He blinked the sweat from his eyes as his mind screamed at him to kill them all but his heart said no. He hesitated and adjusted his grip on the rifle as his finger twitched on the trigger. Chris felt a hand being placed on his shoulder as an arm came into his visual range and he didn't resist as the arm pushed the muzzle of the rifle down gently.
"Sergeant, don't do this. It's not you and you'll regret it. You're not a murderer," the voice was so soft and reassuring that he felt the rage lift from him and was suddenly overcome with shame.
Chris finally raised his eyes to meet Private Cole's gentle gaze.
"Thank you," he whispered and then turned to walk away from the young man.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. I can't believe I nearly butchered someone. He berated himself as he wandered back towards the ambush site.
"Corporal, take charge here and secure the prisoners to be sent to the rear, then sweep the area and give the guys an hour's rest, we'll move out again after that," he gave the orders in a voice that spoke volumes about the exhaustion and shame he felt.
As he wandered back around to where the ambush had been sprung he recognised straightaway how lucky they had been. There were more than a few who had been hit but the quick response by the rest of the unit had taken out the ambush parties before any real damage could be done. Chris allowed himself a moment of satisfaction at the lives his men and he had saved.
He let out a slow, loud breath and sucked in a lungful of air as he surveyed the airfield. Not much further to Goose Green, he thought. The settlement lay just a few miles away from the positions they had just overrun and Chris was determined to take it by morning.
His mind ran over the events of only a short time before and felt a wave of shame that he could so easily lose his self-control in such a way. It was worse that Cole had felt the need to step in. He showed some balls stepping in front of me and lowering my rifle though. Chris resolved to thank the boy properly for stopping his rampage, and with that he began to make peace with what had happened.
He would never forget and would learn from it, no more torturing himself though. There has to be a line, or we risk becoming not only war criminals but the very worst of human beings who prey on those weaker than them and I will die before becoming one. His force of will imprinted this in his mind and he turned back to his men refreshed.
Chris began issuing orders for retrieving the injured or dead who were lying around and ushered the men along as he supervised; they would move out soon so time was a factor here. Twenty minutes later they were enjoying a last short rest and scouting patrols were out as they sought contact with the enemy. He heard a short, distant burst of fire, he sighed and pushed himself to his feet taking a mouthful of water and swirled it around his mouth before swallowing. As he expected - one of the patrols tore back over the slight hill to the South and sprinted to Chris.
The sniper leading the small patrol stopped and grinned.
"I am pleased to report contact with the enemy," he panted out after a few moments leaning over.
Chris smiled grimly, "Thanks Alec, anyone get hit?"
"Nope, we found them and decided to fuck wit' them a little," his smile shortened and twisted, turning his grin to a cocky smirk, "... we spread out over the gulley lip and started firing on the School, jus' to put the wind up 'em and 'cause we couldn't see how many there were..."
"... they took the bait. Started firing off in all directions. They're dug in at the school house and have all the approaches covered by MGs and small arms. This is goin' to be a heavy cluster fuck because they have aimed their AAs at the ground covering the area as well. That's why we legged it."
Sergeant McCall cursed quietly and continually as he picked up his gear from the ground next to him. He dismissed Alec and thought about yet another hard battle ahead. Gunfire broke out again in the distance. Chris guessed "C" Company had engaged the enemy and were meeting the resistance Alec had mentioned. He grimaced as he humped the Bergen onto his back and slung his rifle strap over his head.
"Everybody up and at 'em, move out!"
They left the airfield and made their way towards the settlement of Goose Green, the school was right on the edge of it and was ideally situated to provide firing arcs over the open area nearby, making it a great place to set up.
... And the Argies certainly didn't look that fucking gift horse in the mouth, did they? Chris thought as the building came gradually closer. They were now close enough to make out the pock marks on the white, roughcast walls and the sandbags stacked at the small windows. The most alarming thing was the number of muzzles sticking out the windows. In parts it looked like a giant white and black hedgehog.
It only took a few more minutes before they could clearly hear the exchanges of gunfire from those holed up in the house and "C" Company who were pinned down in some ditch over to the East of where Chris and his men were following a gulley in staggered formations. Finally they began to come within range of the enemy and they received a warm welcome as the enemy turned their anti-aircraft guns on the new arrivals.
"Fuck," he cursed as a flack shell hit the rocks just below the position he had crawled to for a better view of the field. "Cole, get Alec."
The private nodded and jogged off to look for Chris' favourite scout. They returned after a few minutes and Chris beckoned them both to him.
"Ok, I need you - both of you - to head around to "C" Company and get the sitrep from their commander and ask what assistance he needs from us. Any questions?" They both shook their heads, "Ok, stay low. Dismissed."
They both ran off and were lost to sight within minutes as they ducked behind the limited cover between the two Companies.
He dared another look over the open ground and thought he could see a teddy bear hanging next to one of the windows. Strange, he thought, under fire from an enemy and despite all the guns nearby the first thing my eye is drawn to, is a bloody teddy? Chris shook his head in dark amusement at such a seemingly random placement of something not connected with war.
Alec and Cole soon returned and their faces told the story before they even reached the area where Chris was lying in wait for their return. Chris reflected their expressions as they approached.
"What's the news?"
Alec and Cole look at one another and their faces dropped further. Alec cleared his throat, "Umm, their Lieutenant is dead, Sergeant." The gulp from the sniper was loud enough to hear. "We had to speak to their platoon Sergeant. He's pinned down in a gulley with no way back as a few of the AAs have their position zeroed in so that if they move they are exposed and then as good as dead."
"What was your assessment of the situation?" asked Chris as he sensed there was more to what Alec had to say.
"He's given up, sarge. He seems unwilling to try anything and all the guys look demoralised... and no wonder."
Chris raised an eyebrow but didn't speak.
Alec continued. "... the Argies were all ready to surrender, like and the Lieutenant and a Lance Corporal went forward to accept it, but "A" Company, up on Darwin Hill, to the East, sarge, they... umm... must've thought they were supporting an attack because they began laying down suppressive fire on the school. The guys inside responded and... well... you can guess the rest." He finished and shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably.
He nodded in understanding and hid the pain of the news from them. Yet more dead. Another mate just... gone. He thought while trying to work out what had to be done next. Sergeant McCall knew the house position had to go but ultimately he would lose men with no substantial support from "C" company and the incoming fire from the AA battery in Goose Green he was at a loss.
"Sergeant..." Private Cole whispered nervously, breaking into Chris' thoughts. "... I say we attack, the school has... has to go and it should encourage "C" to get off their arses and help."
An explosive sigh followed and Chris stood, looked around and nodded. "You're right, Cole. Thank you again. You wanna take point with me on this one lad?"
Cole's face lit up, he was getting the chance to go in on the first wave of the attack. The crippling nerves and fears he had shown just days ago had burned away in the heat of combat and now he wanted to push on.
"Ok, pass the word - quietly to prepare for the assault of the school." The young private and Alec ran off to pass the word and collect their gear. Private Cole returned quickly, eager to get going. Chris smiled to himself.
"Private, are you not missing somethin'?"
"Oh shit, my rifle." All the men nearby burst into fits of laughter as an abashed-looking Cole ran off to grab his weapon.
This had the effect of a lightened mood for everyone as they prepared for the attack. All-too-soon everything was ready, everyone in position. There wasn't a fancy feint or a complex plan. It had to be a simple run-gun-and-pray-not-to-die. Chris sent a swift prayer off, not for himself but for his wife and his sister. This brought back the thoughts that had been in the back of his mind all the way through the conflict and the journey to the Falklands - the birth of his child and giving his baby sister away at her wedding.
Chris wondered what they were both doing now, probably joning forces against the evil of mum. He chuckled quietly at the mental image of his wife and sister holding up crosses, brandishing wooden stakes and wearing garlic to fend off his mother.
The thought calmed him and he nodded to Cole who ran up and over the lip of the gulley. Chris followed, right into a nightmare.
The enemy had been waiting, he knew this but the speed of their response stunned Chris. As everyone followed onto the open ground it soon became clear just how much shit was going to rain down on all them. Machine guns, rifles, pistols - even rockets all seemed to open up the second the attack began and they never let up.
Cole was doing well, he returned enemy fire and dodged, Chris following in his wake as bullets whizzed by them. Then, Cole was gone, Chris had enough time to register this before the shockwave hit him.
Fuckin' artillery. Was his last thought before a burning sensation hit him and the darkness took him.