Never judge a book by it's cover. An altercation in Achiet
Hugh felt himself wince involuntarily as another flurry of frozen snow lashed his face. Not for the first time that day he found himself pulling up the collar of his army great coat in an effort to keep some semblance of warmth around his body.
He glanced up at the rail wagon he and his colleagues were in the process of unloading. Thankfully there were only a dozen or so ammunition boxes left. Between them the men of C Company had virtually unloaded a whole train load by hand. No mean feat given the deplorable conditions they had been working in.
“Nearly there Stevie boy,” Hugh said by way of encouragement to a less than enthusiastic looking Steve Walton.
“Aye and then what? Another night freezing our bollocks off in that fucking hovel of a billet they’ve landed us in. I can’t bloody wait.”
Hugh didn’t reply, there was nothing he could say or do to improve the situation. All he could do was hope and pray they were moved to somewhere else. Even the front line would be preferable to this shit he thought. The men on top of the flat wagon shoved another crate across to the edge, Hugh took hold of one end and Steve Walton the other and they took the weight between them. It was hard physical work, something Hugh was no stranger to growing up on a farm and working as a fireman on the railways, but even he was tiring now.
Hugh blew on his fingers for what have been the tenth time in as many minutes, not that it made any difference they were still numb with cold. As were most of his other bodily extremities.
“Here Hugh get hold of this,” Charlie Gell grunted as he slid another heavy frost laden ammunition crate across the equally frosty rail wagon floor. Hugh reached across and caught hold of the rope handle on the end of the box facing him and pulled it toward him.
“How many more Charlie, can you see?”
“Charlie stood up on top of another crate and looked along the line of rail wagons.
“One more wagon for us, by the looks of things.”
Hugh shook his head and inwardly groaned. He would have honestly preferred to have been in the trenches rather than unloading ammo boxes in that Icy, godforsaken siding. Still one more wagon wasn’t too bad, his section should be finished in an hour or so. As he put the crate down he cast an envious glance toward the quietly simmering locomotive further along the siding. The crew having disconnected the engine and moved it a discreet distance away from the trucks whilst they were being unloaded.
It was a large slab-sided tank loco. Dutch in origin according to the two British soldiers who operated her. They were from Charlie Gell’s neck of the Woods near Newcastle and in peace time worked the heavy mineral trains on the North-Eastern network. The pair of them had joined up together and volunteered for the ROD (Railway Operating Department) and thoroughly enjoyed their work.
Hugh could see why as the cab of the Dutch locomotive, unlike most of its British counterparts, was fully enclosed and it was both warm and dry on the foot plate. The two railwaymen had made no secret of the fact that they virtually lived in it. Not that Hugh could blame them.
“Get yourself a transfer,” the fireman had said. “There’s a shortage of experienced engine-men on the system.”
Hugh had to admit it was tempting. No more rain sodden clothing, no more bitter cold conditions and no more stints in the trenches. Tempting as it was though Hugh couldn’t turn his back on the likes of old Charlie and young Martin. How could he leave them to endure the privations of the trenches whilst he rode around on a clean footplate in front of a hot fire.
“Last one,” Charlie said with an air of defiance as he slid another heavy crate across to the edge of the rail wagon.
“Last one for this truck you mean,” Hugh snorted as he and Steve Walton man handled the crate across to the back of a sorely over loaded Lorry.
“Yeah well its one truck less,” Charlie said jumping down beside Hugh.
Hugh noticed his friends eyes narrow and followed his gaze down the side of the train. Walking toward them at the head of another section of ten men was Lionel Ames. Or Sergeant Lionel Ames to give him his full title. Ames was a brute of a man, a braggart, a bully and favoured by the much-despised Captain Lawrence. Hugh could see by the sardonic smile on Ames face. They were about to get shafted.
“That’s a good job you’ve done there lads,” Ames announced gleefully.
“Thank you, Sergeant,” Hugh replied cautiously, knowing full well there was a “but” coming.
“Yes a very good job. We’ve only managed to empty one truck and you’ve done three.”
There were some sniggers from the men stood behind Ames. Hugh wondered how funny they would find it if a proper officer like Captain Boon was around.
“By my reckoning if you go and unload the other three we’ve left we should have this one done by the time you’ve finished.”
A deadly silence fell between the two groups which seemed to please Ames no end as the sardonic smile slowly twisted in to a sneer. “Well come on boys we haven’t got all day.”
Hughes heart fell as he knew they hadn’t got a choice. To argue or pick a fight with Ames was a grievous folly on so many levels. Hugh made as if to trudge off toward the far end of the train when he heard a low, barely recognisable voice growl “Fuck off Ames and unload your own wagons.”
It was old Charlie and Hugh felt both fear and panic grab his soul as he knew Charlies defiance would doubtless mean things were about to end badly for them all.
“What did you say Grandad?” Ames said advancing menacingly toward Charlie. Hugh’s heart was in his mouth. What was Charlie thinking? If ever there was a man with murder in his heart it was Lionel Ames.
“I said fuck off. Are you deaf as well as stupid?”
In a split-second Ames frozen white face went through the complete spectrum of the colour red before finishing on a very angry shade of purple.
“I’ll fucking kill you for that you old bastard,” he bellowed like an enraged bull. Bareley were the words out of his mouth before he swung a steam hammer like fist at Charlies head.
Except Charlies head was no longer there and with a speed and agility which belied his age he ducked underneath Ames wildly swinging arm and drove his own fist deep in to the Sergeants gut. Even though Ames was wearing a heavy great coat with multiple layers underneath Hugh heard the wind being driven out of his lungs. Ames staggered backwards gasping for breath, on his face he wore an expression of shock tinged with the realisation what he thought was going to easy prey was anything but. Lionel Ames was in trouble and he knew it.
Before Ames had time to recover Charlie hit him hard again on the right side of his jaw. Ames head snapped back, his eyes rolled, and he took a half step to his right before dropping like the sack of shit he was to his knees. Charlie surged forward to finish him, or he would have done if Hugh and Steve Walton hadn’t caught hold of him and dragged him back.
“Leave him, you’ve made your point,” Walton said putting himself between Charlie and Ames should the defeated bully try and take advantage.
Charlie looked as if he was going to argue the point, but before he could was interrupted by the sound of three shrill blasts on a whistle from further down the train. Hugh turned to see two Military Policemen running for all they were worth toward them
“Christ Charlie now we’re for it,” Hugh said tersely.
“Keep out of it Hugh. It’s all down to me,” Charlie answered quite calmly.
“What the bloody hell's going on here?” The older of the two redcaps shouted looking down with no little disbelief at the bloodied face of Lionel Ames.
“I’d had enough of his shit. That’s what. Charlie said displaying far more control than Hugh would have ever given him credit for. “We've unloaded three wagons to his one. Then he tells us we have to unload the three him and these other lazy bastards should have.”
“Is that true?” The younger redcap said as he knelt beside a dazed and confused Ames.
“Count the trucks if you like,” Hugh said before Ames or any of his cronies could answer. “We’ve unloaded three. I bet most other sections have as well. This lot have managed to do one.”
The older MP nodded to his colleague who set off down the train to do a quick count.
“Even so striking an NCO is a serious charge. Whatever the reason,” the MP who Hugh now saw was a Corporal said gravely.
“I realise that.” Charlie said ruefully. “But sometimes you’ve got to make a stand.”
There was a groan from the floor as Ames sat up , rubbing the side of his aching jaw. He tried to say something, but the words wouldn’t come out. Instead he spat a mouthful of congealed blood on to the snow-covered ground before giving Charlie the benefit of a long hate filled stare.
“They’re right about the trucks,” the younger MP called out from further down the train. “Everyone else has done three apart from this lot who’ve only managed one.”
The Corporals face fell. He hated malingerers as much as everyone else. Even so he knew he was in an unenviable position. A serious offence had been committed and protocol dictated he couldn’t turn a blind eye and let it go. No matter how much he wanted to. He looked from Ames to the Private who'd decked him and back again, trying to figure out a suitable course of action when salvation arrived in the shape of Captain Boon.
“If you don’t mind Corporal I’ll take care of this,” the Captain said in a quiet but assured voice which broached know reproach.
“Yes sir,” the Corporal replied with obvious relief. He and his colleague saluted the Captain before quickly making off along the train of trucks lest there was a change of mind.
The Corporal wasn’t the only one who was relieved by Captain Boon’s timely intervention. As far as Hugh and his men were concerned there couldn’t have been a better officer to take charge of the situation than he.
“Tell me then Corporal Carmichael, what’s going on?” The Captain calmly asked.
Hugh glanced nervously down at Ames who glowered back at him. It would have been so easy to duck out and say it was nothing, but he couldn’t do it, not now. Hugh fixed his gaze on the Captain and repeated the events leading up to Ames getting the hiding of his life. Even as he spoke, he could feel Ames eyes boring in to the back of his head, but he didn’t care. Charlie was right, It was time to make a stand.
“I see, and what have you got to say Sergeant?” Boon asked as Ames groggily regained his feet.
“Nothing, Sir,” Ames said with a sullen, sarcastic emphasis on the Sir.
If Captain Boon picked up on Ames less than respectful attitude, he didn’t show it. Instead he seemed to take a moment to consider what course of action he should take next.
“Well the way I see it we have two separate issues here,” he said having come to a decision. “On the one hand the Private here has struck an NCO which is very serious indeed.” Captain Boon paused and Hugh thought he saw the faintest of smiles on Ames battered face.
“On the other hand, there has been an equally serious dereliction of duty by you Sergeant. Can you tell me why you and your section have only managed to unload one truck?”
If Ames was smiling before he wasn’t now. Nor were the men of his section who to a man were looking at the floor in the hope it would open up and swallow them whole.
“No, I thought not. Every one of you will stop here until you’ve finished unloading all three, have you got that?” Captain Boon might well have been not much more than a boy, but the trenches had aged him far beyond his years. Consequently, when he spoke there was no denying the authority of rank in his voice.
“Yes sir,” the men of Ames section replied in unison.
“Right well get on with it!” Boon snapped causing more than one of the malingerers to visibly flinch. They all turned as one and trudged off dejectedly back down the line of trucks. Ames made to follow them but even a blind man could see he was in no fit state.
“Not you Sergeant I haven’t finished with you. And you Private…?”
“Gell Sir,” Charlie answered coming to attention. Something Captain Boon seemed to appreciate.
“I think I’ve been quite lenient on you and your men Sergeant. So I expect the same leniency in return for Private Gell. I take it you don’t want to take the matter any further?”
“No sir. I’ll sort it out my own way,” Ames growled with ill-disguised disdain.
Hugh saw Captain Boon’s eyes narrow. Ames had just made another big mistake.
“Will you indeed Sergeant. Well if that’s your attitude I have a better idea. A contest. You can fight it out in the ring the night after tomorrow in the big barn. Marquis of Queensbury’s rules obviously. I’ll make the arrangements. Eight o’clock should do.”
“Suits me,” Ames replied whilst shooting what could only be described as the blackest of black looks in Charlie’s direction. It didn’t seem to faze Charlie in any way shape or form though as he smartly saluted the Captain.
“Good. Go and get yourself seen to Sergeant you’re a bit of a mess.”
Ames saluted, although far less smartly than Charlie had and stumbled off toward some huts at the far end of the sidings. Captain Boon watched him go then turned back to old Charlie.
“You’d better watch him private. He’s a nasty piece of work.”
“Yes sir, but so can I be if I chooses,” Charlie answered.
“I think you may need to be. Good luck and if you do get him on the run give him one for me.” With that the Captain marched off in the same general direction as Ames.
“Thank fuck it was Boon and not Lawrence,” Walton said once he was out of earshot.
“You can say that again. Are you alright Charlie?”
“Way aye,” Charlie said pulling himself up on to their last railway truck as if nothing had happened.
“Where’d you learn to fight like that Charlie?” Young Martin asked jumping up alongside him.
Charlie snorted and shook his head. “Let’s just say I’ve been about a bit lads.”
Hugh sighed and thought about the forth coming “contest”. Charlie wouldn’t have the element of surprise next time round. Ames would be ready for him and no doubt would use every dirty trick in the book. Charlie may well have given him a hiding today, but he would find it much harder on Wednesday evening.
Word had spread quickly amongst the men of the 13th about the drubbing Charlie had given Ames. None had shown an ounce of sympathy for the bullying Sergeant but at the same time not many gave Charlie much of a chance in their forthcoming boxing match. Most were of the same opinion as Hugh and believed if Ames couldn’t win by fair means he would resort to foul.
It was also rumoured Captain Lawrence had been less than happy when he heard his trusted henchman had been well and truly trounced. Consequently the whole of Hugh’s section now lived in fear there would be some form of retribution coming their way on Charlie’s behalf. It could never be said Lawrence would let an opportunity to make a shilling or two pass him by however, and it wasn’t very long before he had a book running on the forth coming contest. He didn’t run the book himself of course, gambling was heavily frowned upon after all. No, instead he got another of his toadies, Corporal Cooper to do the dirty work.
Cooper was a positively slimy individual who before the war had worked in a bank but left under a cloud for reasons undisclosed to all but those he was closest to. There were some unsubstantiated rumours doing the rounds he had been laundering cash for the gambling dens in London’s east end. The rumours also said he joined up to avoid prison, but whether they were true or not Hugh didn’t know. What Hugh did know was he didn’t like the man one bit and he could only think the likes of Lawrence, Ames and Cooper were well suited to one another.
Even as Hugh watched Cooper now, sitting at the end of a table in their makeshift canteen quite openly taking bets on tomorrow’s fight he couldn’t help but think the man was a snake in the grass. Hugh did wonder how many had put their money on Charlie. Certainly most of the battalion hoped he would repeat his battering of Ames, but whether any of them went as far as putting money on such an outcome was another matter.
An Icy blast suddenly tore around the room as someone opened the canteen door. Hugh pulled his collar up and turned around to see who the interlopers were. As it turned out they were six strangers from another regiment. Hugh peered at their cap badges and saw they were men of the Durham Light Infantry who were in the line directly to the right of the Kings Regiment. The DLI men were obviously looking for somebody and slowly walked around the canteen scrutinising everyone within before their eyes finally settled on Hugh and Charlie Gell. Or to be more precise old Charlie. Hugh saw them surreptitiously nudging one another before one of them nodded his head and said, “Aye lads, that’s him.” They then turned their attention to Cooper who eyed them suspiciously as they approached.
“We heard you were having a bit of a boxing match?” One of the DLI lads said reaching inside his great coat.
“What of it?” Cooper replied warily.
“We also heard you were running a book.”
“What if we are?” Cooper said keeping a weather eye on the strong box in front of him.
“We’d like to have a little flutter ourselves. Or is it restricted to the men of the Kings regiment only?”
“No I don’t see why not,” Cooper said with his interest obviously pricked. “Why would you lads want to put a bet on though? You don’t know either of the participants.”
The DLI man shrugged and produced a not inconsiderable roll of bank notes.
“Do you want our money or not mate?” The soldier who had seemingly recognised Charlie asked abruptly.
Coopers eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets as he mentally calculated the sum of money which was been offered. “Who do you want to put your money on, Sergeant Ames or Private Gell?”
“Private Gell,” the DLI men answered emphatically.
If Cooper had any sense alarm bells should have been ringing loud and clear in his head. The DLI 's must have walked five miles from their positions to put their bet on. Five miles in the worst conditions imaginable. Why would they do that on a whim? Cooper wasn’t thinking though, greed had got the better of him and he snatched the roll of notes out of the soldier’s hand before gleefully counting every single one of them.
“Don’t forget to give me a marker,” the DLI man said when Cooper finally finished counting. Cooper put the notes into the iron strong box and wrote out a marker or receipt. It was then when realisation finally dawned.
“I’ve got to ask why are you betting on old Charlie Gell?”
The DLI man picked up the receipt and winked at Cooper. “You call him old Charlie. Where we come from we call him old one hit. See you tomorrow night.”
With that the DLI men about faced and headed back out through the canteen door leaving a bemused looking Cooper behind them. Evidently Hugh wasn’t the only one who had overhead the exchange between Cooper and the interlopers. A whole host of faces were now firmly transfixed on Charlie Gell. All with the same question written all over them.
“Who or what is old one hit?” Hugh whispered.
“Not a clue,” Charlie answered with a knowing look which implied otherwise.
“Bollocks, “Hugh retorted. “They didn’t come over here for nothing. Are you a boxer or something?”
“Like I said I’ve been about a bit,” Charlie said getting up to go. “One thing I can assure you of lad, is Ames won’t have it all his own way.” With that Charlie followed the DLI men out through the canteen door. A bemused Hugh watched him go whilst wondering what it was the Durham’s knew about the normally quiet and placid Charlie Gell that he didn’t.
Evidently word of the Durham’s visit spread like wild fire amongst the troops igniting a multitude of fanciful rumours. The immediate affect was felt by Corporal Cooper as the tide suddenly turned and the majority of the bets which were being placed were now in Charlie’s favour. By mid-afternoon Cooper must have been worried enough to get word to Captain Lawrence which was to have nothing but detrimental repercussions for Hugh and his section.
A little after four Hugh was summoned to the command dugout where Lawrence smugly informed him he and the men of his section were to assist the pioneers in constructing a communications trench the following day. It was obvious to Hugh the Captain was making sure Charlie got little or no rest before tomorrow nights fight, but he could do nothing more than salute and take it on the chin.
Tuesday was another grim inhospitable day with sideways, ice-cold rain slicing through Hugh and the men of his section as they made their way along a sunken road to their rendezvous with the pioneers. Hugh had already ascertained the new communications trench was being dug directly behind the front line and the pioneers had suffered a number of casualties from trench mortars.
Despite his misgivings neither he nor the rest of his men had any choice in the matter and would have to make the best of it. A little after seven they met a mud encrusted second Lieutenant who detailed them to fetch timber from a holding area half a mile away. It was hard back breaking work with every piece of timber having to be manhandled across the treacherous ground. Including a fifty yard stretch in full view of the German line. Following the pioneer’s grim recommendation, they split into groups of two and made the journey at irregular intervals to avoid being caught by German Sniper fire.
Hugh did think they were at a snipers most extreme range and it was unlikely they would be picked off in that way. Or at least he hoped they wouldn’t. Things went reasonably well at first and there was some misplaced optimism they might come through unscathed. This ended after two hours of painstakingly negotiating the sticky morass when with a fatalistic inevitably trench mortars and whizz bangs began to fall out of the sky.
This set the tone for the rest of the day. Two or three teams of two would cross the open ground and then the shells would rain down on them. Hugh and his men would then wait for the shelling to finish before another half dozen men hurried across with some more timber. Luck was with them however, and they didn’t suffer any casualties. Unlike the pioneers who had the misfortune to have a trench mortar land in their midst. Four more mothers’ sons wouldn’t be leaving this god forsaken part of France. Another two would return to Britain broken shells of the men they once were. Hugh wondered how many more would succumb to the senseless slaughter before someone finally called a halt.
Once the light started to fade they tramped the three miles back to the old farm and the makeshift huts where they were billeted It was late by the time they finally arrived and Charlie had barely an hour to gather himself together before the fight. If he was in any way worried he didn’t show it. Unlike Hugh, who was a bundle of twisted nerves as he feared his friend was going to come to serious harm.
The old barn was a large brick built affair with ancient timber beams sagging under the weight of it's heavy tiled roof. Normally it was full of stores and those who were lucky enough to be allocated floor space within its dry and relatively warm interior. Tonight however, it was packed with soldiers who were eager to see the fight. As soon as Hugh entered his senses were assaulted by the thick stench of cigarette smoke and sweaty unwashed bodies, along with the raucous din of god alone knew how many men. One well-placed German shell would have wiped out half a battalion.
Hugh dutifully followed Charlie who was confidently making his way through the crowd. Many of the spectators were patting him on the back and shouting words of encouragement. There appeared to be a genuine hope amongst the troops Ames would get what was coming to him. Hugh shared their hopes, but at the same time couldn’t help thinking that's all it was. A forlorn hope.
Hugh saw an area roughly twenty feet square had been taped off in the centre of the floor. He also saw Lionel Ames seated in one corner already stripped to the waist and looking eager for the fight. Charlie appeared to be singularly unfazed by the proceedings as he stepped over the tape and also stripped to the waist. An orderly duly appeared with some bandages and taped up his hands as best he could in lieu of gloves.
Whilst this was going on Hugh ran his eye around the crowd. He saw most of his section were there, Walton, Martin and Turner being right behind them. He also noted the DLI contingent were wisely keeping close to the bookmaker Corporal Cooper. What Hugh didn’t like was the presence of Captain Lawrence next to the ring. Why was he here and not Captain Boon?
A Sergeant Hugh vaguely recognised as belonging to B Company stepped into the ring. Hugh guessed he must be the designated referee. A moment or two later the orderly signaled he was satisfied with Charlie’s bandaged hands. The Sergeant then called both Charlie and Ames to the middle of the ring. Hugh had no idea what he said to them, the noise increasing tenfold as those present shouted words of encouragement to the two fighters.
Hugh couldn’t help comparing the two of them. Ames was head and shoulders above Charlie, but what he lacked in height Charlie made up for in physique. Once again Hugh recalled Charlie was a stone mason by trade and would be well used to hard physical work. Somehow Hugh didn’t think Lionel Ames would be well versed with hard work of any kind. Maybe there was hope…
The referee suddenly took a step back and brought his hands together to signify the start of round one. Barely had the referee’s palms kissed than Ames was charging forward swinging wildly toward Charlie. Seemingly he had learnt nothing from their last encounter. Charlie stood his ground until what seemed like it was too late before deftly ducking a flailing right and in an almost identical repeat of the fight in the railway marshalling yards punched Ames hard in the solar plexus.
Ames staggered back gasping for air which gave Charlie the opportunity for a jab to the left-hand side of his unprotected face. Charlie would have followed up with a couple of more punches, but Ames was hard up against the tape and the referee shouted for them to break. Ames was a bit more wary now and not so keen to rush in which seemed to suit Charlie who circled first one way then the other as if to keep his opponent constantly on the move. Hugh along with the majority of spectators started to realise there was a lot more to Charlie Gell than met the eye. This wasn’t the first time he’d been in the ring, that was for sure.
As if to emphasise the point Charlie saw an opening and darted forward with a swift barrage of punches to Ames head. Ames rocked back for a second then lurched forward and wrapped his arms around Charlie’s body. He steadfastly ignored the referee who was yelling for them to break and after pulling his neck back delivered a vicious head butt. A split second before the bone crushing impact Charlie dropped his head so both foreheads collided with equal force. The net result being it hurt Ames just as much as it hurt him.
Ames let go of his bear hug and both he and Charlie staggered to opposite sides of the ring, a second later the time keeper beat on a large drum to signify the end of round one. Charlie slumped down in his corner, as did a bewildered looking Ames.
“Jesus Charlie, I think you’ve got the better of him” Hugh shouted passing him a bottle of water.
“We’ll see,” Charlie answered calmly before standing back up before the referee had even signaled him to do so. There was an immediate loud cheer from the crowd and Charlie raised his right hand in acknowledgement of the support. Two people who weren’t supporters were Lawrence and Cooper whose faces told a very different story.
The referee beckoned for Ames to get back to his feet and join his opponent. He looked less than enthusiastic it had to be said. This time it was Charlies turn to rush forward as soon as the round started and before Ames could offer anything in the way of an effective defence Charlie had landed a series of telling blows. Ames legs started to buckle, and he dropped to his knees. Before the referee could intervene, Charlie delivered a pile driver to the right-hand side of his temple and the fight was over.
There was a split second of stunned silence then all hell broke loose. A great roar went up from the crowd and there was a general surge toward the ring. Hugh saw the book maker Cooper tuck the cash box under his arm and make as if to leave. The DLI soldiers seemed to have anticipated this and quickly boxed him in. A little to Coopers left Hugh saw Captain Lawrence fumbling in his tunic pocket before putting a whistle to his lips and giving it a series of sharp blasts. The pandemonium started to subside and Hugh distinctly saw Lawrence motion for Cooper to leave with the strong box intact.
Two of the Durham’s protested vigorously but Lawrence was having none of it and smiled sanctimoniously whilst drawing his service revolver to emphasize the point. Hugh noticed Grayson and Stokes appearing as if out of nowhere at the Captains side. Lawrence then turned his attention toward the mass of troops and waved in the direction of the door as if to say it was time to go. As he did so the door opened and two new players appeared on the scene. Both were officers and judging by the amount of brass on their shoulders seriously out ranked Lawrence who now stood mouth wide open at a total loss.
Hugh watched the two new officers casually make their way through the crowd toward the hapless Captain who'd quickly holstered his gun. Hugh didn’t recognise either of them but what he could see was they were both from the Durham Light infantry. Hugh couldn’t hear what was said but it was obvious from Lawrence’s body language he wasn’t happy. After a moment or two he waved Cooper across to them and after a little conferring the Corporal opened the cash box and counted out a large sum of money into one of the officer’s hands. Hugh couldn’t help but smile. Lawrence had just been played at his own game.
“What about the rest of us?” someone shouted from the crowd.
The two officers seemed to confer directly with Cooper before ordering a que to be formed by those owed money. Hugh hadn’t bet either way so he took no more notice in the proceedings and instead concentrated on helping Charlie out of his bandages. This was no mean feat with every man in the room wanting to congratulate the victor with a shake of the hand or pat on the back.
“You OK?” Hugh asked once the barn had emptied to a level where they could hold a conversation which didn’t involve shouting at the top of their voices.
“Aye lad, divn't worry. I’ve faced a lot worse than him,” Charlie said nodding in the direction of a still very dazed looking Lionel Ames.
“You’ve boxed before then?”
“Did a bit of prize fighting in my time. Getting a bit old for it now. Not too old to take on a brainless moron like Ames though,” Charlie said with a smile.
“No, I think he’ll remember tonight for a very long time.”
“Aye so will Lawrence. Did you see his face when that Lieutenant Colonel walked in?”
“Yeah I did. It was nearly as good as seeing you knock Ames block off,” Hugh said rubbing his friend’s broad shoulders.
Charlie didn’t say anything for a moment, instead he looked pensively across the now almost empty barn in the direction of Lawrence and the two DLI officers.
“I just hope he doesn’t look to seek retribution by other means.”
“There’s not much we can do about it now Charlie. Come on its time we turned in.”
The two walked the short distance from the barn to their hut. What had been a foul day had turned in to a mildly pleasant night. The rain which had dogged them for what seemed an age had finally ceased and there wasn’t a cloud in the moonlight sky. If it weren’t for the distant crump of the big guns, they might have even been able to forget there was a war on…