Today I’m pleased to be joining a very special blog tour. I’m sharing an extract from From The City, From The Plough, a book which is part of a series of books which are currently out of print but have been rereleased to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. The extract is shared with thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me on the blog tour and The Imperial War Museum for the copy of the extract.
The story of soldiers of the Fifth Battalion, the Wessex Regiment, in the run up to and aftermath of D-Day. Although fictional, it comes directly out of the author’s own experience and is regarded as one of the most accurate and unsentimental portrayals of the ordinary soldier’s life anywhere in fiction. First published in 1948, there have been enthusiastic endorsements from soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, confirming Baron’s uncanny knack of capturing the soldier’s experience.
The men lying along the sunken lanes felt the morning breezes die away, and as the sun rose in the sky the daylight grew radiant and the summer’s heat became intense. The chill and the fatigue fell away from them and they felt a momentary surge of confidence as their own artillery opened fire on the ridge with high explosive and smoke-shells that wrapped the enemy positions in a blinding white screen.
Then they moved forward.
They advanced across the meadows, unchallenged for the first few yards and filled suddenly, as they always were at such moments, with the wild, unreasoning hope that this time it was going to be easy; until the first shell quavered down on them and they were out there, soft, human flesh clad only in khaki serge, with the angry splinters of steel whining among them, searching the ground, seeking them out, cutting them down, widening the gaps in their scattered ranks, and each man found himself suddenly alone amid the noise and the smoke, lurching blindly forward to gamble with blind death; doubly bewildered because the enemy machine guns were firing not only from the front but from the flanks.
A hundred yards in front of them was the stream and across the stream a narrow, stone-walled bridge, too small for tanks but treacherously inviting for infantry. There was no room in their minds for the enemy waiting on the upper slopes; now there was only one objective – to cross the bridge, to put the stream behind them. Men goad themselves on with strange illusions, with mad freaks of fancy, and their illusion was that somehow this field they were now crossing was the source of all their peril, that the bridge was a bridge to safety, that life lay on the far bank of the stream. They stumbled forward against the machine guns and toppled forward, faces upturned in agony, hands clawing at the sunlight; more men came sprinting on, without even a downward glance at the littered dead, and fell writhing among them.
A half a dozen men reached the bridge; none of them got across. There were no more men moving across the open ground now. Only the dead and wounded sprawled in the open; the rest of the battalion was scattered in little groups, cowering in ditches, in gullies, against the backs of sunken sun-baked lanes, in shallow folds in the ground, under the probing machine-gun fire.
Colonel Pothecary crouched among his men. He had gone forward with the leading platoons, a prey to changing moods. On the start line he had felt at first only the awful responsibility of this moment; he alone, of all these men, knew exactly what they were facing. Then the very weight of the burden had aroused in him, as they moved off, a feeling of complete, almost light-hearted abandon, a determination to absolve himself by being the first to dare, the first to gamble. Now, as he tried to steady the whirling confusion of his thoughts, to clear his mind so that he could work out the next step, he felt drained of resolution. He longed for someone to tell him what to do; he envied the riflemen who lay, passive but expectant, waiting for the next order.
He wondered what was happening to the other battalion. If only, he thought, they would get forward across the stream and open the way for his battalion. If only someone else would take the initiative. If only someone else would lift the burden from his back.
From The City, From The Plough is available from Amazon.
You can follow the rest of the blog tour here: