machine gun.

“Over
here.” In a slight gully, not far from their dugout, he noticed an arm waving
frantically from under a bush.

“Where are
you hit?” He rolled the rest of the way until he was brought up against the
soldier's legs, and the man screamed in agony.

“The legs
and the arm. That's why I can't drag myself back.”

“Are you
Australian?”
 

“No, a New
Zealander.”

“What are
you doing up here?”

“I got
separated from my unit, just sort of ended up here. They're all dead.” The New
Zealander glanced at the body-strewn gully. “I've been calling out for hours.”
He started shivering, so Danny put the flask to his lips.

“Brandy?”

“Yeah, my
own special supply. Don't drink too much,” he warned. “This is all I’ve got.”

The blood
on the New Zealander's leg had caked and dried. A rough bandage had somehow
managed to soak up the blood from his arm wound, staunching the worst of the
bleeding.

“I'll carry
you back.”

“Too
dangerous now. Why get yourself killed?
 
You don't even know me.”

“There's a
stretcher-bearer mate of mine in our dugout.” Danny nibbled his lip. “He can
get you back to the first aid station. Can you walk at all?”

“I don't
know.”

“See if you
can stand.” Before the soldier had even got to his feet, they hit the ground to
avoid a murderous barrage of bullets.

“Put your
good arm around my neck. We'll make a dash for it. If we stay out here much
longer, we're both dead. There's a sniper close by.”

During a
momentary lull, he pulled the New Zealander to his feet. Half carrying, half
dragging him, he dashed out into the open, expecting at any moment to feel a
bullet thudding into his flesh. Those few yards seemed like a mile, but somehow
they made it. Jim helped them into the dugout and checked the New Zealander,
who had blacked out.

“He'll
survive if I can get him back. You all right?”

“Course I
am.” Danny clenched his hands behind his back so his friend would not see them
shaking. When the next lull in the firing came, Jim climbed out. Even Ernie
pulled himself together enough to help hoist the unconscious soldier onto Jim's
shoulders.

“Good luck,
keep a look out for Wally.” Jim took off at a trot.

After Jim
left, Danny, squatting down on his haunches, rubbed at the nervous sweat
beading his forehead.

“Jeez,
you’ve got guts,” Ernie said in awe. “They ought to give you a medal.”

“Yeah, I
should get a medal. Laurie would like that.”

They both
started laughing. Suddenly there was a scream of agony. Danny turned his head
to find Ernie with a gaping wound in his chest, clawing frantically at the air.
He sank to his knees then fell face down on the ground. He rolled his friend
over and Ernie's blood pumped all over him. Within seconds he lay dead.

“Bastards.”
In a blind rage, screaming his hatred, he started out of the trench. He charged
towards the enemy lines, but before he had gone more than a few yards, Turkish
bullets mowed him down.

And another
young soldier lay dead.

 

* * *

 

The
announcement of a landing at Gallipoli in the Dardanelles
was splashed across every newspaper in the country. The ANZACs, as the
Australian and New Zealanders were now being called, landed on the twenty-fifth
of April, 1915. This place called Gallipoli, a place most of the population had
never before heard of, hovered on everyone's lips.

Laurie
could not help it. After the first few days, she read the casualty lists like
thousands of others. The number of dead and wounded on that fateful day was in
the hundreds, but as the days went by, the casualties mounted to a horrific
number. There were thousands of names.

 

* * *

 

It was a
dull morning, the sky hung heavy with sullen clouds, and Laurie felt a sense of
foreboding. Some instinct warned her that after today she would never be quite
the same again. She was in the kitchen preparing afternoon tea when her father
walked in, pale and agitated.

“Sit down,
Laurie, I've got bad news. Danny has been killed in action. The government
notified Alf. I'm sorry.”

“No. It
isn't true.” She sank to her knees and began rocking backwards and forwards,
her grief so deep she couldn’t even cry. All she could do was moan like a
tortured animal. A piece of her heart had suddenly died. Danny had promised to
come back and they were going to get married. Now he was gone. Her dreams were
shattered. Her innocence destroyed by three little words. Killed In Action. She
was left with nothing but memories, and regret for what might have been.

Finally she
staggered to her feet. “I'm going for a walk,” she whispered, touching her
father’s hand to reassure him when she read the fear in his eyes. “I'll be all
right, Dad, I won’t do anything foolish but I have to be alone for a while.”

She left
the shop, stumbling up the street, shoulders
 
hunched. At the bridge she stood staring into the water with tear-filled
eyes. Danny, her laughing young soldier, was dead.

 

* * *

 

A few days
later, a military letter arrived, postmarked from Alexandria. She stared at it in puzzlement.
The bold, black handwriting didn’t belong to Danny. The letter, when she opened
it, was dated March 1915.

Dear Laurie,

I was very pleased to receive your letter, and
hope you will be able to spare me a few lines now and again. I have still
received no word from Helen and hope she is well. After writing numerous
letters, none of which were answered, I am afraid I have reached the conclusion
that her feelings for me are not as strong as mine are for her.

It gets freezing here in the desert at night,
Laurie, just thinking of Helen comforts and warms me.
I've
never been an outgoing sort of chap, and my existence, before meeting Helen was
solitary and rather dull. I shall never be as bright or social as she is, but
they say opposites attract, which is certainly the case with me.

You will have to forgive these incoherent
ravings of mine, but you seem such a compassionate young lady, and it is a
relief to be able to pour my troubles out to someone
.
 
Danny probably told you we met up
shortly after my arrival in Egypt.
He was in high spirits, burned black as a native. You know, he was laughing
when we parted company, just the way he did that night in Melbourne before we left for overseas, in
what feels like another lifetime.

I must close now, and hope this finds you well.
If you do see Helen, please give her my best wishes.

I am yours sincerely,

Blair Sinclair.”

That night,
as she retired, her sad thoughts strayed to Blair Sinclair. She would continue
writing to him, not only because Danny had suggested it and she wanted to honor
his memory by doing as he’d asked, not only because Blair was someone who
remembered Danny as a proud and laughing soldier like she did, but because she
wanted to reach out to his loneliness.

 

* * *

 
 
 

A few weeks
later, another letter arrived from the Captain.

Dear Laurie,

I wish I did not have to write to you with such
sad tidings, but by
now
you will have heard that Danny
has been killed in action on Gallipoli. I was sorry to hear of his death, and
unfortunately, I have no details to give you.

I do not know when this letter will reach you,
as I am giving it to a Staff Officer to mail for me. We are getting ready to
move out any time now. Casualties have been so high, Command have asked for
volunteers from the Light Horse to go as infantry men, so we are exchanging our
gaiters and spurs for cloth puttees and guns.

My kindest regards, and condolences, Blair
Sinclair

Every
fortnight she wrote to the Captain,
newsy
letters that
she hoped might cheer him up. She hoped he did not read between the lines,
prayed that her heartache and bitterness were not transposed into print.

She had
changed now. Her father and all their friends said so. Her impetuous, bubbling
happiness was gone, snatched away in one swift, cruel blow, by the words Killed
in Action. They were burned like a brand into her soul. No wonder she didn’t
laugh any more. She doubted whether she would ever be happy again.

She wasn’t
the only person to have lost someone dear. Hardly a household in the country
escaped the grim tidings conveyed in the casualty lists, and a visit from the
local clergy had turned into a thing of dread.

BOOK: Lauren's Dilemma
10.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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