The troops are sent off to fight in Normandy for the D-day invasion. Mikey knows that there will be a death, and a sudden change in Gerard's mental health doesn't help the situation.
The training was brutal, what little training we had anyway. Waking up and 5am every day was taking its toll on both myself and my brother, Gerard. The food wasn’t helping much either. He had become weaker than I had. I thought that was strange- he’d always been stronger than me. Corporal Way was even trying to convince him and the doctors that he wasn’t fit to fight in Normandy. He refused to listen to anyone. He had become and angry and paranoid that the doctors wouldn’t let him go. Gerard was going … Gerard had gone mad.
I had never seen anyone act the way he was. When we weren’t training, he would sit on his bed staring into space. Anyone or anything that approached him would make him jump. It was scaring me. He really wasn’t fit to fight, everyone knew it, but he just simply wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I didn’t want him to fight. Fighting would tip him over the edge he was already sitting on.
When we were showering I would glance over at him and see how self-conscious he had become. It was like he was a little kid cowering in the corner. His body had become dangerously thin and colourless too. Anyone would take one look at him and instantly know there was something wrong with him. If he came out of Normandy alive he would be in an unfixable state mentally and physically.
He wouldn’t even pick up and pencil and write to Lindsey or Frank. He didn’t have the strength to pick up the pencil and didn’t have the mental stability he needed to think of what to say. I was going to tell Frank everything. I know it would worry him but he needed to know. Tomorrow we will be sent off to fight in Normandy in an operation the army officials are calling ‘D-day’ and this might be our last chance to let our friends know how we are.
I know you’re probably expecting Gerard to write you but that won’t be happening. He has developed a physiological issue that the doctors are calling ‘severe paranoia’. He has also become weak from lack of sleep, food and too many demanding physical activities. Our Field Marshal, Corporal Way (we have the same surname which is awesome!) has tried to discharge him but he’s refusing to leave. I’m worried about him, Frank. I am writing to tell you this now because by the time this reaches you in America we will already be in Normandy in France and this could be the last time we get to have contact before we come home.
On a positive note, I’m fine, the food is shit, we’re both missing you loads and the weather in England is as bad as everyone says it is. Seriously, it’s June and it’s rained every day!
See you when we arrive back in New Jersey (I’m not sure when that’ll be exactly) and hope you are well.
Love Mikey x
P.S Gerard sends his regards.
We’re having our last meal before traveling to Dover early tomorrow morning. I don’t know where Dover is but apparently it’s not too far.
“Gerard, you need to eat.” I say prodding his worryingly bony shoulder. He keeps his eyes down at the floor and prods his mashed potato with his fork.
“It looks like shit.” He hisses.
“Come on, Gerard. You need to eat. Listen to your brother.” Corporal Way says pointing a stern finger at him. I’ve noticed he has spent more time with me and Gerard than any of the other soldiers since we have arrived.
“Please Gerard, I’m beg-” before I finished my sentence something pinned to Corporal Way’s shirt catches my eye. It’s gold and shiny and I could have sworn I own a broach identical to it. I reach my hand up to touch my own broach, which thankfully is still there, and check Gerard still has his (which he does). Corporal Way notices my confusion.
“Is something wrong?” he asks.
“That broach. Me and Gerard have one too.” I say.
“Yes, well what a coincidence!” He snaps. What was with his sudden outburst? With that, he grabs his plate and gets up from our table leaving me alone with Gerard.
I won’t mention the broach incident to Gerard. I know he was sitting with us the whole time but his mind is so far away that I doubt he even heard a word of what had just happened. He’s so far away from reality that hurts me to see him like this. He is going to get hurt tomorrow. Deep down, I know this will be the last meal I will have with him. Gerard doesn’t stand a chance tomorrow. How would he when he doesn’t have the strength to hold a fork in his hand for the duration of one meal.
“WHY WON’T YOU JUST FUCKING EAT?” I yell. I realise my sudden burst of anger was slightly unnecessary when the whole room goes quiet and everyone turns to look at me. Who cares if they’re looking at me. I haven’t quite finished my rant: “YOU’RE NOT GOING TO SURVIVE 5 MINUTES TOMORROW. LOOK AT WHAT YOU’VE DONE? YOU’RE KILLING YOURSELF.” It feels good to have this anger out of my body. “You’re killing me.” I whisper.
Gerard looks at me with a blank face. No emotion. Nothing. His lack of reaction angers me. Before I know it, my hand is gripping onto his collar tightly and everyone is still watching. “I’m saying this because I love you. You need to go home.”
With that, I let go and storm out of the room towards the bunks.
No body mentioned our little argument in the canteen earlier. It’s better no one says anything; I’m already stressed about my brother’s impending death. Urgh why do I have to think like that. What makes the matter worse is that from lying here in my bunk underneath Gerard’s bed, I can hear his soft sniffles. My brother never cries. Never. Look what this war has done to him and we’re not even fighting yet.
I climb out of my bunk and scramble into his. I lay down next to him and he looks up at me. The only thing running through my head is: ‘Now’s your last chance to say goodbye.’
“You really think I don’t stand a chance?” he sniffs.
“You’re sick.” That’s the only thing I can think of to reply with. I’m such a bad brother.
“I don’t want to go home.”
“I’ll look out for you as much as I can out there, Gee. I just know that you’re so weak that it’ll put me in danger too by trying to protect you.” I feel the tears forming in my eyes but I push them away. I need to be strong right now.
“I was meant to be the one looking out for you.” he tries to smile but it’s no good. The tears have already taken over.
“Try and get some sleep,” I say “You’ll need as much rest as you can get.” I kiss him on the cheek and climb back into my bed. I just pray to god that nobody else was awake to hear that. If they knew I was scared and we happen to die, our families could be punished for our cowardice. But then again, what family?
“F. Walters, B. Wass, G. Way, M. Way, A. Webster, C. Wesson, E. White, E. Wright, O. Wright, E. Wyatt.” Corporal Way called out, ticking off our names as we piled onto the small cramped metal boats. We were all geared up with our guns, helmets and ammunition. My heart was beating uncontrollably. No backing out now. As we were forced into our seats and the boat set off from the shores of Dover, I felt Gerard’s hand grab mine and hold it tightly. No one on the boat was speaking. We all just looked around in terror. The only sound I could hear was the blood rushing in my ears and the grilling of the boat’s engine.
As we neared Dover, Gerard’s grip on my hand grew tighter. Men were puking and preying as the first gun shots and explosions were heard. Finally, Dover came into view.
“Right, we will reach the shore in approximately 3 minutes. You will jump out and do what you can to get as close to the cliffs as possible. There, you will see the German troops and they are armed. You need to do everything in your power to stay alive. This won’t be easy. The British, Canadian and French troops are already on shore. Gentlemen, good luck and see you on the other side.” Corporal Way yelled. I don’t know why he was shouting so loudly, no one was speaking.
Time flies exceptionally fast when you’re dreading what you’re about to face.
Fighting for freedom,
Fall of a valiant soldier,
Resting in the Lord.
“GO, GO, GO!” Corporal Way yelled. The front of the boat dropped and every man on the boat bundled to get off. I felt Gerard let go of my hand.
“You’re so brave.” I said as he looked at me. The fear displayed on his face was heart breaking. “You can do this. I love you, Gerard. You’re the best brother I could have asked for and I want you to know that.” I guess this finally was our last good bye.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better brother, myself.” He smiles. “Let’s do this.” he says gritting his teeth.
We plunge into the icy water, already stained red. I had never seen so much death before. Explosions boomed from every direction and men got decapitated. Men that are never coming home. Men that will never see their family or friends ever again. The screams of the dying soldiers is what hurt me the most. The fact they were alive and they knew they didn’t have much time left as they slowly bled to death. If I die today, I want it to be quick.
I look up just as a shell explodes onto a group of soldiers in front of me. I knew all of them from staying at the camp. Jimmy Nicholson-read me poems to help me deal with the pain Gerard was causing me in training, Benjamin Wass- he was one of the nicest people I had ever met, Oliver Barker- he had helped me over the wall one time and also showed me how to hold my gun correctly in training, and…Robert Bryar- one of my best friends from back in Belleville. Wrong place, wrong time. Dead.
That could have easily been myself of Gerard if we had got off the boat at the same time everyone else had.
“MIKEY!” I heard Gerard scream. My heart thudded. He was hurt and he was calling for me. I looked around hopelessly praying that he wasn’t one of those poor live men with their stomachs torn inside out. “MIKEY, OVER HERE!” the tears are already flowing down my cheeks. I don’t know what to do.
I suddenly become aware of how disorientated I am. Shells crash and explode all around me and other men are yelling at the top of their lungs. Yelling instructions, yelling for help, praying to be anywhere other than here. One quick look behind me was too much and made my stomach twist. Soldiers were being burnt alive as they jumped out of the boat. Still alive, still feeling everyone ounce of pain the fire gave them. I guess ‘Stop, drop and role’ was no use. My stomach churned at the smell of the burning flesh and my found myself puking all over the floor in front of me. Puking wasn’t the worst of my worries.
A shell explodes right in my ear. My body is propelled backwards and I land in a heap on the floor. I hear Gerard scream my name again “MIKEY, MIKEY!” He probably thinks I’m hurt. I am completely fine…except now I can’t hear his shouts as I sit up. My head spins and his screams seem muffled as if I am under water. I need to get up. I can’t just sit here on the floor in a daze. I’m a sitting target. I stagger to my feet and almost fall back down. The explosion has caused my head to spin round and round.
Slowly and painfully I regain my hearing. It comes back to me in an ear-splitting screech. I wish it had never come back when I see a solider I vaguely remember screaming out in agony just 4 metres from where I am standing. He’s looking at me with agonised eyes. He knows he is helpless. He knows I can’t help him. He has his right arm and leg missing and a bullet wound in his head. ‘You don’t have much longer’ I think in despair. He gives me a knowing look, as if he read my mind. ‘I’m sorry’ I mouth to him.
“Mommy,” he mumbles. His eyes close and I know he is gone. I quietly prey for him in my head because I know he didn’t deserve to die today. No one here does, but we have no choice.
“MIKEY! MIKEY! OVER HERE! PLEASE!” YES! I see him. He’s with Corporal Way and he’s alright! Corporal Way has his arm around his waist and they are hiding behind one of the metal ‘hedgehogs’ (that’s what all the officers called them in training.)
Just as I am about to step towards them a shell crashes past me. Luckily I manage to dive out of the way and take cover before it explodes into one of the metal hedgehogs behind me.
“MIKEY!” Gerard screams again. I’ve never heard anyone scream like that before. I see Corporal Way is restraining him. The terror on his face is indescribable. His arms and legs are thrashing about in the sand and his body is wriggling so much I find it hard to understand how Corporal Way can still be holding him. He shouldn’t be here. He’s sick. He’s lost his mind.
“I’M COMING!” I yell over the sound of the explosions and pained screams.
I climb to my feet but something stops me. It’ feels like something is pulling me down to the floor fastened at my chest. I put my hand to my chest to feel for the rope dragging me down but there is nothing there. My hand comes away from my chest covered in blood. I collapse to the floor under the force of the rope pulling me from my feet.
“NOO! MIKEY NOO!” I can tell by Gerard’s screams that I have been shot. Someone grabs me by my back pack and drags me closer to Gerard. Although is screams becoming muffled. “Mikey, I’m scared.” Gerard says.
“I can’t look after you anymore, Gerard.” I say. The realisation hits me that I’m dying when my eyes go fuzzy. “You need to do this on your own, okay?” I place my hand on his face to make him look at me. “Do this for me.”
“You can’t die, Mikey.” Gerard says. I’ve never seen so much emotional pain in one boy’s eyes before. He looked as if he has giving up.
“Whatever you do, don’t you dare give up. I know you, and I know you can do this. Do it for me, Frank and Lindsey.” I say. I’m trying to stay alive as long as I can but it hurts so bad.
“And me. Make me and your mother proud,” Corporal Way says. I glance over at his face with what little life I have left in me. “Mikey, when you see her tell her that I’ve never stopped thinking about her. She will be so proud of both of you.” he coughs.
“Look after Gerard,” I say, grabbing onto his collar with my clean hand. “You have to promise that he makes it out alive. You have to promise me, you hear me? You left us for our whole lives. It’s the least you can do.”
I no longer have the strength to hold on any more.
“I love you, Gerard. I’ll miss you.”
Everything got painfully loud as my vision blacked out. I could hear Gerard’s pained cries of despair as I closed my eyes. “Mikey, don’t leave me.” I hear Gerard say.
No more strength. No more energy. No more life. No more pain. I have to let go of this life now.
That was it.
Easy as that.
Fighting for freedom,
Fall of a valiant soldier
Resting in the Lord.
To be continued…