© Clive Gilson 2015
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As a labouring pair of steam engines pulled in under Waterloo Station’s classical girder and glass roof, and the steam from their boiler stacks joined with the vapours from all of the other troop trains hauling their heavy human cargos along these southern tracks, crowding and rowdily overlapping conversations in the packed compartment of one of the train carriages grew ever quieter. Faces appeared in the carriage windows, faces attached to bodies straining to see the welcoming fogs of the Old Smoke. Some of the 56th Londoners were coming home. Nineteen forty-five, August, and in particular, one Private Sidney Newt, a volunteer at eighteen in the summer of nineteen forty, was returning to the maternal bosom for the first time in five years. He was not entirely sure how he felt about that.
With the steely screech of wheels sliding on worn rails, and with the jolt and pull and jolt again of the slowing carriages, that brief moment of homeward bound reverie shattered. Catcalls and whistles. Windows slammed down and heads peered out into the dissipating walls of steam and coke soot. Coughs and shouts. A Wren was in full but ordered flow along the already crowded platform that ran next to the troop transport carriage. Soldier boys tracked her in full tidal bore from train windows;
“Fancy a bit of German Sau…?”
“Oi, luv, where you going in such an ‘urry?”
Countless faces. Wives and mothers and daughters. Fathers and sons and a smattering of husbands. Porters with sack-butts and trollies laden with brown leather chattels. A party of Coldstream Guards in formation. The tin of the tannoy. The thump of brakes and buffers. The scuff of a thousand shoe leathers on hard platform stones. Shouts and screams. The sighs of true loves and families joyously reunited before hidden traumas and stresses cracked these homecoming veneers. The gentle drip of tears on shoulders and cheeks rising to form a swelling salt lake-a-lapping. The click-clack of mechanical signboards. Guards’ whistles and the grind of wheels gaining traction. The inevitable tick and snick of the advancing hands on the station clocks. Sidney Newt moved through the sights and soundscapes as if drunk, oblivious to the wartime pulse and patina of the place, focused just on the step and the weight upon his shoulder. Waterloo. Another bloody war done for. The coming home of a man as unsure of his place in this grimly victorious city as that unhappy boy had been all those years ago when simply trying to get away from the Old Crow.
Banter. Six abreast across the platform. Instinctively the waiting and the watching, the working and those simply there in that moment, scuttled out of the way of Sydney’s motley phalanx. Sidney’s immediate host, his squad of mates, swaggered up the platform towards the open skies beyond the ticket gates, caps askew, collars undone, boots creaking with age and grime and the last of the bully days. The boys were home, all of them Brentford and Chiswick born and bred, old sands and hands of the Desert, of Italy and then the Western Approaches, and not one of them was as old as Sidney and none of them knew anything but the army slog through Africa and Italy and the rains and muds of the great northern invasion.
Sidney was a head shorter than the rest of the squad, and formed the thin, grubbily off-white, sloping, right hand flank of their meagre force as they shouldered their kit towards civilian streets. They clattered as they walked, encumbered and bagged, stock full of souvenirs and keepsakes. Sidney had a shortened German Infantry bayonet, a rusted and chipped Iron Cross and a slightly torn and grubby red Swastika flag in his kit bag, the flag being there simply because he could take it with impunity. He had a memory or two in crumpled envelope form as well. A note from a desperate Fraulein on the ration scrounge with whom he conveniently but briefly fell in love, and a snip of hair from an Italian prostitute, who had gladly let him pay for a memory that he would embellish for years to come.
There were other girls, of course. You lost a lot of inhibitions when you slogged the deserts and the mountain spines chasing one blood stained objective after another. Sidney thought about girls a lot but he had long since stopped thinking about that dose of clap and the morality of it all, about what the folks and the fragile friends back home might say. Anyway, the dose was a sort of badge of honour, a source of perverse pride.
If you knew what was good for you, you stopped thinking about a lot of things when you saw your last best mate bleed out in front of you because his feet were blown off by a mine and there was no damned medic because he too was bleeding in a ditch half a mile back and beyond. To survive you packed all of those images away safely with the other keepsakes. You left the smashed corpses, friend and foe alike, in the muds that you hoped would clog your memories forever and a day.
An assembly point. The Regimental Sergeant Major. Milling bloody chaos. Sidney reverted from the good nature of the homecoming ingénue and started to vent his more usual frustrations as a fully paid up member of the six-year time served cynic brigade. How the hell had they won the war when they could not organise the proverbial? Whistles and catcalls. The milling soldiery were all demob happy, although this particular queue was just for a three-day ticket of leave. Nevertheless, the disciplines of the war years were already fading. They were the conquering heroes. This drizzling little country owed them something. This would be their time in those sunlit uplands that Mister Churchill promised them. And Sidney, despite his reservations about what home and hearth might mean, felt once again that the West London of his timid youth was indeed the centre of a universe now expanded beyond the brittle bones and the ragged flesh of boyhood fears and the wars fought by the men that they had all become.
Sidney joined in the general barracking. “Come on, Sarge, shift your arse.”
The RSM cast a baleful look over the heads of the jostling company, knowing full well that he dare not charge that annoying little runt, Private Newt, with anything worse than being homesick. He shuddered inwardly at the thought of peace. And so, with their better, homeward bound nature winning through, these soon to be former soldiers slowly adopted slightly more orderly queues, took their papers, and started to drift away into the crowded streets of Central London, becoming just one more battledress and kit bag in the random melee that was a million men slowly waking up from their shared nightmares.
“D’you know what I ain’t never doin’ again? D’you know wha’?” Sidney slumped forward in his chair, leaning on his elbows on the round, scuffed and scratched pub table at the back of the public bar in the Red Lion, just off the Great West and next to Brentford Station. The dark wood panelled walls drifted in and out of focus, hanging thick and sick with tar yellows and a tan painted ceiling. Lights burned dimly under red paper shades. The hands on the brewery clock above the bar moved to a quarter past ten. The remaining West London crew, the 56th rear-guard, was down to the last knockings. Sidney and Edwin York, Corporal Edwin York or Yorkie to his mates, were well into their backslapping cups, enjoying the fretful bonhomie’s of a still vaguely grateful local clientele.
“No, Sid, but I’m sure you’re gonna tell us like you does”, replied Yorkie, leaning back in his chair so as not to breath in the smoke from Sidney’s wildly gyrating Craven ‘A’.
“Sand…s’what I’m never doin’ again. Fuckin’ sand… Fuckin’ desert shit. Sod that fuckin’ Erwin fuckin’ Rommel, that’s what. No more fuckin’ sand…”
Sydney’s right elbow, the one holding the cigarette slipped off the table and the man lurched forward, slopping his pint onto the already skinned table top. As he slipped forward he broke the tip of the cigarette off on the table edge, dropping the lit tobacco onto the knee of his battledress trousers.
“Shit, shit, shit”, he swore, brushing the embers away to reveal a neat black ringed singe mark in the coarse woollen fabric. “Oh, fuck…”
A moment or two of confused prioritisation. “…oh who gives one, anyway, s’not as though…” He waved the moment away, pulled another cigarette out of the Craven ‘A’ carton, flicked open his petrol lighter and lit up.
Yorkie laughed. “Always were a bleedin’ liability, Sid.” He paused for a moment wondering if he needed the gents. No, not urgent, not just yet. “Anyways, not even Margate, not even Brighton? No more sand never?” He took a sip of warm brown-red London Pride. He would have a Scotch with the next one.
Sidney shook his head energetically, coughed, wheezed and grinned a brown-toothed grin. “Nope, never. Nor no mud. No bloody building sites for me, mate. Strict the right side of the bookies for me from now on. That an’ a bit of this, a bit of that, know what I mean?”
“Not really”, replied Yorkie. He did need to pee. Definitely. “Don’t s’pose it matters, though. We’ve done our bit. King and shit. A man’s got a right to… well… something like that. We got Labour on the up now. Our time now. It’s all changing. That’s the thing, Sid, that’s the thing to remember… talkin’ of which, think on that while I go see a man about a dog.” The Corporal stood up unsteadily and started to head for a door at the back of the public bar. “Oh, and I’ll have a Scotch an’ half. Your shout…”
Sidney nodded sagely, trying to focus on the spindles of Yorkie’s chair. He decided that some sort of definitive flanking, bar-targeted action was needed. He downed the last of his pint, pushed his chair back and started to rise in order to go the bar. As he stood up and started to turn towards the bar his previous lack of focus, that inability to form words and to count chair back spindles, manifested in a human version of the Chinese Knot puzzle. Instead of straightening up on the turn Sydney simple kept revolving, twisting so far around that he tripped himself up, shifted sideways, became tangled up with his own chair’s legs and then promptly fell head first over the chair back and down onto the floor.
In the aftermath, with Sydney wrapped in a rough woollen blanket on one of the bench seats in the front bay window of the bar, the publican and Yorkie finished a late lock-in over a nip or two.
“A man can’t send ‘im ‘ome like that, can he?” said the publican as the two late night drinkers finished their third and final dram.
“No, a man can’t do that.” Yorkie replied softly. He stood upright, breathed in deeply and then turned to pick up his bags. The publican followed him slowly to the front door of the pub. As the publican unlocked the door Yorkie pondered the midnight hour. He looked over at the deeply sleeping Sydney Newt and said, “Yeah, mate, all tucked up.”
Turning to the publican he said, “ Look after ‘im. See ’im ‘ome… He’s a bloody hero. Wouldn’t believe it, would ya? An’ all this man can do in the face of that shit is stagger up South Ealing way, find a place to watch the dawn come up, an’ see about ‘ome tomorrow.”
“Welcome to kip ‘ere”, said the publican, indicating a bench just like the one that Sidney Newt was currently passed out upon.
“Nah, mate. Need some fresh air.” Looking directly at his brother-in-arms, Yorkie continued, “Been breathing that bastard’s fogs far too long.”
As Yorkie turned and started to head back up the road towards the Ealings he heard the pub door lock snick shut again. He smiled. He laughed. He wouldn’t have to see that rotten bloody toe rag again for the best part of a week.
Gunnersbury Park at five in the morning. A body slumped against the trunk of a broad Elm under a blanket recently borrowed from a local publican. Sydney Newt was foot sore and faltering after traipsing along the Great West for a mile or maybe two if you included his odd meanderings. Sydney could still feel the dampness of sweat in his hair, a sweat broken out by the effort of heaving body, coat and kit through the still warm August night darks. All was calm now, though, as he ran his fingers through his lank brown hair. The red glow of a Craven ‘A’ pinpointed a sobering man’s place in this sleeping city suburb.
Sidney Newt had woken up an hour or so earlier on the window seat at the Red Lion, stiff and awkward, and with a head shattered by the Fullers’ barrage, knowing instinctively that he needed open spaces and clear airs. It took a lot of fumbling with locks on the tatty, boot scuffed back door of the pub, but he eventually managed to slide the bolts and turn a key that sat resolutely wedged in an old mortise lock. He had closed the door quietly, trusting to luck that leaving the door unlocked would cause no harm. He turned towards the east and then walked along Orchard and then Windmill Roads to join the main thoroughfare into the city, all the while balancing kit and swag on his left shoulder. A little way into his early morning constitutional Sydney had taken a recently liberated half-bottle of brandy out of his greatcoat pocket and nearly choked. He would, he decided, save the liquor for another day when he might once again weave fanciful stories and blind prejudices out of the hairs of the dog that bit.
As the last embers of his Elm shaded cigarette faded back into the shadows, Sydney watched the first slices of dark purple and grey slide across the horizon. He stubbed the butt of his cigarette out on the bark of the tree at his back. He dare not risk another tipple, not now that the sun was washing its face, and anyway, he preferred facing the old folks at home grubby but relatively sober. He did pour a little brandy over his fingers, though, to rub away the worst of the birdcage droppings from his gums. What he really wanted was cold water.
Sydney suddenly remembered a little local geography. Gunnersbury Park. Over by the pavilion, down along the far side of the bandstand, heading back towards Lionel Road, there used to be a drinking fountain set on a grey granite base. The thought of it brought back memories of long lost summer days. As a child he had spent hours throwing stale bread for the ducks in the circular pond by the Old Mansion house, ducks all iridescent greens and mottled browns. He immediately saw in his mind’s eye Moorhens strutting along banks on impossibly thin legs. Sydney heard that distinct but delicate plop of a brown rat skimming sleekly from an exposed tree root. He remembered how his legs were always covered in grazes and cuts. He remembered the wooden slats of a swing leaving splinters in the back of his boyish thighs. Sydney could taste again the weak lemonades made up by his mother. And he felt the sting of the back of her hand, a hand wielded with a dull but penetrating weight whenever he got rowdy and over-excited under towering blue summer skies. It always came back to the back of her bloody hand. The Old Crow should have been a boxer.
Sydney stood up and stretched, hefted his bag onto his right shoulder, and set off slowly in the direction of the old painted bandstand. As he walked the shades and breaks of thinning greys in the sky above him shifted along the spectrum. Cloud edges began to take shape as the sun’s rays started to bend ever so slightly through the thinning autumn atmosphere. A hint of blue. A stomach rumbling, announcing the hungers of another day. The sun stoking the old fires. Sydney felt a slight abdominal twitch.
Best get home, he thought. Might soon be time for the old back garden ritual.
He started to hurry, feeling beads of sweat break out at his temples once again. Sydney stopped walking and took off and folded his greatcoat and laid it across his shoulder before hefting the kit bag once more. He considered the greater need and decided to forget about the drinking fountain and the allure of fresh cold water. Movement eased the stomach cramps. Sydney decided to keep going. He crossed Lionel Road and cut through a break in a fence at the back of Clayponds Isolation Hospital before walking down Occupation Lane and onto the South Ealing Road.
The turn into Whitestile Road brought him to a sudden halt. The suburban, leaded bays of these late Victorian and Edwardian villas made his heart race. This was his home. Almost. The old folks lived in a small two-up-two-down on the corner of Enfield Road. Not for them and theirs the luxuries of leaded lights and tiled paths to the front door. The family home’s front door opened directly onto the street. And as Sydney felt those old childhood slights of hand come to rest upon his shoulder, even as he remembered the once a week baths in front of the old iron range and the hand-me-downs and the disapproving, wrong-side-of-the-street looks, he still breathed long and hard with the anticipation of warmth and welcome.
Sydney had a plan. This was a new world. He was a soldier. The boys had a right to something better, these homeward bound lads. There would be no more back-handers, not unless they were his to dish out, although he knew in his heart that even the Old Crow deserved better than that. Wars made people change. He wondered what he might find? How were they after all of these letter free years? How would he react back in the family home? Sydney tried to remember the details of how his parents had looked all those years ago, back when he was just a boy.
As he walked slowly along the street his pulse quickened. There were gaps, plots full of rubble and weed and browning buddleia heads. These spaces were filled with burnt out brick shells and splintered window frames and scraps of charred furniture. Cow Parsley and nettles sprouted everywhere that remained broken and untended. The gaps in the fabric of Sydney’s suburban streets were irregular and infrequent, but he could count by line of sight to a number high enough that it would make a man take a step backwards.
Number forty was gone. That was where Michael Bence, the kid with the polio legs, had lived with his widowed mother. Both he and Michael were single child litter-runts together, and so they had played as reluctant friends in the quiet spaces vacated by the healthy children. Michael was never destined to be a soldier. He was supposed to be one of the lucky unlucky ones, but the war got him just the same. His home was gone to bombed-out ruin. For a brief moment, and quite unexpectedly, this seemed much worse to Sydney than anything else he had ever seen.
It was still early. The Old Crow would not be stirring just yet. Sydney’s Old Man worked nights on the railways… had worked nights… everything felt a little out of the usually cynical kilter. Sydney walked onto the bombsite and found a dropped but uncracked lintel to sit on. The sky was a clear, bright blue now. Early bird sounds and echoes of life were starting to brew. He lit another Craven ‘A’ as a tear slid down his left cheek and dropped to the dusty earth for poor little, gammy-legged Michael and his beaten down mother. The stomach cramps had eased off by now as Sydney tried to remember Mrs Bence’s given name but he failed in that just as he had failed only moments previously to remember the details of his own mother’s face.
Sydney wished then that he had written home more often. Between them all they’d managed maybe one or two letters each a year through to the back end of forty-two when he had been wounded that first time. He had not written again after that. Sydney put it down to a lack of schooling, but his letter writing failures were probably a form of writer’s block caused by mechanisms somewhat closer to home. In his haste to get away from the low horizons of these pre-war working class London suburbs Sydney had never felt any regrets. It was the coming home that seemed to open up sallow flaps of skin and expose those old, unstitched wounds.
Sitting on the stone lintel on the bombsite at number forty, Sydney waited out the final hour or so of his homecoming, musing as he smoked on the ways of it all, on the ways of his growing up. As a child and then a teenager he had always been afraid of both of his parents but now he realised that it was the Old Crow who iced his veins.
Soddin’ Hitler was a pussycat compared to her, he thought. The Old Man was crude and bluff, but he never went for the belt or the rod. True, they could both shift a mean backhand, but she was always the heavier with the blow.
It occurred then to Sydney that the Old Man only ever went through the motions. All things seemed clear and sharply focussed to Sydney as he sat there in the rubble. She was the catalyst. She liked her gin. She liked her man hard and calloused. The Old Man played the part for her, but Sydney felt that, like most conscripts, his Old Man’s heart had never really been in it. He obeyed orders with an inner resignation. Sydney changed his mind, deciding that while the Old Crow might have made a great boxer she would have been an even grander sergeant major, with Sydney and his Old Man worth nothing more than their places in the doomed front rank of the Forlorn Hope. He missed her all the same.
By eight o’clock the street was twitching into life. Working men and women headed out for shifts and sundry civilian duties. Sydney did not recognise them. They in their turn paid a man in battledress no more heed than another passing summer cloud. Sydney largely ignored these strangers and their occasionally mumbled ‘Good morning’ greetings. The first of the summer holiday, raggedy-arsed kids were on the street by now as well and Sydney had already fended off crude requests for cigarettes by the dirty little buggers too many times for his liking. He shrugged the last of the boys off, hefted his kit onto his shoulder and walked the final yards towards home.
His heart skipped a beat when he saw the four-square shapes of his childhood standing strong and firm and dusty brick red. For some years now Sydney had quite lost that sense of relief that came with small victories on the domestic front. War propelled a man outwards but turned a man inwards. The surge of adrenalin that came now with the sight of home caught him totally unawares, and the images of these familiar places blurred. Sydney paused, dropping his bag to the pavement while rubbing the heel of his hand into his watering eyes.
The dulled blue paint on the front door was peeling, revealing a combination of old black gloss and patches of wet rot. The window frames were weathered and grey and crumbling. Sydney ran a finger along the mortar line between two brick courses. He watched the mortar disintegrate under his fingertips and drop to the pavement. A succession of spindle thin dandelions and ragged worts sprouted in the dirt that sat in the cracks between wall and floor. He breathed in deeply and lifted the black wrought iron lion head doorknocker. Exhaling loudly he tapped the knocker against the lion’s head.
Idiot, he thought.
He raised the knocker and slammed it down. Faint heart ne’er won fair lady, and never the Old Crow. Sydney thought that he heard the sound of chair legs scraping across bare boards, but the door remained firmly shut. He felt like a prize lemon on a show stand out there on the street.
Bloody old gits, he thought, getting lazy and even more unpleasant in their old age.
Then it dawned on him. He had sat and waited out the early morning amid the rubble of number forty half expecting his Old Man to trudge home after his night shift on the tracks, but the Old Man had not made an appearance.
Must be between shifts, he thought. Definitely lazy. Try again. Harder.
This time Sydney heard more pronounced movements behind the door along with a voluble string of oaths. The Old Man was clearly in a foul temper. No change there then. The inner bolts at top and bottom slid back. Sydney heard the key turn. He waited, smiling, expecting the tidal surge of curses to break on the homecoming boy’s dam of hung-over happiness. The door swung inwards.
“What the fuck d’ya want?”
Forty-something. Grubby brown trousers held up by braces atop a grey-washed vest. A rollie lodged in the corner of a downturned mouth. Stubble. Brown eyes flashing venom. Bald.
Sydney stood in the street, his kit bag leaning against his right leg, greatcoat draped over his shoulder, open mouthed.
“You fucking deaf or what, soldier-boy. Wha’d’ya fucking want?”
Sydney stammered, all the while checking the number painted on the front door. He quickly scanned the houses to left and right. No mistakes. This was the house in which he had suffered childhood.
“I… I… what the?” he muttered, feeling utterly confused and panicked. He stood there on the pavement dumb and gawping.
“Ain’t got time for this shit”, spat the bald man at the door. He turned inwards and reached out to slam the door closed. Sydney reacted instinctively, thrusting a boot across the threshold. He stepped forward. He was soldier, a fighting man of the 56th Londoners. His voice broke as he garbled out names and places.
“The Newts… Fred and Edie… me Old Man… lived ‘ere for years. I mean… I grew up ‘ere. The Newts?”
The bald man stepped back into his front parlour, giving Sydney the evils. “Don’t you come any nearer, mate, You know what? Not another step, or else. Don’t know nuffin’ about any Newts. Been ‘ere four years. No one ‘ere named Newt. Nah piss off…”
Behind the staccato bravado Sydney could see blind fear in the man’s eyes. He felt both strength and weakness. He could just smash the man to the floor. Easy as pie. Years of hates and frustrations. Childish rage. And that was the thing. Sydney felt as small and frail as a five-year-old boy trying to brave the schoolyard bullies while really wanting to run and hide behind his mother’s skirts. Except that his mother had done a bunk. The old beaten up pieces of utility furniture were gone. The reproduction Constable above the fireplace was now just a lighter patch of white on a grubby wall. He stepped back from the gloom into the harsh bright light of morning on the street.
“Sorry…” he mumbled as the bald man rushed forward and slammed the front door in Sydney’s face.
A vein-popping, bug-eyed caricature appeared at the front room window. A finger pointed threateningly. Sydney could feel curtains twitch across the street. He felt the heat of the morning on his neck. He was in shock. His mind raced. How could they do this? Not even a word? Then again he had to admit to his own faults on that score. Should he ask next door?
Sydney felt the weight of the brandy bottle in his greatcoat pocket rub along his chest as he fidgeted through his indecision. He took the coat from his shoulder, fished in one of the pockets and took the bottle out. He dropped his greatcoat onto the floor, unstopped the bottle and took a long swig for courage. He felt the bitters burn all the way down as he staggered backwards and shielded his eyes from a suddenly fearsome August sun.
Sydney stumbled in confusion and disarray back to the rubble at number forty with his worldly goods dragging behind, and resumed his seat on the lintel stone. He needed time to regroup and gather his strength for his next tactical move. In the mean time he watched crows wheel across the London rooftops. He watched dusts and airborne detritus fall onto brick and weed and stone. Insects hummed and buzzed around his head. He remained stuck in a revolving door, his thoughts and options spinning round and round but never releasing him along any one path of decisive action.
Here he was, he thought, a returning bloody hero put to flight by a fat fucker in a dirty vest.
“Fought for me fuckin’ King and Country”, he mumbled to the last of the pink bobbing Campion heads. He drained the last of the brandy and lit the last of his current ration of Craven ‘A’s. A black and white Wagtail hopped and dipped along the edge of an old flowerbed now overgrown and thick with nettles.
Sydney nodded as the bird hopped right past his outstretched leg. “Free as a bird, then. S’pose that’s it. Fuck ‘em. Fuck the lot of ‘em. Never bloody liked ‘em.”
The Wagtail disappeared from view behind a pile of bricks. Sydney continued his monologue regardless. “D’ya know what I ain’t never doin’ no more, little birdie? I’ll tell ya. I ain’t never doing sand no more. Never. An’ I ain’t never doin’ fuckin’ family. Never again.”
Sydney’s thoughts drifted off to the lines and runes engraved on wood and stone that marked out the resting places of mates long gone now. Africa. Sicily. Italy. France. Sydney considered his position amid all of this carnage, past and present. He might not be a prime specimen, he mused, but he was a survivor. All those lovely boys burned and gone, and here he was, the spindly little runt finishing a cigarette in the bombed out rubble of that bastard old world.
Sydney stood up, hefted a now chalky white coat and kit bag onto his shoulder one more time and started the walk back towards the South Ealing Road. He felt slightly drunk and he needed to find a tobacconist. He needed a cafe with a bathroom. He headed for the posh bit of town along past the film studios and up by Haven Green. As he walked along the street towards this new and confusing post war civilisation he spoke his thoughts out loud to startled passers-by.
“Clean slate, mate, clean slate.”
“Can’t choose your fuckin’ family, can you?”
“New world, missus, that’s what we done out there.”
“Got a fag, mate, for a fuckin’ war hero?”
Also by Clive and available as free novels and short stories in eBook formats at Shakespir:
Dancing Pig Originals
Beasts Within series of stories
ShadowGrimm series of stories
Bogey Bear stars in…
Cry ‘Havoc series of stories
Cry ‘Freedom’ series of stories
August 1945. The last of the 56th Londoners are home from Germany and heading for a short leave before their final demob. Private Sydney Newt is returning home for the first time since 1940. He is 23 years old. The boy he left behind is long gone. He left home at 18 to escape the grinding poverty that his family endured in the 1930's as he grew up...that and the backhanders. Sydney the man knows nothing else but war. Sydney is not exactly your normal returning war hero. He is short and stick thin, sallow but surviving. He lives in a wreath of Craven 'A' smoke and drinks too much. He swears like the trooper he is... and he's going home to meet his Old Man and the Crow (his mother). Sydney is not at all sure what he's heading home to, nor is he entirely sure that he wants to go home at all.