BLACK AND TANS CHARACTERS.
- Tall Northern Irish sergeant. Ian North
2. Short Londoner soldier – blond sergeant aged 40. George Short
3. Davies. Benedict’s. Benjamin David
4. Watkins. John Watkins.
5. Tavi Moise. Octavian More
6. swimming pool guy from school. Alexander Brokenshire.
7. Major Neil. Edward MacNeil
8. Col Olley. Oliver Sergeant.
9. Mike Cunningham. Mark Cunningham.
10. Relu Marichenano. Richard March.
11. Richard chemistry pilot. Older officer. Richard Dixon.
12. Louis Limtay. Born 1890. protagonist.
Like so many unemployed men Louis Limtay had fetched up in London. He wore a thick but loose grey suit that had seen better days and a beige cap. It was a chilly and cloudy January morning as Louis walked along a crowded street in the centre of London. The mean spirited landlady had thrown him out of the boarding house till dinnertime. He plodded the mean streets and admired once handsome public buildings now covered in soot and needing repair. The war had been over for more than a year and the city was still jaded. London was full of hard faced young men – many of them scared. She was full of widowed women and those for whom there was no man to marry. There had been victory but no joy.
Louis stopped at a traffic lights. He watched a motorcar road by – one young woman was driving and another in the passenger seat. He could not believe it – a woman driving! In the war a few generals had had women as drivers but women driving in peacetime? It was not quite right. And they both had bobbed hair – made up like tarts. They were smoking and cackling. Rich young women in silk gowns behaving like that! It was wrong but… alluring. Then came more horseless carriages – so many of them these days. Noisy and emitting such horrid smoke.
Then the horse drawn carriages clattered by. As Louis saw the carriages move by he saw a beggar out of the corner of his eye. He turned around. There was a man his own age – maybe 30 and sitting on the ground in an army uniform. The uniform was worn but immaculately laundered. The poor fellow had only one leg. He had a cup with a few coppers in it and held a sign ”Lost a leg at the Somme. Seeking a job. Till then a penny will do.” Louis studied him compassionately – there was a quiet dignity to the man despite looking drawn. His pride was as bright as the sheen on the medal pinned to his chest.
Louis’ funds were running low but he would not deny a penny to an old comrade. He fished out his wallet and got out a penny.
”There you go” he said stooping down and dropping a penny into the disabled soldier’s cup.
”Thank you kindly sir” he said in a West country burr.
”You are most welcome. I am an old soldier too.” said Lewy in a mild Brummy accent.
”I could tell there was something decent about you moment I saw you” the man answered in charming Devonian tones. ”So many bloody shirkers around and they’s the one’s that gots the jobs now.”
”Good luck to you fella” said Louis shaking the man’s hand vigorously.
”Best of luck old chum” said the man. It was as though they had known each other all their lives. Such was the comradeship of the trenches.
Louis stood up and turned around. Was that rash handing him a penny? If he did not get work within a week he would be out of funds. Had he been a bloody fool to help him out? Suppose that man was an impostor. Think of yourself. Patriotism be damned. Patriotism had caused the whole war anyway. Look at all the men who skived the war and were now doing very well thank you. Louis might soon be asking to spend time in a homeless shelter. He would not be able to afford the train fare back to Bromsgrove. Chances of landing a job there were even less than in London. He would have to walk all the way home and that would take him a week. The leather on his shoes was wearing thin already. How the hell was he going to provide for his wife and children? Should he move to the colonies? The colonies were not a treasure trove of jobs they once had been.
Homes fit for heroes. That is what Lloyd George had said. Was Louis a chump to still be a Liberal? Well, Lloyd George was no longer a Liberal really. Tory in disguise. Asquith was the Liberal leader. There was no home befitting Louis – hero or not.
London was so different from Bromsgrove. He had once seen a black man in Bromsgrove and once an Indian. Here in London he saw men and women of different races every day. These people of foreign parentage were from Nigeria, the British West Indies, the Straits Settlement, India and so on. In his boarding house there was an Indian from Karachi. Almost 1 in a 100 people in London were not white. It was extraordinarily exotic. Louis had no ill will towards these other people. They were very curious to him but strangely they were just the same as him. Emotions are universal – he reflected. There were whites of immigrant parentage. There were Russians, Lithuanian Jews, Belgian refugees who had not gone back, Frenchman, Italians and Swedes. Naturalised now mostly – did it matter? Then there were Irish – so many Irish. The Irish were British, weren’t they?
Louis had been bored one day and gone along to a public meeting. There was a dashing young MP speaking – Tory. Tories were not Louis’ cup of cha usually. Oswald Moseley was his name of that Tory MP. Body of an athlete and the face of a mad man he had. There was something unhinged about him railing about how aliens must be booted out. How had this man who had been to Winchester College and Sandhurst been brainwashed into extreme fanaticism. A bump on the head during the war? After that Louis had been so bored and dejected he had gone to a Salvation Army meeting. In out of the chilly drizzle at least. Avoid going back to his boarding house. The mean old landlady tried to freeze them to death if she could not poison them with what she had the cheek to call food.
Cockneys were a rum lot. Their varying strengths of accent told him where they were on the social ladder. He always thought his West Midlands accent was mild. He was accused of talking posh back home. Down in London the Cockneys told him his accent was comically Brummy.
Would he ever source a job? At least he had a dishonourable discharge. Any man thrown out of the forces – well that was a red flag to any employer.
Should he go back to the West Midlands? They said crime was rife up there with Peaky Blinders robbing all and sundry. Stashing their ill gotten gains in hideaways. You had to be extremely wary in Birmingham. But there was no work to be had in Bromsgrove.
The lights had changed and he walked across the road. On the far side of the building he saw a large white poster affixed to the pale grey wall of a government building.
”Ex-soldiers wanted for a dangerous task. Immediate work. 10 shillings a day. Apply within.”
Louis was stumped. Jobs! Available immediately? 10 shillings a day! That three times what a skilled man earned! Why wasn’t there a huge queue? He hurried to the door of the 5 storey high government building.
A commissionaire stood at the door in a red suit and long red overcoat complete with a cap with the word ‘commissionaire’ embroidered in gold braid. He was 6’4” and had reddish skin and a splendid white moustache. He looked like a retired sergeant major.
”Morning sir” said Louis tipping his hat perfunctorily. He was saw excited the words tumbled out. ”Just saw the advertisement on the bill on the wall you see”, in his haste his West Midlands accent became a little more pronounced.
”Ah yes sir. Well pleased to have you. They just started recruiting today. Not an hour ago. You are in luck. Only a dozen men been in. Go straight upstairs and ask for Captain Dixon.” He spoke in a Cockney accent. The commissionaire took him by the forearm and looked deep into his eye, ”You are an ex soldier, mind?”
”Certainly am. I volunteered a week after the war began. Promoted sergeant. Royal Worcestershires!”
”Excellent. The will check with the War Office you see.” The commissionaire nodded and made a hand gesture to usher him in.
Louis hurried into the building. His hobnailed books clacked on the polished black and white chequered marbled floor. How he wished he had dressed better. Louis wished he had blacked his boots more recently than three days ago. But there was no time for that. They wanted men immediately! He was not going to go home and change. He only had one better suit of clothes. Just a few feet inside the foyer there was a wide and impressive carpeted staircase. He paused and gathered his breath. Louise then slowly ascended the staircase. Down the corridor on the ground floor he saw a few men walking this way and that – civil servants though one was in an army officer’s uniform. He heard the the clanging of a typewriter and the bell as it reached the end of the line.
Louis slowed himself down as he climbed the stairs. He wiped the perspiration from his brow with his white cotton handkerchief. Could this be it? At long last a job? Better not get his hopes up too much. His hopes had been dashed too many times in these past few months. Expect nothing – then you might be in for a pleasant surprise.
Louise stopped on the landing and breathed deeply. He had better not mess this up. He needed this job. Up the second flight of stairs. There he was on the first floor. A commissionaire was there – a slim young man with dark blond hair and pinched cheeks in the same uniform. He noticed that this unfortunate man had no left arm.
”Good morning.” said Louis with as much poise as he could muster.
”Good morning” said the man in a strong Yorkshire accent.
”I am looking for a Captain Dixon about a position for an ex soldier.”
”Ah yes – force for Ireland. Go down corridor. Is third on your right. ‘is name is on door” said the Yorkshireman with a kindly smile.
”Thank you” said Louis nodding.
The commissionaire said ”Don’t mention it sir – one ex-soldier to another.”
Louis walked down the corridor with a plain white stone floor. It was ill lit. There third on the left was the dark brown wooden door. The name plate read ‘Captain Dixon.’
He had known a Captain Dixon. Could this be the same one?
Louis decided not to think about it too much lest he get cold feet. He knocked loudly on the door – twice.
”Come in” said a pukka voice. Louise diffidently turned the handle and stepped in.
”Good morning Captain Dixon” he said. His eyes fixed on a bowed bald pate fringed with white hair. A man in army officer’s uniform was still sitting at his leather topped writing desk. The office was respectably large and the furniture was all polished wood. A few filing cabinet stood behind the desk.
The officer at the desk finished signing a document and looked up. It took Dixon a moment to cogitate.
”Limtay!” he said – a smile spreading across his ageing features. Captain Dixon stood up. He extended a hand
Louis could hardly believe he was seeing the old captain. They shook hands – vigorously. Limtay could tell that Dixon felt like hugging him but his British reserve forfended it.
”How the devil are you old chap?” said Dixon.
”Oh – very well only I am out of work see Captain Dixon”, said Louis.
”Well yes it has been rough since the end of the war. A lot of good men out of work through no fault of their own. Now do sit down.”
”Oh thank you very much captain” he said and sat on a chair. ”Forgive the clothes.”
”No problem at all. I am just delighted to have such a fine man volunteering for the job.” said Dixon beaming. Louise noticed that Dixon was immaculately turned out as always. His Sam Brown and boots were highly polished. His clothes were spotless and firmly creased along the seams.
”Thank you very much Captain”, said Limtay relaxing a little.
”Now then Limtay – I realise it has been very difficult to get jobs since the war. I volunteered from the bank in 1915 – joined one of the pals battalions. Half the chaps bought it. Not all killed by some are paralysed – blind. A horrible show! Ended up seconded to the staff as you know. Where I met you. I wanted to go back to Lloyd’s – would not have me. I am rather good at administration. So here I am in this government office. Lucky they took me on. Hard enough for a whipper snapper like you to get a job. A man my age is almost unemployable. You were a schoolmaster weren’t you?”
”Yes, sir that is right. Pupil-teacher then schoolmaster. Teaching at a primary school. I was due to study part-time at Birmingham University then the war came. I volunteered first week of the war. ”
”Yes, yes I see. You have a wife and children as I recall?”
”Yes, sir. I do – three children now. All girls.”
”Well they need looking after. How long you been demobilised.”
”Only six months sir.”
”Why didn’t you go back to your old school?”
”They are supposed to guarantee to keep my job open. That is the rule. But they said they cannot afford me. Central government gives the local county council so much less money since the war what with all the war debt and that. So they increased the class size from 40 up to 45. Cuts the wages bill. I tried to get work. Only managed to get cover work – a week here a week there. I applied for everything even being a hotel receptionist. Had to do labouring jobs. I am lucky to have two arms and two legs. Many men form my regiment don’t. Those that made it back alive that is.”
”I know how it is. You are a fine man. I remember you speak French and German. Very useful for interpreting for the Frogs or interrogating the Boche. Anyway – we have a new task for you. In Ireland things are playing up. You heard of Sinn Fein?”
”Yes, I have sir – this revolutionary nationalist movement. They want a republic and to break up the empire.”
”That’s right. Anyway – these fiends well they have a few supporters among the population. Most of the people too terrified to do anything about it. They are fanatics going around shooting people on their own doorstep, burning buildings, blowing bridges and what not. Want to steal all property and kill all the Protestants. These zealots they are called the Irish Republican Army. They are extreme Catholics. Most Irish people are not like that – Home Rulers. Even the Home Rulers are terrified of this lot of assassins who are shooting policemen left, right and centre. That is where you come in. So many Irish policemen have been shot. More resigned in fear. Not easy to get new recruits. they all fear they will be murdered in their beds. We need tough ex soldiers. Doughty men like you to go to Ireland and fill the ranks in the Royal Irish Constabulary. I will be honest with you. This will be no easy task. You shall be in peril of your life. This is not ordinary policing. You will not be directing traffic or searching for missing children. Your main mission will to be to go to the most dangerous counties in Ireland and stop the Irish Republican Army. That is what that Sinn Fein murder gang are calling themselves. IRA. They are ruthless rebels. So you arrest them when you can and shoot them when you cannot.” said Dixon.
”But sir the police do not carry guns.” said Louis quizzically.
”They do in Ireland for their own protection. Now I have explained the task. Do you think you can do that?” Dixon asked.
”Yes, I certainly can”, said Louis smartly.
”I am being frank about it – this is dangerous. No two ways about it”, said Dixon..
”Cannot be dangerous compared to charging a German machinegun”, said Louis. He inwardly winced – felt he was exaggerating his war record.
”That’s the spirit. Well I can offer you the job on the spot. Are you willing to take the train and boat to Ireland tonight?”, said Dixon with avidity.
”Tonight? Yes, I am.”
”You are?” Dixon sought confirmation.
Louise paused for a moment?
”Yes, I am.” Louis masked his inner hesitancy. This was a golden opportunity. If he said no when would he ever secure a job.
”Superb. Right” Dixon opened a drawer and got the form out. ”Take a minute to read that then sign.”
Louis duly read the contract. All that he would expect of an army contract only it was for the police. Better this than being in a teeming slum. Not many situations vacant signs around.
”Yes, sir I accept” said Louis finishing.
”Wonderful man. No need to bother with a composition and an arithmetic test. Normally we put men through that. We cannot have any old Tommy joining. I know a man does not need to be an Oxford don to join the police but he does need to write reasonably well and do sums. This is not normal policing but there are still some reports to be written up. I have had men with distinguished army records. Sergeants even – some of them can scarcely write.” said Dixon.
”Goodness. Well that is shocking. Does not look good for us schoolmasters. By the time most boys leave school aged 12 they should write decently.” said Louis.
”Quite. Very good. that you are accepting. Now sign”, Dixon moved the conversation on and he proffered a fountain pen.
Louis duly signed – hardly believing he was doing it.
Dixon then rose. Louise instinctively followed suit
”Then I welcome you to the RIC” he said smiling broadly and treated him to a warm handshake.
”Well great to be on board.”
”I shall prepare your travel warrant and tell you where to go in Dublin to introduce yourself. Start three months basic training tomorrow. ” Dixon bent over his desk. He wrote out the particulars on a piece of printed paper – a travel warrant giving the bearer free travel as he was on government service. Dixon then handed it over.
Louis took the travel warrant and folded it carefully inside his jacket pocket.
”Take good care of that. Now I suggest you go home and pack. Take any train from Euston to Liverpool you like but has to be today. Document is made out for today. Take the boat to Dublin tonight and report yourself to Beggar’s Bush Barracks. Tell them why you have come. I shall write down the address and the name of your contact. Then you will go and give the Emerald Isle a good stiff dose of martial law.”
Dixon’s pen was active once more.
A minute later Dixon was bidding him farewell. ”Best of luck Limtay. His Majesty could not have a finer man serving him!” Dixon handed him 10 shillings, ”You get your first day’s pay here and now.”
”I thank you kindly sir” said Limtay – bowled over by the flattery.
His head was spinning. This was the best news he had had since he had proposed to his wife some 8 years ago.
Louis hurried to the nearest post office to send a telegram to Emma. ”Got a job – police in Ireland! Will send salary when I receive it.”
He then hastened home to the boarding house to pack. Louis was glad to bade a furious farewell to the termagent of a landlady who had rented him a flea infested bed in a dingy boarding house in Ealing.
Louis got the tube to Euston Station. There was plenty of smoke and steam under the cavernous roof. It echoed with the noise of engines and pistons. He saw a man get grit from a locomotive in his eye. The smell of the grease, oil and coal was a heady reminder that Louis was actually going somewhere. How he liked trains. To him trains were a symbol of adventure. As a child he had watched with wonder the trains rattle through his town – he had counted the carriages. As an adult trains had taken him to many happy experiences. Was this one taking him to his doom he wondered?
He caught the 2 o clock train to Liverpool. As the train puffed out of Euston Station he could scarcely believe his luck. To think the day before he had skipped luncheon to preserve funds. Now he felt flush. But easy does it. Louis was not certain he had the job. He had the contract all right but he might get to Ireland and the Irish Police might decide they did not want him. Better make sure he made the grade before he went mad with spending.
As it was an early afternoon train it was almost empty. Louis put his suitcase on the rack in the second class carriage. He walked along the juddering train to the dining car. His warrant entitled him to a meal. He also intended to celebrate with a drink and a packet of woodbines. Days as good as this did not come often.
Louis got to the dining car. As he walked in he saw a short, obese man of about 50 seated on his own. This man had fairly long black hair which was greying a little and huge rubicund jowls. He nodded in acknowledgment at Louis. This gentleman had a couple of pint glasses in front of him and was three sheets in the wind. The man had large, thick round spectacles on. His skin was flushed and he had the sort of five o clock shadow that indicated he had to shave every 12 hours.
”Good afternoon”, said Louis a little diffidently.
Louis took a suit on the table across the aisle from the hefty middle aged man. A slim young waiter with a scar across his forehead approached Louis and proferred a menu.
”Before I order may I have a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale please?”
”Oh yes certainly sir,” said the courteous young waiter in a Cockney accent.
Louise began perusing the waiter only to hear the chubby man across the aisle say, ”Man after my own heart.”
Louis looked across ”Oh well thank you. Why?” he asked diffidently.
”Drinking at luncheon. Only way to cope. So glad the war is over with all those damn fool drinking restrictions. War is a wonderful excuse for the power mad to boss us about. Reggie Mather by the way” the man said standing up unsteadily and extended his hand.
Louis stood and took the man’s hand to shake it ”Louis Limtay” he said shaking the man’s podgy paw.
”I am honoured to make your acquaintance Mr Limtay” he said ”I have nothing against soldiers or those who fought in the war as I guess you did. I was too old. I have to say thank God. All these old men say they wish they had fought in the war. Liars most of them. Yes, I admire your courage but I have the courage to say I was glad to be out of it. Away from all that horror and madness. Yes, I am scared of death. Why are most men too scared to admit that? Isn’t that more cowardly than fearing death? Most people more scared of disapproval than death.”
”Good point” said Louis ”Yes, I was in the war and yes I was petrified at times.”
”See you are man who is really brave – brave enough to tell the truth even when it does not look good. We need more of that”
The slender waiter returned with the drink
”Waiter, put that on my bill”, said Mr Mather imperiously.
”Certainly, sir” said the waiter.
”May I ask – What do you do for a living Mr Mather?” said Louis.
”May you ask? I think you just did” he said with a chuckle, ”I am a barrister” said Mr Mather
”I might have guessed” Louis laughed ” so opinionated and self assured”
”That I am. Going up to Liverpool to do a case. Where are you headed?” asked Mather.
”Liverpool and ultimately Ireland. I am joining the police.” said Louis
”Oh good for you. Well they need law and order over there. Bloody Sinn Feiners go and create havoc. We should have granted Home Rule 30 years ago and then we would not be in this bloody mess we are in now. But we cannot have Sinn Feiners taking over. They say they won that election. The intimiated the Home Rule Party into standing down, wrecked their rallies, voted the dead, stuffed the ballot boxes. Not to say Sinn Fein have no support. They do. Maybe one in three Irishmen supports them. Anyway even if most Irishmen want a republic they should not have it. That is never the way these things work. Woodrow Wilson went and said national self determination. His own Congress would not agree to it. No one has ever accepted that. Those Shinners are such hypocrites. They say Ireland can leave the United Kingdom but Ulster cannot leave Ireland” said Mather. ”I do not like extremists of any political colour.”
”I do know a bit about Irish affairs. Not as much as you. I used to read up on the Irish Question. Yes, I think they should have Home Rule. I am a Liberal you see. Parliament passed it years ago. They did not get on with it because of the war. Now the situation is deteriorating every day. Well that is where I come in,” said Louis supping his pint.
Behind them sat a hawk eyed slim middle aged man. His mid brown hair was very carefully brushed and his tanned face was prematurely lined with wrinkles. There was something uptight about him. The man wore a blue pinstripe suit with a turn up collar on a starched white shirt. He looked sour and said ”Gentlemen, I hope you don;t mind my butting in. I have heard what you have been saying. Forgive my intrusion but I totally disagree. I served on the Western Front” he said in a public school accent. ”I had a few Irishmen in the battalion under my command. Decent chaps most of them. Then came that bloody Easter Rising. I was aghast. The French were up against it at Verdun – about to crack. We were preparing for the Somme. Then the Paddies go and stick a knife in out back. Could not believe the treachery of it. The rebels are bloody cowards. We had them thrashed in six days. 1 000 of the brutes surrendered. Only 16 got executed. I would have hanged the rotten lot. That is what the Kaiser would have done. Then all these Sinn Feiners are always whining – the English are so cruel to us. We are not! Only executed 16 of the blighters. We were within our rights to hang every man jack of them. We were far, far too lenient to those pro German buggers. If we had done that then we would have heard no more trouble. Then Lloyd George let all the Sinn Feiners out of prison a few months later. No end of trouble we had from those Shinner rats. You might have thought they would have been grateful for being let off scot free. Not a bit of it. No logic from the Irish. These rebels ought to have been dangling from a rope and instead they get let go. It just goes to show that mercy gets you nowhere with the Irish. You have got to be FIRM. Force is the only language they understand, mark you”, he ranted
Louis and Mr Mather was in stunned silence for a moment
”Well that was a fascinating insight” said Mather philosophically ”One way of looking at it.”
”Thank you sir. I was a captain in the army so this is all very close to my heart. In stock broking now. Forgive my fervour. When men under my command were getting killed and the Irish were bringing German guns into Ireland to kill more of my comrades well – I felt very strongly about it. Do the Irish really want to be ruled by the Kaiser? Would they rebel against him? If they did the Jerries would round up every man in the village and shoot him dead. Now I do not advocate that but that is what Sinn Fein’s allies did.” the man was a little calmer.
”I think we need to be a little more controlled and disciplined” said Louis ”From a rebel perspective I can see that the Great War was the ideal time for a rebellion. The rebels are not that popular. They knew they would only stand a chance if they had the help of another great power against the United Kingdom. Why would they not take a perfect opportunity? Anyway the lost even with German assistance. Now Germany is defeated the rebels have little chance.”
”I certainly hope so” said the ex army officer. ”Good for you man. You are going to protect His Majesty’s loyal subjects in Ireland and there are plenty of them.”
The waiter came back. Louis ordered. ”I will have roast beef with Yorkshire pudding please”
”Very good sir” said the waiter.
Mr Mather said to the ex army officer ”Excuse me may I have your name sir”
”Yes, certainly”, he said standing, ”Captain Rodney Carruthers” . Mather struggled to his feet. Carruthers gave him a very stiff handshake. ”Never been to Ireland myself. Does one need to speak Irish to get by over there?” asked Carruthers.
”Lord no.” said Mathers ”they only speak Irish in a few villages on the west coast.”
The conversation continued bibulously. Mather drank more and bought a round for the others.
The waiter came back with the meal. Louis tucked in. Mather said ”Tell me waiter – what do you make of the Irish Question?”
”The Irish Question? What is that sir?”
”Well should the Irish have self government of any form? And if so is it for the whole of Ireland or to exclude Ulster?”
”I don’t really know sir. My gut instinct is that if the Irish want independence why not give it to them? Then nobody will die on either side.” He bowed gauchely and hastened off.
Carruthers presently fell asleep. Mather and Louis continued their confab.
”I wasn’t a hero in the war. I joined up – caught up in the euphoria like so many others. I assumed that everyone joined out of patriotism. Boy was I wrong about that. I was a bit of a naif. Round where I come from there are a lot of factories. The boys told me that when the war started commerce just shut down. Within a month half the men in the works were thrown out of their jobs. Many of them enlisted just to get regular food. Anyway training was a nightmare. Deprived of sleep – chivvied. Everything double quick. Verbally abused. Square bashing – left turn, right turn, about turn. Barked at by total ignoramuses. Some fellow thinks he is special just because he pressed his cap into his nose. I regretted joining the army very soon.” Alcohol had loosened Louis’ tongue.
”Well I admire you for having the courage to admit it to yourself and to me” said Mather. ”That is one thing they did not mass produce in the war – truth.”
”Thanks Mr Mather. So many men say we should all say that we loved the war and loved the army. To hell with it I say. Stupidest thing I ever did when I could have stayed safe at home. Somehow I told myself this was a sport. Like the ultimate sport. Fellows do not get killed. Well not on our side. And if they do it is not my mates. Well, it is certainly not me who gets killed. How could I have been such a bloody fool? Then over to France. I have to admit – when I saw wounded men , mangled men I considered deserting. I saw fresh graves – full of our corpses. Jesus! I have to confess first time I was heading into battle I nearly shat myself. Some of them guys had been yapping about how brave they were. They really wanted to stab Fritz in the guts. Ok a couple of them really were that crazy. They were that brave when it came to it. Others I saw they changed their tune pretty quick when bullets started to fly. There were men I thought were the bravest – went to pieces. Jibbering and crying. I got wounded in the chest on the Western Front in 1915. I was pleased with that. Out of action for a few months. No lasting damage. Then I recuperated. Got sent to Egypt. En route to Gallipoli. Then they told us our boys are pulling out of Gallipoli now. So I missed that catastrophe. Nice. Back to France. I got offered a job in a staff office because I speak French and German. I only thought about it for half a second I had a chance to avoid the slaughter. I took it! For a bit of 1917 I was even posted back to England. Wonderful.” Louis was surprised he had been so candid. Usually he spoke only sparingly about the war. It was a nightmare he would rather put behind him.
”I do not blame you. I would feel the same way. Are you married?” asked Mather.
”Yes, unfortunately. Wife and I do not get on too well. She is a miner’s daughter from Nottinghamshire. A very brainy lass is Emma. She has even been to university; unlike me. A teacher. But we got married in a hurry if you know what I mean. Cash, bang, wallop! We have three daughters now. My wife is a socialist. I am a Liberal so there is some tension there. I am glad to be getting away from her. But then I think – I only just got out of the army. Hated every minute of that. Now I am going back to a war zone to fight? But I am desperate. I was reduced to working on building sites. I did not even get that every day” said Louis.
”Let;s have some more drink. I am paying!” said the barrister.
”Are you sure?” asked Louis.
”Come on doctor says I have five years to live. Let’s have another round” said Mr Mather.
”That’s the spirit. This has been the best day I have had in a long time. Maybe I have five months to live where I am going. Another round!” said Louis cheerfully. His mind wandered to his companions from the war. Like brothers to him – not that that meant he liked them all. The ones who survived and came home. Would he see them again?
The barrister poured the wine maladroitly and spilled it widely. It was hard for man to be dextrous after he has imbibed so much liquor. Louis could not but admire the man’s joie de vivre.
As the waiter served them their drinks Louis piped up ”You know my doctor said cigarettes are bad for you. I could not believe it.”
”Absolute tosh. Bunkum! My doctor says smoking clears the lungs. That man ought to be struck off the medical register” ,said Mr Mather
When that bottle was finished the barrister was keen to order yet another.
”No please I shall arrive for duty tight! And that’s not a good…” said Louis.
”Nonsense man!” the barrister cut him off with aplomb. ”No commanding officer would begrugde a doughty soldier such as yourself getting crapulous and merry on his last day in civvy street. Let’s face it what are they going to do? Put you in gaol?” Mather laughed raucously.
”I am all for the short and merry life – Edward FitzGerald. His epitaph” said Louis.
”A literary man? A man after my own heart. Have you read his Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam?” Mather inquired smilingly.
”I have to admit I have not” said Louis.
”My dear boy you must, you must!” said Mather slapping his knee. Mather’s taste for alcoholic tincture was no short of heroic. Louis had to pinch himself to think this man was chiding him for not drinking enough.
It was the evening when the train rattled into Liverpool Lime Street. Louis had sobered up somewhat. He bade a hearty farewell to the alcoholic barrister with outspoken views. He said goodbye to Carruthers a little less warmly.
Outside the station Louis saw a man in a railway uniform. Louis asked the short, tubby middle aged fellow directions ”Excuse me sir, which tram is it for the docks? I have to take the ship to Ireland?”
The short man had a dense, curly brown beard and a bald pate above his thick glasses. ”You going to Ireland? You are English and not Irish, right?”
”Yes, I am English” Louis said a little taken aback.
”Good. And a true hearted Protestant?”
”Well I am – Church of England, sort of. We went to the Methodist Church a bit though. Did not have good enough clothes for the Church of England” said Louis.
”What you going to Ireland for then?” said the little man
”I am going to join the police” Louis said nervously – aware that not everyone like the police.
”Ah great – teach those thick Micks how to behave. I do not like Papists meself. Them Irish come here and take out jobs. Might be all right if they wanted to stay with England but not then they are always bad mouthing us and killing our soldiers – helping the Jerries.”
”Yes, terrible” Louis thought it clever to pretend to be more sympathetic than he really was.
”I am in the British League for the Support of Ulster. Our patron is Lord Willoughby de Brooke. I met him one time. My God! It was almost like meeting the king” said the small man breathlessly.
”Wow. Lucky you” said Louis – wary of this man’s fanaticism.
”Take tram seven. And keep the Protestant faith like!”
”I will do” Louis said with a lack of conviction.
The plump little man shook his hand with vigour ”me name is Zachary Newsom and don’t forget it. I am in the N A P”
”NAP? Forgive my ignorance. What is that?”
”National Association of Protestants. It is Protestantism that made England great!”
Louis could not understand this fixation with religious denomination. Were they not all Christians? Where he came from they were all Protestants. The Irish in his county were about 1 in 100 and no one disliked them.
Louis then got himself onto a tram for the docks and an unremarkable journey.