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General

He watched the stars that night. The night they announced the war. He watched the stars and remembered the horror on her father’s face, a veteran who knew the atrocity all to well. The tears in his mother’s eyes, the brave woman who had watched her childhood sweetheart drafted in the name of peace and been left to pick up the broken pieces they discharged, the broken shell of a man they called a hero. The way they clung to each other; the silent exchange thick with emotion. The way they ignored him, so wrapped up in their own grief and memories that they didn’t realise what his fate was. He turned 18 that year.


She watched the stars that night. The night they announced the war. She watched the stars and remembered the look on his face as he met her on the roof, the look that told her that everything would change. The look that put tears in her heart and dread in her heart. They didn’t talk as they sat, entwined in the crisp night air. But they knew. Through some silent understanding, they knew that their childhood was over, and the fight had just begun. The world would throw everything it could at them, to try and tear them apart. But they were stronger, they had to be.


He made it a few months. On 20thJanuary 1914, he received his notice. They were sending him away to camp, he would undertake training effective immediately and then have the honour of serving his king and country. The curse. An insidious voice in his mind hissed, there will always be a cost. But as he marched out, smart uniform stiffly ironed and crisp leather boots polished to perfection, he couldn’t help but ignore the dark worry. The child within him jumped for joy as they marched away from his love, form the only world he knew. He would be a soldier, a real-life hero.


The dream was shattered when they reached the trenches. What little part of him that had yet to give up broke. The training had been rough, the meals ‘nutritional’ and the bunks shabby. But nothing compared to the real deal. His only solace her letters. As the war got harder, so too did his heart and mind. Hard to the atrocities he committed and the lure of death around every corner. Hard to the crippling loss and thundering shells. Hard to the cold, wet trenches in his boots and dull, empty ache in his stomach. The reality of war became every day. Time was a novelty, clear skies too. ‘for all I miss you my love, I miss the stars in London more…’


But he watched the stars that night, lying in a blown-out shell hole, alone. As the chill crept over in the slow rolling fog, the inky black sky was stained with silver flecks. As his body numbed with the pain, his mind drifted. In his eyes, she was beside him, radiant in the star light, hair shining with silver tendrils of ethereal magic, bright eyes glinting with mischief and joy. 100s of miles away but always so close in his heart and mind. Her face, crowned in a halo of stars, a last vision of beauty in the midst of his turmoil, fading with the fleeting tendrils of reality.


She watched the stars that night and thought of her love. The way he looked as he left, smiling sadly, smart in his uniform which was ironed and polished to perfection. The ‘perfect soldier’ they had said, the army officials who had written from the camp, you’d be so proud of your boy. She imagined him lying in his bunk, stuck on foreign soil, barely more than a boy with a gun. She imagined his joy as she read her last letter, nothing more than the boring ins and outs of London life, ‘but worth it my dear’he had assured her, ‘a slice of love from home in the only joy I have’. She imagined his sorrows, the loss of war that weight heavily on his tender heart and the spark in his eyes as he spoke of the future, ‘just you wait, my love’ he would say, ‘just you wait until this whole mess is over, then we can get our own little place, somewhere far away from here,’she imagined him patrolling under the fiercely watchful gaze of their star.


A few day later, the world ground to a halt. Her world ground to a halt. Missing in action.The usual smattering of half-hearted condolences and official signature.


He was gone.


Broken promises and crippled futures were all that ran through her head. The apologies, the polite condolences and the kind words did nothing to mend the gaping hole in the chest. Two months passed, with no good news. Only then did an official letter come through. 


‘… we regret to inform you that due to the circumstances, your son must be declared killed in action please accept our deepest condolences and our thoughts will be with your family in this difficult time…’

have hope,’ they said, ‘hope that he is still alive, that it is just a mistake.’ But all she could think about was her loves body in bloody field, resting uneasy in a shallow grave.


A Nurse, in the Army Med Core. ‘Doing her part’ was the official term, but she was just doing her best to forget. Hours were long, work was hard and some of the sights were grisly at best. But the stories were the worst. Soldiers who got shipped back with bits missing, legs, arms or maybe a little bit of sanity. The horror stories they told, of the trenches, of the fighting, of the dark enshrouding night. She became hard to it. The horror stories were just another sad truth of everyday life. This was the reality of war.


But in war too there was kindness, nestled safe in the hearts of ordinary people protected in their minds by little white lies. And it was those people who had saved him. The farmer who had found him on the edge of no man’s land, the one who had dragged him over the hills to his cottage and called a doctor, the only doctor around who spoke English. His gentle wife, the one who had cooked for him and rebandaged the stump where his leg should have been, cooling his fever with the practiced and gently hands of a mother. The children who had gazed at him with such wonder, finding joy in the way his foreign tongue stumbled over their smooth words. They had all given him hope and inspired him. Inspire him to take the first steps, to walk again and be grateful for the one leg he had left. Inspired him to come out of the cottage, to accompany the farmer’s wife to the shops. Inspired him to help in the fields, showing him that he was still worthy, valued and accepted, despite everything. And inspired him to leave, to get on a truck headed for the coast, with only the names he had learnt and the home he had lost to guide him. And when he stepped of the boat, his grasp of the language sufficient to secure him a ride, and he got on the train, what little cash he could convince himself to take enough to make up the measly fair, and he arrived at the London station, he stood tall. Tall with the knowledge that he was still strong, tall with the anchor of acceptance and tall with the desire to get home to his love. So, steady on his feet, with a light heart and open mind, he headed home.


She stood in the crowded streets, the swirling mass of laughing faces a blurring imagine in her mind. Yes, they had won, but at what cost. 

The cost of her future. 

The cost of millions of other futures. 

And because of that, she couldn’t bring herself to dance with the children. One day, she would dance again, for him. But for now, she contented herself with thoughts of others, her parents joy and the happiness of all the other girls whose soldier sweethearts would be heading back, to open arms and warm embraces. So when the children twirled through the crowd, waving colourful flags and shrieking with joy, she smiled sweetly, the practised mask she had perfected since he left falling into place. From her place she could watch the faces of the other Londoners as they celebrated, and maybe, maybe she could allow herself to relax. Quickly, she spun around. Someone had called her name. It almost sounded like…. No, it couldn’t be, could it?


When he called to her that day, she was radiant. Long hair tucked in messy curls, stray locks framing her gorgeous face. The nurses uniform weighed heavy on her joy, but her eyes held a youthful glint, masked with the dark shadow of sorrow. When she turned to face him, the world slowed. The mix of emotions danced across her face, my god, she hadn’t changed one bit. She was running towards him, into his open arms, and when she wrapped her arms around him, how he wished he could sweep her off her feet. But for now, he would settle for holding his love in his arms once more.


When the party had died down and the children been tucked up safely in bed, they sat together under the dark night sky. The kitchen chairs had been dragged to the garden; the roof too high for the soldier now. As they talked softly, they realised how much had changed, no longer children, they saw what the war had done to them both. There would be challenges and trials, but they were Londoner and war children, nothing would stop them anymore. 100s of miles had proven that. But in that moment, under the comforting glow of the midnight stars, they could believe that everything would be alright, as long as they were together.


May 01, 2020 20:51

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3 comments

E. Jude
21:44 May 08, 2020

I've always wanted to write a story like this, but I was never really sure how to bring in a real feeling and touch, for something as sensitive and real as this. I mean wars really take thousands of lives. You have captured the simplicity and yet beauty. I really enjoyed it, keep going like this.

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Chloe Alistar
13:43 May 07, 2020

Aw. That was so sad. I loved the repetition of the stars- it was very poetic. The ending was very strong and filled with great emotion and clarity. Great job!

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19:05 May 07, 2020

Thanks! It's nice to know someone enjoyed it!

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