Military justice was severe during World War, deserters were shot. In 1917 Privates Burton and Downing were shot by firing squad, for falling asleep at their posts.
At the Military Court, Lieutenant Nisbet Linley was quietly saying to his superior, "This man is a disgrace to the Regiment, we should consider field punishment number two." His face seemed slightly twisted on his left side.
The Major presiding over the case, raised his eyebrows and said, "Do you really think so? This corporal has an impeccable record, until he called his Lieutenant by his first name. He was also at Ypres." Nisbet Lindley clenched his fist beneath the bench, he had yet to be posted to the front lines.
"Of course you know best sir. Just thinking about the regimental honor. It give's the impression that every Tom, Dick or Harry can expect to be treated just like our chaps." Lindley picked a speck of dirt from beneath one of his fingernails.
"I see your point Nisbet, we do need to make an example to the men on occasion." He called forward the corporal, who stood just in front of the bench.
"For over familiarity with a superior officer, I reduce you to the rank of private. You may go."
Nisbet Lindley looked at the former corporal's expression to see if he betrayed any emotion, but could see none. The former corporal about turned and marched out of the court room.
"Thank goodness for that." Near the doorway Nisbet Lindley could see the next soldier waiting, with cap off.
On this day at the Military Court, the Major and Lieutenant Nisbet Lindley were dealing with the more mundane cases. So far today he had suppressed many a yawn whilst dealing with a soldier who had not saluted a new Lieutenant; another for wearing dirty boots on parade; an unshaven soldier; being late for parade. He'd advised the Major to deduct three days pay for a volunteer soldier who had not polished his buttons.
Instead Wentworth Nisbet Lindley's mind was wandering. He thought back to May 1914, when he lived at his family's townhouse residence in London, and enjoying tea with muffins served in the drawing room. All his friends were there, smiling and talking.
An elegant debutante said, "I say who is that old gentleman in the other drawing room, the one we passed on the way here? He must be over ninety, along with that wicker chair."
The elderly sleeping man was Nisbet Lindley's grandfather, Joe Nisbet, a poultry merchant. It was the elder Nisbet who had obtained the respectability for his family, through marriage and hard work.
Nisbet Lindley squinted at the rooms Georgian cornicing and window arches,
"Oh that's nobody. Nobody at all. I must say how splendid your cochineal coat is." Raising his glass. "Your very good health." He pulled a cord, that rang a brightly polished brass bell. Nisbet Lindley's valet, walked up the stairs from the servants quarters.
Nisbet Lindley's neck turned sharply and he spoke softly to him,
"Smythe, could you pull the door to in the second drawing room, there's a good chap."
"Yes sir." Smythe swiftly left the room to fulfill his task.
When war had been declared he had thought it necessary to volunteer unless his old Harrow boarding school chums think him afraid. Nisbet Lindley should have been a good officer however he would often derive a degree of schadenfreude in the misfortune of his own men. Perhaps it was for this reason that he had not so far been posted to the Western Front.
He would treat the men as if they were nobody and only just managed to prevent disdain showing when talking with the NCO's. The Lieutenant believed that when the men were not cleaning equipment or uniforms, writing letters home, eating, sleeping, talking and smoking, that they were always up to no good. He suspected they would be gambling or causing trouble somewhere. Nisbet Lindley thought an officer who showed cowardice on the front line must be mad where a soldier must be a shirker.
Recently he had given the order during a night training exercise at Aldershot for his platoon to stand-at-arms and one soldier had not moved, instead the man just lay sleeping on a muddy bank.
He said to the nearest soldier,
"What's wrong with that lackadaisical soldier? You there, what is his name?"
"It's not worth talking to him sir, he's napoo. Private Don Jilling is his name sir."
"What, what a disgrace to the uniform." Nisbet Lindley had noticed a small hole at the back of his head. He turned him over and saw the muzzle of his rifle rammed in his mouth. On the ground, next to one of his bare feet was one of the poor soldiers' boots and a sock.
"What is the meaning of this?" He asked the nearest soldier.
"He was at Wipers sir. Ever since then, he's been a bit loopy sir and never the same again. Also Don had just heard, what with being away from home so long, he heard that his fiancee in Blackpool had taken up with a woman."
The exercise was winding up anyway, with the dawn. The CO, a Special Reserve Captain Giles came over, saying,
"I've seen several of these, back in the trenches." The Captain had looked at Nisbet Lindley, asking, "Could you write to his next-of-kin. Just a standard letter, telling them he died more heroically than this, perhaps an accident. I'm not going to report it as a suicide." Nisbet Lindley decided not to object on this occasion as he thought the CO could be inflexible at times. He was frustrated that the dead soldiers weakness should be concealed.
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Homage to London 1914 to 1918Historical Fiction
1915 - This true continuing story is based on the men of London, who wanted to do their bit during World War 1 as well as how their choice to serve affects their families at home. Characters: James Rannow - former ganger of the labourer...