This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem. To commemorate the occasion, we are serialising William’s short story, The Bridge, which is set against the backdrop of the infamous battle, which took place between 17th and 26th September 1944.
Written shortly after his retirement in 1992, this was the first story William wrote after he took up writing. Later, parts of it formed the basis of the first chapter of his longer book, Pegasus Falling.
The battle of Arnhem (or Operation Market Garden, to give it its official title) resulted in the deaths of nearly 2,000 Allied and 1,300 German troops, and the wounding of many thousands more. It was a battle marred by poor planning and faulty intelligence, but also noted for the heroism and courage shown by the young soldiers sent to fight an unwinnable battle.
William’s story tells of the drama and tragedy of those 10 days through the story of Sergeant Bill Grant, and his brief encounter with a local woman which would go on to affect him his entire life. Although a work of fiction, William drew on his own experience of those bloody days and nights, for Private Thomas, William E. was there, fighting on the front line himself. Many of the characters in the story are probably based on fellow comrades and locals. The fact he was there to witness the true horror and hardship suffered by both the solders and the civilians caught up in proceedings makes the drama in his story all the more palpable.
Today, we begin with part 1 of the story. Come back tomorrow for Part 2, followed by further instalments and Arnhem themed posts over the next week.
ADVISORY: This story contains adult themes and occasional strong language.
THE BRIDGE: PART 1
The woman moved to the window, attracted by the hubbub. She looked toward the river. A large articulated truck had broken down on the bridge and traffic was backed up in both directions as far as she could see.
‘What is it, Druschke?’
She inclined her head back slightly, turning to glance at her husband. ‘Another of those big Bosche trucks has broken down on the bridge, it’s mayhem down there.’
‘They never had much luck crossing that bridge, did they?’
A police car had stopped across the bridge ramp and the officers were remonstrating with the driver of the truck. Many drivers had left their vehicles to try to see what was going on. While she watched, her attention was drawn to one driver in particular. A short, middle-age man was leaning on the top of his car and talking to someone inside through the open sunroof. There should have been nothing unusual about this, yet she was drawn to look at him by some vague sense of de ja vu.
‘Per, come here.’
‘What’s the matter?’
‘Nothing’s the matter, just come and look at this man.’
‘Why? What’s he doing?’
‘Oh, for God’s sake, Per.’
‘Alright, I’m coming.’ He crossed to the window and put his arm around her shoulders. ‘Bloody hell, what a mess. They’ll be backed up to Venlo.’
‘Never mind that, look at that man down there, the one leaning on that red car.’
‘What about him?’
‘Does he look familiar to you? I feel as though I know him.’
‘No, he’s just another English tourist.’
‘How do you know he’s English?’
‘Well, I can see the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car so he can drive on the wrong side of the road.’
She smiled. ‘He would say it’s so he can drive on the left side of the road.’
‘I knew it was the opposite of right.’
These harmless, chiding words prompted a more poignant memory. She raised her right hand to cover her mouth and her eyes widened with apprehension. She turned to face her husband. He looked hard into her face then turned his head slowly to look down at the man again.
‘Per? Can it be? Do you think it’s him?’
‘I don’t know, Drush. Christ, it’s been nearly thirty years.’
He drew her closer to him. She felt stiff and still held her hand to her mouth. They stared for what seemed an age at the man, then slowly turned to look at the chaos on the street, at the German truck blocking the bridge, then back at the man again. It was as though he felt some presentiment, for the man straightened, scratched the back of his head with both hands, elbows out, and looked up at the house. When she saw his face, she knew.
‘Per, it’s him.’
‘How can you say that, Drush? Good God, the man has a white beard and weighs at least eighty kilos. How could you possibly tell? He looks like Nikolas.’
‘How did you know, Per? And you did know, didn’t you?’
The man was still looking up at them with a slightly quizzical tilt to his head, then raised his hand and gave them a little wave.
‘We’ve got to be wrong, Drush. You look pale. Let’s go down and I’ll make us some coffee.’
Check back tomorrow for the next part, or read the whole story now by downloading the ebook: