Ruler's Wit

At the Going Down of the Sun

30 June 2016 | Karen Ette

On the 1st July 1916, at 07.28 the Battle of the Somme began and lasted until the 13th November 1916. By the end of the battle, the British Army had suffered 420,000 casualties, including nearly 60,000 on the first day alone.

This short extract is from one of the stories that make up Summer Tales.

Image: Creative Commons

At the Going Down of the Sun

Friday, 30th June 1916

“No, Sister, leave me be, I’m just about fed up with this splinter on me arm, and this leg – me leg’s very painful!’

Paige smiled at the man with splints on his right arm and leg that he insisted on calling splinters. “Come on, Joe, let me change your dressing,” she urged, “you’re going home today.”

“All right, Sister,” Joe submitted, “but make sure you do it right, I’ll be watching you.”

“I promise I shall.” Paige liked Joe. “But I’m not a sister,” she told him.

Above the continuous roar from the guns a tremendous bang rocked the ground and the roof of the tent beat its gigantic wings above them.

“Be careful, will ya,” Joe scolded, “I don’t want to lose my arm like he has.” He pointed to the man in the next bed with nothing but a blood-stained stump where his arm should have been.

“It’s only Grandmother sending another big one over,” a second-lieutenant with a head wound and lying in a bed opposite called over the racket.

“It sounds awfully close,” Paige said, trying to concentrate on Joe’s splinted dressing when she would really rather have been covering her ears.

“It’s a fifteen-inch Howitzer beside the railway line just behind us,” the junior officer told her. After much cursing from Joe, Paige was able to finish his dressings and move on to the next man in need of attention. Her back ached with all the bending and lifting and the tight collar of her uniform irritated her neck. Eventually Sister signalled to the stretcher-bearers, who had been sitting smoking by the tent’s entrance, to come onto the ward and begin taking these wounded soldiers to the hospital trains. As beds became empty, Paige removed soiled sheets and replaced them with cleaner ones. She was leaning over a bed at the end of the ward when she felt strong arms encircle her waist.

“Hello gorgeous,” Wesley whispered in her ear as he nuzzled her neck. “Ooh, you smell of..” He hesitated.

“Yes?” Paige answered, turning to face him.

“Antiseptic and smoke.”

“I wonder why that is! What in God’s name were you thinking, bringing us here?”

“I thought we could make a difference. You look very fetching in your nurse’s uniform.” He raised his eyebrows and kissed her cheek.

“VAD,” Paige corrected him. “You’ll be laughing on the other side of your face if Sister catches us,” she warned.

Another blast shook the Casualty Clearing Station and Paige fell against Wesley.

“Come on, mate,” a young man dressed in khaki with a red cross on his arm, the same as Wesley had, was calling to him.

© Karen Ette

You can find out what happens to Paige and Wesley on the 1st July 1916, in Summer Tales.