Written this morning at our short story workshop at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro - inspired by Heart of Conflict:
A soldier’s tale, a mother’s story
“Please, mum, I don’t want to go. Don’t make me go. I’m scared. I’ve never been away from here. Why do I have to go?”
“Because everyone else is going. All your mates. The whole of Dolcoath expects it. You’ll shame this family if you don’t. So go out, have a pint, come back and tomorrow be a man…” It was 7am and his mother was shouting furiously. “You’ve missed muster deliberately, you coward.”
“No, I didn’t. I just drank too much. I will go, mum – for you. I want you to be proud. Please…. I’ll run now.”
Wilfred dragged on his uniform, grabbed his kit bag and ran out the house, torn. He was in total turmoil.
“I don’t want to go, but I must go because I can’t let mum down. What can I do?”
Then he saw the milk cart standing on the corner.
Wilfred had never stolen anything before.
“I’m only borrowing it,” he said to himself as he urged the horse onwards to the muster point at the station. And then he saw his old foe, the local police sergeant, and his heart sank. He’d missed the muster and he’d stolen a cart and it must be obvious to Sgt Williams what was happening.
The policeman looked at Wilfred. Sgt Williams was notorious for his hard, unflinching ways. Many boy had felt the back of his hand. Many young men had ended up in his cells for very little. Wilfred sobbed. He was terrified – of going to war, of shaming his family, of going to gaol.
They looked at each other.
Then Sgt Williams spoke.
“Ok, Wilfred my lad, let’s sort you out. These things happen. We’ll get you there.”
Wilfred was open-mouthed as the policeman gently led him back to the cart and drove through the back roads to Truro where the Dolcoath lads were still waiting for their connection to the Front at the station.
They cheered when Wilfred appeared. He swallowed and steeled himself for what might lie ahead. He turned to thank Sgt Williams but he had already turned the cart round and slipped away.
Wilfred said to himself “I’ll do you proud, mum, even though I don’t want to go.”
It was October 1914. He was only 19. He never came home again.
And his mother, back at their little house in St Agnes, never forgave herself for forcing him off to war for pride. They never found his body so she refused to believe that he wouldn’t return home one day.
And every night, for the rest of her days, she kept a candle burning and a cold supper on the kitchen table just in case.