Sunday 18 January 2015

A Rotten Bloody War

This is the third part of a series which began with Retribution and continued with Nadezhda.


In a few hours the thunder would break over the city, and it crouched, like an animal awaiting the hunters, knowing the blow was about to fall.

Alyosha tried not to keep looking towards the west, towards the enemy city. Whenever he did, the tension gripped his throat and twisted his stomach. For the third time he began another walk around the tank, checking the tracks and wheels with a hooded torch.

“Stop that, fishling,” Akhmetov said. He was leaning on the hull, puffing nervously on a cigarette. His was only one of hundreds of red dots sprinkling the darkness of the little wood among the dark bulks of parked tanks. “You’re winding me up.”

“Remember that time we shed a track? I don’t want to go through that again.”

“Looking at it twenty times won’t make a difference. Nor is draining the main batteries checking over and over that they aren’t drained a great idea. I haven’t seen you stop moving in hours.” His voice took on a mocking litany. “Oil pump, gearbox, fuel, electrics, engine, transmission. Transmission, engine, electrics, fuel, gearbox, oil pump. You’re obsessed, fishling.”   

Alyosha shrugged. “It never hurts to make sure,” he said. “I mean, by this time tomorrow we won’t be able to find time for maintenance.”

“By this time tomorrow we’ll be lucky not to be dead.” Ahmetov took a final drag on the cigarette, threw it down and stamped on it. “That lot over there won’t be just waiting for us to roll over them, you know.”

Alyosha looked at him. “You really think they’ll fight hard? The war’s almost over.”

Akhmetov waved at the forest around them, his hand almost invisible except in the reflected glow of cigarettes and Alyosha’s hooded torch. “Everyone’s tense,” he said. “We all know that lot over there will fight, and fight hard. They’ve put kids on the front line, you know? Fourteen, fifteen year old boys, even girls.” He spat. “You know what kids are like? You tell them to do something, they’ll do it, even if they get killed. Because they want to please you.”

Alyosha leaned on the hull beside Akhmetov and switched off the torch. “Nurik,” he asked, “what are you planning to do when the war’s over?”

“In the unlikely event of us surviving, you mean?” Akhmetov’s expression was unreadable in the darkness. “Go back home and get back to college, I suppose.” He laughed harshly. “I was studying to be an agronomist when the war started, can you believe that? I thought I’d spend my life growing things.”

“You can still go back to growing things.”

“Oh sure, after all I’ve seen these last couple of years.” Akhmetov’s voice was heavy with irony. “You know who I see in my dreams these days? Old Chinggis Khan himself, and he keeps pushing a sword in my hands. Each time, I refuse to take it, so he gets more insistent and angrier.” He laughed without mirth. “Someday, I’ll take it, if only to stop him scowling at me. And then what? What can I do with a sword that I’m not already doing, loading shells for Sasha to shoot at other human beings?”

“Chinggis, huh?” Alyosha scratched his chin, which was rough with stubble. “That’s...I don’t know what to say.”

Akhmetov didn’t even pause to listen to him. “Back in training, I was with another former agronomist student – from Ukraine. When the Nazis attacked, he’d been ordered to drive a tractor over the living grain he’d just planted and nurtured; to destroy it all rather than leave it for the enemy. He couldn’t stop thinking about that, and that’s what he wanted revenge for. Strange, isn’t it? He wanted to make the Nazis pay, not for the destroyed cities and the dead people, but for making him drive a tractor over the grain.”

A flare rose in the west, a red point of light soaring through the darkness, briefly visible through a gap in the foliage. They watched it until it vanished.

“If I’d seen it out over the steppe, back home,” Akhmetov said softly, “I’d have said that was a meteor, a pretty meteor. Now, if I see a meteor I assume it’s a flare, and I wonder if it’s a signal for an attack.”

“They know we’re here, don’t they?”

“Of course they do, fishling, and they’re watching us just like we’re watching them, don’t worry.”

As though to emphasise what he’d just said, there was a series of explosions, close enough that Alyosha felt the vibrations through his boots. “Ours or theirs?” he asked.

“It’s all the same if it hits you.”

“You’ve never been in a real battle, have you, fishling?” Sasha dropped down from the turret and handed Akhmetov a flask. “Ever since you’ve joined the crew, all we’ve had is skirmishes, not battles.”

“He’s our lucky mascot,” Akhmetov said. “Our lucky fish.” He swallowed some of the vodka. “My grandfather was all religious,” he observed, passing the flask to Alyosha. “He’d have been horrified to think of me drinking. And I was his favourite too!”

Alyosha swirled around a little of the fiery spirit in his mouth, feeling it numb his tongue and the inside of his cheeks. He’d disliked vodka, but was getting increasingly used to the taste. Maybe once the war was over he’d have to learn to hate it again.

“The Starshina said we’d better get what rest we can while we can,” Sasha said. “Give me that flask if you’re not going to drink any more of it.”

Alyosha put his hands in his pockets and slouched, listening with half an ear to Sasha and Akhmetov talk as they passed the vodka back and forth. From the next tank, there was a noise of hammering as the crew tried to fix some defect. He smelt burned oil and diesel smoke.

Another flare rose in the distance, followed by a wavering line of tracer that stitched the sky with white dots. Alyosha watched it and wondered who’d fired it, and what they were thinking, and whether they were frightened of what was going to happen tomorrow.

He was frightened. Now, he thought, he could admit it to himself. At least if he kept it to himself nobody would laugh at him, though he had an idea that Sasha and Akhmetov wouldn’t laugh at him anyway. Over time, they’d finally begun to accept him as one of them, though he’d probably never take the place of Misha, the driver who’d been killed by the sniper. They’d been through too much with Misha for Alyosha ever to replace him.

But then, he thought, if Akhmetov was right about what would happen tomorrow, there might not be any need to worry about that anyway.

“Hey, fishling?” Sasha asked, poking him. “I asked you a question.”

“Huh?” Alyosha turned with a start.

“Don’t tell me you’re drunk already.” Sasha took a swallow from the flask and belched. “Do you have a girl to go home to or something?”

It was strange that they had never asked this before, and another sign that he was becoming accepted. “Not really. I mean...” His cheeks burned and he was grateful of the darkness. “I’ve never really talked to any girls, to be honest.”

“He’s right out of mama’s arms,” Akhmetov chuckled.

Sasha laughed. “Well, if we get out of this alive, you’ll be a war hero. No problem with girls, they’ll come flocking to you.”

“From all the other millions of soldiers to pick from, you mean?” Alyosha said. “Not likely.”

“There comes the Kombat,” Akhmetov said, as a hooded torch moved towards them down the line of tanks. They straightened to attention and Sasha put the flask away. The Kombat, a big man with a small moustache, nodded at them and moved on. “What would you do if you were an officer, Sasha?”

“Sit in a nice big office pushing pins into maps, that’s what I’d do.” Sasha snorted. “You wouldn’t find me tramping around in the dark preparing for an attack, you can be sure.”

“You should’ve been a German. They’d have given you the Knight’s Cross and put you on Hitler’s General Staff.”

“I once knew a German, you know,” Sasha said unexpectedly.

“What, before the war?”

“Yeah. I was training to be a machinist and he was attached to the factory as an advisor. He wasn’t a bad bloke, for a German. I wonder where he is now.”

“Maybe over there,” Akhmetov said. Nobody replied to that. There was no reply possible.

Fyodor materialised from somewhere. “Two hours to go,” he said. “All set for the glorious victory ride?”

They all laughed. “Fishling will see us safe,” Akhmetov said. “As long as fishling’s in the driver’s seat no harm can come to us.”

“And if I don’t?” Alyosha asked.

“Then it won’t make a difference, my boy.” Fyodor slapped him on the shoulder. “It won’t make a difference to anyone at all.”


The world was shivering with fear.

That was the best way Alyosha could think of it. The air trembled from the shockwave of the shells hurtling by overhead, and the ground shuddered like an earthquake as they smashed into the enemy city. Even through the padded lining of his leather helmet, the sound was so intense that he could barely hear the engine of the tank as he revved it. He was intensely grateful he wasn’t one of the artillerymen, and even more that he wasn’t on the receiving end.

“There’s going to be a lot of eardrums ruptured tonight,” Tereshchenko had said, just before the barrage had started. “It’s going to look and sound very impressive, but don’t be fooled – the Nazis will still be there when we go over, and they’re still going to fight.”

“They are?” Alyosha had asked. “But there can’t be many of them left after the artillery are through, surely?”

Tereshchenko had laughed sourly. “Remember Stalingrad? If the lot in there know what they’re doing, it’s going to be our turn to face the music.” He’d turned to the others. “As I said, we’ll be following the infantry in. Don’t go mistaking our soldiers for theirs.”

“What about civilians?” Sasha had asked. “Are they still there or have they been evacuated?”

Tereshchenko had shrugged and scratched his chin. “I don’t know. If they’re there, they’ll have to take their chances like anyone else.”

“The civilians won’t like the barrage,” Akhmetov had said. “The old men, the women, the children...”

“The Kombat said, watch out for the old men and the children,” Tereshchenko had replied. “The Nazis have armed them to fight us. Hitler Jugend and Volkssturm.”

“Old men and children?” Alyosha had asked. “What can they do?”

Tereshchenko had gazed at him bleakly. “Given enough motivation, Safonov,” he’d replied, “they can do anything.”

They’d been standing by the side of the tank then, going through the last minute briefing. Now the senior sergeant leaned out of the commander’s hatch and motioned them inside. The noise was too intense to hear him shout.

Alyosha rubbed his face with his hands, grasped the edges of the front hatch and climbed inside. The tank had become like home over the last few months, but each time he entered it, he had to get used all over again to the cramped interior, the smell of oil and gunsmoke, and the heat and vibration of the engine. And if they faced hard fighting in the city, he might not be able to leave it again for at least the coming day.

For the moment, though, Alyosha didn’t see how anyone could survive the barrage that was throwing the ground up and down like a stormy sea. The flashes of the explosions seen through the trees had merged into a continuous flickering light, red and orange and white, and shredded twigs from the trees overhead fell on the tanks like pieces of amputated limbs.

The lead tanks began to move off. Alyosha saw the sparks from their exhausts, and the clouds of diesel smoke caught his headlights. Stamping on the clutch, he leaned forward and pushed the gearshift into third.

The blow had fallen on the beast, and the hunt was on.


By the clock on the dashboard, it should be well past dawn, but it was impossible to tell.

Through the twin vision blocks on the closed forward hatch, Alyosha could only see a slice of the sky, which was black with the smoke from the burning buildings. The flames threw a lurid glow on the street, slick with water from broken pipes. His tank had been in the second line of advance, and so far hadn’t seen any fighting, but, as Tereshchenko kept reminding them over the intercom, that was bound to change.

“Roadblock ahead,” Tereshchenko said. Alyosha couldn’t see it from his seat, but he could hear the shooting. A T 34 ahead stopped, its turret swivelling, and fired off a shell. Another slowed, took up position, and fired too.

“Turn left, side street,” Tereshchenko ordered over the intercom. “Driver, turning to the left, twenty metres.” Alyosha pulled in the left tiller, turning the tank. They were now broadside on to the roadblock, and he had a sudden vision of a shell smashing into the side armour. Gritting his teeth to dispel the mental image, he eased the throttle forward.

There was a car lying on its side, partially blocking the turning, and its dark grey roof showed briefly in Alyosha’s vision block before the tank struck it. The T 34’s left side rose slightly as it rolled over the wreck. Alyosha eased the throttle forward and the tank was past the turn, the car spread across the  junction, a flattened ruin.

“Hope nobody was inside that,” Alyosha muttered.

“If they were,” Fyodor replied, “they were either dead or too badly hurt to get out. And they’re certainly dead now.”

Brown-clad figures raced up the pavements ahead, staying close to the buildings. Occasionally, one of them would stop to squeeze off a submachine gun burst, though it was impossible to tell what they were firing at. One of them turned at the tank’s approach and made hand signals up at the turret.

“Slow down,” Tereshchenko ordered. “Something’s up ahead.”

The ‘something’ proved to be a destroyed T 34, burning brightly, its turret knocked askew. From a tall building on the other side of an intersection, a storm of bullets rained down on the wrecked tank, several bouncing off Alyosha’s tank’s glacis and turret sides. “Close up to the other tank,” Tereshchenko said. “Close up and stop.”

The heat from the burning tank, and the smell of burning fuel and rubber, filtered past the closed hatch and stung Alyosha’s eyes and nose. He tried not to think of what had happened to the other crew. The red and yellow flames filled the vision blocks, licking out like hungry tongues.

“Stop,” Tereshchenko said.

There was a hollow boom and the tank shuddered as Sasha fired off a shell. Before the empty case had even finished clattering on the ammunition boxes on the turret floor, Akhmetov had already lifted another shell into the breech and rammed it home. The gun boomed again.

By the time Sasha stopped firing, the fighting compartment was full of gun smoke, the turret floor was littered with spent shell casings, and the inside of the tank felt like an oven. But the firing from the building opposite had slackened off.

“There goes the infantry,” Sasha said with satisfaction. Alyosha heard the sound of grenades going off in quick succession, like popcorn. The firing stopped completely.

“Building’s cleared,” Tereshchenko reported. “I’ll radio the Kombat and –“

With a shriek that seemed to split the sky, a salvo of shells landed on the street. The explosions were so loud that Alyosha thought he’d gone deaf. Debris came raining down, chunks of masonry bouncing off the tank’s armour.

“That’s our artillery!” Sasha yelled.

“What the hell are they doing?” Fyodor shouted. “They’ll be hitting us in a moment!”

“I’m trying to radio the Kombat,” Tereshchenko yelled. “Driver, reverse, fast as you can.” The shells were still falling. The entire street was a mass of flashes and smoke.

Suddenly the shelling stopped, as though someone had turned off a tap. It was so sudden that nobody could believe it for a moment. “Driver, stop,” Tereshchenko said at last. “Damn. After all we’ve been through, being hit by our own artillery would have been a pretty poor way to go.” 

“Well, that’s that.” Akhmetov was on his knees on the turret floor, dropping the empties into the ammunition boxes and loading fresh ready rounds into the turret racks. “I wish we could open up the hatches and get some fresh air, but you can’t have everything.”

“Yeah,” Fyodor said, “we could’ve been like the poor bastards in the other tank. Any idea whose tank that was?”

“No,” Sasha said, “and I don’t want to know. What happened with the artillery? Did someone call in a strike on the building we were shooting at?”

“Some screw up, for certain. Artillery bastards are sodding drunk all the time anyway.”

Alyosha didn’t say anything. The lining of his helmet was soaked with sweat and it was trickling down his face. His shoulders and the base of his neck ached with tension.

Slowly, the smoke lifted and the dust clouds began to settle. The street was almost unrecognisable, the pretty stone buildings masses of broken masonry, the pavements covered with jagged shards of glass. Alyosha stared around at the devastation through the vision blocks and then blinked, unbelieving. A group of boys was bicycling through the ruins, as calmly as they were on a holiday.
Alyosha almost waited too long. He stared at the boys, cycling down the street, as though going for a picnic, and it was only when one of them turned suddenly, looking at the tank, that he noticed the club-ended cylinders slung on either side of the handlebars, and the uniforms they were wearing.

Tereshchenko had noticed them too, at almost the same moment, but Alyosha’s hands and feet were already blurring on the levers and starter button as his shout came down the intercom. Before the first boy had finished spilling from his bike and unslung the Panzerfausts beside the handlebars, he had already slewed the tank round in a turn to face him.

Time seemed to drop into slow motion. Through the vision block Alyosha saw the boy, crouched behind the bicycle, his Panzerfaust clutched below his armpit as he brought the weapon to bear. Beside him, Fyodor seemed to be moving underwater, his machine gun tracking back and forth with excruciating slowness, hosing the street with long bursts of machine gun fire. And his own hand, as though hanging in the air, as it dragged the gearshift back into reverse, the T 34 backing into rubble as there came a puff of smoke behind the boy and the warhead hurtled over the street and slammed into the tank with a huge blinding flash.

Alyosha sat behind the steering tillers, blinded with smoke and deafened, his head ringing. Vaguely, he was aware of someone shouting, as though far away, and machine gun fire. He could not react, couldn’t move. Then someone was shaking him and yelling in his face.

“Fishling?” It was Fyodor, his cheeks and forehead streaked with soot. “Fishling, are you hurt? Are you all right?”

Alyosha shook his head to clear it. His mouth moved, forming words. “I...don’t know. No pain.”

“He’s stunned.” A slit-eyed face peered over Fyodor’s shoulder; Akhmetov. “It hit the glacis right in front of him.”

“Here,” Sasha’s voice, in Alyosha’s left ear. “Lay him down on the turret floor.” He folded the driver’s seat back down and helped ease Alyosha back until he was lying on the rubber mat over the ammunition boxes. “Give fishling some vodka.”

“Those boys...” Alyosha whispered, after the alcohol had made its way down his throat. “What happened to the tank?”

Fyodor looked at him and then across at his machine gun and back. “Don’t worry about them. They’re taken care of. The tank’s damaged, but we aren’t dead yet.”

“Are you injured, Safonov?” Tereshchenko peered down past the gun breech in the turret. “Are you bleeding anywhere?”

“I’m all right,” Alyosha said, and struggled to sit up. “What happened to the tank, Starshina?”

“The left track’s damaged, and the steering mechanism’s done for, apparently. You’d be better able to tell.” Tereshchenko kicked moodily at the back of Sasha’s seat. “We’re stuck here until we can get a recovery vehicle to come up, that’s for sure.”

“Starshina,” Sasha warned, “someone’s coming. It’s a man.”

“Who?” Very cautiously, Tereshchenko poked his head up over the rim of the commander’s cupola. “What on earth does he want?”

Alyosha had just sat up, and he looked through one of the vision ports on the side of the turret. He saw a man in his sixties, maybe, podgy, in an overcoat, grey hair hanging from below the brim of a black Homburg hat. He had his arms raised over his head and was looking up at the turret anxiously.

“Hilfe, hilfe, bitte,” Alyosha heard the man saying, his voice faint through the turret and the ringing in his ears. “Russische Soldat, hilfe bitte.”

Tereshchenko was the only one of them who could speak more than a few words of German. “Was ist los?” he called, still keeping his head low.

The elderly man replied something else, too fast for Alyosha to catch. Tereshchenko replied, and looked down into the tank.

“He says the shelling hurt his daughter, she’s trapped under the debris, his wife is trying to free her but they can’t do it without help. If the fire in those buildings spreads, she’ll be burned.”

“A chto?” Akhmetov asked. “So what?”

“So he wants our help rescuing her, of course,” Tereshchenko said. “He’s got a point, seeing that it’s our shelling that did this.”

“What do we care about his daughter, after all the Nazis did to us?” Sasha slapped the breech of the gun angrily. “Let her burn, I say.”

 “Don’t be a silly nit,” Tereshchenko snapped back. “If it was my daughter...” He paused, and everyone remembered.

“All right,” Sasha gave in. “I’ll go.”

“No, I need you to see to the gun if the Nazis come back. I’ll stay here too, and load and see to the radio. The three of you go – if you’re feeling well enough, Safonov?”

“Da, Starshina. I’m all right. Not that I could do much good in here anyway, without being able to drive.”

“Good. Take tools, you’ll need them. And a submachine gun, of course.”

“You be sure to cover us, Starshina,” Fyodor said.

Tereshchenko put his hand on the turret traverse, turning it so the main gun pointed at the German man. “Don’t worry, I’ll cover you.”


The old man’s house was in a narrow street just behind the tank, a street Alyosha hadn’t noticed earlier from his driver’s position. They hurried after him, heads low, Akhmetov carrying the submachine gun, listening to the explosions and the sound of gunfire elsewhere in the city. Smoke rose over the skyline, here and there, merging together so it seemed to Alyosha as though a tree of fire was slowly growing up towards the sky, which at the same time was filled with wan sunshine.
The house was half demolished, the front half a pile of rubble sloping into the street, and loose wires dangling overhead. But there was enough space to squeeze past inside, into a tiny back garden, from where they found themselves directly in the kitchen.

A grey haired woman in a print dress was on her knees by the far wall, which had fallen in, scrabbling frantically with her hands. She looked up as they entered.

“Meine Frau,” the German man said unnecessarily. The woman sat back on her heels and watched the three tankers with wary eyes.

Akhmetov motioned the man to put down his hands, which all this time he’d been holding over his head. The man’s fleshy face was drawn tight around his eyes, and his complexion was waxy.

“Tochter?” Fyodor managed. “Wo ist Tochter?”

The man and woman both pointed and broke into a gabble of German. Alyosha walked over to the tumbled debris. A piece of it seemed to be of different colour and texture to the rest. Then he realised that he was looking at a hand and arm, covered with dust. Even as he looked, the fingers twitched.

“Fyodor, Nurik,” he called. “She’s alive.”

They dug. At first Akhmetov kept the submachine gun trained on the old couple, but it was soon obvious they weren’t a threat. Also, Fyodor’s and Alyosha’s efforts weren’t enough. Slinging the gun over his shoulder, he, too, began to clear away the rubble.

They got the woman out finally. She was perhaps thirty and might have been pretty, but the mask of dust and clotted blood on her face and in her hair had made her almost unrecognisable. One shin hung loose, a jagged edge of white bone showing through it. She moaned.

“Helga,” her father said. “Du bist in Sicherheit, Helga.”

The woman moaned again. Her hand clutched at Alyosha’s sleeve.

“It isn’t as bad as it looks,” Fyodor, the crew’s first aid man, said. “I’ll get the kit from the tank.”

“Moment, bitteschön.” The old man rolled out a strip of matting on the kitchen table and signalled them to lay the woman on it. Her mother was already cleaning her face with a moist piece of cloth. Her eyes flickered, opening. She stared at one of them and then the other.

“You’re all right,” Alyosha said in Russian. “You’re safe.”

The woman, Helga, flinched as Akhmetov reached out to move her into a more comfortable position, shaking her head. He raised his hands and stepped back.

“Have it your own way,” he said. The woman’s mother kept silently cleaning the dirt away while her father watched from the corner.

“We’ll have to set that leg,” Fyodor said, returning with the first aid kit. “Fishling, hold her foot. Nurik, press on the thigh.” He bent over the shin. The woman screamed suddenly and fell silent.

“She’s just fainted,” Fyodor said. He snapped a leg off a chair and splinted the broken shin, tying it in place with strips of tablecloth. “She’ll be all –“

With a tremendous roar, a flight of Shturmoviks flew over at rooftop level, their shadows falling across the room through the dusty kitchen windows, and unloaded their rockets somewhere in the vicinity. Everyone crouched instinctively as the explosions shook the air. Broken glass tinkled from the frames.

“Where was –“ Alyosha began, and stopped, staring.

A boy stood at the kitchen door. He was dressed in a khaki and black uniform with a peaked cap and a swastika band on his arm. His eyes were wide and his mouth open, as though screaming. In one hand he held a pistol, its barrel pointed in Fyodor’s general direction.

Everyone froze. Nurik’s submachine gun, still slung over his back, might as well have been as far away as the moon.

“Was geht hier?” the boy shouted. He couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen, his cheeks flushed red with youth and anger and excitement. His pistol hand trembled.

“Junge –“ the old man began.

The boy screamed something at him, his pistol swinging round. Alyosha made out one word, Verräter. Traitor.

“Hört mir zu, Knabe,” the old man said, raising his hands. “Alles ist...”

But the boy was in no mood to listen. His finger tightened on the trigger as he raised the gun to shoot. Akhmetov, seeing his chance, began to unsling his submachine gun.

“Nein.” The word came from the kitchen table, the voice firm and clear. “Nein.”

They all looked. The woman, Helga, had raised her head and was staring across at the boy. “Nein,” she said again.

The boy’s mouth moved, his face turning white. He whispered one word, a word Alyosha half-heard. The gun began to tremble.

“Nein,” Helga said a third time, shaking her head. And that was enough. Turning, the boy ran. His gun, dropped as he fled, thumped on the floor. It did not go off.

Except for the sounds of explosions in the distance, there was silence. Alyosha picked up the pistol.

“Let’s get them out of here,” Fyodor said. “That kid could come back, or more like him.”

Faintly, and then louder, they heard the sound of tank treads rolling.


It was only much later, when the repair crew had done their job and the tank had finally been put back into running order, that Alyosha found the time to talk to Fyodor.

“That kid,” he said, as they had a hurried dinner in the shelter of a pile of rubble. “I was sure he was going to shoot the old man, and us too. A nasty bit of work.”

Fyodor shrugged, spooning up some soup. “Yes, they brainwash them well in the Hitler Jugend. But, of course, once the woman said No, that was the end of the matter.”

Alyosha frowned. “Yes, I wanted to ask you about that. When she said no, he said something and fled. What was all that about?”

“There are some things even the Hitler Youth can’t eradicate.” Fyodor finished the last of the soup and glanced at Alyosha.

“The kid said one word,” he continued. “And that word was...Mother.”

Alyosha opened his mouth to say something, and thought the better of it.

“Yes, you’re right,” Fyodor said. “It’s a rotten bloody war.”

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015


  1. Excellent, really good reading. Unexpected ending.

    Also nice job with the implicit point that often when firearms are dropped they go off. People in the movies and TV are always throwing guns down and they never go off, as they do in life.


  2. Superb final episode of a series that has only improved as it’s gone along. One of the things I’ve appreciated most about the series is the way it has concentrated on the effects of the war on the civilain population through the eyes of the people that were doing the fighting. This is an unusual approach and it has worked resoundingly well. Bravo.

    As a final unrelated aside, I finished reading the trilogy just this evening on the tube, when I’d just been standing next to possibly the most beautiful German girl I’d ever seen. Problem was she was a bit too aware of how cute she was. “I think you are really fit, you’re fit but my gosh don’t you know it!"


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