Lance-Corporal Lee leaned back and flung his arm forward with all the strength he could muster, releasing his grip at the top of the arc. The Thompson M1928 spun black against the setting sun, Lee’s height atop the cliff lending distance to the throw. The weapon splashed into the darkening roil of the English Channel. It would take no more lives. He took the photograph of Dotty from his breast pocket and gazed at her perfect face. He smiled at the ridiculous hat that she wore, then touched the creased paper lightly to his lips and put it back in his pocket.
Why had the boy just stood there? He could not have been more than fifteen years old. Standing in the cornfield that morning in his oversized German helmet he had looked like he was simply playing a game of dress-up, rather than fighting a war.
There were not supposed to be cliffs, according to Sergeant Dunn. The sergeant had said there would be dunes and sandy beaches, and Lee was not to worry because he would get them there safely. Then Sergeant Dunn had died in a swarm of bullets and with him had gone Lee’s compass. A song drifted into his mind; an old song:
Jack Dunn, son of a gun, over in France today,
Keeps fit doing his bit, up to his eyes in clay…
Lee’s own sense of direction had always been terrible. Left to his own devices he had arrived at a coast of cliffs, not dunes. At a rough guess, he thought he might be at Cape Blanc Nez, which meant that he had missed his target by some forty miles. In fact he was closer to home than he was to his intended destination. To the north-east he could see aircraft circling like angry wasps; the air pulsed with distant explosions.
The boy had not even raised his gun. Why had he not moved? Why had he, for God’s sake, smiled as Lee, panicked and witless, had raised the submachine gun and torn the boy’s face and future apart with bullets that arrived at a rate of more than ten a second?
Take me back to dear old Blighty!
Put me on the train for London town!
Lee had, quite literally, missed the boat. He picked up the ammo magazine and flung it like a discus. It seemed to hover for a moment against the white line of home across the water before following the machine gun under the waves. He seriously considered throwing himself into the unforgiving sea along with the weapon that had taken the young man’s life.
The German boy would never stroke his pet dog again, never support his local football team, never get to fall in love. Lee had ripped all of that away from him, destroying decades of happiness in a single short burst of death. What gave him the right to any more future than the youth he had destroyed this morning?
I should love to see my best girl,
Cuddling up again we soon should be…
“Come on, Dotty,” he rasped, patting his breast pocket. “I’ll bet Dunkirk is a shithole anyway. Let’s go the other way.” He turned south, mind set. He would not kill any more young boys. But neither would he die. He would survive this hell, and he would embrace his best girl once more.
Tiddley iddley ighty,
Hurry me home to Blighty,
Blighty is the place for me!