Monday 11 November 2019

The King's Shilling

by Mark Readman 

weak tea

 Albert Lickiss walks by the mill on his way to the school the stone work is cold to his finger tips,. his boots echo on the cobbles beneath the arch that’s carrying the railway, there is a silence in the autumn air, its cold and misty in the north.

Albert is up early so he can count the panes of glass in the windows at school, it’s something he wants to remember forever, Miss Hughes had made him see how important mathematics would be, a glint from the ground catches his eye, a shilling that somebody has lost.
Albert is honest and would give it back to the owner but there’s no one around, placing the coin in his pocket he returns to the mill. This is his first day, fourteen years of age, the mill has a place for him, his mother and father had seen to that.

Albert is a big lad, looking older than his age and a quick learner.                                      
The work is heavy, bales of cotton are sorted on the top floor the heat and the noise coming from the looms below is unbearable at times, he likes to feel the coin in his pocket.
The locomotive makes a sound like thunder as it passes over the arch, with its cargo of cloth from the mill, on its way to the tailors to make uniforms, that’s what dad had said, and Albert’s mother did not want that sort of talk in the house.     

Albert now sixteen years plus, the war that dad had spoke of had started some time ago, the military men were going from town to town recruiting.  Albert had read the posters, The Country Needs You, God save the King, in his pocket his fingers feel the kings’ head on his lucky coin.
No one had claimed to have lost it and he never claimed to have found such an item, working in the mill he learnt many new skills and it had been said he could be a foreman one day. Albert has thoughts about this, how many years would he have to work before that happens.

It was on a Saturday in the town square; he watched as the men lined up and moved along to the table where an officer shouted out name. He was trying to keep out of the way but somehow Albert found himself in front of the officer, “Name!” “Albert” Christian name “Albert.”    Sign here the officer looked curiously at him. Along with the others being directed to the waiting trucks, Albert had no chance of saying good bye.

Before long he is on his way to France, on the ship he feels the uniform, could the cloth have come from his mill, he holds the silver coin thinking of home.                                           
 He’s not had time to write, his parents have no idea to his whereabouts’ they can only guess. Mother has written a letter telling of how much she misses her only son, he will never receive the letter as it is addressed to Albert Lickiss; the army have no record of this name.

The trenches are deep, filled with watery mud, for Albert it is a lonely place the older soldiers talk quietly amongst themselves, these battle hardened men the wounded moan and groan as they lay dying on the ground above, he counts them down as the area becomes quieter.
A soldier climbs the ladder a single shot is heard then a thud no one moves, there’s talk of going over the top and charging with bayonets fixed.

The night has been very quiet, the big guns are silent; some rifle shots pick off those who dare to look out onto the no man’s land. In the darkness just before dawn they are to climb the ladders and lay low, hundreds of men following orders getting ready for the element of surprise.                       

The order is given they all rush ahead, entangled in barbed wire some never stood a chance, the falling shells explode around them, machine gun fire mows them down fifty at a time, a bullet passes through Albert’s chest. 

As his life passes before him, his hand grasps his silver shilling taking one last look, as he counts panes of glass, he falls into a mire of mud and guts. His young body slips down into a crater; another shell explodes, throwing tons of mud over him and his silver coin.   

The decades have gone and many people have seen the plaque, inside the museum that used to be the mill, remembering those who did not return, from the Great War all the names are there to be read.
Except for the only son of Mr and Mrs Lickiss?                                                                                               Their family name like many others forever gone.                                                                                            But a mystery remains who was A. Albert, the first name on the plaque, recorded as missing in action. He and his coin remain unfound till this very day.

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