Written to mark the centenary of the outbreak of WWI, this new short story by multi-award-winning, million copy bestselling author Andrea Levy tells the tale of two Jamaican service men in that conflict.
And we finally got to England. To the army camp at Seaford. Seaford? You know it? On the south coast? We had to sleep in the town the place was under such mud. It rains grey all day - never to go there. Well, there was this English man - white, you know - in a pub sort of thing; hotel taproom I think they call it. Me and Walker are sitting sipping on beer, when this man came to our table and stood above us to ask us a question: Why are you going to fight in this war for only a shilling a day? Now that sort of took the wind from me. And Walker’s eyes – well, they shone with the uneasiness; it would be us thrown from the place if there was trouble. So we said nothing but this man still went on. Churchill, Asquith and Lloyd George, get pay of fifteen thousand pounds a year and we were fools to fight for the Empire because the King is German and all his family too. Everyone staring on us, but we just sip, sip. And all the while I am thinking a shilling is a lot of money. It took many a long time in Jamaica to earn a shilling. But I did not tell this man because he was looking to make mischief.
When two constables came in Walker braced himself sure they’d come to seize us. But no. They marched out this Englishman, holding him rough stuff on either side. And he is now yelling on Walker and me: Lay down your arms… do not fight…white men should fight their own battles and black men theirs!
They charged him; ‘making remarks likely to jeopardise recruiting to His Majesty’s forces’ or some such. Sent him to prison. It is a true story. I might smile now when I recall but at the time Walker and me found nothing funny in it. Nothing funny at all.
He was belittling our patriotism.
At a time when the media is in overload on this subject, it is a delight – and a privilege – to come across a small, perfectly-formed work of literary art that simply and succinctly tells a story of love and friendship and how war affects them. There is no need for photographs here - Levy's words conjure up a thousand images and express the frailties of human emotions when threatened with something that is beyond comprehension
A perfect short story. Poignant, moving and shaming without being mawkish. It's a great day when there is a new work from Andrea Levy. I downloaded it and immediately read it through twice