This is a short story which I entered for a competition and which failed to be shortlisted, which means I can share it here! It is a true story, although a coupe of names I’ve made up, but some I haven’t! Snick, the main character was my dad who served in the war, in the Parachute regiment, called up in 1939 and demobbed in 1946. The photo was taken when he was serving aboard, I feel it was North Africa, but it may have been Greece or Italy.
Shining like a sixpence
”You’ll be alright, Hasdell! Don’t move! Keep still, soldier – ORDERLIES! ORDERLIES!!! Get your stretcher over here!”
Snick Hasdell shook his head, the sound of the grenade still reverberating. He began to push himself up, shouting that he was fine but firm hands gently pushed him down again.
“You’ll be alright, Snick,” he heard Harry’s voice among the confused shouting, and someone else apologising, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, sorry, sorry Sarge, sorry, oh my god!
“Stay still, Hasdell, don’t move! You’ll be alright!”
He could begin to hear more clearly, the ringing in his ears fading; there was a jumble of voices around him, but his beret had slipped over his face and when he tried to lift his head those same firm hands held him, and Blondie Cole told him not to move, darlin’, don’t move.
It seemed best to do as he was told, he was fine, he knew it, he could feel all his limbs, all the essentials, he’d had worse than this playing rugger before the world changed.
Someone was kneeling by his head and then his beret was gradually lifted and he could see Harry’s anxious face, even paler than usual, peering at him.
“It’s alright, Snick, the orderlies are here, they are gonna put you on the stretcher and take you to first aid.”
“I’m alright, Harry, alright – “
“No, lad, you’re not! There’s blood everywhere, everywhere,” and Harry’s ashen face seemed to lose more colour.
Snick allowed the orderlies to lift him gently onto the stretcher, still face down, while he puzzled over what had happened, and whose blood it could be because he knew it couldn’t be his. He’d been in enough scrapes and scraps to know what being hurt felt like.
He replayed the events leading up to the explosion. They had grenades and having practiced with dummies, today had been the day to try it for real. Stand with your left shoulder pointing down the range, hold the grenade at waist level, then, on the order, pull the pin keeping your finger on the trigger. Throw your arm backwards then bowl the bloody thing as far as you bloody can…
And now, apparently Snick was a bloody thing. He could hear the others muttering and alarmed, has he lost his leg? Is he dying? Bloomin’ Hasdell’s lost his legs!
Had he? Was his injury so devastating that he could no longer feel pain. He was bumped on the stretcher as the orderlies ran, and his mates ran with him, shouting encouragement – you’ll be alright Snick! You’ll be fine Hasdell!
Images ran through his mind, as if he was at the flicks, images of him running, jumping, walking along the tops of Victoria Avenue railings with his perfect balance, rugger, cricket in the summer, rowing, rowing, his beloved rowing – hook on and draw! Hook on and draw! And skimming with the crew along the Cam at the annual bumps races… riding his bike, walking his dog, his friends, his parents, his sister, his brother and his new wife he hadn’t yet met…
“How are you feeling soldier?” he had arrived at the Aid Station, and a grim doctor was about to attend to him, pretty nurses with shocked faces, scissors in their hands ready to cut his uniform off.
“What happened to you?” the doctor asked, no doubt checking his reactions.
“Chalkie White let go a live grenade too soon, sir. I hit the deck but must have caught something in the ars…. I mean in my derriere.” Why had he used that ridiculous word, something they had tittered at in French class at school.
“The nurses are going to cut your trousers off. How’s the pain, do you need anything for the pain?”
“No sir, I feel fine, no pain at all, sir.”
“Brave man, that’s the stuff.”
Snick could hear the nurses murmuring to each other and he strained to catch their words, trying to find out whether his life was ruined. There was blood everywhere, he heard one say, and he could feel their gentle hands and damp cloths across his lower back, buttocks and thighs.
“Hurry up, nurse! This man needs attention!” the doctor chided, impatiently. Snick wondered if he was bored, not much to do at a training camp, apart from accidents like this.
“How are you feeling, Private Hasdell?” the doctor asked again and Snick assured him he had no pain. His legs and back felt chilly with the uniform cut off and the water was cold; at least he hadn’t lost his sense of feeling. He wiggled his toes, everything seemed in working order at the end of his feet.
“Sir, doctor…” a nurse said, her voice low.
“What’s the matter?” Snick answered, he wanted the truth, had he lost his privates? Had he lost his manhood? Had shock obliterated pain?
The doctor asked the nurses quite brusquely to turn him over, and Snick was rolled gently onto his back and he daren’t look as the doctor investigated. The man’s hands were warm and something prodded him, and he felt that well enough. The doctor, even more brusquely, commanded the nurses to roll him over again and they turned him onto his front.
One of the nurses let a little giggle escape.
“Good Lord!” exclaimed the doctor and Snick twisted to look over his shoulder. The doctor and three nurses were looking at his wounds whatever they were… and they were smiling, no not smiling, grinning, and then the giggly nurse burst out laughing and soon they all were.
“You’re fine soldier, you’ll live to fight another day!” the doctor said. “You must have been caught by a bit of shrapnel, but so small I won’t even need to put a stitch in your arse!”
An Elastoplast was applied, a spare pair of trousers was found and Snick went out to face the world and find Chalky White.
Some forty years later, on an x-ray of his hip, Snick was delighted to at last see the small scrap of shrapnel, ‘shining like a sixpence on a sweep’s bum,’ as he put it.