Broken Silence by Angela O’Connor-Solinas
The Regiment had been on the designated route for three solid weeks. No sign of the enemy. The rugged terrain and camp conditions were taking a toll on both the morale and health of the soldiers. Not to mention the horses.
William wrote in his journal to ease the drudgery of his days. The pages of his notebook were dirty and worn. Some words had been erased like many of his men, swallowed up this land’s turmoil. Sand, insects and ochre dirt seeped into everything in this god forsaken place. How do people live here? Especially now.
To keep his spirits up he thought of Anna, his young wife and Joan their young child. Indeed, it eased his mind when he would close his mind and think of them running through the woods at the back of their home in Bangor.
‘Sergeant, Sergeant – the men, there’s a fight’, Corporal Rowan declared wheezing as he ran all the way from the mess hall to his tent. William jerked back into reality. ‘On my way Rowan. I’ll sort them out. At ease.’
Sure enough a barney was in play, drunken, tired crack followed by hit and miss punches. Rowan had panicked on seeing the large Ulstermen rear , heave and charge. Poor lad he was a sapling from a privileged wood. The men were only letting off steam.
When the men saw William, Sergeant Magill, they stopped the fighting and stood tall. ‘At ease men. I know it has been a tough, hard three weeks, we still have another fives days before we reach our target between the Orange and Vaal Rivers. So don’t hurt hurt each other men. You’ve drunk your fill for tonight, to bed and rise at first light tomorrow. Rowan will make sure the cook has hot porridge and tea ready in the morning. Then we will saddle up. Think of your horses men, they deserve clear heads on their backs!’
The next morning came and went with no hiccups. Men and horses were fed, watered and saddled up. He was proud that his division of men were experienced and prepared. Rowan was the only new recruit. However, the majority of the men in the Regiment were not this. Hence the Calvary ethic and horse management was low, this was a disastrous combination in a guerrilla war and heartache for William.
It was the horses that truly gelled the the men together. The sublime love for these four legged equine beasts was insurmountable. They were beloved friends, William was certain that war in the Calvary was made tolerable for soldiers with having their trusted companions with them. Even if they only met the horse the day before. Indeed for a short time these wondrous creatures substituted the men’s family and friends back home.
The war was long and hard on the horse. Carrying too much equipment, plus men, rationed foods and constant orders to pursue the enemy gave no rest for these magnificent animals. They came from all around the globe to fuel the empires desire to win. Most died within six weeks.
William’s horse, Tim, was a tall bay gelding. A strong wiry six year old from Australia that adapted well to the heat and rocky terrain.William had lost weight and walked him often to ease Tim’s burden. However, William could tell that unless this war ended soon Tim would die for no freedom here in the Orange Free State.
Another two days past and his divison arrived at the target spot where the Afrikaans guerilla leader De Wit had last been seen. The set up camp alongside the river, allowing the horses to drink and cool down. William had become increasingly despondent about the war. He knew that with the civil internments the British had been employing on the Afrikaans, the war was losing favour back home. It was he believed inhuman what was happening to these people. For his divison it was Orangeman against Orangeman, it made no sense. He was convinced it was less about land, treaties and people but diamonds and money.
William saddled up Tim and they headed north along the ridge to get a better perspective. It was five in the morning. Breathtakingly beautiful with a sunrise which that never ceased to amaze him. It was like this land exploded the sun every day. This morning all was quiet , no birds signalling their morning rise.The silence was broken by an enormous thud followed by gut wrenching screams.
Tim fell heavily underneath him, he had been shot by guerrilla sniper. William rolled awkwardly off him, using Tim as his defence he shot several times into the distant sands were he saw a lone horseman galloping away. Throwing his shotgun down he cradled Tim’s head in his arms, the beautiful bay died in his arms. William screamed skywards, pleading with God why why. With his knife he cut some of Tim’s mane.
On the boat back home William had made the mane of Tim into a watch chain. He looked at his fob watch forever connected to his four legged mate and swore to him that never again would he sit upon a saddle in the name of the war.