The Lost World of WW1
The Western Front as only Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could have imagined it.
The cry went up from further down the trench to the east. It was dawn. Barely aware of his surroundings Tommy had no idea what had woken him until his trenchmate, Corporal Brown, bellowed out the warning again, "Pterodactyl!"
As Tommy rolled to his feet the shout was already a distant echo, fading in different voices as it was passed on from man to man up the line. The lieutenant emerged from his dugout. He was buttoning up his trousers. "Sergeant!" he called. Sergeant Jones came round the nearest of the trench's zig zag corners.
"What's all the fuss, eh?"
"Bloody big pterosaur, sir," said Jones. "Coming up from the east."
He pointed needlessly towards the enemy lines.
"Sergeant..." the lieutenant had finished buttoning his flies and was now trying to make what was left of his battered uniform sit squarely on his shoulders. "Sergeant, what have I told you about using language like that in front of the men?"
"Sorry, Sir! It won't fucking happen again, sir!"
Tommy dutifully laughed at the old routine.
"Pterosaur you say?" The lieutenant lifted the field periscope and looked out over the trench wall, out over no-man's land. He twisted the periscope slowly as he scanned the horizon. "I don't see... oh wait... yes... there it is."
"Is it loaded, sir?" Tommy said.
"Well it's flying very low. It's either wounded or carrying some sort of payload." The lieutenant lowered the glasses. "All right, chaps. You know the drill. Get your Jerry hats on. On the double! Go and get mine, will you, Corporal?"
As Corporal Brown hurried into the dugout, Tommy unhooked his own German army helmet from his belt. Battered and scratched, it was the one piece of kit Tommy kept fastidiously clean - or at least as clean as he could, given the filth and mire of the trench. He swiftly took off his standard issue British 'dinnerplate' helmet and pushed the squarer Hun helmet down onto his head. The spike on its top glinted in the early morning sun.
He could see the pterosaur now. It was flying towards their lines slowly and methodically. It was low, as the lieutenant had said, but still too high to be hit with their Lee-Enfields - even if they had been allowed to fire at it. Ground troops had learned from experience that trying to shoot the flying lizards was a mistake. Pterodactyls were trained to do two things. Drop bombs on the enemy and then fly home and they only had two ways of knowing when to drop their bombs: drop bombs on flat helmets; drop bombs on people shooting up at them. Drop bombs. Go home. It was all they were capable of learning. In the trench, everyone hunkered down and tried to look as German as possible. Someone started to whistle "Lili Marlene".
"Shut that fucking noise, Watkins!" bellowed the sergeant. They sat in silence waiting for the pterosaur to fly over. The silence, as always, was terrifying.
"Christ," muttered Tommy. "I hope it's not one of ours..."
©Liam Baldwin 2014 All Rights Reserved
Date and time of last update 00:57 Sat 22 Mar 2014
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