Greater Love .....Chapter 12

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Greater Love .....Chapter 12

Post by AnneM » Sun Sep 25, 2005 6:41 pm

Hi folks

Herewith the next installment. I hope that if I have got anything terribly wrong, someone will tell me. The character of Vincent Mulholland is dedicated to Mary E and if she ever gets the chance to read this I hope she likes him and finds his story credible. I'm quite fond of him myself.

Please excuse the occasional bit of bad language. Oops looks like the bad language is not allowed so I've changed it a little!


Greater Love

Mud. Mud everywhere. Food tastes of mud. Clothes stink of mud…..and worse. Fabric no longer hangs but is rigid, impregnated with mud, hard as board. All around the stench is appalling, nauseating, mud mixed with human excrement and the unmistakeable sweet sickly odour of death. Lieutenant Callum McCallum thought he had become inured to it, hardened by the months which had turned into years of inhabiting this place, this wasteland, the ante-chamber of hell. Now, two weeks after returning from leave he feels he has become soft. What was commonplace has become as intolerable to him as to the newest recruit.

He punches each palm with the other fist trying to restore circulation in fingers frozen inside his woollen gloves. Since his return it had rained ceaselessly but last night saw a sudden drop in temperature and a late hard frost. The pools in the shell holes in No Man’s Land now bear a thin film of ice. A treacherous moon and hard brilliant stars, in their now familiar constellations, had pierced the dark sky each shimmering within its faint corona of light. Tonight promises to be the same, a still silent moonlit night, punctuated by the wailings and thuds of artillery. Tomorrow…..tomorrow? Before the mist clears they will advance. Will there be a tomorrow night?

Absent-mindedly he scratches his blond head beneath his peaked cap and curses the ever present lice from the depths of his fastidious soul. In the late afternoon with dusk approaching he peers into the dugout. Most of the men are trying fitfully to catch some sleep before the last minute preparations which will take place under cover of darkness. Callum shakes his head. He reckons the Hun knows their intentions anyway. Only two men are fully awake, the eldest and the youngest. The latter is perched on the side of a rough bunk. He has a picture of the Sacred Heart in one hand and is gently fingering a set of rosary beads with the other. Callum is surprised. Vincent claims to be 18 but Callum suspects he is younger and is reported only to have joined up to avoid a well merited spell of incarceration. An engaging scrap, he is barely 5’ 6”, thin as a whippet with a pale, pointed freckled face, topped by a mop of ginger hair. Despite himself, Callum feels affection for this wayward boy who may never reach full manhood.

“I didn’t think you were a religious man, Mulholland,” he says, a faint trace of amusement in his voice.

“Not me sir,” replies Vincent ”But sir, these were the last things my Mam gave me on my embarkation leave, before I left for the front. I was just thinking about her, sir.”

Vincent’s devotion to his mother is legendary. Bridget Mulholland had been left a young widow when an accident in the shipyard had claimed her vital energetic husband. From that day on she worked tirelessly, scrubbing steps and taking in washing, to provide for her five fatherless sons and raise them to be decent, hard working, God fearing men. It seemed that she had succeeded. Her four eldest sons had followed their father into the shipyard where they were known for skill and diligence. Indeed the three eldest were married, good husbands and fathers and, under the watchful eyes of their mother and wives, punctual attenders at Mass.

And then there was Vincent. He was Bridget’s enduring joy and grief. She struggled to understand him. Yes, he had grown up without a father but so had his brothers. As a small child he had certainly been lively but the problems had only truly started when he reached school age. While his brothers had not been enthusiastic scholars, they had at least done the minimum to scrape a basic education and avoid all but the most trivial forms of trouble. Vincent seemed from the start unwilling or unable to grasp even the simplest lessons. Nothing seemed to make sense to him. Bridget was puzzled. If anything her youngest had seemed her brightest child. However with virtually no learning of her own she felt obliged to accept the opinion of his teachers that the boy was lazy and insolent.

He soon made the acquaintance of the birch rod and the tawse and before long simply dignified school by his absence. Bridget, constantly working, was largely unaware of his truancy and powerless to check him. Older boys, bent on mischief, found Vincent’s small wiry frame and fearless nature a useful tool and in their company, Vincent found the acceptance so far denied him. By the time he was 9 years old he was well known to the police and in adolescence spent time in various reformatories, none of which succeeded in reforming him.

Undaunted, he asks his superior, “Are you religious yourself, sir?”

Callum knows he should discourage such familiarity but instead waves his hand towards the desolate landscape. “In this place? Where is God in all of this?”

From behind him comes the voice of the oldest man present, “Beside and in the heart of every one of these men. Begging your pardon, sir, but it doesn’t do to let the men hear you talking like that. Would you take away their only hope? God is with each one of them…..and with yourself too even if you don’t know it.” He cuffs Vincent playfully round the head, “Mind you, it’s possible Mulholland’s past praying for. No offence, sir.”

“None taken, Tripp. It would be nice to have your certainties but I’m afraid that I can’t find the will of a loving God among all the death in this hell-hole.”

“That’s the work of man, sir, not God.” replies Sergeant Edwin Tripp. In contrast to Mulholland, he is a big, stocky Englishman, a blacksmith in civilian life, with the strong arms and massive shoulders of his trade. He had recently been moved to join the company when his predecessor, a foul mouthed, brutal oaf, suspected of gratifying himself with younger more vulnerable men, had been shot, whether from before or behind no-one knew nor chose to ask. A Methodist lay preacher, Edwin will tolerate no blasphemy or profanities from the men under his care whom he rules with gentle tyranny. If this tyranny sometimes extends to Callum, the latter accepts the older man’s strictures with grace.

Now Callum casually flicks open a silver cigarette case, a 21st birthday present from his parents. “Have a fag.” Vincent accepts gratefully but Edwin shakes his head.

“Thank you, sir, but I’ve never polluted my body with nicotine or alcohol.”

“You’ll surely outlive us all, Sergeant.” Says Callum ironically.

As he smokes quietly, Callum wonders not for the first time what had impelled him to leave his medical course at the beginning of the War and volunteer for active service. Was it a misguided sense of gallantry, love for the mother country?

He asks, “What are we here for, Tripp? King and Country? With your job you did not have to join up. What about your business.”

“Well, sir, my father is not an old man and can still swing a hammer better than most men half his age and my brother, Lowing, has a club foot but can easily work at the forge. It’s upper body strength that counts in our line of work. As for why I’m here, I’m doing this so that my son never has to.”

“I don’t have a son and at this rate never will but if my being here can save any lad of yours, Sergeant, from going through this hell, it will be worthwhile.”

“Why thank you, sir.” Tripp is obviously moved and hurries off to hide his emotion.

Callum turns to young Vincent. “I think family is on all our minds. Have you written to your mother, Mulholland?”

Vincent mutters, “Well, sir. I’ve not quite got around to it, sir.”

Enlightenment dawns on Callum, “It’s a hard business writing. Would you like me to scribble a postcard for you and you can put your name on it. Just to let her know you’re well and thinking about her. You just take a little while to think about what you want to say before it gets too dark.”

“Would you do that? Thank you, Sir”

Left alone, Callum takes the opportunity to re-read quickly the letter he has just written before sealing it. Already the words are becoming difficult to make out but he almost knows it by heart. It is addressed to his sweetheart, one of his few female class-mates and seems so very inadequate. They had started at Edinburgh University together but now she would soon qualify.

My darling Barbara, he reads, I am writing to you today because tomorrow we move forward and I do not know when and if I will get another chance. You are too strong and clever for me to lie to you so I won’t pretend it will be an easy victory. I will be lucky to get out of this one, but my luck has held thus far.

I know you have thought of trying to come out here but I beg of you not to do it. The only thing that keeps me sane in this place is the thought of you safe and well in Scotland. Is that selfish of me? I’m sorry but if I cannot keep you safe, my being here will seem so pointless.

I don’t want to write about how things are here. I’d rather think about clean decent things, you at home and dear boring old Edinburgh. You can’t imagine how much I miss the old place and everything about it, even the grey days, the wind and the rain, the black castle lowering over the city and the dark shape of the Old Quad. I miss all the normal things, the beer, the other chaps clowning and telling jokes and the Professors barking at nothing. I guess many of the other chaps are gone now. Above all though, I miss you with your wit and common sense. I want you to promise me that, whatever happens to me, you will be the best doctor ever. After the war there will be so many opportunities for women in the profession. Perhaps we will work together though you’ll be my senior and I’ll have to catch up.

When things seem intolerable, I imagine being with you after the War, just doing ordinary, normal everyday things. In my dream it is a lovely summer afternoon and we are walking together in Princes Street Gardens. There is a band playing. I even know the programme. It is British music, some Edward German, Merrie England, and some Gilbert and Sullivan, I think a selection from the Gondoliers, though there is only one pair of sparkling eyes I want to see. We are walking hand in hand. You look so lovely in your summer frock and big shady hat and at last I am out of this damn uniform. Needless to say the dream does not stop there but that is all I will write in case anyone else reads this. The rest is private to us. Promise me that if I don’t come back you will walk in the Gardens in summer and know that I will be there with you.

My love, I can hardly believe that you came to London to be with me on my last leave. You are so brave. That short time we had together will be precious to me for as long as I live.

I know that we never talk about the future but I hope that when all this is over you will come home with me. My mother is a strong woman just like you, my dear, and you will love her. She cannot fail to welcome the woman who is already my wife in my heart.

Time is getting on now and soon it will be dark. I know you are busy but can I beg you, though I know you don’t need begging, if you can to visit my godfather, Uncle James. He is so lonely these days and your sweet presence will cheer him.

Goodbye and be safe and well my dearest, dearest love.

As Callum folds the letter he feels doubly sad thinking of James Campbell. When he first arrived in Edinburgh, the Campbells had immediately taken him into their hearts and their warm, loving home. Now James struggles painfully to educate young men who will shortly waste their lives on the battlefields of France and Flanders. His enthusiasm for education has all but faded as, without his younger colleagues, he carries alone the burden of persuading cantankerous old men dragged out of retirement to be understanding of a new and different breed of boys.

Old Sir Archie had died recently at an advanced age. Only his sickly oldest brother stands between James and the title. As the new century dawned, Brigadier Andrew Campbell in his bright red coat and well shone buttons had proved an easy target for a Boer farmer, hidden in the bush, and slid lifeless from his chestnut horse into the arms of his batman.

The prospect of this honour left James unmoved. There would now never be a young Sir Archie. Barely had the strains of the lone piper’s lament at the old Laird’s funeral, the Flo’ers o’ the Forest, ceased to echo round the Glen, than Callum’s uncle Donald had been called upon to add the name of Captain Archibald Fleming Campbell to the family monument. It was scant consolation to his father that the letters MC were chiselled after his name. Ever conscious of his responsibilities, Archie and his Sergeant had rushed the German machine gun emplacement, that was decimating his men, and taken it out at the cost of their own lives. Now only Jack remained and as he had lived up to his reputation for dare devilry by joining the Royal Flying Corps it is a miracle that the Campbell line is not yet doomed to die out within a few years.

Callum could only be grateful that Caroline had not lived to see the War and the loss of her beloved elder son. Within a year of his arrival in Edinburgh she had succumbed to long term illness and disability. Her kidneys had failed, causing her acute pain which the doctors tried to relieve with every means at their disposal and after a mercifully short time she had slipped away in a morphine induced haze. Though he had known her only briefly, Callum felt her loss like that of a favourite Aunt.

Out of duty he had called on his mother’s Kerr relations though he had a vague notion that they had not treated his mother well. The elegant Georgian manse that had been his mother’s home was a thing of the past and the family was now to be found installed in a new house in the South of the city, in Morningside. The move had been necessary some years previously after a hysterical maid had run screaming into the hall having found Ninian slumped dead across his desk, black ink spreading all over his papers.

The new house was presided over by Bella, her health restored by the passing of her middle years and giving every appearance of enjoying her widowhood. Although even now she could not mention dear Mr Kerr’s name without a sigh and a tear, she still managed to struggle bravely to beat her friends at bridge and gossip over the coffee cups in Jenners tea room. Sharing the house was Adam, who had never fulfilled his threat to return to India and had perhaps surprisingly never re-married. His temper did not make it easy to keep servants and his complexion, always high, now bore the permanent red hue and broken veins that spoke of an undue affection for claret and brandy.

Of all the Kerrs only Cousin Margaret, Mrs Cameron, and Miss Amelia Kerr who lived with her aunt had made him feel welcome. Mrs Cameron had introduced him to her lively social circle which included a sufficiently large number of charming and pleasingly forward young women whose company he enjoyed greatly until Barbara claimed his heart. Amelia of a more solemn nature had to Margaret’s faint disapproval become a nurse and was now working at Craiglockhart, caring for servicemen broken in body and mind.

Though the Kerrs may have had the claims of kinship, it was the Campbells who had been his family in Edinburgh and he grieves deeply to see them torn apart.

He is roused from his reflections by a large bloated brown rat, emboldened by the falling dusk, which runs over his foot. He shudders but lacks the will to kill it. Instead he turns to fulfil his promise to Mulholland and scratch a few words on a postcard to the boy’s unfortunate mother.


Just before daybreak, Callum and his men crouch in their trench, waiting for the signal to advance. Their breath condenses in the freezing air, leaving white trails. There is silence in the trench but in the wood on the hill behind them the songbirds have the effrontery to begin their dawn chorus, heedless of the folly of the humans below, who choose to wreak havoc on each other and condemn their young to a pointless death.

The signal given, Callum waves his arm and leads his men forward into No Man’s Land. Now there is chaos, all around noise and smoke as they plunge recklessly towards the enemy position.

When the bullet hits initially it feels like a dull thud at the top of his thigh, only later followed by a sharp searing pain which makes him draw in his breath. He falls heavily backwards and as he struggles in vain to rise notices almost with detachment the fountain of blood which spurts forth. His medical training tells him that the bullet has pierced his femoral artery. In a well equipped hospital his chances of survival would be slim; here they are non-existent. Pointlessly but automatically he tries to stem the blood with his folded handkerchief.

As the pain worsens he tries not to scream aloud. Amid the noise of gunfire and the shouts and screams of the other wounded, he can feel his life ebbing away. He tries in his last moments to think about his family but the thought that he will never again see his beloved mother hurts almost more than the physical pain. To remember Barbara and the lost future is beyond his ability.

Suddenly, he hears a shout nearby, “Sarge, Sarge, Look! The lieutenant’s copped one.” Out of the smoke around him loom the figures of Mulholland and Tripp. “Hold on sir. We’ll get you out of here.”

With all that remains of his strength he mutters through clenched teeth. “Forget me. I’m done for. Save yourselves. We’re getting nowhere.” And more urgently, “For Christ’s sake man don’t drop your rifle. You’ll be shot at *offical warning* dawn.”

An intense wave of pain surges through him as Tripp grabs his shoulders followed by an even stronger one as Mulholland less expertly hoists up his legs……then there is merciful darkness.

In vain denial of the uselessness of their efforts the two men stagger with their lifeless burden back towards the trench. So preoccupied are they that they fail to hear the thin high pitched wailing of the shell till seconds before it thuds to the ground beside them. The last sound that Edwin Tripp hears on this earth is Vince Mulholland’s despairing cry of “Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Mammy!”
Last edited by AnneM on Mon Sep 26, 2005 11:28 am, edited 3 times in total.
Researching M(a)cKenzie, McCammond, McLachlan, Kerr, Assur, Renton, Redpath, Ferguson, Shedden, Also Oswald, Le/assels/Lascelles, Bonning just for starters

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Post by AnneM » Sun Nov 11, 2007 1:55 pm

Finally managed to split this off and repost it. As I have no time just now am offering this personal tribute for Remberance Day by bringing this and the one below to the top.

Last edited by AnneM on Sun Nov 11, 2007 2:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Researching M(a)cKenzie, McCammond, McLachlan, Kerr, Assur, Renton, Redpath, Ferguson, Shedden, Also Oswald, Le/assels/Lascelles, Bonning just for starters

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Post by AnneM » Sun Nov 11, 2007 1:58 pm


At last. Got them in the right order
Researching M(a)cKenzie, McCammond, McLachlan, Kerr, Assur, Renton, Redpath, Ferguson, Shedden, Also Oswald, Le/assels/Lascelles, Bonning just for starters

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