by David Flin
In the previous episode, Our Hero and his comrades carried out the attack on Mount Harriet.
Chapter the Eighth. In which Our Hero and the Lieutenant are transported to the hospital ship Uganda, and those who survive make the long journey home.
Gentle Reader, I have described how I returned to the aid station with the sore wounded Lieutenant, and how a nurse began his treatment, trying to save his life. As she clamped the major injuries closed, I could see a sheen to her eyes, and she muttered something to the effects of: “Coming in like this, and he’s still worrying about his men.”
A doctor came out of the aid station and took charge. It transpired that there was little that could be done with the facilities on hand.
“Go with him to Uganda, and keep the bastard alive till he gets there.”
I was about to remonstrate with him for the use of such language in front of a lady, but he hastened off to deal with other patients.
“Tha hast got his details?” she asked me. “Hang on ta them, and gang along. Ach, stop whiddering. Tha’s only got a broken leg, and no that bad broken at that.”
I explained to her that my concern was for the Lieutenant. I confess that I must have been a little dazed, because it took me a little while to realise that the doctor had said we would be going to Uganda, and while my geography may not be the best, it seemed a long way to go. Then I realised that he must have been referring to a ship.
Thus it was that we were taken by helicopter to the SS Uganda, which had been pressed into service as a hospital ship. I should remark upon the high regard we held for those civilians who came to serve; we Marines and sailors and soldiers had been trained for such eventualities, but these civilians, nurses and doctors and sailors on merchant ships had not been so prepared, and yet they stood unflinching in the most dangerous of situations, and all they said was that they were just doing their job.
I was not entirely sure what I should do now, for my wounds were not severe, and my place on the hospital ship was questionable. However, I had no intent on leaving until I knew the fate of our Lieutenant.
A nurse treated my leg, and gave me a place to rest. Alas, the nurse treating me was not a fair maiden, but rather a burly gentleman who looked as though he would be more at home on a rugby pitch than tending the wounded. We spoke of rugby, and he was a garrulous sort who seemed to have news of how the war was progressing. Gentle Reader, it may seem strange that someone on a ship far from the action would know what has transpired better than one involved, but that is often the way of things. When one is involved, one usually only sees a tiny piece of the picture, whereas one standing back can see the whole picture.
It was a few hours later that the nurse from the aid station found me. She told me that the Lieutenant had gone into surgery, and that his wounds were severe, but that there was a fair chance that he would survive. She enumerated his wounds, all business-like and efficient, but I detected a note of worry in her voice.
“When will he return to the Troop?” I asked.
“He won’t. He’ll never fully recover from his wounds, but he’ll be able to live a perfectly normal life, if he pulls through.”
I was stunned, for it was difficult to imagine the Troop without the Lieutenant. But such was Fate. She advised me to avail myself of the showers on the ship, for I was in sore need of them after my time far from such comforts while in the field. She also advised me to find a quiet corner, stay out of sight until the ship was underway, and get some sleep. She explained that my injury was a minor one, and I would be transferred to another ship, but that no-one would bother with a transferral once the ship was underway.
I did as she suggested, and found I felt much better after a good shower, a good sleep, and a good meal. The ship had got underway while I had slept, and was on its way back to England.
I sought out the Lieutenant. When I found him, I saw that a young nurse was sitting at his bedside, taking care of him. As I drew closer, I saw that it was the young nurse from the aid station, but I scarce recognised her, for her face was no longer grubby, and her hair was neat and brushed and a deep, lustrous red, with a loose strand that kept slipping across her face, and the Lieutenant kept tucking back, stroking her face as he did so. They were talking in companionable tones. He saw me, and spoke.
“Well, Burns, did you forget to duck as well? Did we win?”
“We won, sir. The ship is underway and headed home.”
“And thee, Lieutenant, need to eat. Pass yon tray over, Marine Burns.”
“What is it?” asked the Lieutenant.
“Onion soup,” the nurse replied, with a triumphant smile. The Lieutenant tried hard to stop himself smiling, but failed, and soon they were both giggling, and the Lieutenant, who had always been so serious and dour with us Marines now looked happy and content. I felt my presence was no longer required, so I made my excuses and hobbled off.
My leg healed swiftly, as the wounds of a clean-living, hale young man do. The war was over, and we were returning home. On the journey, I frequently saw the Lieutenant, and the nurse always seemed to be in his company, and they seemed to have developed a strong affection for each other.
And that, Gentle Reader, is the tale of my adventure Down South. We returned home to a rapturous welcome, and life returned to normal.
Since then, nine years have passed. The Lieutenant’s back never fully healed, and he had to leave the Service. He and the nurse married, and they now have a daughter they have called Harriet.
Sergeant Stone has left the Service, and gone on to be a teacher. I am confident that none of his pupils will dare tempt his wrath.
Marine Jackson returned to be reunited with his new wife, and discovered that they had had sufficient time before his departure for an increase in their family to be underway.
Marine Cledwyn has become a Sergeant, and is based at Lympstone teaching new recruits.
As for me, I was reunited with my young lady, and we have since married. We now have a delightful daughter, who is nearly 5, and Hilary is expecting again, and we understand that twins are due. I have made my way through the ranks, and have just been commissioned as a Lieutenant. I have a role model upon which to base myself.
My unit is about to be deployed to the desert sands, a very different place to the Falklands adventure. Because I am to leave soon, I must close this tale, and I trust that have seen something of the life that we in the Uniform of the Queen lead through our eyes.
An additional note was appended to the tale.
Lt Andrew Burns, RM. Killed on active service in the Gulf, 28 February, 1991. He leaves behind a wife, a daughter, and two sons.
This tale has two dedications.
Firstly, to those who fell or stumbled in the line of duty in conflicts generally described as “easy”, “cheap”, “straightforward”, and “with few casualties.” The shedding of blood in the line of duty is one thing, but let it be for a cause worth the sacrifice, and not for a mere vanity project.
Secondly, to my grubby-faced Angel of the Aid Station, Alison Brooks, 1959-2002.
David Flin is the author of the SLP books Six East End Boys, Tales from Section D, The Return of King Arthur and Other Alternate Myths, and Bring Me My Bow