CAST attending the Cabinet meeting

FX: First 26 seconds of the 1939 instrumental introduction to Buddy Jones’s ‘I’m in the Dog House now’, fading out to the Narrator.

Narrator:  In preparation for a meeting of the European Union Economic Crisis Committee, to be held in Schwerin, Germany, a meeting has been called in the Taoiseach’s office, to agree the Irish stance following the liquidation of the I.B.R.C.

FX: Sound of people moving into the office and taking their seats.

Enda Kenny: Good morning people. I need you all to hurry up, please and get settled. We have a lot to get through today and we need to pull together for the good of everyone concerned.

Eamon Gilmore:  Yes, do come along. We have a lot to do, as An Taoiseach has reiterated so clearly. So come on now and work with us on this.

Luci Creighton:  Froh, hier zu sein, Chef. Ich bin sicher, dass ich eine große Hilfe bei unseren deutschen Amtskollegen sein kann.

Enda Kenny:  No, I didn’t get a word of that, Luci!

Luci Creighton:  Sorry, glad to be here, Boss. I’m sure I’ll be a great help with our German counterparts.

Enda Kenny:  God, that’s great to hear, Lucinda. I think your language skills really gives us one over London, going forward. But, Lucinda doesn’t sound very German, all the same. You need a good Prussian name that they can relate to. How about Ludwig? From now on you will be known as Ludwig Creighton.

Luci Creighton:  Oh good! The German Chancellor, Ludwig Erhard? That’s fine!

Eamon Gilmore:  Excellent.  Ludwig is a great Germanic name, but perhaps better known of course, for the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven. I remember telling a Finnish friend how …

Enda Kenny:  Ciúnas, le do thoil! We must move along. Mobile phones off, please. We don’t want a repeat of last year’s unfortunate event; Pope Benedict’s speech on teenagers. He will never forgive us for Jedward in St Peter’s, for goodness sake! I didn’t know where to look.

Luci Creighton:  It was treated very well in the end, Boss.

Eamon Gilmore:  Yes, I would have to agree, An Taoiseach. Lucinda’s coughing fit was the perfect cover. If anyone got the Papal Look, it was probably the little Italian on the end of my pew. I’m sure that it had nothing to do with the Pope’s decision to retire.

Enda Kenny:  Maybe, Eamon, if Ludwig hadn’t shoved her hand into my pocket. Honestly, I didn’t know where to look, and my lap singing “she’s got her lipstick on”. It was so embarrassing; I don’t want to talk about it.

Luci Creighton:  Ah, il amore di Roma; la città eterna, cuoco unico!

Enda Kenny:  German and Latin too, Ludwig?

Luci Creighton:  Italian thanks. Ah, the love of Rome, the eternal city, Boss!

Enda Kenny:  Enough! Let’s get down to the business at hand. Now, you all have the notes that I circulated last week, so let’s go through them.

Eamon Gilmore: Quite right, An Taoiseach. I gave Ruairí and Joan their copies.

Ruairí Quinn:  True, Tánaiste. If I might make one point, however. My copy had a grammatical error by the unfortunate use of ‘whom’ instead of ‘who’. A common mistake in the Junior Cert classes, but still should not be excused at Leaving Cert level or in formal communications. It is just my personal score of course, but I would rate this memo as a C minus.

Joan Burton:  Oh no, Brother Eamon. I feel dat brother Ruairí is being overly strict. In determining the correct use of ‘Who’ over ‘Whom’, it should always be only changed after the consid…

Eamon Gilmore:  Stop please, Sister Joan…em…Ms Burton. We must show a front to the Irish people and our loyal Labour Party members. Let us please have a united position on the agenda for this meeting, as requested by An Taoiseach. It is our imperative position to present a common front before the British.

Enda Kenny:  For God’s sake, Eamon, Britain is now our closest friend. Why, after Her Gracious Majesty’s wonderful visit to our Republic and David Cameron’s generous economic loan, we have only the strongest warm feelings for them. Our armies are even going into Mali as brothers in arms! Definitely best friends, off the rugby pitch of course!

FX: Hearty laughing from around the table.

Mick Noonan:  That was so tragic, Taoiseach. Brian O’Driscoll becoming a father on the same day as the match. It was very unfortunate that he didn’t getting the win to celebrate!

Eamon Gilmore:  Heartily said, Edna. I can remember telling Dick Spring after the English match at the old Lansdowne Road in ’79 how…

Enda Kenny:  (Shouts) ENDA! E-N-D-A! Feck the bloody New York Times.

Mick Noonan:  Don’t look at me, Enda. Sure I’ve no dealings with the New York Times. You never wrote a book, did you Boss?

Enda Kenny:  Let us please address the first item for today’s meeting, or we will be here all bloody day. Hey, where’s James Reilly? He was coming with you, Michael, wasn’t he?

Mick Noonan:  He was having a late breakfast, so I came on without him. He can’t be long though. Just hunting for one of the free parking spaces, which are almost impossible to find around here.

Enda Kenny:  Alright. Back to the agenda. We have a team of six going to Germany; Luci is just at this meeting to keep us refreshed, so we can finish in time to fly out this evening. No offence, dear! There will be a little extra in your next expense allowance.

Luci Creighton:  Ah, you’re too generous, Enda. Sure I’m only here to serve and refresh.

FX: Sniggers spread around the table.

Enda Kenny:  Good. Now we need to know, who knows members of other delegations? They may be of help to us. We need to gather as much Euro Zone agreement, before we unleash our secret weapon; Rottweiler Noonan!         

Mick Noonan:  Honestly, Taoiseach! Everyone knows that I’m a big softy, for God’s sake. Go on, give me a rub and see how I purr!

Enda Kenny:  Alright, Michael. We’ll go once around the table. I’ll start. Obviously I am on excellent terms with all of the other countries’ leaders. I’m on first names with François Hollande and Chancellor An-ka-la Merkel “Du’s” me. Cameron is a bit standoff I admit, but that’s in his genes. The West’s awake, so you can expect me to steamroll through him. Now, Tánaiste, who can you bring to the party?

Luci Creighton:  Excuse me Boss, but Chancellor Merkel’s first name is, as in English, Angela.

Enda Kenny:  Really? Thanks for that, Luci. This German is a lot easier than I though. Anyway, I’m very close to Angela Mur-kill.

Mick Noonan:  No, her surname is very German, Taoiseach; Merkel. Angel-a Mer-kel!

Enda Kenny:  Feck it! You’re messing with me now, Michael. I’ll just leave it to Luci. Let’s keep moving on. Now to you, Tánaiste.

Eamon Gilmore:  Well, as An Taoiseach so perfectly put it, we need to use every contact to forge forward with the Irish Nation’s goals and aspirations. The Labour party is fully behind this government’s innovative and I personally have close contact with a number of  cabinet members from other nations in the great European adventure. To express it in the words of our iconic founder,  James Connolly, who felt that…

Enda Kenny:  Get on with it, Tánaiste, or we will get nothing done!

Eamon Gilmore:  Of course, An Taoiseach. You are in control of the meeting and have the full backing of the Labour Party in this respect. Let me see. Well, these European Cabinet re-shuffles are causing me some confusion. I have dined with Alain Juppé, in Strasburg, but I believe that his job is now being done by Laurent Fabius, who I don’t know at all!

Ruairí Quinn:  Ahem, ‘Whom’, An Tánaiste!

Eamon Gilmore:  Laurent Fabius, Ruairí. Do you know him?

Ruairí Quinn:  No, ‘Whom’ Eamon, not ‘Who’.

Eamon Gilmore:  Really, Ruairí? Oh, An Taoiseach, I also got a postcard from Portugal’s Paulo Portas from the last World Cup. Although I couldn’t understand what it said, the Labour Party felt it was a wonderful link to our Portuguese brothers and sisters.

Enda Kenny:  Thanks Eamon. Moving right along. Michael, how are your financial contacts in Europe doing?

Mick Noonan:  My contacts are also very good, Sir. There is England’s George Osborne of course, but I have also a surprisingly close contact with the Slovak Republic. He has great English, thank God. His name is Peter Burian and could be useful with the East Europeans. I also have a working relationship with Wolfgang Schäuble and have met Mario Monti with yourself, Enda.

Enda Kenny:  Excellent, Michael. You will be our anchorman, so we need you on top form for the rest of the week.

Eamon Gilmore:  Can I just interject, An Taoiseach, that the Labour Party recognises the anchorman position of the Minister of Finance and gives him our total support, along with the support of the government, of course.

Enda Kenny:  Please, Eamon. Your support is presumed and noted. Okay? Now, Joan. (Shouts) JOAN!

Joan Burton:  Hello?

Enda Kenny:  Over here, dear. Now, we need your best work with the social aspects of our policy. Who do you know in Europe, Joan?

Joan Burton:  Well, thank you Mr Taoiseach and brother Tánaiste. Can I start  by saying how grateful I am at getting this opportunity and hope  to reach the goals dat you have set for me. I have always  thought dat my mother…

Eamon Gilmore:  Of course, Ms Burton but not now. An Taoiseach needs a short answer without any fat to his question about your contacts.

Joan Burton:  Yes Sir, Mr Tánaiste. I have a good relationship with Italy’s Renato Balduzzi, who had also done close work with James Reilly on our Mental Health. Their General Election has cast a bit of a shadow over which Italian Team will actually turn up in Schwerin! Raffaele Tangorra is doing my work over there, I think. I also know England’s Owen Paterson, but he’s now running the Environment; a very handsome man that I got to know while working in London in the early 80s!

Enda Kenny:  Thank you, Joan. Now Luci, with an eye to your future career, blind us with your German contacts.

Luci Creighton:  Danke soviel, Chef. Ich habe ein wundervolles Verhältnis zu Deutschlands Guido Westerwelle, der viel jünger ist, als er…

Enda Kenny:  In English please Luci.

Luci Creighton:  Oops, silly me! Thank you so much, sir. I have a wonderful relationship with Germany’s Guido Westerwelle, who is much younger than he looks, you know. Quite a dish really! Like Michael, I also love Slovakia as much as Germany, with a working relationship with their Foreign Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda. I introduced him personally to bacon and cabbage!

Enda Kenny:  Wonderful, Luci, or should I say Ludwig! Even though I don’t understand a word of German, it sounds so, em, European, doesn’t it? Now Ruairí, ha! Have you done your homework?

Eamon Gilmore:  Very humourous, An Taoiseach! The Labour Party’s Ruairí Quinn is totally in step with the government’s policy for the harmony of contacts with our European colleagues. Go on, Ruairí; tell An Taoiseach of the great friendships that you have forged.

Ruairí Quinn:  Thank you Tánaiste for that unsolicited support. I have indeed formed close friendships with a range of Education Ministers, as well as hosting a day out with William Hague, here last July if you remember. Of course, being an Architect helps to break the ice at all the E.U. bashes!

FX:  Taoiseach’s mobile phone rings; 14 seconds of the Jedward’s        song, ‘Lipstick’ (from 36 to 50 seconds of the track).

FX:  Hearty laughter from around the table.

Mick Noonan:  Haha! That’s hilarious, Taoiseach! You should have taken your own advice and turned the thing off!

Luci Creighton:  I’ll get it, Boss. Just let me move your…

Enda Kenny:  Get off me, Luci you idiot! If I ever discover who keeps changing my ringtone back to that bucket of pooh, I’ll have them counting paper clips on Rockall. Now, shut up everyone. I’m expecting a call from Ank-la. Why hello, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny anseo.

James Reilly:  (Over phone) Hi Edna, James Reilly here.

Enda Kenny:  ENDA, you plonker! Where the hell are you?

James Reilly:  I’m at the Merrion Square gate. Some problem with a Garda on duty. He is demanding a deputy confirms my identity.

Enda Kenny:  You obese plonker! Don’t ever shave, or you will never gain admittance again. Put him on. Hello Garda, Taoiseach Kenny here. I can unfortunately vouch for the trolley wobbling before you. We need him at this meeting, so if you would be good enough to let him in, I will see you get a few extra hours overtime.

Garda:  That’ll be very much appreciated, Edna. I will send him straight up.

Enda Kenny:  ENDA, you little fecker. I’ll have you searching bogs for illegal cigarettes, from six feet down! What is your name? Hello? HELLO? Luci, find out who that Garda is and get Shatter to post him to west Donegal.

Eamon Gilmore:  That’s not easily done, An Taoiseach, although I can, as the Labour Party can, understand and support you in your   unhappiness at being called Edna, em, Enda, eh Boss. There is only one station still open in west Donegal and it is packed to overflowing with gardaí who have been disciplined in the past.

Enda Kenny:  Luci, whatever it takes, just get this done.

Luci Creighton:  My pleasure, Boss. Are you ready for morning coffee yet?

Enda Kenny:  Put the kettle on, dear. But get that Garda sorted first.

Luci Creighton:  I’m on it, Boss.

FX:Door opens to admit James Reilly, as Luci Creighton leaves.

James Reilly:  Good Morning, Taoiseach. I am here at last. Terrible trouble parking; have I missed the morning coffee?

Enda Kenny:  Have you not caused enough trouble, Trolley? Sit down and shut up, before I do something unhelpful to your health.

James Reilly:  Jeez! I just wanted a cup of coffee, Boss, and if you don’t like being called Edna, then don’t call me Trolley!

Enda Kenny:  Explain to me then James, pleeeze. What are you bringing to this party? If we are off to Schwerin for three days of fine food and wine, how can you strengthen our team?

James Reilly:  I am the personal friend of Daniel Bahr and Renato Balduzzi, Enda. I have used Daniel’s clinic in Milano for my gastric bypass. I have to admit that it was not the great success I was hoping for, but I also got my teeth whitened while I was there, which you will have to agree look great. Renato got me a priority appointment.

Enda Kenny:  A lucky answer, Reilly. Alright everyone, that is a fairly wide group of contacts, I’m glad to say.

Eamon Gilmore:  If I could just add, An Taoiseach, to say that I personally, along with the Labour Party are delighted with the credit of goodwill and friendship that our government has cultivated with the other European nations and especially the work that Joan and Ruairí have done in this regard.

FX: Door opens for Creighton’s return with a trolley.

Enda Kenny:  Thank you, Tánaiste. Moving right along, we well next address presents. I naturally will be required to make presentations to Ank-la and Frans-wha. Waterford Crystal should do nicely. Anyone else feel the need to do an independent presentation to another contact?

Luci Creighton:  Oh, Chef. Ich glaube, dass ein kleines Geschenk für Guido…

Enda Kenny:  You’re at it again, Lucinda. Just keep Ludwig on the back burner until you join the Cabinet, please.

Luci Creighton:  Okay, boss. I believe that a small gift for Guido Westerwelle will  improve the representation, which Chancellor Merkel would find very attractive.

Ruairí Quinn:  But surely you gave Herr Westerwelle a wedding present?

Luci Creighton:  Guido married? I never heard of that. I was hoping to catch his eye myself actually, truth be known!

Joan Burton:  Haha! Very amusing, Ludwig.

Luci Creighton:  Why, Joan? Are you saying that I’m too old for him? You think you stand a better chance than me?

Mick Noonan:  For God’s sake ladies, I’ve a better chance than either of you; just ask his husband!

Luci Creighton:  But that would mean? No, you’re teasing me. It’s not true!

Ruairí Quinn:  It’s true Luci. You really should have done your homework too!

FX: Hearty laughing.

Enda Kenny:  Very well people, settle down please. Okay Luci, get him a present for old times’ sake. Give it to Joan to bring it with us. Anyone else, and remember that this gift will have to come out of your department’s budget. No one? Why am I not surprised! Okay then, moving right along; clothes. I don’t want the same gaff we made at Windsor. Cameron wearing the same tie as me, and me without a change. On this trip, I alone will have green anything. I presume Eamon will want red?

Eamon Gilmore: Certainly, thanks An Taoiseach. The Labour Party feels a special tug to the colour red, reminding us of our…

Enda Kenny:  Yes, yes; quite understood Eamon. JOAN! Listen up, dear. You are to wear blue to Germany, okay?

Joan Burton:  Great news, Taoiseach. I have a lovely royal blue pants suit that I’ve been dying to wear.

James Reilly:  I’ve got just the one jacket that will close; it’s brown!

Mick Noonan:  Blue pinstripe as usual, Boss.

Ruairí Quinn:  Grey, striped, Boss!

Enda Kenny:  Alright then. Everyone wear them on the plane and I will look them over for any clashes. Joan, arrange for laundry services in case we need them.

Joan Burton:  Can I get extra tights, please? A ladder would be very unfortunate.

Enda Kenny:  Yes, yes, certainly. Now let’s address the heart of our economic policy.

Luci Creighton:  Oh, I’m sorry, Boss, but I couldn’t find Shatter. I’ll sort it while you’re away. Now, are you all ready for a cuppa?

James Reilly:  God say thanks! I thought I would faint with the hunger. What biscuits have you got?

Mick Noonan:  I have a packet of Jammy Dodgers in the my Office.

Enda Kenny:  That’s not necessary, Michael. Luci, you may open a packet of my personal milk chocolate digestives, from the cupboard. We have to push the boat out once in a while, eh!

Eamon Gilmore:  A wonderful treat, An Taoiseach! I can assure you of Labour’s full support at the next financial watchdog committee meeting. My colleague, Pat Rabbitte will fully endorse your stance on allocated meeting calories.

Enda Kenny:  Okay, we’ll take a ten minute break for Luci’s refreshments. Oh, and if you need a bathroom, there’s one right underneath us, on the first floor. My bathroom is only for me and strictly off limits.

Joan Burton:  Lucinda, I’d like your advice on what to pack for Germany.

Luci Creighton:  Call me Ludwig, please, so I can use my new character.

Joan Burton:  Fine Ludwig! You do still use the Ladies, don’t you?

Luci Creighton:  Of course, Joan. With these looks it would be impossible to ever see me as other than the cherry on the Taoiseach’s cake?

Joan Burton:  Thank goodness! It’s very confusing; Luci and Ludwig. Just let me pop downstairs first, Ludwig.

FX: Door opens to let Joan leave; closing behind her.

Ruairí Quinn:  Excuse me, Tánaiste. Have you considered the students celebration of the centenary of the Easter Rising yet? I’ve been giving it some thought and would like to run a few proposals past you.

Eamon Gilmore:  Well, I’m obviously very aware of our need to remember the heroes of Ireland’s struggle for Independence, Ruairí. I know that the Labour Party will want to remember and honour our great founder, James Connolly. However, in the current economic difficulty it might be a mistake to be seen too closely aligned to the Unions.

Ruairí Quinn:  Oh my goodness, Tánaiste! We certainly don’t want that to happen. I just thought that we might organise some events in our Colleges, that would attract students to our Party.

Eamon Gilmore:  Capital idea. Draw up a brief that I can bring to Cabinet, Ruairí. Nothing too ‘Blue Shirt’, okay. You know how touchy they are about all that!

Mick Noonan:  Sugar Eamon?

Ruairí Quinn:  Neither the Tánaiste nor I take sugar, Mick! You’re not wanted here, as it’s a private conversation.

Mick Noonan:  Back off, Rory! Who stole your bloody lunch money?

Enda Kenny:  Come away, Michael, please. He’s not worth it and we have to get our sums finished before Schwerin.

Mick Noonan:  Of course, Taoiseach. Quinn just has to know his place, is all! I am sorry about that, but they are just so disrespectful. We’ll be rid of them come the next General Election, thank God. Bloody yobs! I think that they are plotting to try to upstage us during the 2016 celebrations.

Enda Kenny:  Oh dear, I was hoping to forget the whole thing, Michael. All those old people talking about ‘the good ol’ days’ and Gerry Adam’s endless questions in the chamber. It’s too much. I hoped that we could use the economic crisis to detour the thing away from Fine Gael altogether. I have nightmares of thousands of protesters dressed as  blue shirts, marching up Kildare Street.

Mick Noonan:  Oh, I totally understand, Taoiseach. We certainly don’t want that sort of thing. I’ve make a note to look into changing the Gardaí uniform to something less blue. The German green that Alan suggested perhaps? You could announce it in Schwerin if needed. Then we can have the defence forces do a couple of mass parades in marginal constituents. That should see us clear for another hundred years.

Enda Kenny:  I like that and send their left-wing President on a state trip somewhere, while you’re at it. We’ll write him a statement to say while he’s away. He has far too much to say, for my liking. Send him to visit our troops in Mali! That would serve him right, the little upstart. Only last week he rang me looking for a poetry slot on RTÉ. It was so embarrassing. Hey, Reilly is gone again! Where is he now?

Mick Noonan:  He has a jippy stomach after some beef lasagne, Taoiseach. He’s just popped out to use the bathroom.

FX: Toilet flushing.

Enda Kenny:  Jeez, he’d better not have used my bathroom! I’ve asked for a lock for the door, although it seems that Bertie liked to keep it open; a very paranoid man, I have to say.

James Reilly:  Phew, that’s better, Boss. Bloody hospital food will be the death of me! I’d give it a few minutes, if you need to use it. There’s no window and that little extraction fan is useless. Any biscuits left?

Enda Kenny:  You absolute waste of space, Trolley! You really are a disgrace; Mary Harney in trousers!

James Reilly:  Well, at least I can fit through the door, Boss!

Enda Kenny:  But for how much longer? You are a walking health hazard. You know that they’re calling you ‘Anyone Butt Reilly’, don’t you?

James Reilly:  That’s most unfair, Taoiseach. I’m not with the H.S.E.!

Luci Creighton:  Excuse me, Taoiseach. Sorry to interrupt, but we have London on the line. It is about an e-mail that Ambassador McDonagh sent you last week. I am trying to find a porter to set up the video link, but they are all still on their bank break, Boss. Will you have a refill, while you’re waiting; it’s no bother!

James Reilly:  Thanks, Luci. Three sugars, please.

Enda Kenny:  Oh for fecks sake, Reilly! Can’t you control your stomach for a couple of hours?

Eamon Gilmore:  I have to wholeheartedly agree with An Taoiseach, Reilly. Can you not improve your public image before we have to meet the Germans?

Enda Kenny:  Well, it’s your fault really, Eamon. You clearly cannot keep your Unions in check? We are actually trying to run a country here.

Eamon Gilmore:  They have nothing to do with me, Enda; always demanding and never giving! If only you hadn’t accepted the Croke Park Agreement; but you’ve tied my hands.

Enda Kenny:  Watch what you say, Eamon! You are on thin ice from where I’m sitting.

Ruairí Quinn:  I’ll have a go, Tánaiste. I saw a tutorial on You Tube.

Eamon Gilmore:  Good man, Ruairí. We’ll show them how it’s done.

FX: Door opens and closes as Joan Burton returns.

Joan Burton:  (Sniff) My God, what is that terrible smell?

Luci Creighton:  Oh my God, Joan! I think Quinn has soiled himself.

Joan Burton:  No, Luci! That is definitely not a Labour smell. Would you look at Reilly, it was obviously him.

Enda Kenny:  Hurry up Joan, please! We want to press on and have London on the line.

James Reilly:  Oops, Enda. I’d better go again then, before you start the conference call.

Enda Kenny:  Get your ass back here, Trolley! Don’t even think of using my…

Mick Noonan:  Too late, Boss! Anyway, no one else will want to use that bathroom for the rest of today.

Luci Creighton:  Hey, Boss. I’ve got a signal. I’m connecting the picture now.

Enda Kenny:  I can see him, Luci. Hello; hello, Bobby! Hello? We’ve lost him Luci.

Luci Creighton:  Just one sec, Boss. There!

Bob McDonagh:  Hello Taoiseach, and hello Ireland, this is London calling!

Enda Kenny:  Hello there, Bobby. How are you?

Bob McDonagh:  Great Enda, and yourself? What time is it there?

Enda Kenny:  It’s the same time zone, Bobby! We’re having a pre-meeting meeting, before the meeting in Germany and I want to address your e-mail before we leave.

FX: Toilet flushing.

Bob McDonagh:  Fine, Taoiseach. As you know, Her Adored Majesty has celebrated her diamond jubilee, so we don’t need any diplomatic problems. By the way, is this a secure line, Boss?

Enda Kenny:  Of course it is, Bobby. Direct encrypted bi-line link from this office directly into the embassy. No expense spared!

Bob McDonagh:  Oh, it’s just that I’m out at the moment, Enda. Dan Mulhall has dropped in from Berlin and I decided to take him shopping. He wanted to hit Regent Street. We’ve come into a Cyber Café in Victoria, but it is very quiet and I’m sure no one will be listening in. It’s famous for cappuccinos and I wanted to give Dan a treat.

Dan Mulhall:  Hi y’all, I’m Bob’s wingman today, Boss. I’ll keep an eye on our back. I just have to get to London or Dublin every so often, for a break from the black bread and those tiny glasses of Pils! So, I hear you are coming to Germany?

Luci Creighton:  Hallo Dan! Sie sind in der Lage, uns den Anblick zu zeigen, wie?

Dan Mulhall:  Sorry, I didn’t catch any of that! An awful language, German, so I insist on only speaking the Queen’s English. Mind you, that stance goes down very well, here in London!

Luci Creighton:  Das ist, Dan so traurig! Dan’s missing out on wonderful German talents like Goethe, Loriot and Techno, Boss.

Dan Mulhall:  Ah, Lucinda, as beautiful as ever. Are you on this trip? Remember Cologne in ’92?

Luci Creighton:  Not this time Dan. I’m Ludwig now! Oh ja, aber ich bin ein Superjüngeres jetzt, das ich setze mich auf die Oberseite denke! I was just telling Dan about my new position, Boss!

Dan Mulhall:  Ugh, Ludwig! That’s terrible. What did they do to you? Can you e-mail me a photo, please?

Joan Burton:  Gosh Ludwig, you are so brave!

Luci Creighton:  Cut it, Burton! Not at all Dan, I’m just using a Germanic name to accentuate my language skills. I’m still the Queen of Leinster House, two years running.

Dan Mulhall:  Congratulations Ludwig, although being Queen Ludwig in Berlin may be lost in translation!

Enda Kenny:  Can we please get back to Bobby’s e-mail. Honestly!

Eamon Gilmore:  Well said, Taoiseach. There is a time for reminiscing and restoring past relations, but the Taoiseach’s Office conference call to a cyber café is not the time.

FX: Sound of Reilly sitting down heavily.

James Reilly:  You should really get a lock for that bathroom, Boss. I cannot be expected to contain the vapours! I was scared to strike a match, as they seemed a bit dense for safety.

Ruairí Quinn:  Phew, Reilly, you are letting the whole team down. A bad reflection on Fine Gael really! Sit at the far end at least and open the door, Joan.

James Reilly:  How dare you Rory! I’ll see you on a trolley some day, and it wouldn’t be nice, I promise you. It wouldn’t happen to me if I could get some decent food in this place. Speaking of nibbles…

Enda Kenny:  Shut up, Trolley and you zip it up too, Ludwig. We have to move on. Bobby, I kept your e-mail ‘My Eyes Only’, so I haven’t circulated it to the people at this meeting. Would you succinctly fill them in on the problem.

Bob McDonagh:  Certainly, Boss. Our embassy gardener was coming to work, a week ago last Wednesday, when he found a briefcase that had been left on the bus.

Mick Noonan:  Not Irish I hope?

Enda Kenny:  No, thank God. Please continue, Bobby.

Bob McDonagh:  Yes, Taoiseach! It actually belonged to the Home Office and it wasn’t very interesting, except for one memo. Should I really read it aloud, Taoiseach? It is just that Dan has gone to order us refills, and maybe I should wait for him to return.

Enda Kenny:  Yes, go on, Bobby please.

Bob McDonagh:  Very good, Boss. It is a memo from the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg to Prime Minister David Cameron, concerning their government’s loan to Dublin’s previous administration. I believe that you know Nick Clegg?

Enda Kenny:  I know him, Bob! Very Spanish, but that’s not important for now. Read it, Bobby please.

Bob McDonagh:  That would explain why I can never understand a word he says! A terrible loud language, Spanish. Oh, Dan is back, Boss. Just one sugar, thanks Dan.

Dan Mulhall:  His back is secure again, Taoiseach. Actually, we are now the only customers here now. Just two staff girls cleaning tables.

Enda Kenny:  Just read it please Bob.

Bob McDonagh:  The memo reads: “David, we have just received the signed documents from Brian, for our bilateral loan agreement. There are no amendments! He has accepted all the terms and conditions, which should earn the Treasury around £500 million in interest per year. Osborne says  that although we own them for twenty years, in reality it will be for far longer. It is better than we could have hoped for and you should remember to include it in Her Majesty’s brief, before she travels to Dublin. In fact, our Dublin man, David Reddaway feels that if you could accompany the Queen on her trip, you will have the opportunity to set the deal in stone and to rate their public popularity for yourself. A good day’s work, Nick”.

Enda Kenny:  Well, I don’t understand, Bobby. So, Britain gave us a much needed help out when we really needed it. They forced the best terms that they could get and we can accept that. It was agreed by the Fianna Fail administration and can’t surely stain us?

Dan Mulhall:  Is there a German angle, Boss?

Bob McDonagh:  No Dan, the potential problem Enda, is that the administration fees are to be paid, whether the loan fund is drawn down or not. In transferring the money to the Department of Finance, it appears to have, ahem, sat in an unknown bank account for a week!

Mick Noonan:  I had no dealings with it until its receipted arrival into the Department’s account. I have no record of the route it took to get there.

Eamon Gilmore:  What’s this then, Enda? I can speak for the Labour Party, when I say that we had no knowledge of this before today! Bobby, what bank accounts were used?

Enda Kenny:  Stop right there, Tánaiste. Hold on Bob. Eamon, we always work by collective Cabinet responsibility, and there will be no slinking away from that when things get tough. We need the facts, Bobby. Which account was used for lodging the funds?

Bob McDonagh:  A bit embarrassing really, Enda. The account was in the Anglo-Irish Bank, and a clerical error would appear to have occurred, when the company name was changed to the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation!

Michael Noonan:  What?

Eamon Gilmore:  Bloody heck!

Enda Kenny:  Shut it, Eamon. Bobby, can’t we get the details from the British Treasury? After all, we must have secure contacts to get us through just this type of awkwardness. Sort it out as a priority and get straight back to us on this line.

Bob McDonagh:  I had started as soon as I read the memo, Boss. However, there is a lot of paperwork involved and, with all due respect, Michael Noonan has now liquidated the IBRC! So much of the documentation is now trashed or missing, and many of the people have left…

Enda Kenny:  Michael is in control of all our finances, Bobby.

Mick Noonan:  Well, em, Enda. I will certainly react to this new information. It may be that there are facts in the boxes left by Fianna Fail when we took over. But you know yourself what it’s like! The reduced staff mean that you never get the time necessary to address them.

Eamon Gilmore:  What the hell is going on here? I think we should take this into a private conversation, Enda.

James Reilly:  Oh, I don’t like where this is going! You’ll have to excuse me again, I’m afraid.

Enda Kenny:  Feck off Reilly, and don’t bother coming back unless I call you.

Joan Burton:  It is not in Social Welfare, Tánaiste!

Luci Creighton:  Excuse me, Taoiseach. Is it okay if I start to clean up, only I’ll have to do a constituency clinic this evening.

Enda Kenny:  Fine with me, Luci or Ludwig! Don’t forget to check behind the Sofas for some Punts! It has to be somewhere. Bobby, what damage can befall us over this?

Bob McDonagh:  Worst situation could end up with a demand for immediate repayment, Boss. Someone, somewhere has the interest that the fund was gaining while it was in Anglo-Irish! That amounts to a cool €2 million!

Luci Creighton:  Bloody Hell!

Eamon Gilmore:  Ditto!

Ruairí Quinn:  Jeezus! I’d better get a new copybook.

Eamon Gilmore:  It’s your bloody Croke Park Agreement, Enda. Good Lord, it will be the ruin of us all. Well, the country finances have nothing to do with the labour Party. You kept all that for yourselves, so I’d check out your front benchers, Mr Kenny!

Enda Kenny:  You’re really pushing your luck, Mr Gilmore. Sure your support base are the unemployed and benefit scroungers. Joan is hovering up every cent she can grab.

Luci Creighton:  Joan’s clutching her handbag, Boss! Give it here.

Joan Burton:  Get off, Ludwig, you little upstart! Nobody gets into my bag unless invited.

Ruairí Quinn:  Quite right, Joan. These buffoons are trying to stitch us up!

Enda Kenny:  Why you urban corner boys! No wonder that we have to put chains on our pens. My upstanding colleagues would never try such a scam. It’s obviously a Labour robbery.

FX: Door opening and closing as Reilly leaves.

Ruairí Quinn:  James’s getting away, Eamon! Halt! We have to stop him. Come on, Joan. JOAN! Let’s go.

Joan Burton:  I’m right behind you, Ruairí.

FX: Door opening and closing as Quinn and Burton leave.

Eamon Gilmore:  I’ll give you 24 hours to find that money Enda, our I’ll be visiting the Áras for a chat with Michael D., and you’ll be the only thing on the agenda.

Enda Kenny:  Stuff you, Eamon. You’ve been a weight around my neck for too long. You better follow Burton into the wilderness, as I won’t be making this mistake next time. The Labour Party is finished.

Eamon Gilmore:  I shall see you, as they say, on the Hustings. Goodbye, Edna!

FX: Door opening and closing as Gilmore leaves.

Enda Kenny:  It’s just us then, Ludwig. You’ll be coming to Germany with me after all.

Luci Creighton:  Sorry Taoiseach, but I’ve accepted an offer to join the ECB. I’ll be working in Mario Draghi’s office in the Eurotower, in Frankfurt; a chance to use my German and to improve my Italian too. I actually took the opportunity to write you this letter. I’ll be heading off now and will clear my office tomorrow. I feel sure you’ll understand? Oh and by the way, I’ve got an Ank-la Murk-ill on the line, insisting on speaking to an Edna Kenny immediately. She seems really put out about something!

►       FX: Sound of the door opening and closing for Lucinda leaving.

Enda Kenny:  Ahem! (Sigh, Pause, lift phone) Hello, Angela. It’s Edna here.

►       FX: Last 50 seconds of the 1939 hit, Buddy Jones’s ‘I’m in the           Dog House now’, including the final 20 second instrumental as           background to the Narrator’s credits. Fade out.


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Realising that some people were good enough to be following this story, and as I am still caught up in a separate project, I thought it only fair to give you the Synopsis of the story (until it gets into the shops!), and a photo of the story’s heroine 🙂

Sarah Bealen and Edward Cole were childhood sweethearts in the Carlow of one hundred years ago. In 1909, Edward and his family moved to the English midlands. Sarah went on to become a nurse in Dublin. After the outbreak of the Great War, she became an army nurse, and moved to London. Due to a linguistic mishap, she ended up working in the Lahore Hospital, in Calais. There she treated gas victims from the Battle of Loos, in September 1915. One was Captain Charles Huffington, a receiver of the Medal for Gallantry. He and  Sarah begin an affair, although his parents are horrified by her working class, Irish background. Charles was sent home to recover.
Sarah took lodgings in Lichfield, within cycling distance of Charles’s home. There, she met Edward Cole again, who was now a Second Lieutenant in Charles’s Regiment. Sarah still wanted Charles and accepts his marriage proposal. In a final attempt to stop this, his father transferred his son to the Regimental Headquarters in Whitehall. Sarah turned to Edward for support and comfort. He gave her far more than just comfort, having never lost his love for her. Charles threatens to resign his commission, unless he is allowed to marry Sarah. Under duress, his father conceded and Sarah and Charles announce their engagement.

When the Easter Insurrection breaks out in Dublin, Charles and Edward were sent with the English contingent. While fighting on North King Street, Edward witnessed the murder of an innocent civilian and in turn shot dead the soldier responsible. Charles had Edward arrested for killing the British soldier, and was the main witness for the prosecution. Edward was found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad. Sarah was also in Dublin, as part of the medical corp. of the British forces. She visited Edward, after which he wrote to her about what really happened on North King Street. He explained that, while he was guilty as charged, he also witnessed Charles murdering Sarah’s father. Before she received this news, Edward was executed. Charles and Sarah return to England and marry. Some eyebrows were raised in Charles’s community by the fact that Sarah was obviously pregnant.

When she eventually received Edward’s letter about Charles and her father, Sarah confronted Charles. He admitted the killing, dismissing it as a just war. Sarah lost it and attacked Charles, letting him know that she was carrying Edward’s baby. In the resulting fight to the death, it was Sarah who triumphed, killing her husband. His father, the Colonel, found the body and had beaten the whole truth out of Sarah. In order for protect his son’s good name and the reputation of the regiment, Colonel Huffington agreed not to press charges against her, as long as she left Britain forever. Sarah agreed and the story ends as she was reunited with her mother and sister on the Kingstown quayside.Image

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Chapter Fourteen – APRIL 26th, 1916 – DUBLIN, IRELAND

Charles and Edward were easy to track down, as they were drinking in the famous Lamb & Flag Pub, in Covent Garden when the Military Police came in. Three burly individuals that spanned out, the man on the left heading straight to Charles, having noticed his rank. Patrons put down their glasses, eager to see what we up.

“Captain,” said the Sergeant, without saluting. “Orders from Brigadier-Colonel Maconchy, Sir. All staff must report to barracks immediately, for urgent shipment to suppress an Uprising in Ireland, Sir.”

“Calm down, man,” said Captain Huffington, rising off his seat and looking the Sergeant over. He was unimpressed. “You are saying that the Brigadier wants us to run over to Ireland and punch those idiots on the nose, is that right?”

“That’s about the size of it, Sir. All hell has broken loose, with rivers of blood flowing through Dublin and the Germans landing on the east and south coasts, Sir. Our trains and equipment are scattered all over Britain, because of the Bank Holiday. We’ve been rounding up the 59th North Midland Brigade since noon, Sir.”

“Ah, well there you are, Sergeant. Edward and I are 178th Brigade; South Staffordshire you see. It’s a case of mistaken identity.”

“Please I implore you, Captain. We have lorries outside and are to make no exceptions. You can take it up with your commander but I have strict orders to get you to him immediately. Please understand, Sir. You must be delivered by any means necessary, if you catch my drift.” He extracted a wooden truncheon from his coat and dropped it repeatedly into the palm of his free hand.

“Well, Edward,” conceded Charles, “We’d better agree with this Sergeant’s suggestion and take his lift to Colonel Oates.” He downed his untouched Whisky and Soda in one go. Seven men were led out of the pub, to whistles and cheers from the rest of the clientage. “Are to seriously taking us to Regimental Headquarters in a lorry? It looks awfully uncomfortable.”

“There is a train waiting at Euston Railway Station, Sir. It will take you to Liverpool where you will embark for Dublin. Your Staff Officers will join you in Liverpool. Do have a safe journey, Sir,” said the Sergeant, banging the side of the lorry to signal the driver to move off. They jostled and bounced their way across London, the noise preventing conversation until they were settled on the train. It moved off quickly, as soldiers were still trying to board. Luckily, there was an officer’s carriage, so at least Charles and Edward got seats. There was all sorts of units represented in their compartment and all sorts of rumours about why the alarm had been sounded.

“Let’s get some shut-eye, men. We’ll find out what’s happening in Liverpool,” said Charles, folding his greatcoat into an improvised pillow. He spent the journey thinking of Sarah. He obviously had no chance to talk to her, and now no news to put in a letter. What would she think, when he was not at the morning service for fallen comrades? He composed a letter in his mind, assuring himself of getting the chance to post it before the ship left port. He never got that chance, rediscovering his scribbles in a jacket pocket in Dublin. The size of the force heading to Ireland was very obvious as soon as they reached Liverpool’s Riverside Station. There were units from all over the Black Country, especially from Staffordshire. There were also Royal Engineers and lots of Medical Corp personnel. He willed to see Sarah among the medics, but of course she wasn’t. After walking around for a bit, Edward shouted to him to join their briefing. He arrived by Edward in time to see Major-General Sandbach address them.

“This is a most regrettable situation men,” he began. “Stand easy. It looks like the Irish have joined with the Hun against us. There has been a number of incidents in Dublin that the local military have requested our help in eliminating. Let’s do a clinical, professional job that His Majesty can feel proud of. Get you men and equipment on board as quickly as possible. We sail on the evening tide and being late is not an option. Get to it, dismissed.”

Charles and Edward spent the trip across the Irish Sea out on the deck. Most of the troopers choose to stay outside. There was a known treat from U-Boats, who ran a cat and mouse fight with the Royal Navy. Within the Irish Sea, World War One submarines were at a distinct disadvantage compared to surface ships. They could be outrun by most of the Royal Navy’s fleet and tended to use their deck gun to attack slow-moving trawlers and solo runners travelling towards them. This military transporter, however, had a two destroyer escort and was running flat-out, at almost eighteen knots. After an hour at sea, Colonel Oates called his officers astern, for his briefing. After telling them to stand easy and to smoke if they wish, he filled them in on the situation in Dublin.

“Gentlemen, there is an armed Uprising in Dublin, which started last Monday when armed men from James Connolly’s trade union force assaulted the Castle. It failed completely and General Lowe is now in charge of His Majesty’s forces, containing the Irish in each of their occupied buildings. We are the anvil to General Lowe’s hammer. We are showing both the Germans in Flanders and the Irish in Dublin what overwhelming response is brought down on anyone that threatens the Empire.” He paused to drink some water, which had arrived from the ship’s galley.

“If everything is under such control, what will we actually be doing,” wondered Charles out loud. The Colonel heard his uttering and was glad to reply.

“That’s a good question, Captain. We will be achieving a number of objectives on this little adventure. Many of our troopers are untried in the field. This will be a way of blooding your men for the Western Front, under controlled conditions. Equally important is to deter any further unrest in Ireland for a hundred years. Now these insurgents had some early encouragement as the military was standing easy for the Easter weekend. Have no doubt that you will be fighting in Dublin, and it’s not as easy as you might think. The Irish are by no means a reliable military force, but they can still kill you; so remain alert to trouble. We will not be sailing into Dublin Port, but to the fine harbour at Kingstown, just south of the city. Once we have sorted our men and kit on dry land, we will be marching north in two columns, but I will give those details in Kingstown. For now, relax your troops, but install in them a suspicion of all things Irish. They don’t eat, drink or socialise with anything outside the English military while they’re in Ireland. That’s all, gentlemen. I will see you in Kingstown for breakfast and I give you the marching orders. Have a good night, and dismiss.” While the officers dispersed, Charles and Edward stayed at the stern rail, silently watching the ship’s wake.

“It’s my first time back, Charles you know? What a messed up country it must be. Don’t they know how well off they are?”

“I’d forgotten that you were Irish, Edward.” Charles was grinning meaning the ribbing to be no more than friendly teasing. “The difference between you and them, Edward is that you got out; you got an English education and a career in the military. It’s the ones that stay are the problem. Illiterate, drunken and easily tempted astray. There is no helping them. They reproduce like vermin, for God’s sake. How come you’re an only child?”

“There was a problem with my birth, which nearly killed my mother. As a result of the operation, the doctors convinced her that she could not survive another pregnancy.” Charles laughed at that.

“I bet that pleased you father no end!”

“Shut it, Charles or I’ll be forced to shut it for you.” There was no humour in his voice as he defended his parent’s reputation.

“Geez, Edward! Scratch the surface and you’ll find the Paddy. Are you up for this fight or would you rather stand aside?”

“I know my duty, Captain Huffington,” said Edward Cole and he walked away without looking back.

to be continued

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Chapter Twelve – DECEMBER 9th, 1915 – WOMBOURNE, ENGLAND

Charles opened his eyes, but dared not move. He could feel the warmth of a midday sun, shining directly on his face. Soft cotton sheets crest his skin, while heavy blankets held him tight to the down-filled mattress. He was home. His father had given him a pair of sunglasses, as his eyes were still quite weak, despite the removal of the bandages. Once he had the glasses in place, he pushed himself into a half sitting position and looked around the room. Everything was both familiar and childish. His parents, he was assuming by that, his mother had kept everything like he had left it, when he went to enlist at Lichfield Training Depot, in August 1914. A tap-tap on the bedroom door admitted his mother. She was glad to see him alert and smiled. “How do you feel this morning, Charles?” She was putting his officer’s jacket on a hanger, smoothing it affectionately.

“I’m feeling a lot better, mum. I actually slept last night and feel that I could even manage a little breakfast, if that is still available at this hour?” His mother turned to him with a grin, and asked what he wished to eat. “I’d love coffee and a boiled egg, if the hens are giving?”

“The new help is here today, so she’ll deliver it when it’s ready. I’ll throw on some toast as well. Now make yourself presentable, Charles. I won’t see the family’s status diminished in front of the domestic.” She put a bowl of water, a flannel and a brush beside him and went off to get the breakfast started. There was no mirror in the room, just as in the hospitals, so he still had not seen the damage to his face. He started to use the flannel to wipe himself. He felt the seven days growth on his chin, not having shaved since Brindley Heath. It was twenty minutes later that another tap-tap announced the arrival of his breakfast. When nobody entered, he said, “Come!”

The door slowly swung open and standing there, framed in the doorway and holding a breakfast tray, was Sarah Bealen. She worn the widest grin that Charles had ever seen, and almost dropped the tray in the excitement of the moment. She stepped to the bed and placed his breakfast across his legs, before leaning in to kiss him long and hard. When she got vertical again, she straightened her pinafore and, giving a little curtsy, asked “Will there be anything else, Sir?” Charles gapped like a fish out of water.

“But, how did you; when did; my God, are you in service here?”

“Easy, soldier” said Sarah, “your breakfast will get cold and you know that your recovery is my number one priority. Questions can wait ‘til later. Now eat up, as I have to get to work. This is extra duties; not that I’m complaining.” Another delicious smile as Mrs Huffington entered behind her.

“That will be all, Sarah. We’ll see you at 0600 hours tomorrow, with a starched apron, okay? We must maintain our standards, even in wartime.” Sarah mouthed ‘0600 hours’ at Charles, curtsied and left with a giggle. Mrs Huffington turned to Charles, straightening his bed-clothes.

“Honestly, Charles. This war of yours is ruining the lower classes. I know they are scrapping the barrel, but really; that little Irish girl is the limit.”

“Mother,” shouted Charles, before continuing more calmly, “That ‘gal’ is Sarah Bealen, the nurse that saved my life and, I might add, the lady I intend to marry.”

“Eat your breakfast, Charles, and eggs are a treat these days. Sarah, if that’s her name, may be tending to your basic instincts, but in this house she is the Irish help and not very good help either, I might say.”

“MOTHER!” he shouted, handing her the untouched tray. “I don’t understand. I need to get dressed,” he added, throwing back the blankets, before realising that he wasn’t wearing pyjama bottoms. “You’ll have to leave, please.”

“You come down to the kitchen, if you really feel up to it,” said his mother, turning to leave. To add to his embarrassment, he clearly heard her mutter, “Serve his basic instincts indeed,” as she was closing his door.

When he entered the kitchen, his mother was just lifting the kettle from its place on the range. The necessary cups and condiments were on the small wooden table; set for two, he noticed. He sat down, pulling his braces onto his shoulders. Lucy, his mother, fussed with the chore of tea pouring but eventually sat and looked at her son expectantly.

“So, Sarah saved your life, Charles. That’s quite an accusation to make, I might say.”

“She did, mother and has followed my recovery from Calais to here and for the foreseeable future.” He blew on his tea, which was still too hot to drink. “I’m totally serious about us being an item, and I do intent to ask for her hand.” His mother took the news in her stride.

“Don’t you bother about such things until you are properly recovered. Anyway, your Sarah already has a beau. I saw them only last Tuesday when I was visiting your father’s tailor in Lichfield.”

“That’s impossible,” proclaimed Charles a little too quickly. “She is mine, I tell you, and when we marry you will apologise to us both.”

“I certainly didn’t mean to upset you, Charles but I actually had to address her about starting here today. She introduced the man with her as her boyfriend. He was an army officer, I remember.” Unknown to Charles, the only inaccuracy in Lucy’s statement was that Sarah’s companion was an old, rather than current, boyfriend. When Charles had been granted home leave, from Brindley Heath, Sarah had looked for lodgings within cycling distance of Wombourne. She found it in Lichfield; in a lovely boarding house under the very shadow of Lichfield Cathedral. After dropping her belongings, she had gone strolling through the town, to look at her new surroundings. She had been absent-mindedly flicking through a bookshop’s external display, when she caught “SARAH!” being shouted from down the street. She spun around and saw an army officer running towards her, arms waving wildly over his head. “SARAH,” he continued shouting, until he arrived breathless before her. She was so taken aback, that she never even tried to recognise the man. He continued to babble at her, “I simply don’t believe my eyes; how did you ever!; it is SO great to see you; is your whole family with you?”

“Do I know you?” she asked, recovering her hands from where he had grabbed them. She took a couple of steps backwards and remained apprehensively staring at him.

“Oh my Gosh, Sarah, it was so presumptuous of me to imagine that you could have remembered me. Please forgive me; I was just so ecstatic at seeing you here, in the middle of Lichfield. I’m Edward; Edward Cole!” He exaggerated a Carlow accent and observed the recognition appear on Sarah’s face.

“Oh good gracious me, I never dreamt! Edward, it really is you – and in the army too, I see?”

“Yes, the King’s shilling for all it’s worth.” While he had been looking intently at her, he had spotted the medical service badge on the right side of her coat. “Are you an army nurse, Sarah?”

“Yes, Territorial Force Nursing Service, if you please. I thought that there was more to do than just delivering babies in Dublin, so I answered the call. But how are you and your family? Gosh, how long has it been?”

“Over six years, Sarah. Six years and a lifetime ago. Listen, have you time for a tea. My mother runs the tea rooms in the Recreation Park’s pavilion. She’ll be so thrilled to see you; she still gets homesick, I’m afraid.”

“Well, I’d love to. Unfortunately, I’m actually going to.” She was cut off by an automobile breaking hard on the road beside them, the surprise forcing Sarah to take a little jump towards Edward, who put a protective arm around her waist. The rear window of the automobile was wound down and a woman addressed her from within.

“Miss Sarah Bealen? I am Mrs Huffington and have accepted your services from the Carlson Agency just five minutes ago. Mr Carlson pointed you out to me, so I thought that I would introduce myself.” She was studying Edward, his uniform and the position of his right arm around Sarah’s waist. “The agency assured me that you were single.”

The reaction of the pedestrians was twofold. Edward came to attention and saluted, while Sarah curtsied and reassured Mrs Huffington by saying, “Oh no, Madam. This is my boyfriend since childhood. We just met again by accident after many years.”

This seemed to satisfy her new mistress, who simply said, “then we will see you at 0600 hours tomorrow morning, Sarah. Mr Carlson will supply the address. The help entrance can be approach from the rear lane.” She knocked on the driver’s glass partition and, as she rewound the window, the automobile pulled off with a grinding of gears and a couple of puffs of exhaust fumes.

to be continued

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Chapter Nine – OCTOBER 16th, 1915 – DOVER, ENGLAND

The sun actually woke Charles on his seventh morning in the Royal Victoria Hospital; the Dover hospital that is actually located in Folkestone, six miles to the west. It was not a warm sun but was bright enough to penetrate his bandages and give his eyes their fist sensation of light since Loos. By now he was used to operating without his sight, under the strict understanding given to him by the doctors that his eyesight would return given time. So he sat up in his bed and waited for the day to begin. It began, not with a dawn choirs of birds, but with the man in the next bed waking; screaming from a nightmare. Charles could smell that he had obviously soiled himself. “Poor blighter,” thought Charles to himself, lying back down and turning away from the other beds, towards the door through which the day would come. He felt under his pillow for the small rectangle box that held his medal. He could not understand why, but admitted that it meant a lot to him. Promptly at 05.30 hours a metal medicine trolley bashed through the ward doors. This would have caused resentment if it was not been pushed by Sarah Bealen. She attracted everyone’s attention.

“How are all my brave fighters this fair morning?” she asked. “Tablets for everybody.” She based herself in the centre of the ward and worked in a counter-clockwise direction, so as to end up at Charles’s bed. She fed him a mixture of eleven tablets with a mug of tepid water. “How is my favourite medal winner today?” She was easy with him, used to the idea that he could not see her. Somehow, she still made the effort to look her best for him.

“All the better for hearing your voice, Sarah,” he answered, reaching for her hand. However, Sarah was checking his eye bandages, covering her hands over one eye and then the other.

“How are the eyes doing?”

“I can see some light and they are not hurting as much.” He moved his hands over hers and, when she started to remove them, he held them tightly, and pressed them to his lips. “Someday I will get these blasted bandages off and then you’ll have to look out. The monster will be released!” He gurgled a laugh through his damaged larynx. He laid his head back with a deep breath. She stood and leaned over to kiss the bandage on his right eye.

“That’s a deal, Charles. Until then, you just do as you’re told. Listen to your doctor and to me of course, as we want your recovery as much as you do.” She pressed his hand again and pushed her medicine trolley out of the ward. That afternoon, the patents were helped into wheelchairs and taken onto an outdoor terrace. They were entertained to a concert by a Brighton and Hove quartet. It was pleasant in the windless sunshine and gave Charles time to think. Thinking of course, meant thinking of Sarah Bealen. His imagination insisted on filling in the blanks that existed by his lack of eyesight. He was determined to regain his sight and to reward Sarah for all the help and support that she had shown him. Without even realising it had happened, he was wishing to present his personal angel to his parents. But what could he tell them? Practically nothing. He knew her name but not where she was from. By her voice, he was guessing North England, but she could even be a London girl, for all he knew. Her age? He would guess mid-twenties, but she could be younger. Looks? He was still using the actress Pauline Chase as her template. He hated his damn eye bandages.

Each morning and evening Sarah would spend about five minutes with him. Mainly small talk, as she was aware that the other patients could hear every word. Then came Thursday, when she and nurse Mae Clark, from HMS Salta had to give the ward bed baths. As things turned out, everything worked in Sarah’s favour. Mae took her aside, before entering the ward.

“If it’s not an inhibition, Sarah.” She seemed unsure of herself, but with Sarah’s encouragement came out with her request. “I would like to look after Captain Thomas Harper. I feel a real tie to him since the ship and we’ve had little chance to talk.” Sarah could not believe her luck, and said simply,

“No problem, Mae. You do the right-hand side and I’ll look after the left-hand beds.” Delighted by that, they entered the ward. Sarah admitted later, to herself, that she was aroused by the prospects of bathing Charles Huffington. It was surreal as, due to his lack of sight, the sense of touch was elevated. She whispered into his ear about what was going to happen. “I have to bathe you, Charles. I want you to relax as much as possible and dream away to your happy place.” She was putting the bowl and towels on his bedside table. When she had filled the bowl with hot water, she let it cool for a few minutes. She continued to talk.

“I will be changing your eye bandages, Charles and bathing them. We will do each eye separately. Don’t try to use them, as you won’t be able to and it will frustrate you and cause you pain.” She lifted one of his hands to her cheek saying, “let your fingers paint the picture.”

Charles tentatively moved his fingers over her face; high cheek bones, almond eyes and broad lips. “Eye colour?” he asked in a guttural voice.

“Blue, Charles.” She started to detach the left eye bandage as he ran his fingers gently through her hair. “Auburn,” she volunteered, before he could ask. She took the moistened flannel and started to timidly wipe his eye, from the nose out to the ear. Once, twice and three times she wiped, while he kept it closed and his fingers in her hair. Sarah carefully patted dry the eye with a hand towel, before attaching a fresh patch over it. “We can rest for a moment if you like,” she told Charles, leaning in to blow softly on the newly covered eyelid.

“No, continue please.” Sarah addressed his right eye with equal gentleness. Then she used the flannel to wash his ears, face and, with extra care, his throat and neck. She continued to undo and remove his pajama top, despite him wrapping his arms around her neck. She washed each arm and hand; drying as she went. She placed his hands in his lap as she started to wash his chest and stomach. She allowed her right hand to work independently of the flannel, massaging his fair chest hair. She helped Charles to roll onto his side, so that she could wash his back. When she had dried off the back, she paused again. He rolled onto his back once more and placed his hands onto her nurse’s waist belt, making her shuffle nearer to the head of the bed.

“Your home, town?” He strained, but was becoming used to the pain associated with trying to speak.

“Carlow in Ireland,” she supplied, beaming an unwitnessed smile. Charles half laughed.

“I wouldn’t have ever guessed.” Pause to breathe. “An Irish lass, with auburn hair and blue eyes. Freckles?”

“A few,” she said, laughing lightly. She moved to replace his hands in his lap, but he resisted. She glanced around the ward, and saw nurse Clark by Harper’s bed. She was sitting on the edge, her back to Harper, with both her hands under the blankets, washing his lower half. He was staring at the ceiling with a glazed expression on his face. Sarah turned embarrassingly back to Charles. “Captain Huffington seems entirely capable of washing under the blankets for himself,” she said, forcing the flannel into his hand. She went to rise, but he held her hand and gaze.

“Sarah please.” She relented, letting their fingers intertwine. “You have bewitched me with your Irish charm, you know that?”

“It’s you that has enchanted me, my gallant knight in shining armour.” She studied his face. Nose had been broken and badly set, giving it a Roman profile out-of-place on his broad Anglo-Saxon head. Laughter from behind her informed her that Mae and Thomas had finished their bath time. She used it to finally end the invisible link, which had held her to Charles. She stood and leaned in to kiss his forehead. He was quick enough to grab her ears and lower her mouth to his. She practically fell onto him and would recall later that night, that she had distinctly felt his tongue against her lips and teeth. She quickly got back up, blushing and grabbing the trolley for support. She straightened her uniform and pawed at her fringe.

As she left with Mae, she shouted to Charles over her shoulder, “Look after my flannel, Captain Huffington. I’ll be back for it later!” Wearing the broadest grin that Charles had had in months, he threw the flannel into the air, allowing it to fall back unchallenged, across his face. “Who would have believed it?” he said aloud. “Sarah is bloody Irish.”

Sarah and Charles were informal and relaxed in each other’s company after that bath. Charles told her all about Wombourne and his childhood there. In reply, Sarah reminisced about Carlow and her Irish upbringing. They laughed and, if the time spent touching is to be a gauge, they were moving continuously closer to a romantic affair. As Charles was to forget, the first time that Sarah kissed him back was on October 23rd, after she had heard that the hospital’s current patients were being relocated, prior to the arrival of a new batch of front line casualties.

“Your marching orders, Captain.” She said, sitting on his bed and kissing him lightly. She handed over the transport sheet that she had borrowed from the nurses’ station, explaining what it said.

“Where are they sending me? What about you, are you coming too?” He pawed her tunic, trying to get at the knee underneath. She giggled and held his hand back on his own knee.

“That’s the wonderful thing, Charles. General Rawlinson’s chic from Calais was never rescinded, so I guess where ever you go, I am obliged to follow.” They laughed heartily and Charles allowed his hands to outline the curves of her breasts for the first time.

“Farming stock,” he said, running his fingers back and forward. “These damn bandages!” She allowed him to play a little, trilling at the interest that he was showing in her. Then she stood and in her most official voice she told him to remember his position. Still, as she turned to collect the contents of his waste paper bin, he fondly grabbed her right buttock and squeezed. She left the ward in a giggling fit. There was a lot of fuss in the ward as the move got nearer, and they hardly saw each other for the rest of the month. Endless paperwork kept Sarah tied to the nurses’ station and she only got to stick her head in and blow him a kiss while passing.

On November 1st, a military train arrived at Dover’s Priory Station and was positioned on a siding. It was different from the normal passenger train, having most of the seating removed and wooden benches installed, which stretchers could be strapped to. At noon that day, patients started to be transported, beginning with the amputees. It was late afternoon before they came for Charles Huffington. Two Geordie porters displayed none of the bedside manners that Charles had gotten used to under Sarah’s care. After a very uncomfortable journey to Priory station, he was subjected to even more juggling, making him feel like a piece of un-valued luggage. He ended up strapped to a top bench in the ninth carriage out of twelve. Once they left, he lay there moodily regretting that Sarah had not bothered to see him off. Sarah had in fact arrived at the train with the second ambulance and had been kept busy in the front carriages. It was past midnight before she could get enough time to search for him. She ignored the draw of sleep and moved through the train, staring into all the faces that were caught by her smile. When she saw him, he was actually asleep. She blew on his face, which had become her call sign, and his expression showed that he recognised her presence. Even as they exchanged cliché greetings, a military police corporal interrupted, asking Sarah to return to the front carriages. Despite her best wishes, she ended up getting much-needed sleep before she was awoken again, at Brighton, the first stop where carriages were being disconnected from the main train, to continue their journey west. Charles, delighted just to know that she had made this train dreamed of her and announced, if only to himself, that he wanted her around.

to be continued

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Chapter Eight – OCTOBER 7th, 1915 – H.M.H.S. SALTA, THE ENGLISH CHANNEL

Hospital Ship Salta raised anchor on the morning tide on October 7th, bound for Dover. It had to cross the submarine infected Channel every other week and was considered a lucky ship, having never encountered any trouble. There were two hundred souls on board for the short trip to Dover and safety. Captain Charles Huffington was on the upper deck, and being an officer, in a cabin with three others. Luckily, he got a bottom bunk and didn’t have to negotiate over others. His eyes were still wrapped up and he was itching to remove the bandage to see the damage done. He couldn’t read the newspapers, so he didn’t know the plight of his comrades at Loos. A Queen Alexandra nurse, rather than Sarah, was assigned to their cabin and after settling everyone down; she left to try to find a newspaper.

It is overpowering how the scent of a woman, even the rustle of a starched cotton apron can lift the morale of men, after months of warfare. The man who was being transferred to Britain having lost both legs, when a miss-thrown Mills bomb had gone off at his feet, described her for the rest of the cabin, who were all mustard gas patients. However, their imaginations did a better job, so that the ‘motherly figure, in her fifties with child-bearing hips’ became in Charles’s mind a version of Miss Pauline Chase, the famous actress of the day. He had seen her in the West End production of ’Peter Pan’  before embarking for France and she was still his image of the most beautiful example of English womanhood. It calmed them all to dream of this Florence Nightingale nurse with Pauline Chase’s face here to pamper their every whim during the four-hour voyage back to Ol’ Blighty. Charles could speak a little by now, although it was still a very painful experience. He did not use it flippantly, preferring to listen to the others. They appeared to all be Londoners, in their early twenties.

A tap on the cabin door notified the occupants of the return of the nurse, with not one, but two newspapers. The amputated officer, Captain Harper of the Royal London Rifles, had become the unofficial speaker for the cabin. As the nurse settled into a wicker chair, Harper asked, “What is your name Sister, please?”

“I am sorry, but of course we should be properly introduced. My name is Mae Clark, and I’ve been a Queen Alexandra nurse for two years now. I’m from Wolverhampton,” she added with a broad smile. The patients hung onto her every word.

“I’m Captain Thomas Harper, Mae,” said the speaker. Turning to the upper bunks, he continued, “Lieutenants John Washington and Martin Cornwall at your service, Mae. We are all from London, except for Captain Charles Huffington here, who is from your neck of the woods.” Charles would have loved to join in this chat, but his vocal cords allowed him the possibility of no more than a deep grunt. He stayed silent, even when the nurse addressed him directly.

“Oh, are you from Wolves too, Charles?” Charles had been scribbling on a page torn from his notebook, and he handed it to Mae. “Wombourne” was written on it, in a shaking hand. “Wombourne,” exclaimed Mae, returning the page to Charles, “Why that’s practically next door. What would that be, about ten miles south of me? I have friends there and ‘am very familiar with it. They live in Maypole Street and we used to buy a lunch from the Market on High Street to eat in the Cricket Grounds, during the summer of 1912.” Charles handed over the page once more, where this time he had written, “Gravel Hill.”

“Gosh, you are well off,” said Mae with a warming laugh. I saw it a few times, as we took our evening strolls.” The Londoners did not appreciate this excluding exchange and Thomas interjected, before it could continue. “You found some newspapers, Mae?” She stood, laughing again, as she had inexplicably sat on them earlier. She retrieved them now. “I have a Sunday Pictorial from last month, and a copy of the Daily Mirror from just last week.” She handed the picture paper to Thomas saying, “You browse this Thomas, while I read the Mirror to the others. Then we can swap over.” She addressed her gas patients, “Just lie back down and I’ll read you the paper. Let your imagination drift you away to somewhere nice, maybe Wombourne or London,” she said with a smile, momentarily forgetting that they could not see her.

“The Daily Mirror, September 30th, 1915. Main headline, ‘Great gains at Ypres!’” As she read the article, Charles did allow his mind float to ‘Gravel Hill, in Wombourne’. “Germans use asphyxiating gas at Ypres.” Mae looked at the men, still suffering from their own British gas at Loos. She continued to scan the headlines, “Vigorous counter-attack success. The Royal Flying Corps brought down a German machine about Messines.” She glanced again, knowing how interested everyone seemed to be in aeroplanes. They looked peaceful, sleepy even. She lowered her voice so as not to disturb them and looked inside the paper, to find any other interesting stories. “French capture trenches in the forest of Apremont. Sir John French’s Cheerful Report of Ypres Triumph! Air Hero’s Raid on Ghent.” They seemed to have all gone to sleep, Thomas lying with the Sunday Pictorial open on his chest. She was glad for them, as they had not got much rest since their ordeals in battle. She quietly put the newspapers on the chair that she had vacated and after covering Thomas with his blanket, she slipped out of the cabin, turning the light off as she went.

Charles Huffington was fast asleep, dreaming of home. The family lived in number three, near the High Street. He was sitting on the swing that his father had built in their back garden. The sun was warm on his face and better still, he could see. He smiled at his mother, who was wiping his nose with her handkerchief. She had her garden pinafore on, and had obviously been weeding. His father, from somewhere behind him, asked her, “Shall we take our tea out here, dear? It seems a shame to miss this lovely sunshine.”

“What a wonderful suggestion, Charles. Junior, help your father to move the table outside.” He skipped off the swing and ran to help his father. After they placed the table, they went inside to get some chairs and a tablecloth. Eventually, they were eating sandwiches and drinking milk in the back garden. Happy and content; peaceful, innocent times.

Then they were in their car; uncle Phillip driving his mother and him to Lichfield Barracks. He was fourteen years old and dressed in his Sunday best. It was daddy’s big day. The gate guard at Lichfield Barracks saluted as they drove in. Charles hopped out and gazed around in astonishment. He saw his father marching across the square, in full dress uniform, towards them. He looked wonderful, wearing his sword and medals. Charles was very proud and thought of how wonderful it will be to join the army too. His father, also called Charles, was being promoted to Colonel. He would be the new commanding officer for Lichfield Barracks and the garrison was being paraded in his honour. Charles watched the parade with the others on the viewing platform, with an overwhelming feeling of pride. He drifted on, to the rhythm of the ship’s engine, until a banging on the cabin door pulled him back to the present and the English Channel. A sailor stuck his head around the door shouting, “We’re coming to Dover harbour, guys. Docking in twenty minutes.”

Captain Harper took over the commentary, relating everything that he could see out of their porthole. His most appreciated comment was when he could see the white cliffs. Even Charles grunted a ‘Yippee!’ at that, despite the pain. Then they heard the horns of other ships at anchor in the harbour. Their ship had large red crosses painted onto its white body, so everyone knew that it was carrying wounded soldiers. After they had docked they were left alone for about half an hour. Then the door opened to admit Sarah Bealen.

“Priority passengers gentlemen,” she beamed, surveying the cabin. She took hold of Charles’s hand and he covered her hand with his other one. “Look lively and the stretchers will be here in a few minutes. You’re all being taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital for a meal and to get your paperwork done. We’ll give you postcards there too, so you can tell your families that you’re home safely.” She detached herself from Charles and left, to allow the stretcher bearers do their job. A fleet of ambulances lined the pier and the officers were the first to be loaded, for the short journey to the hospital. An entry area had been prepared for them and there was a line of low beds running down both sides. After a small meal of a hot stew and even hotter tea, a team of orderlies moved amongst them, helping them to write their postcards, and to record their personal details.

to be continued

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Captain Huffington’s sight was very blurred and his breathing was still very shallow. He was conscious of being in a hospital of some sort, but where it was or how he had got here would not come to him. He tried to turn his head to look around but the pain was too great for him to complete the move. He lay still and tried to remember. Time past without any decent recollections coming to him. He concentrated on the room he was in. He sensed people moving past him, men or women, he could not tell. No one paid him any attention. Somebody was creating a lot of noise at the far end of the ward and was managing to block most of the other hospital sounds. He remained still and buried into his brain to find any information on his most recent movements.

A damp flannel was stroked across his forehead! He tried to speak but could not. It swiped again and he realised that there was a hand attached to it. On its third pass, he managed to place his hand on the flannel. He felt sure it was a female hand and he trilled at the prospect. He tried to see but to no avail. They woman’s hand withdrew and, with a gentle pat on his head, disappeared. He had a fitful sleep. In it he saw his right hand stretched out in front of him, leaning tightly on the right shoulder of a man in front of him. They were walking on a muddy road; he could see. His eyesight was poor but the man had a hat on. No, a helmet! German coals scuttle? No, a British ‘Battle Bowler’. The man was swaying a lot nearly slipping in the liquefied mud flooding the duck boarding that lined their walkway. There was another man behind Charles, clenching his right shoulder. He found it very hard to breathe, as if he has swallowed a burning cigarette. He cannot see more than simple shapes. They just keep walking. Nothing more. He vomits large quantities of yellowish frothy fluid on to the back of the man in front of him. There is no response from his mystery guide. They walk on. A hand rises out of the mud, as he steps on a dead man’s stomach. He tries to scream. No sound comes. He opens his eyes as wide as possible but cannot see anything at all. He falters again and more vomit and spittle run down his chin onto his pyjamas. He is awake, and back in the hospital.

The next time that he woke he realised that he was tied to the bed with wide leather belts. Was this, he dared to think for the first time, a German hospital? It was still very painful to breathe and he could still neither see nor speak. So, he lay quiet and listened. He did feel one new sense though, wind. He got the occasional feeling of a breeze on his face. There was also a constant two-way flow of traffic through a door nearby. He believed it was to his right. Someone touched his hair and he subconsciously froze. The damp flannel reappeared, caressing his forehead and then his cheeks and mouth. His bandages were too tight for him to get any feeling of light. Then, to his amazement, he heard a voice whisper by his left ear.

“Be easy, Captain. You are safe now.” An English accent? The flannel wiped again. Fingers touched his hand and he managed to slightly squeeze one. That got a response. “Please be easy, Sir. What can I tell you? Your name is Captain Charles Huffington, from Wombourne. You were gassed ten days ago, and luckily brought here, to the Lahore Hospital. You are still in France; in Calais. Most important for your recovery is bed rest. The more you sleep, the faster you’ll recover. We are confident that the doctors can save your eyesight, thank God. For now, please be patient, Charles. Rest and sleep and I’ll drop back later.” Another squeeze of her finger, held this time. As she untangled her finger, she whispered, “My name is Sarah; Sarah Bealen. I’ll be your nurse.” Then she was gone. He had enough stimuli to keep him thinking for hours. A week passed and, although his breathing eased slightly, there was no return of his sight. Five days later, two orderlies accompanied Sarah Bealen to his bed. They went about opening the belts and then removing his pyjama top, replacing it with a starched clean one. As they worked, Sarah sat on the edge of the bed and took hold of his hand.

“Be quiet now, Captain Huffington. You’ve been holding out on us,” said Sarah, while she squeezed his hand reassuringly. “You are quite the hero and some top brass is coming here today to give you a medal. We have to make you presentable.”

When he had been shaved, hair combed and clean pyjamas provided, Sarah helped him to sit up in the bed. A belt was tied around his waist and the bars of the bed to support him in this new position, hidden under an extra blanket. His eye bandages could not be removed, so he sat in blind silence while he waited. Sarah had four patents to look after, and took the opportunity to check on the others. Not knowing exactly when the Staff Officer would arrive, Sarah made light work only, fixing bed-clothes, grooming the patients’ faces and hair and humming a lullaby as she worked. A nervous, noisy breeze preceded the army’s arrival.

“He’s here already, folks”, shouted Nurse Billy Lloyd, fussing with the blanket of the nearest bed. Sarah excused herself from Major Grant, and positioned herself at the base of Charles’s bed. The double doors to the ward opened simultaneously, and two Military Police stepped through. They held the doors open, as General Rawlinson and his Aide breezed in. Billy Lloyd curtsied automatically, which almost made Sarah laugh out loud. She quickly regained her composure and stepped forward, with hand outstretched.

“You are very welcome, general,” she said as they shook hands. “There are many heroes here, but I understand that Captain Huffington is the one you are looking for today.” She gestured towards Charles.

“Excellent, Nurse,” he said, inspecting her name tag. “Nurse Bealen. He certainly is the man of the moment.” He turned to his Aide saying, “Let’s get on with it.” The Aide moved his head close to Charles’s ear and informed him of the general’s presence. He then handed the general a small box containing the medal and a typed card. The general read the card aloud.

“Following the successful rescue of Private James Sanderson from the Hohenzollern Redoubt, on August 17th, 1915, General Haig, on the recommendation of General Rawlinson and Major Grant, hereby awards Captain Charles Huffington, South Staffordshire Regiment, the Military Cross for Gallantry.”

He placed the card on the bedside table and opened the box. He extracted the medal, which had a profile of George V on the front and the recipitant’s details on the reverse. He leaned forward and pinned the medal to the pajamas chest. He stood erect and took the Captain’s hand.

“Congratulations, Charles.” he said with what passed for warmth in his world. “We are all very proud of you, so recover quickly. We need you back as soon as possible.” After standing awkwardly for a moment, he moved away and quietly asked Sarah Bealen, “Will he live, Miss?”

“We are confident of his recovery, general, but he will never regain his strength I’m afraid. We have such limited facilities here, I’m sorry to say.”

“Yes, yes, I quite understand. Well, he’s earned a trip home, so we’ll arrange that for him at least. You will accompany him, Miss. I want him to get the best possible treatment.”

“But my place is here, Sir.”

“Your place is where I believe you will do most good.” He was preparing to leave. “You will attend to Captain Huffington until this order is rescinded. Now, I have another award to deliver on the next floor. Would you be good enough to show us the way, nurse?” After indicating the way to the main staircase, Sarah Bealen returned alone to the ward. Charles was feeling the medal, and smiled when Sarah took his hand.

“The medal is something, Captain, but the real prize is that you’re going home.” Charles started to whimper, and not being able later to remember why, Sarah found herself hugging him. “We are going to get you better, Captain and I have written orders to accompany your treatment every step of the way.” She laughed and Charles hugged her tightly. He spent the next hour stroking his medal and thinking about going home. Sarah processed her orders and a week later, after handing her hospital duties over to the next group of arriving volunteers, she supervised his transfer to the hospital ship, H.M.H.S. Salta. Charles was ecstatic and Sarah was very relieved to be leaving the battle zone. She looked at Charles Huffington in a whole new light, and he started to weigh heavily on her mind.

to be continued

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Chapter Six – SEPTEMBER 21st, 1915 – LOOS SECTOR, FRANCE

The artillery had being shelling the German front line for four days, as a half-moon cast a dull light over the impending battlefield. All the preparations were finalised; wills had been written; tobacco and rum distributed to the men. The officers had received their briefing and returned to their sections, ready for the off. Men wait, as man always wait before battle, deep in their own thoughts. Captain Huffington, his Company Sergeant Major and his personal squad were sitting on the fire step, quietly smoking through cupped hands and writing letters to loved ones. CSM Price was a giant of a man and had survived in Flanders for a year now. Nobody had more experience of war than James Price and they were very glad to have him with them. When push came to shove, Charles would bow to his knowledge and delegate strategy to him. Charles worried. He was very fearful of his flamethrowers, which were a magnet for drawing enemy fire, due to their potential devastating power. He worried about the weather forecast, which was predicting a frosty, clear dawn with heavy showers in the late morning. He worried about the performance of the men, as yet untested. Then never had to crawl out to the edge of an artillery barrage before and you cannot train for such an experience. He never worried about his own ability to perform and to survive.

They were due to move out at 0300 hours and CSM Price reminded him when it was ten minutes before. The clergy were moving through the troopers, dispensing blessings and reassurance. The rum ration had been passed out and some men had augmented it with whisky. The first scouts filled out past Huffington and he wished each good fortune as they passed. They crawled out through the gaps created in the British wire for this purpose and disappeared into the mud beyond. Everyone begged, prayed and pleaded for surprise. No whistles were to sound, as silence was essential to get them into position, before the artillery lifted their sights to the German’s support trenches. Charles moved up the trench ladder and looked left and right. Men stared back at him from both directions. With a quick prayer for their salvation he hand signaled the advance. This was not the slow march across fields awash with enemy machine-gun fire, but a quiet crawl through mud and more mud to their allotted places to await the start of the shelling to lift at 04.00. The darkness of the moonless night helped them, although the German sentries were used to spraying no man’s land on an off-chance. This night they did not fire, although their sporadic flares kept the British soldiers on edge. These flares did not help the Germans to see what was forming under their noses. Huffington got his men up to their scouts undetected. The scouts had laid down tape, whose coordinates were known to the artillery brigades and were being double-checked by Royal Engineer spotters in front line positions. The silence was almost too much to bear. Soldiers wanted to smoke and, despite it being strictly banned, NCOs had to be alert to men trying to light up. The striking of a match might directly lead to the death of numerous soldiers, just another chore for the ordinary squaddie to suffer. Exactly on time, 4am arrived and the artillery changed their shelling to the system of support trenches, letting the British occupy the first trenches unopposed.

For inexperienced troopers, their own artillery barrage could be as terrifying as for the enemy. There was also the very real fear of friendly shells falling short and everyone who had survived such an event had terrible stories to recite. Instinctively, his men hugged the earth even closer, and waited for the order to charge. It took three seconds for the order to reach them. “CHARGE” was accompanied by the blast of numerous whistles, along the line in both directions. Charles rose, whistle in his mouth and revolver at the ready, urging his men forward. Thousands of soldiers rose out of the wet mud to rush the Germans. The surprise had succeeded in catching the German sentries off guard and, where the wire had been properly destroyed, the British quickly got into the trench. Charles was delighted with this initial success. He immediately fanned his men along the trench with mills bombs, to consolidate their gain. When they had barricaded both junctions with the nearest support trenches, he walked their section to see what it held. Groups of soldiers were gathered around the three dugout entrances that they had discovered. Charles knew that they were deep; about forty feet deep, and containing anything from one to two hundred men each. They would emerge to join the expected counter-attack that the German second trenches would certainly launch. Charles Huffington did not hesitate to display the character that would so influence his future. He told the men that they were in too precarious a position to handle prisoners. He explained that they had to concentrate on the imminent German counter-attack. He excused them of any responsibility for his decision to destroy the dugouts and their contents. He called for the flamethrowers.

The massacre was total. Mills bombs were thrown into each opening, followed by oil-fuelled fire. In one dugout a machine-gun opened fire, but its rat-tat could not be heard above the screams of men burning to death. Only a handful of German soldiers attempted to exit the dugouts, and they were put to the bayonet. The men were ecstatic with their work and took a cigarette break, as they assumed their defensive positions for the expected German attack. Charles was satisfied with how his men had fought and started scribbling notes in his field book, which would help form his official battle report. What Captain Charles Huffington MC had, however, completely failed to remember from the officers’ briefing that he had attended yesterday, was what was now happening back at their British trenches. The second waves of British troops were climbing out of the trench, to begin their walk to catch up with Charles’s advance party. Before they started their walk, however, they were to be given the extra security of following a British gas attack. It was even written in Charles field book. He and his charges all had gas masks, but he never ordered them to wear them until it was much too late.

All along the sector of the British attack, Royal Engineers opened the pressurised containers of chlorine, called mustard gas. It hugged the ground like a dawn fog, until the wind caught it and blew it into great off-white clouds, rising to a height of fifty feet or more. The soldiers walking through this gas had their gas-masks on and, despite the horrible discomfort, remained uninjured by the gas mist. For the advance party it could not be more different. The chlorine rolled along the ground; fill each shell hole before reach the first German trench. It rolled through the German wire, collecting at the sandbag firing step, until it had grown sufficiently dense to seep over the top, flowing down to the trench floor. It spread in three dimensions, filling each nook and cranny, slowly rising higher. Nothing creates panic in soldiers like a gas attack. Men working on moving the bodies of dead Germans onto their makeshift barricades had some protection from the gas, because they had tied handkerchiefs over their mouths because of the smell from the burnt bodies. However, no one was wearing eye protection. They started to cough severely, and had the sensation of their throats burning. They stopped what they were doing and started to gasp for breath. Their eyes burnt and they automatically closed them tightly, blinding them in the process. Charles was attracted by the commotion and knew immediately that it must be gas. He screamed, “GAS! GAS! GAS!” and swore later that he could see the gas filling the trench. He and his soldiers frantically tried to extract their masks from their bags. The first fatalities were falling down into the gas, dying from asphyxiation. “GET OUT! GET OUT NOW!” shouted Charles, pushing soldiers ahead of him. He had his mask in his hand but could not get the straps over his head. Up they went, back the route from which they had entered the trench. He turned his head to the trench again, urging them to hurry back towards their original British trenches.

He struggled for a few steps, but his eyes burnt so badly that he had to squeeze them closed. He groped forward, direction unknown. Suddenly an arm hit against his and a hand held his shoulder. He grabbed the man in turn and, still holding his gas mask to his mouth, he organised his troopers to gather around him, holding each other so as not to get lost. Some of the men had gotten their masks on correctly, and were able to see. One of them shouted that British soldiers were emerging from the gas clouds and everyone started shouting for their attention. Soon the second wave of the proposed attack were opening their canteens and giving the gas victims water to drink and wash with. Little lines of victims were formed, supported by health soldiers and started to slowly make their way back to their starting position and medical help. The resulting weakly defended British force in the first German trench was forced out by the German counter-attack and the offensive came to nothing. Charles and his line were eventually seen by medics, Charles Huffington being treated personally by the company doctor. He could not see at all by this time and was breathing very shallowly. A continuous stream of yellow-green mucus flowed from his nose and mouth and his speech was very unclear. Severe headaches reduced this group to muttering, dribbling idiots and they clearly had to be evacuated quickly, to let the firing trench be repopulated by health soldiers. The pain caused by attempting to eat or drink anything added to the inability of the medics to issue any successful treatment. With defending their lines from attack taking priority, Huffington and his men were formed into new lines of fifty men in each, with a healthy soldier injected between each group of ten. A medic was added to the front and rear of each line and they then had to slowly walk back through British IV Corp territory, until they reached the town of Vermelles. They lost five on the march, and the remaining men could add exhaustion to their miseries.

There they were divided by rank, so that Captain Huffington was found a cot indoors, in the town hall. A batman was appointed to moisten his face and neck, while a doctor bandaged his eyes tightly shut. There he lied, unable to find any comfort until the evening. The doctor returned with news that they were transporting him to the Lahore British General Hospital, in Calais.

“You are lucky, Captain Huffington,” explained the doctor. “They medical corp. is extremely interested in treating your symptoms of gas attack. If you are fortunate, they may be able to save your eyesight. Anyway, you’ll be better treated there and safer too. ” A stretcher team was standing by already to load him into the ambulance, stuffed with seven other patients and two orderlies. It was a vile journey through the night, made tolerable only by the direction of travel, away from the trenches.

to be continued

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If anything, Sarah Bealen was early. She had walked, with her cases the two miles from the hotel to the training hospital. Despite the early time, there were four other nurses already there when she arrived. After a polite greeting, one of the girls informed her that, “They won’t admit us before 06.00hours.” They smoked to pass the time; Sarah trying to copy their elegant smoking postures. An orderly unlocked the door at 06.10 and invited them to follow him to the main assembly room. It was typical of large Victorian designs, with long slim windows and exposed gas ducting and pipe work. The assembly room was just an almost empty large hall, with insignificant seating for the people gathering there. Sarah kept to herself in such a crowd of strangers; she reckoned that there were about fifty people in her group, by the time a military officer walked to the top of the room and introduced himself.

“Ladies,” he waited. “Ladies, may I have you attention please, thank you. I’m doctor Winton and I carry the rank of Colonel in His Majesty’s Royal Army Medical Corp.” The girls quieted down. Theses like Sarah, that had failed to get a seat, stood behind those that did. “You girls will become Staff Nurses in The Territorial Force Nursing Service, known simply as TFNS. We have no time to lose and the corporal is handing you a form, as I speak; nothing detailed, just general information for our records. As I look at you, some have seriously young looks. That’s not a big problem, if you can remember that your date of birth must be before 1892. So, be careful filling that in, as we are keen to have you.” A few giggles reassured him that his message had got through. He continued with a brief history of the TFNS, and their Matron in Chief, Mrs Sidney Browne. He went on to explain that their life from now on would be similar to the soldier’s life. Although they would not be learning weapon training, they would be exposed to risks, looking after the men who did. When he had finished, he asked the recruits to hurry with the forms, and to get ready for their gear issue.

Sarah had no problem filling in her form and, after handing it over, was directed to another building across the yard outside. They had to queue for quite a while, with recruits that had been processed in other assembly halls across the complex. Now, each recruit had to be checked against their form, to ensure that they entered their specific branch of nursing.  There was an Imperial Military Nursing Service, and a Royal Naval Nursing Service as well as the Territorial Force Nursing Service that Sarah was joining. Yet other girls were joining the Volunteer Aid Detachments and the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, So Sarah had to stay alert to make sure that she stayed with the TFNS. She felt better once she got her TFNS blue-grey uniform. The process ended when she was allocated a bed and locker, in a room with three others. There they got a half hour to settle, before returning to the assembly room that they had started in. The girls introduced themselves to each other, and Sarah was the only Irish girl in their group.

“You’re Irish,” said Fiona Campbell. “So how did you learn French?”

“You must be joking,” laughed Sarah. “I’ve enough problems with English!”

“Well there’s obviously some mistake, Sarah. This is part of a group bound for work in Casualty Clearing Stations – in France and Belgium.” Sarah excused herself and was lucky enough to find the corporal who had processed her form still in the assembly room. She explained the mistake and he laughed before retrieving her form.

“No mistake, Miss Bealen,” said the soldier. “You speak French!” and he handed her the form so she could see for herself. She realised the error quickly.

“Oh my, Corporal. That’s not French, that’s Irish!”

“That’s good for a laugh, but we can still use you in France and we have your signature to prove it. We have plenty of work for an English speaker to do, even an Irish one. You will be embarking as planned next Friday, so you’d better be a fast worker. The military loves its paperwork, so I’ll take that form back, if you please.”

Sarah returned to her room in a daze. She explained what the corporal had said and they all laughed. “You’re in the army now,” they shouted in unison. She decided to make the most of it. It was certainly a long way from her family’s terraced house on Barrack Street, but it was what she had signed up for, and she was being sent to where she would be of best use. She slept well. The next few days flew by in a flash. Although they did not learn to shoot, they did a lot of square-bashing, capes blowing in the wind. There were stretcher races and obstacle courses; gas mask training, working in smoke-filled buildings and sheltering under live shell fire to familiar themselves with battle conditions. Then of course, there were the classes in medical assistance. The different bandages, pain relief medicine and the various wounds that a battlefield throws up. They hardly got a moment to themselves, with only twenty minutes for lunch and an hour at night before lights out, which was filled with washing and ironing for the next day and studying the notes that they had taken during class. Sarah got a postcard off to Carlow on Thursday, just to say that she had arrived safely and was studying hard. She was not allowed to mention France.

Then it was 04.00 hours on Friday morning and Sarah was on a train to Dover, with the other TFNS volunteers, with the destination of Calais, France. They were amazed and delighted to find themselves falling-in on the quayside, in front of Matron-in-Chief Sidney Browne herself. She viewed the group of sixty-eight nurses and ordered them to stand easy. Then she told them how important their work would be to the fighting men.

“I am so proud of you all,” she concluded. “In the grand tradition of Florence Nightingale herself, you are volunteering your lives to His Majesty’s service. Hopefully, we will all meet here again after this work is done, and the Empire is safe. Farewell and God bless you all.” A spontaneous three cheers rang out, and before they realised it, they were underway out into the English Channel. Sarah hoped that the blanket of dark grey clouds was not any sort of omen.

to be continued

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Chapter Four – SEPTEMBER 6th, 1915 – THE LOOS SECTOR, FRANCE

Captain Charles Huffington entered the IV Corp Headquarters in Vermelles and presented his papers to the Corporal manning the reception desk. “Welcome, Sir,” said the Corporal, getting to his feet and leading Huffington to the meeting room down the hall. He opened the door and Huffington passed through, to be greeted by Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Rawlinson personally. “Here he is; cometh the hour and cometh the man,” greeted Rawlinson warmly, offering his hand. A little stunned, Huffington accepted the handshake and is directed to a seat at a large map table. Seated there already is a cross-section of the top brass from Rawlinson’s staff. “Captain, you are here before the main officer briefing, as we have very special duties for your company.” Huffington looked over the selection of maps on the table, all of the current front line around the city of Loos, stretching to the environs of Lille.

“As you can see, Captain, this is our current position in the Loos area, with the French supporting our right flank. We have planned an assault on Lille for some time now and your company gets to play a crucial role in our plans. We are taking a leaf from the Hun this time and giving him a taste of his own medicine. General Haig has decided that we will be using mustard gas and this presents extra safeguards needed for our troops before the assault begins. You will double your gas training sessions for the next two weeks. You have been chosen to operate using the tactics of the German storm troopers. You will be given extra Mills bombs and a flamethrower platoon will be allocated to you from Henderson‘s company. You will have to get to the German wire ten minutes before the artillery barrage is lifted to their support trenches. You will then be expected to take their first trench un-opposed and consolidate your position, to support the main force of the 6th Battalion moving twenty minutes behind you.”

Realising just how much preparation and training would be required, Huffington asked for a detailed timetable. “Is there a setting off date decided, Sir?” “We move on the morning of September 21st. You will have to be in position not later than 0350 hours, as the artillery will lift at 0400. The general assault will commence at 0630 hours. We have your field maps in this folder,” Rawlinson’s aide hands it over. “Train well for this one, Captain, it will make a huge contribution to the overall achievements. If we can repeat these tactics successfully along the line, we can take the Hohenzollern Redoubt on the first day and reach Lille by October 4th.”

“However, there is another reason for calling you here today, Charles,” Rawlinson smiled warmly, as three stewards entered on queue to distribute champagne flutes to the now standing officers. “I may call you Charles?”

“But of course, Sir.”

“I met your father in ’09, at exercises in Somerset. Damn good officer. Ran rings around the 1st Battalion boys at Ashcott and pushed through to Catcott unopposed. Really splendid stuff. How is the Colonel?”

“He lost an arm at Mons, Sir. At the moment he is running the OTC in Lichfield.”

“Well you must send him my best, Charles.”

“I certainly will, Sir.”

“So, to the other news. It is not often that a crusty old staff officer gets to greet a real life young hero, like Charles here.” He looks around the room, taking in the murmured sounds of approval from the gathered group. He stroked his moustache proudly, before continuing. “I have received the report from Major Grant, concerning your rescue of”, he glances down at the sheet of paper he has been handed by his aide, and “Corporal Sanderson and it reads splendidly, my boy. I have talked to Grant and have endorsed his recommendation of a presentation of the Military Cross for gallantry. I have forwarded the chit to Haig and expect it to be approved in a couple of weeks. Congratulations, Charles.” Another handshake. “Sanderson didn’t make it, unfortunately. However, you cannot win them all, eh?” He drains his glass. I expect to decorate you myself, in Lille next month. Shouts of “Here, here!” from those assembled, now crowding around Huffington with their own offered handshakes.

“Well, I must get on,” says Rawlinson, as he picks up his hat and swagger-stick. His aide collects his briefcase and gloves and in a swirl they were gone. A mire ten minutes later, Captain Charles Huffington MC was sitting in a staff car, being driven back to his little bit of line, feeling very pleased with himself. He opened his field book and starts to scribble notes about gas training. He also noted that a flamethrower platoon would be reporting, the day after tomorrow.

to be continued

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