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Buttons and Bayonets: A Small History of the Great War

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I. Button

There was a man in the dugout, half invisible in the shadows cast by the paraffin lamp. Peter had his revolver out before the man saw him and leapt to his feet, saluting. He was in British uniform.

'Good lord, Corporal - ' Bishop? No, not Bishop. Damn. The man had only turned up last night, but Peter hated forgetting a name. He could guess what the men thought of officers who forgot their names.

'Bunter, sir,' the corporal said, with the crisp precision of a man who has worked hard to lose an accent.

'Corporal Bunter. I nearly shot you! I thought Fritz must have taken the trench while I was away hearing what he was meant to be up to. Charming surprise and all that, but why are you lurking in here?'

'I was sewing a button onto your shirt, sir.' Bunter gestured to the table, where the shirt lay next to the lamp. It looked as if Bunter had somehow managed to press it, too.

'Whatever for?'

'I noticed yesterday that it was coming loose, sir.'

They'd only spoken for two minutes, in lamplight that could be better described as twilight. Bunter must have eyes like a sniper. 'But you're not my batman.'

'I understood that you did not have one, sir.'

'The last chap was killed. I haven't - is this a sort of application for the vacancy, Corporal Bunter?'

'I was batman to Major Sir John Sanderton, sir, before he was killed. And before the war I served as first footman in his household.'

Peter took as close a look at Bunter as the light allowed. His uniform was tidier than even NCOs usually bothered with in the forward trenches, his hair neatly brushed, his boots recently polished and his hands spotless. There was a calm about him more profound than the expressionless face of a well-trained servant, something that suggested a cool head in a tight spot. 'How's your shooting and your bayonet work?' Cool head or not, Peter didn't care to have a man beside him in an attack who was only good for sewing on buttons.

'Acceptable, sir, I believe. I should be glad to demonstrate both tomorrow.'

Acceptable might mean acceptable, or it might--Peter thought it probably did--mean Bunter was the best shot in the company and a terror with the bayonet. 'All right, Corporal Bunter. If I see tomorrow that you can fight, then the extraordinary privilege of making my tea and polishing my boots shall be yours. Speaking of tea, if you could possibly conjure some up that doesn't taste like chlorinated mud, my lifelong gratitude will also be yours.'

'I will endeavour to give satisfaction, sir,' said Bunter, and Peter thought that somewhere behind his face he was very slightly smiling.

 

II. Pen

- a fine young officer, greatly respected by the men and well liked by us all. His cheerful courage gave heart to everyo-

'Bugger!'

'Sir?'

'This pen! Guaranteed to write under any conditions, I was told, but it's only bloody well gone and blotted the bloody page and I'll have to write the bloody thing over again. Trench pen, indeed.' Peter crumpled the page and threw it against the wall of the dugout. Bunter picked it up and put it in the bin. Peter would have liked to throw the pen, too, but Bunter would only pick it up and give it back without even a look of reproach. That was what Bunter did, pick things up, set things right, brush Peter's uniforms and keep him supplied with tea and paper and whisky so he could keep writing letters to dead men's families. 'Probably not its fault. I expect it's sick of all the awful hearty he-gloriously-sacrificed-himself-for-king-and-empire cant that I keep spewing out.'

'May I, sir?' Bunter looked closely at the pen's nib and cap. 'I believe the seal is slightly cracked, due perhaps to the wetness of the conditions.'

'Slightly cracked? Yes, I expect that'll be the trouble. Why should pens be immune?'

Bunter had started putting the kettle on and did not immediately answer. Sensible fellow. It wasn't right to talk to him like this. Couldn't be good for his morale, to hear what was happening to Peter's. 'I should imagine, sir,' Bunter said, his back half-turned as he busied himself with the tea tin, 'that the conventional sentiments you express bring some comfort to the bereaved, while a more accurate and personally satisfying account might not do so.'

'No. Can't say "Your son was twenty years old and better suited to playing cricket than leading men into machine gun fire," or "Your husband spoke of you often but consoled himself adequately among the local filles de joie." Certainly not "He was loudly cursing the stupidity of generals when a shell blew him to bits."'

'No, sir.'

'But what can one say? That's the trouble. I'm so damned sick of these letters when there's nothing to say.'

Bunter was cutting a perfect slice from a lemon Peter's mother had sent. Peter thought If I asked you what I should say to your mother if you're killed, what would you answer? But that, too, could not be said.

 

III. Bayonet

Bunter was sitting on a crate just outside the dugout, in the light and what passed for fresh air. He was cleaning his bayonet. Still cleaning his bayonet. He'd been cleaning it twenty minutes ago when Peter had sent off a runner with his report.

'Do you require anything, sir?' Bunter asked, his hand still drawing a cloth along the blade.

'Come inside for a moment.' When Bunter had done so, Peter let the door curtain fall shut behind them. 'Are you all right?'

'Yes, sir. Of course, sir.' Bunter drew himself up from his usual straight but unobtrusive posture and stood to attention.

'It's not a court martial, man. At ease.' Bunter managed to make standing at ease look as rigid as standing to attention, which of course it was: just another prescribed posture out of the drill book. Peter wanted to tell him to relax, but what a paradoxical order that would be. 'Now, honestly, are you all right?'

'Yes, sir.'

'What were you doing, then? Is there a competition? Cleanest and best-polished bayonet in Europe wins a flitch of bacon?'

'We're meant to keep them clean, sir. Clean and sharp.'

'All the better to gut you with, my dear.'

Bunter's face did not change, but he took an audible breath. 'Yes, sir.'

'So you used it today. Don't know how you found a German close enough to stab, though. I thought they were all crouching behind their Maxim guns.'

For perhaps thirty seconds Bunter did not speak. A muscle near his eye twitched once. Then came a breathless rush of words. 'He was wounded, lying at the edge of a shell-hole. An officer. He must have been lying there for a day or more. When he saw me he raised his revolver. It - I don't think he even knew what he was doing, sir. It was only instinct. And I - that was instinct too. The blade got caught in him. It must have been my fault, the wrong angle. So I put my foot on him to brace myself and pulled it out, and the force tipped him over into the hole. I don't know if he was dead, sir.'

Peter poured a large whisky and handed it to him, Bunter drank it in a gulp and said, 'I've killed men before, sir. At least I think I have. Shooting, it's hard to be sure. But I've never used the bayonet. His blood was all over it.'

As if they didn't see blood every day. But it's the little straws, piling up . . . a little blood, a little spilt ink. 'Right,' Peter said, and laid a hand on Bunter's shoulder. 'Well, it's clean enough now. Which is more than can be said for anything else in this company, including me. I've heard a terrifying rumour of inspections, so have a look at my kit, will you? Smarten everything up even beyond your usual standard, if that's possible.'

'Yes, sir.' Bunter must have known it was a lie; he heard every rumour first and was better at sorting true from false than the whole of Military Intelligence. Peter hoped he knew, too, that it wasn't a punishment. Just a way to stop him thinking for a while and keep him away from that damned bayonet.

'Oh, and Bunter, put the gramophone on, will you? Let's have something cheerful.'

 

IV. Insignia

'Congratulations, Sergeant Bunter.'

'Thank you, sir.' Bunter scarcely lifted his eyes from the three-striped patches in his hand, For once he looked a little foolish, turning them dazedly round. It would have been gratifying, if only he'd seemed happier about it.

'I've never been so pleased to recommend a promotion. If I could have promoted you to general I'd have done it. With your terrifying efficiency, you'd tidy up the whole show in no time and actually have us home by Christmas. Unfortunately the requirements for promotion to general seem to include a walrus moustache and a head made of solid bone.'

Bunter seemed not to notice these subversive remarks, and not in the usual way he didn't notice when Peter talked too much, too openly. Unusually, an expression crossed his face for a moment, one Peter would have sworn was anxiety. Was it a mistake, after all, to have got him promoted? Some men didn't want responsibility, couldn't bear it, and given what a chap could end up responsible for these days, Peter could scarcely blame them. It wasn't what he would have expected of Bunter, though.

'I didn't dare to say too much about what a treasure I'd got, ' Peter continued, 'in case some envious rat without his own paragon of an NCO tried to pinch you. In fact I gave the colonel a very good bottle of scotch and wheedled him into a promise not to transfer you away. Unless of course you want a transfer, in which case I shall sigh like Marianna in the moated grange but not stand in your way. But whether you stay or go, I do hope you'll hang about long enough to train my new batman.'

Now at last he had Bunter's attention. 'New batman, sir?'

'Well, you can hardly keep on brewing my tea and polishing my boots when you've got three stripes up, can you? No, it's the wide world for you, Bunter mine, or as much of it as you can see while you're conducting kit inspections and shouting orders in that special voice God only gives to sergeants.'

'Can't I, sir? That is . . . is it a regulation that a sergeant can't be a batman?'

'Well, no. I don't think so. The colonel's batman is a sergeant. But the colonel is a colonel, while I am a major so newly stamped that the ink is still wet. Anyway, as a sergeant you'll have responsibilities undreamt of by batmen.'

'What about my responsibility to you, sir? It doesn't seem right to leave you. That is, I beg your pardon, sir. If you no longer require my services, then . . . ' Bunter trailed off. It was odd to see him tongue-tied.

'Don't be absurd. I'm not sacking you. If you want to stay on, I'd be a damn fool to object. The price of a virtuous batman is beyond rubies, and . . . well, I've been meaning to say, after the war if you find you want to go back into service, there'll be a place for you with me.'

'Thank you, sir' Bunter said, as though that were the promotion and the sergeant's stripes just a bit of fancy dress.

'You'll have an awful lot to do now. But I suppose you can manage it if anyone can.'

'I am grateful for your confidence in me, sir. Would you care for some tea? It's a cold night.'

 

V. Barbed Wire

Nearly twelve hours now, and he was still at it, whoever he was: moaning, gurgling, sometimes screaming, sometimes sobbing quietly enough that it was possible to forget him, until the wind changed and brought the sound back. Sometimes there were words, but nothing recognisable as English or French or German or, Private Griffiths said, as Welsh. Perhaps the poor bugger was Flemish or Indian. Or perhaps his jaw and teeth were smashed to pieces.

'For God's sake, hurry up and die,' Peter said under his breath.

Bunter said something indistinguishable, and Peter had to take the wads of paper out of his ears and ask him to repeat himself. 'Did you have an order for me, sir? I didn't quite hear it.'

'No, nothing. It's only . . . ' Peter jerked his head in the direction of the wire.

'Yes, sir. I believe . . . I believe the sound has begun to weaken, sir.'

'Then why can I still hear it so damned well? No, don't answer that, I know why. I could almost wish somebody would start shelling and finish him off, or at least drown him out.'

'It would be a mercy, sir.'

'I keep thinking . . . well, if it's ever me, Bunter, don't let it go on. End it. Discreetly, you know--I wouldn't want you to get into trouble--but I'm begging you. If it's ever me out there, find a way.'

'Sir - '

'I'm not joking.'

Bunter looked up from a silver photograph frame he was polishing. Barbara's picture was in it, smiling and carefree. It ought to be put away; it didn't belong here. 'I will do my best, sir.'

'Thanks, Bunter.' What ridiculous things words were. Thanks, as though Bunter had given him a drink or lent him a fiver.

'And what if it's me, sir?'

'You?' Bunter was unkillable. Bunter carried safety and calm wrapped around him like the odour of sanctity; nothing as untidy as death would happen to him. Certainly nothing as untidy as getting caught on the wire.

'Please, sir. Please.' His voice was vehement and rough with fear. It might sound that way if he really was . . .

Christ. Christ, no. It wasn't possible. But Peter said, 'I promise. I'll look after you. If, well, if anything.' And he knew that it was possible after all.

 

VI. Drawing (Imperial War Museum document 002924/01)

The paper--inexpensive notepaper that, because of its acid content, is badly yellowing and crumbling at the edges--is small, no more than twenty centimetres by twelve, and the drawing, made with an ordinary writing pencil, is smudged. Some attempt has been made to conserve it, but the Imperial War Museum's resources are limited and this sketch of an unknown British major by an unknown artist is not very important. According to the records, it was a gift in 1958 from Michael Bunter, who found it among some letters sent during the First World War to his grandmother by his great-uncle, Sergeant Mervyn Bunter, Rifle Brigade.

The drawing shows the head and shoulders of a young man in uniform. His fair hair is combed sharply back, but a few strands have fallen loose. He gazes off into the middle distance, unsmiling. There are pronounced dark circles under his eyes.

It isn't a very good drawing. It manages to capture an emotion, but not a likeness. No one has ever recognised it as Lord Peter Wimsey, although the man was often photographed and had a moderately famous face in his day. In fairness one must admit that Lord Peter was usually photographed smiling and looking fatuously self-satisfied, not exhausted and worried. Still, this clearly isn't the work even of a talented amateur. There is something hesitant about it, almost embarrassed, and the lines are stiff, depthless, lifeless.

This drawing is among the reason Bunter turned to photography, although no one ever knew that but Bunter.

 

VII. Entrenching Spade

Peter woke coughing, with dirt in his lungs, in his mouth, coating his teeth. It was in his eyes, too, when he opened them. He coughed for some eternity and managed to move his left arm enough to wipe his face.

Someone not very far away was saying his name. 'Major Wimsey, sir, is that you? Are you all right? Sir, can you hear me?'

Bunter. Who else could it be, here in the dark after the world had exploded, but Bunter? 'I can hear you.' The words were thick with earth and set him coughing again. He closed his eyes. No point keeping them open when there was no light at all.

'Easy, sir. Shallow breaths. There's a lot of dust.'

Dust was the last thing Peter remembered. The whistle of a shell and a pandaemonium of noise and dust. 'I should think there would be in the underworld. We are grave men now, Sergeant Bunter.'

'It's all right, sir. They'll be digging for us, don't you worry.'

'Why bother? Think of the time it would save, leaving us here. Inefficiency, that's the trouble with this war. They ought to bury us all straight away and eliminate the waiting.' It was terribly funny. He pictured dozens of men digging frantically at the rubble, and why? Better to leave them at peace. Peter began to sing, quavery and out of tune. 'Not a friend, not a friend greet / My poor corse, where my bones shall be thrown / A thousand thousand sighs - '

'Sir, are you sure you're all right? Are you bleeding? Did you hit your head?'

'I'm happy. Happy are the dead, Bunter mine. It's tranquil here, like a holiday, just you and me and the dust. And the worms, though I haven't felt any. I expect they'll be along soon.'

'Sir, I'm going to try to get to you. I think if I can move this board a little . . . everything's going to be fine, sir.'

'Call me Peter.'

'Sir?'

'We're dead, Bunter, or as good as. There's no rank in the afterlife. If we see God--or Lucifer, which I consider more likely although I can't imagine what you've done to deserve it--then we can call him sir. But I'm Peter. May I call you Mervyn?'

'Call me anything you like, but lie still and take shallow breaths, sir.'

'Peter.'

'Peter, then.'

'Are you Welsh, Mervyn? It's an awfully Welsh-sounding name, Mervyn Bunter.'

'It was my grandda's name. He came from Pontypridd. I'm going to try to shift a bit of wood, here, so tell me if soil starts falling on your side. I don't want to bring the whole bloody lot down on us.'

'You swore, Mervyn! Well done. You ought to be buried more often. It relaxes you marvellously.'

'Best not to talk too much, sir. Peter. I don't know how much air we've got.'

Peter lay quiet in the dark for a long time. Sometimes dirt came down on him, and then he told Mervyn, who swore again each time. It was still charming to hear him, but Peter's euphoria was passing off. He grew cold, and his legs, which he couldn't move, started to hurt. This, he told himself, was something to be grateful for, since if his back were broken he wouldn't feel them at all. He was thirsty, too, and he badly needed to urinate. Another bloody inefficiency, he thought, which made him laugh to himself, but it was a different kind of laughter from before.

After some amount of time that he would never be able to estimate, the air around him suddenly freshened a little. 'Mervyn?'

'I've broken through, but it's only a little hole. There's a beam in the way that I can't shift and I can't get round.'

Peter groped to his left and found the hole, about as big around as a man's calf. He reached through, stretching, and nearly stuck his fingers into Mervyn's eyes.

'My God, sir, you startled me. I didn't know you were that close. How are you feeling?'

'Peter, remember?'

'Yes, but how are you feeling? Does your head hurt? Do you remember what happened?'

'Yes, yes. I'm not mad, or no madder than I was. We took a German trench, there was a shell, the trench collapsed. And it's - it's ludicrous. Don't you see it's ludicrous? Living in a trench, buried in a trench, perhaps they'll dig us out only to put us in a grave. We're in a grave already, we've been in a grave since 1914, all of us. We should all just have dug our own little holes and buried ourselves quietly rather than make all this fuss.'

Bunter's hand caught his. It was warm and gritty with grave-dirt. 'They'll be digging for us. They'll get us out.'

'Aren't you ever frightened? I'm so frightened I have to laugh. Ludicrous, from ludus. Means play.'

There was a long silence. 'I'm frightened all the time. But I'm trying to be frightened for you and not for me, now, or else I might start screaming. If I think of you I can stay sane.'

'Don't let me go,' Peter said, although his arm ached, extended awkwardly as it was.

'No.' Bunter stroked the back of Peter's hand with his thumb.

'It'll be all right. Even if we die here, it'll be all right. Just keep hold of my hand.'

'Yes.'

Time passed. Peter's arm cramped and then went mostly numb. The pain of his bladder forced him to urinate where he lay. They didn't talk. Sometimes he slept, or at least he dreamed. At last there was the sound of digging.

His fingers had locked around Bunter's and he couldn't let go even to be lifted from the tomb. Someone had to pull their hands apart.

 

VIII. Uniforms

Two uniforms lay untidily on the faded Aubusson carpet of a Paris hotel. Two men lay on the bed, locked together in a criminal act for which the King's Regulations prescribed a minimum punishment of ten years in prison.

They had never meant to end up in this bed together, not quite. Not when neither of them used his leave to go home. Not when they went to Paris instead and checked into a large suite with a servant's room attached. Their plans were conventional. One of them had meant to go to the Opéra; the other, who had seen nothing of France but battlefields, to the Louvre and to a café to try French food. They had joked about pretty mademoiselles.

It is not easy for men who have been buried and resurrected, men who have died and come back from the dark earth, to behave conventionally.

A little while earlier, when their uniforms were still on their bodies and they had done nothing more scandalous than touch hands, one of them had said, 'The law doesn't matter anymore. Law, propriety, we're free of it. Nothing matters but this.' The other had understood what this was. 'Nothing else ever mattered to me,' he said. 'Nothing that I want to remember.'

One said, 'I can't die without knowing. Even if it's only the once.'

One said, 'Shut up about dying.'

Later, when their bodies were satisfied and their hearts vibrated like glass on the edge of shattering, one would say, 'Tell me this won't be the only time. I don't think I can live without it now, and I'm bloody well not going to die without it. Without you.'

And one would say, 'Shut up about dying. Kiss me again.'

 

IX. Gramophone

The disc came to its end with a hiss like a last breath. Peter laid down his pen, got up, and started it again.

'No need to trouble yourself, sir. I would have done it.' It was the sixth time in a row (or the seventh? eighth, perhaps?) that Peter had played this recording of excerpts from Götterdämmerung, but nothing in Bunter's tone even hinted irritation. And unlike Captain Davies, he hadn't sneered about 'Hun music.'

'No no no no. No need for me to trouble you. You've got enough to do without me ordering you to put a gramophone needle back.'

'How is your letter coming along, sir?'

'Not so well. I can't - there's nothing to say, you know that's always been the trouble. Poor old Rossley. I hardly knew him, he'd been here less than a week. Had to ask Malverton. Seems Rossley was only eighteen. He was going up to Cambridge to read classics once the war was over, won an exhibition in Greek and had all sorts of ideas about Troy. But he was frightfully keen. Perhaps he saw it all through a veil of Homer, having that sort of mind, and fancied himself a young Achilles choosing immortal fame. You know what it's like, waiting to go over the top, and he was as pale as the rest of us but he was smiling. I remember that smile. That's all there is of him in my mind, just a name and that blasted smile. Why do I have to remember that smile? Smiling and waiting for the order to come. And I gave the order and he was dead ten minutes later. That's what I mean, don't you see?'

'I'm afraid I don't follow, sir.' Bunter had stopped shining the buttons on Peter's spare uniform, or whatever he'd been doing, and hovered near the table. Peter would have liked to ask him to sit down, but Bunter still seemed to care about appearances.

'Orders, Bunter mine. I gave an order and he died. Cause and effect. If I hadn't ordered the men to attack, he'd be alive. So would Harrison and . . . '

'Allen, sir. But sir, the attack wasn't - '

'Wasn't my decision, I know. I had my orders too. That's the cause of it all. Orders. Horrid things. The war could end today if only everyone would stop giving orders.'

'I suppose so, sir, but - '

'Not one of us would be here if it weren't for orders. There'd be no attacks without orders, no shelling. Without orders we'd all go home, and a bloody lot happier we'd be, too. Why should we sit here in the mud trying to blow each other to bits? That chap had the right idea, the one with the letter, what was his name? Something foreign-sounding, which can't have done him any good . . . '

'Do you mean Lieutenant Sassoon, sir?'

'That's the man. Said it was wrong and he wouldn't fight anymore. They put him in a
madhouse in the end. But he's not mad. You can't be mad, can you, if you're telling the truth? Giving orders is what's mad, and I won't, I won't anymore.'

'Sir.' Bunter sat in the other chair and said in a low voice, 'Peter. Perhaps you ought to lie down and have a rest. You're tired.'

'Go to sleep and it will be better in the morning, Nurse used to say. But it won't. I'll wake up and I'll still be here. We'll all still be here.' Peter took Bunter's hand and didn't notice that Bunter twisted in the chair, trying to block the sight of it from anyone coming in the door. 'Anyway, I don't want to sleep alone. Come to bed with me, Mervyn. You must miss it as much as I do.'

'You know I do. But it isn't safe, Peter.'

'I know. I know. I'm sorry. Nothing - there's nothing I can do that's any good. It's all wrong. It's all dead and wrong and the grave's a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. I'm sorry.'

Peter began to cry, with his father's voice in his ears saying Don't blubber, boy, and the shame of it only made him cry harder, so that he found he couldn't stop.

 

X. Letters (from the unpublished papers of Lord Peter Wimsey held at Balliol College, Oxford; suppressed until 2013, 50 years after Lord Peter's death, on the instructions of Lord Peter's executor the 17th Duke of Denver)

20 August 1918
Dear Sir,

Please forgive me for sending this letter in care of your mother. I have been unable to find out where you are, so I have begged Her Grace to forward this to you.

I have had no word since you were taken ill and I cannot help worrying. The men ask after you and I have no news to give them. Please, sir, write to me if you can.

Yours respectfully,

M. Bunter (Sgt.)

 

4 September 1918
Dear Sir,

Your letter of August 29 arrived today. I am most relieved to hear that you will be leaving hospital soon and returning to your family. They must have missed you; I know all of us here miss you very much.

I apologise for the shortness of this letter, but I must give it to Lt. Elliott now to be read or I will miss today's post. Of course I am sure you remember that the letters we receive here are sometimes also read, which must be a slow process and a great burden on the officers who are responsible for it. Nevertheless I hope you will write to me again soon.

Yours respectfully,

M. Bunter (Sgt.)

 

15 October 1918
Dear Sir,

I am sorry to hear that you are still feeling low. I had hoped that being home again would do you more good. If you will forgive a cliché, sir, it is true that time is a great healer. Time will bring an end to the war and then we can all begin to forget what we have seen and what we have done. Time will bring us all home, too, wherever that may happen to be.

You are very good to remind me of the offer of a place in your household, but I assure you I had not forgotten. My intention to accept the place has never wavered. I will stay with you for as long as you wish. Then I hope I can look after you fittingly, sir.

Yours respectfully,

M. Bunter (Sgt.)

 

11 November 1918
Dear Sir,

It is over at last. And yet a peace still hardly seems possible. I have forgotten what peace is like.

What is happening in England today, sir? Is there joy and shouting in the streets? Here we are very quiet, like mice coming out of hiding when the cat goes away. But there are church bells ringing in the distance, the first I've heard in years.

I suppose it will be some weeks yet before I am back in England, but I will come to see you as soon as I may.

Yours respectfully,

M. Bunter (Sgt.)

 

19 December 1918
Dear Peter,

Fred Chambers is going home tomorrow and he's agreed to post this for me in England, so I can write you a real letter at last. I hope you didn't hate the awful ones I've been sending. I said as much as I dared, but that wasn't much when I knew Lt. Elliott would be reading every word.

It's going to be a rotten Christmas without you. I thought I'd be back in England by now. I thought we all would be. I ought to have remembered that 'home by Christmas' never works out. Think of me on the day. I'll be thinking of you.

You sounded wretched in your last letter. It worries me more than I can say. After I read it I had half a mind to desert and come running back to you, but getting myself shot wouldn't help either of us. But I fret, knowing that you need me there. It's doing you no good to be away from me, if you're unhappier now than you were in the trenches. I can guess some of the trouble (you're blaming yourself again, when it ought to be politicians and generals blaming themselves, but they never will). As for the troubles I can't guess, we'll sort them out together once I'm with you. It's my business to look after you now, not as a servant anymore but as, well, I suppose the best way to say it, though it may sound strange, is as a wife. And it's your business to let me.

Wait for me, Peter. It can't be much longer now. Wait and don't do anything foolish. You know what I mean. You've got to look after me, too. All that got me through the war was you.

I keep remembering Paris. 72 hours is so little, and worse still I can't hold it all in my memory the way I'd like. I've forgotten things, or I remember them through a fog. I want to hear your voice again. I want to touch you, and then everything will be clear.

Another thing I remember is what you said when we were buried in that trench. You'd been in a sort of dream for a while, but when we heard them shovelling down to us you said, 'Well, it's time to be alive again.'

That's now, Peter. We're buried in the darkness, but we'll be free soon, and it's time to be alive again.

Yours,

M.