Author: Paratroop Sergeant PM
25th September, 1944. The infamous, doomed Operation Market Garden comes to an end, and the Major's men are selected to help cover the evacuation. Will they make it to the river in time to escape before the Germans get to them? Please R&R!Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Words: 2,257 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Published: 11-24-08 - Status: Complete - id: 2600112
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This story was written during a Geography test, therefore you shouldn't be expecting too much of me. It's a good story, I suppose, but any author who has just written his first short story would say that. It's set in 1944, when the historic, doomed Operation Market Garden came to an end. The British are evacuating from Arnhem and the Major and his men have been selected to cover the retreat. Please read, and don't forget to review!
His face was grim as he entered the hotel. What was left of it, anyway. After countless days of shelling the hotel had been reduced to half a pile of smoldering rubble. The only relatively safe place was the cellar, and to the wounded men inside even the cellar couldn't keep the Germans out.
A part of the cellar had been set up as a planning room. This was where he headed for, striding that familiar long stride of his. The wounded men who could still talk lifted their heads as he passed by to stare at their beloved commander. "Mornin', Major," some of them said, in an attempt to lighten his apparent black mood. Strangely, the man known as "major" never said anything; not a word of encouragement, not even a motivational nod…most unusual of him.
The door to the planning room burst open and he walked in, scowling. A few men looked up fearfully, in case the Germans had come, but seeing it was just him they relaxed visibly. One even offered a cigarette, saying, "Here, Major, it's the last one I've got."
The Major gave a noncommittal grunt and ignored the comment, choosing instead to stride to the planning map and slam his fist on the table, making not only the little miniature representations of the armies jump, but a few real men as well. What was going on? They wondered. It wasn't like the Major at all to be so uncharacteristically quiet and unhappy. It was a far cry from his usual cheerful, encouraging, motivating self. What had gotten to him so much that he was so upset?
The answer came soon enough. "We're bailing out. Tonight," he said slowly.
A stunned moment of silence. Then the cries of protest came, as he knew it would.
"No way! What have all those men died for, then?"
"We've held on this bloody long, we can't just evacuate!"
"This is a bloomin' outrage!"
He held up a hand and the room fell silent almost immediately. He leant forward, his voice lowering to give him a more sinister, menacing effect. The room had gone deathly quiet, the men listening intently.
"That's not all." He paused, hesitating. "They want us to cover the retreat."
The room erupted again, not a single man pleased with the decision.
"That's bloody unfair, they can't just leave us like that!"
"What about us, then? Eh? What about us?"
"That's a bloody suicide mission, that is!"
The Major listened to their ranting, not saying a word himself. He had already said what he had wanted to say at HQ. He had yelled at them until his voice was hoarse. They had been pretty surprised at the sudden loss of his usual, calm composure. Needless to say they hadn't been very impressed by his string of profanities.
The room had settled down again, with every man staring at him intently. He stared stonily back. Nobody seemed to be able to say a word.
Finally one of his aides, Lieutenant Spencer Marloughsby-Whittington, broke the silence. "Who'll be going, sir?" he asked quietly. As his aide, the Major was sure that Spencer knew full well who he was going to pick. Clever boy, that Spencer. Always one step ahead of everyone else.
He shrugged. He glanced at the deathly pale faces of the men, men he'd served with for so long, trained with, fought with…and now to die with. The familiar faces stared back at him dolefully. It was a difficult choice, choosing the men whom e was going to die with, as if he was Death itself. Still, the job had to be done, and to sacrifice a few to save many was much better than sacrificing many to save a few.
"Oh, y'know…Spencer, Harry, Ryan, Lewis…" The condemned men's faces fell as each name was uttered. Deathly pale faces sighed with relief, while others prepared themselves both physically and mentally for the inevitable outcome.
All in all the Major named about 20 odd men, veterans all of them. They had been through so much together, the trainings, the skirmishes, the battles…and now it was all going to waste. But they had to do this; the rookies would have been overwhelmed quickly.
The relieved troopers filed out, leaving the 'chosen ones' behind. The Major sighed heavily. He didn't want any of the familiar faces to die. "You can leave, any of you, if you don't want to do this," he said quietly. Something flickered on the men's faces. What was it, fear? Relief? Then, just as quickly, it was gone. None of the men had left, as he knew they wouldn't. They were all in this together till the very end.
Grinning – a morose, mirthless smile – he outlined the plan while they listened in complete silence.
"We've got to scatter, spread out. Ours won't be the only unit being ab-"he bit his lip – abandoned just seemed too harsh. "roped in to help the retreat, so we'll spread out in our own allocated area. We've got to make the Germans believe we're still here. Got it?"
Everyone paused. The plan seemed plausible enough. There were just two things that worried them, the overwhelming German force and their position; too close to the Jerries and too far from the river to ever get there in time. It seemed like none would make it home.
Spencer answered for everyone. "Let's do this," he said.
The night was anything but peaceful and tranquil. The moon shone brightly overhead, thankfully not penetrating the unsettling darkness in which boats were readied for the evacuation of Arnhem. The tranquility of the forests – what tranquility was left, anyway – was disrupted by a few, scattered Bren guns, firing defiantly into the Germans. Everything seemed like it had been for the past few days.
At the river, however, it was an entirely different matter. Numerous boats stood waiting for the troops, to bring them to safety to the other side of the river. The orders for the beleaguered, escaping troops were simple – keep on going. Don't stop for anyone.
The Major watched with grim approval as the men tried to take as many of the walking wounded as they could. They couldn't risk too many men falling into German hands. As the men filed by they murmured encouragements to those who were to stay behind, knowing full well that they might never see each other again.
"See you around, mate."
"Good luck, Major…you'll need it."
"We'll see you again on the other side of the river."
All lies, of course. They were as good as dead now. Still, a little bit of blatant, encouraging lying never hurt anyone.
Silently the men cleared out, leaving the Major and his twenty veterans. The night air was cool and crisp, and all was silent in their corner. The Major checked his watch. It was exactly 2100. The evacuation was underway. The Major smiled grimly, the smile never quite reaching his eyes. Now all they had to do was keep the Germans – both figuratively and literally – in the dark.
The cue was given and numerous guns fired into the gloom, at Arnhem Bridge. The Germans fired blindly back. The bullets were far and wide, seeing as neither could see through the darkness, lit by a few scarce fires from earlier skirmishes.
Apparently the Germans knew something was amiss because they advanced, cautiously at first, but more boldly as they encountered little resistance. The Major's men glanced around unsettlingly. They knew they were directly in line with Arnhem Bridge, with the Germans. And now it looked like the Germans were headed straight for them.
Someone started to sing softly. The Major didn't know who, but nevertheless he was grateful. It lessened the tension; helped the men stare death straight in the face, helped them to be brave and not think about what fate they were going to meet. They were British, after all. Heck, scratch that, they were paratroopers, the elite red berets. They wouldn't – couldn't – go down without a good fight.
More soldiers took up the song now. The Major thought it sounded a bit like "We'll Meet Again". He began to hum along, singing the words that he knew.
"We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day
Keep smilin' through
Just like you always do
Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away…"
As he did he took one last, long look at every one of them – from the Captains to the Privates. All seemed invaluable to the Major; he couldn't bear to let them die. But they had chosen to stay, to fight with him, hadn't they? He had given them a chance to back down but they hadn't. And for that he was grateful.
Someone yelled, "They're comin'," and suddenly the night sky was alive, full of noise from the Bren guns to the grenades to the MG42s. The Major helped as best as he could, firing his pistol, running along the lines, encouraging the men to "keep going, we haven't lost yet!" A bullet caught him in the arm but he kept going; he couldn't give up now. The boys at the river, they needed all the time they could get. They needed another Dunkirk. And by George, the Major and his men were going to give it to them.
One by one his men fell as he looked on helplessly. Those who survived continued to put up a fierce line of defense, in hope of keeping the Germans at bay. 'They couldn't give up now' was the general attitude of every man. Not while they'd come this far.
In the end the Major had no choice but to call a retreat. There were too many of them; just too many. They fell back slowly, putting up fierce resistance to allow the boys more time. They couldn't patch up the wounded; they had no medic. Those who fell were left to the mercy of the Germans.
Soon there were just three men left; the Major, Spencer, and a Lieutenant Lewis Dixon. They had reached the river, with the Germans far behind – three men were much easier to hide then twenty. A glimmer of hope alighted in he Major's eyes – maybe, just maybe, they would make it out after all. His eyes cast around for something, anything that would take them across the river.
"Goin' my way, mate?" a friendly English voice cut through the silence. A cheerful looking coxswain sat on the edge of a raft, holding out a hand to the Major. The three hauled themselves into the boat – but not before Lieutenant Dixon got shot as he clambered in. They left him on the shore, the Major in particular feeling bad that there was nothing they could do. His guilty conscience, however, was expelled by the surge of hope he now felt. They were going to make it! He could almost make out the opposing shoreline. Just a few more meters…
He had lifted his hopes too high, too soon. A single burst from a faraway machine gun and suddenly they were floundering in the water, the boat – if it could be called a boat – drifting away, the coxswain gripping his arm tightly, trying not to cry out. It was against the Major's better judgment, but he couldn't leave the coxswain to die. Not when he had left so many others behind. He grabbed the coxswain and started to swim, but his arm, the one that had been injured, was stinging. He felt himself slowing down. They would never make it…
But suddenly they found themselves being propelled by an external force – Spencer, using all his strength to keep them afloat. The Major strained his eyes. Nearly there…just a bit more…c'mon Spence, you can do it…
With a final, superhuman effort, Spencer heaved the Major and the coxswain onto the opposite shore. Spencer himself never reached the bank, though. He was cut down just as he pushed the others up onto the wet sand.
The Major stood, staring sadly at Spencer's body as it sank beneath the water, at the man he once knew and liked, at the man who had saved their lives. But in his heart he felt something else; a sense of accomplishment, a sense of thankfulness.
At least Spencer and the others hadn't died for nothing, he thought. At least they'd done their part in helping the evacuation, though their names would never be remembered. At least they'd save many more lives. And, by God, at least they had gone out as they had gone in.