Lt Archie Pringle was a little apprehensive to say the least. He wished he had paid rather more attention both at school OTC and in training. His was an almost clichéd example of the British Public School system, and so far he had got by on charm and good fellowship, but he was pretty certain he was in too deep today. Now in fact. His mind raced back to the briefing just a half hour ago. Sgt Taylor of 12 Platoon – now Commanding 12 Platoon Archie reminded himself – poor old Gilly, his mind snapped back to the briefing – Taylor had shown him on the map what had happened and given him some advice. “You have to get into the houses, into cover here” his grime encrusted finger pointed, “before the Bastards see you, because if you get caught like we did, they will cut you to ribbons”. Taylor worried Archie, but not as much as………..
A scream brought Archie back to the all too real present. Private Wilson, the No2 on the 2” mortar, was lying on his back, screaming in agony for his mother. Then the screaming stopped with a sob, and he was silent. Archie was stunned. Stunned by the noise, the assault on his senses, the smell of blood, shit and cordite. Another burst of German MG fire scythed out of the corn on his right, and he pressed his body closer into the honey coloured stone of the ruined house. He was paralysed with indecision, how could he be expected to manage here, this was not what he expected, not what training had been like on Salisbury Plain?
“Sir – those bastards are trying to flank us on the right” It was Sgt Walker, his Platoon Sergeant. “We can’t let them get around there sir – shall I send Corp Smith and his Section to stop them?” Archie was still unsure, but he had been told to rely on his NCO’s and Walker was a good one. Archie nodded, and Walker moved off to organise the troops. He was going to die, just like Gilchrist. He knew it.
Then, from somewhere deep inside, as though from a dream or long lost memory, the words of Battle Drill came back to him. “Fire support element suppress the target, manoeuvre element flanks left under cover of smoke” he could even see the diagram in his mind.
He called up the stairs to Lt Clayton, from the Mortar Platoon “Clayton – can you get some mortars on those houses opposite?” Clayton nodded and gave the thumbs up to say he understood, and then started talking into his radio. Archie was feeling a bit better now, he could do this. “McCoy – get your men to fire on the first building, pour it in, Quaver – can you see that hedge? Get your men moving along the opposite side, flank the Jerries and assault the position”. Archie watched as his NCOs carried out his orders. It was working! Maybe he could do this, and survive after all!
The mortars started to envelope the German positions in fire and smoke “Again” he shouted to Clayton – and heard the spotter call “all mortars repeat” into his radio. Archie ran to the 2” mortar team position. Wilson was dead, but Craig was still there. “Craig, I need you to follow me around to the left and put smoke down in front of that house – can you do that?” Craig nodded. They moved cautiously into position, Archie seemed no longer to notice the bullets zipping past like a swarm of angry hornets. Craig expertly fired his 2”, and as if on signal Quaver and his men charged the house.
The Germans were gone, leaving only their dead behind. Walker appeared at his shoulder. “Well done Sir, we really showed them. We lost Corp Smith and a couple of lads on the right, but we gave as good as we got and the Jerries pulled back with their tails between their legs.