Drummond meets Aird at HQ
This is a pivotal scene. Aird needs to be panicked into action. Equally, he must show indifference to Jimmy Drummond.
The Highland Division moves to the front.
This is the eve of the battle.
The morning of the offensive 1st Nov 1916.
Describe Jimmy’s feelings etc
The Battle for Beaumont Hamel
Victory, Loss, Affirmation
Billy sees Marjorie
Marjorie ends the relationship
Billy wants to go home
Maggie’s arrival causes great surprise amongst the Rifles, who are in General Reserve in Amiens whilst they take on replacements and prepare to move to the Flanders sector
Martin goes absent.
Correct me if I’m wrong Lord Elcho, but is there not a well documented animosity between yourself and Major Aird. A physical attack on the Major at Divisional HQ; witnessed personally by the Divisional Commander? It gives your counter-testimony something of a taint.
Furthermore, it is the sentence of this General Court Martial that at dawn, one week from today, you are to face death by firing squad. In nominating a date so far in advance we are mindful of counsel’s determination to seek mercy at the hands of the General Commanding Fifth Corps, General Gough.
I made a promise to myself that if I lost Robertson’s case, I would seek an active role in command of his friends sir. I promised Robertson and his platoon. A solemn oath Sir. One I would ask you to help me keep.
We are involved in a great endeavour Captain. I am disinclined to indulge young gentlemen with specific skills to offer. Besides, what would your family have to say?
I’m a younger son Sir; a much darker shade of sheep but still with influence, if you can believe that?
Oh I believe it young man. I shall do all in my power to give you your wish. It is my hope that it will teach you something of the reality of life.
Douglas and Stewart
begins Christmas 1916
ends in the Haven
‘The boy is your lover perhaps?’ The German stood out amongst his fellow prisoners. Impossible blue eyes, white blond hair. Alan’s fist caught him beneath an eye, along the profiled cheek bone. He spat blood then wiped the smear with a hand. He held Alan’s gaze, the shadow of a smile fixed, focused on the Scot. Alan’s second punch threw him against the wall of the trench.
Toward the end of the War, Aird and Drummond are reconciled. Aird believes Jimmy is due a medal. Jimmy refuses and explains that he cannot accept what he was unable to obtain for his men.
Jimmy decides that he would be better in the Army than returning to his old life. They agree that Marjorie is better suited to the task and Jimmy remains with the Regiment
Aird commits suicide.
He puts a bullet in his head on the day of the reunion in 1919.
Careful thought on setting.
Ballroom. Public, open, large space and confrontation must therefore be muted. Jimmy suggests they might like to go somewhere private. The impatience of Aird. Alise features in the mix.
Demonstrate Aird’s thought process.
He feels invulnerable, but realises that Drummond has connections.
The upshot of the revelation
Aird requests a move back to Battalion.
Jimmy Hughes is upset.
Jimmy Drummond has a dilemma.
The reaction of the Rifles.
Build the tension and excitement of the transfer.
Work required on 3 relationships:
This is foreshadowing time
Billy must write to Anne and to Lady Marjorie
Describe the ridge, the ravine, the ruined ground. Talk of the ill -fated 31st Division, unable to leave the trench. The assault of the Newfoundlanders.
Blood Pumping… We need to see the nerves. I want the sense of saying goodbye.
A clear day after a long spell of rain. Colonel Cummins gives a speech, of sorts. Jimmy Drummond and Billy agree a truce.
Billy is inspired to speak to Rab, and we finish with them at the off.
‘Are you looking for you old job back, your Lordship?’ Norman Barrington looked as tipsy as he was. An intelligent man, thought Drummond, rendered fatuous by a system and culture that viewed war as the indolent pursuit of gentlemen. He shook his head, deploying the smile he’d learned whilst on the Staff.
‘I’m here to see Captain Aird, old man. Do you know where I might find him?
‘Let me see… Accompanying the Chief would you believe? Building morale; that sort of stuff.’ He paused, striking a pose for the Captain’s benefit. ‘Should be back by now. Come along; let’s see if we can find him,’ Moving through the chateau was discomforting, offensive. The polished floors; the self-importance; the cloying air of optimism, grated on Jimmy. It made him morose. He hated himself for it; his weakness in allowing the place its power over him. He was still deep in thought as they entered the former ballroom. The clip-clopping echoes of their passage across the grand space brought him back to the present.
Aird had his back to them, bending over a map table that might have seated thirty people. There were similar tables all around the grand salon. Hypothetical war made larger than life. Jimmy Drummond heard the voice; the small voice of reason. Before he was ready for the confrontation, Alastair Aird turned to him and smiled.
‘Lord Echo? What can I do for you this fine day?’ He sat on the very edge of the table, polished leather boots crossed at the ankles. ‘Not still on about this damned medal, surely?’
‘Aird, I would…’ He cleared his throat. ‘Captain, I wonder if we might find somewhere a little more private?’
‘Of course. I’ve ten minutes till our meeting with the French.’ He motioned with his hand, allowing Drummond to precede him. ‘Badly organised these Frenchmen. No concept of staff work. No idea of timekeeping either.’ They moved through tall glass doors and Drummond found himself in a garden anteroom, overlooking an immaculate lawn. Outside, Jimmy could see fit, young soldiers working on the chateau’s well-groomed lawns. Half of a company. The notion engaged the young lord.
‘Captain? You gave me the impression the matter was urgent, no?’ Aird took another glance at his wristwatch. ‘Your Lordship.’ Jimmy’s attention was pulled back to the summerhouse. His eyes held a question he wouldn’t ask. He knew the answer.
‘Yes Alastair…that is no, not urgent.’ He paused to consider. ‘It’s delicate certainly, and private in not being fit for others’ ears, at the moment.’ He returned to contemplation of the kilted gardeners.
Drummond withdrew his cigarette case and offered it up to Aird. Only once they both smoked did he begin to speak.
‘I wonder what you might tell me of the death of your platoon sergeant?’
‘Sergeant Campbell. MIA on the day of your father, Major Aird’s death.’
‘What on earth would lead you to believe I could shed light on Campbell’s death?’ Aird moved to the French window. He drew deep on the cigarette. ‘I didn’t really know the man. Couldn’t take to him, truth be told.’ His attention was fixed on something in the gardens. ‘A poor example of a platoon sergeant; though it seems cruel to speak so of the dead.’ Drummond waited for more but Aird was elsewhere; absorbed in a world outside the summerhouse.
‘Hughes…ahm… I’m simply going to say this Alastair.’ He paused for effect, giving Aird the opportunity to turn and face him. ‘Hughes tells me a somewhat different version of events on that day Captain Aird. I need you to refute his claim; or I need you to give it some sort of corroboration.’ Still no turn back into the room. Alastair Aird concentrated on lighting yet another cigarette. His movements were slow and deliberate, his eyes fixed on the activity in the chateau gardens. ‘Captain Aird?’
‘Your Lordship, you disappoint me.’ He turned then, his cigarette clamped between two fingers; held like a pistol pointed at Drummond’s head. ‘You listen to these simple Scotsmen of yours as if they had something intelligent to contribute.’ He drew strength from the cigarette. ‘Why? What will you achieve by winning their approval, I wonder?’
‘One of my men has made the claim that you, Alastair were responsible for the cold-blooded murder of the Sergeant.’ He held up his hand. ‘Alright. Not cold-blooded. In hot-temper perhaps, but murder certainly.’
‘Really Drummond? What on earth are you thinking? He laughed; the sound ugly, sinister. ‘Why would you take the word of one of them over me?’ He closed the distance between them, standing fleering eye to eye. ‘Can you imagine the reaction of Divisional staff? Your man Hughes will go to the gallows. Unless of course, you have a corroborating witness.’ His head tilted in query, a pouting smile on his lips. ‘No?’ Their shoulders brushed as he passed.
‘I believe him Captain Aird.’ Jimmy turned and they were once more face to face.
‘You need to keep a professional distance Lord Echo. These cattle will tell you almost anything if it suits.’ The ugly smile re-appeared. ‘Goodness…I heard that one of your own privates was servicing your Fiancee, Lady Marjorie.’ A fist, blurring sight, took Aird on the point of the chin. He crashed to the floor. He sat on his backside, blood at his nose and lip.
‘Just be aware that I know about you Alastair. You won’t press any of my soldiers.
‘What on Earth? What have you done sir?’ Major General Harper stood confused, impatient for answers. Aird rose to his feet, swiping at his battered mouth.
‘Captain the Lord Echo, Sir.’ Jimmy made his salute.
‘Ah, Drummond; General Charteris’ young gentleman. Take yourself off sir. I’ll deal with you later.’ The general turned toward his staff captain. ‘The full story Alastair. What just happened here?’
Jimmy was dismayed by the speed of his retreat. When he regained the steps of the chateau he pulled himself up. There was still strength in the late autumn sun as he lifted his eyes to the sky. He took a breath, deep and audible. He blew the exhalation over his lips, his emptying lungs helping to anchor his racing thoughts. His steps lighter and more determined, he walked the wide drive without a glance at the ivory tower he’d just left.
Rutger Vollen stooped to the breech chamber of the massive fieldgun. The cordite smelled strange; more acidic, a chemical decomposition. For long seconds he pondered the phenomenon that had brought him.
Cummings and Aird meet to discuss entry into the village. The Rifles’ blood is up and the advance resumes.
Once the objective is secured, the Colonel is killed by a german sniper. Martin witnesses the death and takes it very badly.
Major Aird is promoted to command of the Battalion. He is told that the battalion will return to the front line before Christmas to defend a possible German counter-attack
Aird visits Alise and announces his promotion.
Billy and Maggie meet in Amiens. Paint Billy’s inner relief that Marjorie wants to end things.
Jimmy is sent to Alise for Psychotherapy
Douglas and Stewart in confrontation.
Douglas tells Stewart of Davy’s last words.
Douglas’ episode at Martin’s execution.
Stewart has married the mother of Martin’s bastard child. Douglas asks if he is still serious about giving him Davy’s share. He then gives it back to Davy for Martin’s son.
Alan takes fright and runs away. Everyone is witness to this. He is hit by a shell burst and fractures his spine, losing the use of his lower body.
In hospital Alan admits he ran because he had something to live for - His one and only love - Eck. Now he is surprised at his fear of death; he no longer feels anything in his lower body and so cowardice is not a problem; still being alive is.
Aird makes light of the Rifles, and Jimmy claims that they are Aird’s Rifles too, despite his misgivings. In many ways it is a defining moment. Aird is left to ponder the truth in the Captain’s opinion.
We need a scene between Brodie and Jimmy. It is an opportunity to summarise the story of the Rifles. They discuss the poetry of Billy Morrison; the existence of homosexual love in the fishing communities; the reality and misconception of cowardice; the new world ushered in by the Great War.
He doesn’t know that Alise loves him. Billy knows but hasn’t told him. He feels guilty when he hears that Aird is dead.
The only people who know about the murder of Ewan Campbell are:
Jimmy Hughes; Jimmy Drummond; Billy and Brodie.
Lisette is at the side of the road in Albert. Martin stops to speak. She is making her way North as it is getting harder to live in Amiens for the Jews Brodie persuades her to stay until after the Division is pulled out of the line.
Billy refuses to go through the tunnel. Drummond stays with him and they confront their differences. The upshot is that Billy gets through, though the relationship seems little better.
Eck and Alan acknowledge their love. Eck it is who must make all the running.
Very soon now we will come to grips with the Germans. It’s strange, but I don’t hate them. How can I hate a man for doing for his country what I do for mine? It is much easier to hate the mindless fury of shells and bombs they send us.
As per scrivener
Rab mentions Jimmy’s Wound. From the back?
Davy’s Words: Tell ma brither I forgive him. I know about the money. It doesn’t matter now; he’s ma brither and a love him.
Stewart attacks Douglas, who fends him off easily. The new Batt Adjutant turns up and Douglas lies to save Stewart.
Stewart speaks to Brodie, who suggests that Douglas has been loyal and brave in staying with Davy on High Wood, on bringing him back after the retreat, on speaking up to save Stewart at the fight.
He also tells Stewart that Douglas has kept his guilty secret, although Brodie makes it clear that he has always known.
An affirming scene with Stewart asking for Douglas’s forgivenness. He claims that Douglas should have Davy’s legacy; his share in the fishing trawler. Douglas refuses.
The closing of the circle and the impetus for Billy to finally approach Rab, with whom he has always had a stormy relationship.
Eck threw himself into the shell crater. The assault went forward above ground and he smiled at the loud, rattling machine-gun fire. He brought the pistol from its hiding place in his battle-dress. He examined it with great care before cocking the mechanism and holding it above his head. Crawling up the side of the crater he put his head above the lip. In one swift movement he spun to face the sky and bent his right leg at the knee. The muzzle of the revolver fit the dimple in his knee and he fired. With a fierce effort of will he threw the pistol out over the edge of the crater, then subsided, unconscious
The war made him what he was. If we’d all been at hame he would just have been a greengrocer. We wouldn’t have palled around wae him, but we’d have nodded tae him in the passing.
It would be daft tae credit that the war changed all of us but no him. He was a brave bastard in the end; and we learned tae follow him.
It’s strange that he survived the War. He lived through all of that, but couldnae live wae himsel efter it wiz o’er.
Billy took the worn letter out of his kilt pocket. He knew all the words. He was comfortable between the lines. And he drew strength from the contact with his fingers.
‘So tell me why a writer like yerself can’t pen a wee reply Billy?’
‘It’s not as easy as all that Martin. She’s just like her brother.’ He smiled. ‘No. They get it from their mother, Mary. Anne looks you in the eye and then slays ye with her honesty.’ Billy sighed. ‘She would give me everything she has…and…I don’t know what I can offer in return.’ The shrug was eloquent. ‘Not nearly enough; that’s for sure.’
‘Well you could tell her that, could ye no?’ Martin peered down the clean and oiled barrel of his rifle. ‘You’re the lad for the words Billy. Weave yer magic. This is a big fight comin’ up. Gie her a few words tae hang on tae.’ He nodded. ‘Kind words Billy. Kind words.’
‘Right lads, fall in out on the road.’
‘Am I hearing right Martin?’ Billy grinned. ‘Advice about being true to a woman?’ They spilled onto the road, jostling for space with the rest of the company.
‘Mind what I say Billy. Don’t gie her yer bright unvarnished truth. Tell it gentle.’
The whole of the Brigade was on the move. More than 12,000 men, marching in column, they filled the road as far as the eye could see. By noon, the battalion were marching through the narrow streets of Albert. The colonel marched with his men. It was a point of honour and the battalion recognised and cherished the gesture.
‘The French have had two years of this dreadful war. The sight of marching men no longer excites them, and yet…. they still flock to see our highlanders.’
‘Indeed Sir.’ Jimmy Drummond held back the sudden urge to laugh; feeling the same joy as the men they commanded. Women were in the majority, though there were men in the crowd. Factory hands, market-bound farmers, stiff-collared bank clerks adrift in a sea of French womanhood. When they left the town centre the crowd thinned again, and the streets of workers’ houses were almost deserted. Lisette was easy to spot, standing in a knot of refugees.
‘Lisette. What are you doing here?’ Martin Robertson fought his way out of the ranks. ‘You’re supposed tae be in Amiens, lass. Waiting for me.’
‘See to that man there, Sergeant Smith. Get him back into ranks.’ Drummond turned towards the Colonel. ‘It’s Robertson, Sir And his woman, I believe.’
‘Tell him he has ten minutes and then he must catch us up, please.’
‘It’s ok Jimmy. He won’t let us down.’ Drummond turned and headed toward Martin.
By the time the battalion was again in countryside, Martin had rejoined the ranks. Lisette’s appearance in Albert worried him.
‘Where are ye going lass? If you move North you’ll be running into trouble. How would I ever find ye again?’ Martin pulled her to his chest, her hair barely touching his chin. She lifted her eyes to his. ‘I can’t leave the boys, or the Colonel. I owe him my life ye see. By rights they could have shot me.’ She reached to stroke his face; wordless yet eloquent. He pulled a handful of crumpled francs from his kilt. ‘Here. These folk can go on if they want; but I want you to go back to Amiens. Solange at the estaminet will put you up and I’ll be able to find ye when we finish this sorry business.’ He kissed her then; he held her briefly; he spoke for her alone, then ran to catch up. Lisette stood long after he was out of sight.
Unseasonal October rain returned in the early afternoon, making it tough going for the Scots. The Furies fed from their discomfort. The Rifles bickered amongst themselves.
‘Yer a parcel o’ bloody schoolbairns.’ Brodie grimaced at the steady stream of water neath his brow. ‘Douglas. Take charge o’ these fucking idiots before I have too.’
‘Yes, sarge.’ The big African felt himself the least suited of the highlanders to deal with these weather conditions. Oh for a chance to kick off these tight boots and feel the warmth of strong sunlight on my shoulders, he prayed. The battalion broke into single file sections as they reached the trench system. Water lay above the level of the duckboards. The sides of the trench glistened with running water, and vapour rose in a mist just above ground. Their world narrowed to a funnel and Billy Morrison’s worst nightmare lay in wait in the thickening fog.
‘What’s the hold up there?’ Brodie came to the head of his file, where all progress had stopped. They were in a queue. In front was a narrow tunnel, dark at the mouth, deep water in the bottom.
‘It’s about twenty feet long Brodie; but that’s it, we’ve arrived in the reserve trench.’ Sergeant McIvor swept his glengarry from his head and wrung the water out. ‘Thank God.’
The files of men edged forward to dip beneath the roof of the tunnel. The water came to their knees, their progress echoing off the slick, dark walls.
‘Here, what’s the matter Billy?’ Stewart Gourlay tried to catch his pal by the shoulder.
‘It’s ok; you boys go on ahead.’ Billy stood to the side of the trench and beckoned those behind to pass into the tunnel. He still leaned against the side of the trench ten minutes later when Brodie came back through the tunnel.
‘Billy? What’s the matter wae you? He reached his pal. ‘C’mon, Wee Eck’s got the kettle on.’ Billy mumbled to someone over Brodie’s shoulder. ‘What’s that? What did you say, man?’
‘I can’t go through there. I’m sorry, but I’ll no dae it.’ Billy tried to move back up the trench but Brodie had a firm grasp of his webbing belt. And then Captain Drummond and Jimmy Hughes found them.
‘Sergeant Smith. Morrison.’ The two pals came to attention.
‘Sir.’ They both saluted.
‘Is there a problem Sergeant?’
‘No. Not really Sir. All sorted out; isn’t that right, Billy?’
‘I can’t go in there Brodie. You know that.’ Billy spoke in a desperate whisper. ‘Ever since the business wae English John… remember?’ Brodie peered over his shoulder at Drummond and Jimmy.
‘Leave him to me, Sir. He’s jist a bit jumpy about the…’ He waved his hand in a vague manner at the tunnel just ahead. ‘He was caught under a cave-in back in Flanders.’
‘Sergeant Smith. Your duty is to the platoon. You go and see to your men. Take Hughes with you; I’ll see to Private Morrison.’ Brodie hesitated, lost in contemplation. ‘Ok Sergeant; run along. He’ll be safe with me.’ Drummond moved into the space left by his sergeant. He watched until the two men were in the tunnel then offered his cigarette-case to Billy. ‘Cigarette?’ He grinned. ‘I’m sure you believe your day has just gotten worse, Morrison.’ Billy stood transfixed, his gaze on the busy tunnel. ‘Take it, man.’ The tremor in Billy’s hand was more apparent as he reached to pluck the cigarette from the tin, his eyes still fixed on the black void. The Captain blew spent smoke then leaned towards Billy.
‘You realise of course that you present me with a priceless opportunity here, Morrison? A coward in the face of the enemy… Yes, I believe that’s how they’d view it. I could have you shot Morrison,’he mused.
‘I won’t go in that hole… Sir.’ The sharp sting of a lungful of smoke bared his teeth. ‘So there you have it.’
‘And what of Lady Marjorie? What will she make of your refusal?’
‘Oh Your Lordship will be sure to blacken my name there.’ Billy’s bared teeth were no longer the result of cigarette smoke. ‘If she means that much to you then just tell her, and be done wae it.’
‘But there we have the problem, old man.’ A quizical smile, a long theatrical pause, then the whisper. ‘I love her, Billy.’ The use of his christian name tugged him back to the present. ‘Yes, I love Marjorie Anstruther. In a way that neither she, nor you, can comprehend. Jimmy Drummond’s eyes were on the floor of the trench. He ground his cigarette butt in the mire, and only then raised his eyes. ‘I could no more accept being her second choice than you… Nor can I stand to see her suffer because her lover won’t hazard the transit of a single dark tunnel.’ The raised eyebrows were designed to provoke a response. ‘Now Morrison… why don’t you show me what it is that Her Ladyship sees in you?’ The elegant sweep of his hand showed Billy his way forward. A moment to ponder and then the swift movement to dip at the mouth of the tunnel.
The two men emerged on the far side in gathering gloom. By the light of a distant explosion, each man saw the other clear.
‘I do believe your man Clark has the char brewing, Morrison.’ His gloved hand touched the brim of his helmet and he was gone. Billy shook his head, unsure how he should view the events of the last fifteen minutes.
‘Three days we’ve spent gazing oot at all that dead ground.’ Stewart rapped his fingers against his head. ‘Then the day before we’re supposed tae advance across it, they postpone it for a week. What’s the matter wae these people?’
‘You can see at a glance why it would be impossible to cross such wet, muddy ground. And this rain too.’ Douglas seemed obliged to defend the Staff. Contempt distorted Stewart Gourlay’s voice.
‘This isn’t a bare-arsed, barefoot African war. We’re a modern British army ya ….’ His anger drained away leaving the vague remnants of his prejudice.
Billy leaves the trench.
Rab thinks it’s him.
Well I’m not sorry that he’s dead. It didn’t come quick enough for me. But I can pray that he rests in peace now. I’ll gie him that at least.
Sees a young officer of the HLI brought in on stretcher.
I thought we had got passed aw that Brodie?
Well maybe not just yet Rab!
Eck is repatriated and is free to look after Alan. (The reader must not be aware of this until the denouement in the final two chapters.
Sets him thinking of Drummond
He needs to see Lady Marjorie
Asks if he can go home next leave.