"Sergeant, the Major is calling!" The young signaller had to yell to break through the fog of sleep.
"One moment soldier."
Chris rubbed his eyes as he stood, the sleep had increased the feeling of fatigue and he yawned indulgently whilst walking to where the radio was situated.
"Sergeant McCall here." His voice sounding far more alert than he felt.
"Sergeant, how is everything up there?"
"All quiet on the Northern Front, Sir!"
Chris stifled another yawn.
"Good, part of the mortar platoon and their guard are moving toward you now. Once they're dug in, I want you to push on and assault the positions east of you."
"OK, Sir... And Major? Good luck down there."
"Thank you, Sergeant. Same to you. Don't do anything to get yourself killed."
"Easier said than done in our line of work, Major." Chris smiled grimly as he handed the headset back to the signaller.
"Private, pass word for the squad leaders to join me please." Chris walked off toward his Bergen to get breakfast on the go as he waited for the rest of the platoon NCO's.
They all joined him as the rations had finished heating up and he ate as he updated them on the plan for the day.
"OK guys, tell your men to grab a warm meal, it'll be cold rations until we take the next position. It's going to be bright-fuckin'-daylight we're attacking in today so get everyone to apply cam-paint and keep them firing and manoeuvring. Got it?" They all nodded. "OK, piss off, am eatin'!" He grinned, trying to show them more confidence than the gut-loosening fear he really felt.
Finishing his meal in silence, Chris gazed in to the near-distance; he could make out the outline of the next position through the early morning fog. With binoculars or a rifle scope he could probably make out the enemy numbers but decided against it. Better to fear the worst and hope for the best.
"Sergeant!" Chris turned to see Private Cole standing there with a full mess tin in his hand.
A few moments passed as the young man twitched nervously.
"I'm not a mind-reader Private!"
"Sorry Sergeant." He snapped to attention, minus the salute.
"Sit down before you get me shot." Chris growled, he wasn't worried about any snipers yet but the Private had interrupted his planning.
"Sorry, Sergeant." Cole sat down, and lowered his voice. "Sarge, none of the others seem scared."
"They are; they can jus' hide it far better than you."
"I'm worried I'll freeze up out there." He looked ashamed of his admission.
"You won't!" Chris said simply, then realised he'd need to elaborate. "Listen in. Cole, if you keep thinking you'll freeze it'll eventually happen. Fear is good, mate; it keeps you alert, gets the adrenalin going but you can't let it control you. If you do, you're fucked; you'll get yourself and others killed. Just remember we're part of a team, jus' concentrate on watching your mates' backs and they'll watch yours. We're all scared shitless, so you aren't alone; just do not let fear win, remember your mates and remember your training," he was rather more harsh than intended but the message seemed to be sinking in.
They sat in silence until a Corporal shouted for Chris.
"What's all th' screamin' about?" Chris asked as he arrived beside one of the Junior Corporals.
"Mortars are here."
At that moment a man approached them, wearing the same insignia on his arm, showing he was also a member of the Parachute Regiment.
"Stevie, ya big ugly fucker!" Chris smiled as he recognised his old friend from basic training.
"Chrissy? I though' y'u'd be dead b' now, but by-fuck, it looks like you're in charge." Steve replied, genuinely impressed and proud of friend.
"Yeah, it's a real job, demands skill and thought to plant a mortar where y'u want it."
"Why the fuck did they pick you then?" Chris chuckled.
Steve scowled, and then broke into a laugh as he shook Chris' hand. "You lose any last night?" Steve's face turned serious.
"None; just a few injuries. You?"
"Naa, couldn't see us, so couldn't hit us, but by-bastard we let them know we were still there, the whole night."
"I was glad of the backup; I was shitting bricks before it all kicked off." His friend nodded knowingly.
"So, what's next for you guys?" Sighing and shrugging, Chris pointed to the next enemy position.
"Broad daylight, as soon as you guys are dug-in and ready."
Sucking air in through his teeth. Steve seemed to ponder something as he assessed the not-too-distant objective. After a few moments of considered silence, he grinned and slapped Chris on the back.
"My guys will have your arses covered, should be fun, like ol' times eh? We smash them to bits; then you lot get up close 'n' jam a bayonet or two up their arses."
Chris smiled; his old friend could make nuclear physics sound simple.