At least it was quiet.
Private Thomas ‘Johnny’ Applewhite and Soldat Pierre Benarc looked up into the grey sky of the Somme. The mud had dried a little with two days free of munitions fire and warm sunshine, leaving a crust that was treacherous. One misplaced step could send you plunging into a mud-filled shell crater from which you might never be free. Thomas had seen it happen and had no intention of it happening to him.
“Put the kettle on, mate,” he said, making a mime of the act of drinking. Pierre nodded, pulling out a tiny mentholated spirits stove from an ammunition box. Thomas risked a look over the edge of the trench. He could see the Jerry lines in the distance and could make out a couple of soldiers on guard duty. Their stiffness made him shiver. “They never move,” he said. “Day in and day out, they watch us, keeping up pinned in this trench.”
He looked the other way for good measure. No sign of life from their own lines. What if everyone but them was already dead?
“Café?” said Pierre, offering Thomas first sip of the shared cup.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Thomas replied. “Pity it’s not tea, though.”
“Earl Grey do you?”
Thomas spun at the voice, dropping the coffee and fumbling for his rifle. Since when had Jerry been that quiet? Pierre was desperately trying to load bullets but dropped them into the mud.
“At ease, lads.” The newcomer was a Captain of the 13th Battalion, the Cheshire Regiment, according to his uniform, though how he’d got to their trench without picking up a speck of mud was anybody’s guess. “They’re just brewing up in Paeronne. The war ended two days ago.”
As they packed their meagre belongings, Pierre drew Thomas close enough to whisper. “Mon dieu,” he said. “Avez-vous vu ses ailes? Did you see his wings?”