25 June 2022

More from ‘Dunkirk Fails’

This is another small vignette set in a world where the evacuation from Dunkirk fails, leading to an eventual invasion of Britain.

The Worker, Nottingham

The Worker sits on the floor next to her machine. It is officially the lunch break, but of course there is no lunch. She shivers. It isn’t too bad while she is working, but once she stops, the cold creeps in. Sitting doing nothing doesn’t help the memories either. Her husband is dead – lost in the chaos of France. So probably is her daughter – she’d gone missing as they fled London. If she still lived it would be a miracle, although she was probably better dead in the circumstances. Then the long walk north – weeks of walking it seemed like, before they got to an evacuation point to be shipped further north still, away from the incessant shelling, but still within range of the bombers now operating out of Kent and Sussex.

She puts the walk out of her head. She isn’t proud of what she had done to get food. Sleeping with the odd farmer or policeman had been the least of it. Once they had come up with another refugee column with food they refused to share. That was understandable, they didn’t have enough for themselves, let alone another 50 men and women. The two groups had fought – a bitter no holds barred brawl using nothing but clubs and stones and the odd knife. The other group had lost – fleeing into the fields – and they had fallen on their food ravenously, fighting amongst themselves by then.

The tears stream down her face, streaking the grime. It isn’t the first time she had sat by this machine crying, nor will it be the last.

The Boy, Oxfordshire

The Boy hunches over a small fire. The snow still swirls around the hut, but for the moment he is tolerably warm and isn’t hungry. By some miracle, he’d found a hedgehog buried in straw at the back of the shed. He’d never eaten hedgehog, but it turned out to be surprisingly tasty. He lies by the fire, wrapped in his scrap of tarpaulin, and thinks of the Hell that had been London. As he dozes, he remembers the girl. She was about his age, but tiny, malnourished. Desperately hungry, she offered herself to several of the group, but by now they knew that food kept them alive while sex didn’t. She came to him last, perhaps because in some way sex with him would have reminded her of a normal life.

“Please” she said, “I need to eat. You can do anything”

He had looked at her. He’d seen rape and worse, but was still physically virgin. Finally, he offered her a scrap of unidentifiable meat. She snatched it from his hand and wolfed it down. He knew the feeling of being alone.

“Can you use a gun?” he asked her. She shook her head.

“If you fight, you will get some food. You might die, but if you don’t fight, you will definitely die – but probably not easily by a bullet.” He jerked his head towards the others. “It could be anyone who kills you” he said.

“Show me” she said. He bent forward to pick up his weapon to demonstrate its use. As he did so a whistling sound passed over him and he dived to the earth, as did the others. He turned to the girl. She was dead, her head blown apart by a bullet – a bullet that would have hit him had he not chosen that moment to bend forward. There was no more firing. Just one more vicious meaningless death among many.

Tours, France

The Prisoner hefts the handles of his wheelbarrow and takes away another of the uncountable loads of rubble he has handled over the past seven years. He trudges through the rain towards the waiting lorry. This is his world now – a heap of rubble, a wheelbarrow and a shovel. He is hungry, but not starving. His captors have decided it is cheaper to feed him and the tens of thousands of others captured in 1940 than to spend precious fuel on mechanical tools. So his days grind on. Soon the site will be cleared. He does not know what is to be built, but he is sure he won’t see it completed. He and his fellows will simply move on to the next pile in the next town.

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