“If we don’t end war, war will end us.”
First Battalion headquarters was anything but luxurious. There was a cot in the corner with a crude end table, upon which sat a lantern. Beyond that was a desk with a couple of chairs and a table in the center of the room, but it was what was displayed on the wall that caught Lieutenant Crawford’s eye the moment he walked in. There sat a large map of what appeared to be the area of operation for the entire 7th Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division, and the map seemed to be almost covered in colored pins, which was by itself a rather ominous sign. One of those colored pins undoubtedly represented B Company.
It was clear that most of the officers in the room were trying to be stoic, but Crawford could easily see that each was nervous about whatever the coming days held. The sole exception was Major Boone himself. If he was nervous about anything, he wasn’t showing it, and neither was the Battalion Sergeant Major, who was then pouring over some kind of paperwork or another, not seeming too concerned with this room full of officers.
Crawford recognized every face in the room. There were the commanders of the other three companies in First Battalion, all captains, as well as a small collection of other captains and lieutenants who served on battalion staff. Lieutenant Crawford had never seen Major Boone’s headquarters this full before, and that was another ominous sign. That probably meant that whatever was about to happen, it would be bigger than anything the regiment had yet faced.
Major Boone, even though he walked the trenches every day, looked quite proper. His uniform was the cleanest in the room, with the ribbons for his Military Cross, Distinguished Service Order, and French Croix de Guerre neatly displayed. He sported a broad mustache resembling the handlebars of a bicycle, making him look somewhat more British than Canadian. Despite his appearance, he was a real soldier’s officer. He spent as much time as possible out of his headquarters, trying to make sure that his men saw him exposing himself to the same dangers as any private soldier. He talked with the men, asking where they were from, what they did before the war and what they would do after it, never augmenting that last question with “if you make it back.” To Major Boone, everyone was going home, and although everyone in the battalion knew that was a load of nonsense, his presence was reassuring to them. The men had so much more respect for the lieutenants, captains, and majors who stayed at the line with them than the colonels and generals who sipped French wine, ate local delicacies, and jumped into bed with a different Red Cross nurse every night, and sent men over the top to get wiped out for no reason other than the generals needed to get their men killed to feel like real generals.
“Sir, Lieutenant John Crawford reporting as ordered.”
“Come in, Lieutenant,” Major Boone replied. His voice was calm and gentle, almost devoid of authority. Crawford immediately took his place among the other company commanders and awaited the bad news.
Major Boone picked up a riding crop from the table in front of him, seeming to use it to gesture his syllables as he spoke.
“Gentlemen, thank you for coming on short notice. I’m also sorry I can’t offer you a more detailed briefing, but time is short and there’s a great deal to do before the show begins.” Some of the officers twitched a little. “The show” was how Boone described some kind of offensive. “I just received word from Brigade about an hour ago, and we are to be part of a coordinated effort with other Allied nations to break the Huns’ lines and put an end to this war. French, Italian, and Russian forces will essentially all hammer the Huns from every direction until we can force a breach, through which reinforcements can exploit our advantage. I have heard that this has been in the planning stages for months, but everything was thrown off when the Huns threw everything they had at Verdun. Because of heavy French losses there, the British are taking the lead. If this works, we can perhaps end the war in a matter of days or weeks, and unlike what they promised us back in ’14, maybe we will be home before the leaves fall.”
Indeed, this was far greater than anything they had faced. The entire Allied force attacking at once? Going over the top against veteran German troops who had spent months dug in along the same line, with all that time to strengthen their positions? And how much could they count on the French, considering that the French Army had almost bled to death at Verdun?
Who in their right mind thought up a disaster in the making like this? General Sir Douglas Haig, that’s who. For someone who commanded such brilliant defense actions at Mons and Ypres, why would he now just throw men against fixed positions and hope for the best? Of course, Crawford kept such musings to himself. Speaking them aloud did no one a bit of good.
Major Boone continued, “But for our part, First Battalion will concentrate its efforts here,” he tapped his crop on a tiny speck on the map behind him. “This is the village of De la Croix, which contains a crossroads vital to the Boche. They use it frequently to move reinforcements and supplies along much of their line. If we break their hold on it, we can prevent the Boche from rushing reinforcements to their weakened positions. General Rawlinson himself has stressed the importance of seizing and holding this village, and as De la Croix is behind the German line right in front of us, the capture of that town falls to us."
Captain Shelly, commander of C Company, asked, “What opposition are we expecting in De la Croix?”
“If we break the German line and reach De la Croix, we should run into a single under-strength regiment. Intelligence believes that this regiment was badly mauled at Verdun and was sent here for a rest. Hopefully that means that the occupation force in De la Croix is tired and demoralized. Otherwise, I would hope that someone would think twice before sending a single battalion against a regiment.”
This time Captain Mallory of A Company spoke. “But to even get there, we have to break right through the German line right in front of us. Can we really be expected to even reach De la Croix after that? After the casualties that the Huns are sure to inflict on us? And attacking a town occupied by possibly superior forces, when the Huns are sure to have plenty of warning before we even get there? Sir, with respect, I don't think it matters how tired or demoralized that regiment is. Does anyone up top have an answer for that?”
“For the next few days, our artillery is going to hammer the German line up and down our area of attack. Haig himself expects that all we will have to do is sweep aside stunned defenders to reach our objectives. Now then, get back to your companies and make what preparations you have to make. Dismissed.”
The other company officers, none looking particularly enthusiastic about what was coming, silently filed out of Major Boone’s headquarters, until Boone said, “Lieutenant Crawford, stay behind, if you will.”
Last edited by Ponyboy314
on Wed May 11, 2011 3:22 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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