Tuesday, 31 January 2017

THE 294th

The following story was submitted to an anthology that was being put together by Operation Shoebox - a charity for those who fought in Afghanistan. (Copyright Ray Foster - 2013)

The 294th

   He knew.
   I saw it in Jack's eyes as I walked down the steps; as I looked back over my shoulder.
   A chill ran down my spine. Maybe, it was as it should be. No point, now, in saying if only - but there is an if only.
  If the Fire Brigade, who had offered me a job, had stopped messing me about and given me a posting then I would not have re-enlisted with the army.
  Funny when you think back. It was as though Jack and I had spent our whole life growing up together - we were always getting up to mischief. Together we were the masters of mischief, mirth and mayhem. From wearing Halloween masks and scaring the Christians who were having an anti-Halloween party to dropping tomato sauce soaked chips and things on the balloon seller's head - but the strawberry flavoured Slush Puppy was an accident. Still, it was funny to watch the sticky, icy goo slide down the balloons splattering both the balloon seller and passersby. And we laughed as we were chased around the shopping centre with the security guards on our tail - hard as they tried they never caught us.
   The older we got nothing changed. Instead of being chased we did the chasing - after girls. And we got drunk together.
   We even thought about joining the Army together.
   That was where we met - at Army cadets - so it was only natural that we went down to the recruitment centre together. As I recall we were both 16 and fresh out of school. We filled out the forms but it was not until 2001 that I became a raw recruit.
   Jack didn't make it.
   By then, though, he had a steady job working as a fishmonger. He met a girl and got married and had kids. He had a stable family life. Despite that our friendship stayed firm. Over the years I would come home from Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan and we'd pick up where we left off. Mind you, no matter where I was in the world endless text messages would pass between us.
   I was prepared to get back to grips with civvy life. I wanted some of what Jack had. Except that wasn't to be. Too much waiting around; sitting around watching DVDs and playing 'Call Of Duty' on the Xbox - not that the game came close to reality. That and getting under people's feet.
 And there was the lure of doing what I knew best.
 Afghanistan changes the way people look at things. Maybe, it's the action and the excitement - though not the usual way those words get used - I guess it is the adrenaline rush. It's like a drug. In Camp Bastion I may have been a joker but out in the field I was every bit the fighting man.
 Jack tried to talk me out of going back.
 I knew where he was coming from but I needed to have a purpose in life.
 The one thing that I can say, in hindsight, is that I am glad that we never joined up together. He wouldn't have been able to live with himself if he lived and I died. I know that I would have felt the same.
  I guess when someone's time is up and it doesn't matter whether you are a soldier or a civilian  - it's up.
  You never see it coming - and, sometimes, you never hear it.
  Blind and deaf you just hit the ground screaming.
  Sometimes you can't scream - not when your face has been ripped off. Not when your throat has been carved through by shrapnel from a roadside bomb. In war there is no re-spawning to the last checkpoint as in video games - there are no second chances and the only screams you hear are inside your head.
  And I thought - God, I was going to miss Jack's birthday. I had promised him a drink when I got back at the end of June. Only I wasn't going to make it.
 The medic knelt by my shredded, legless body. He did what he could but he knew that I was as good as dead - yet he fought to keep me alive.
  It would be another four hours of endless pain before I died.

 Private Jon Monk rejoined the Army with the 2nd Battalion Princess Of Wales Regiment which was attached to the 1st Battalion Mercian Regiment.
 With Company C he was with the Danish Battle Group based at Patrol Base Rahim in the Adinzai area of the Upper Gershk Valley, Afghanistan.
On the morning of the 9th June, 2010, aged 25, he was killed by a roadside bomb.
He was the 294th soldier to die in Afghanistan.

The story, for the most part, is from conversations that I had with Jon and with Jack's recollections.
Jon's injuries were as described to the best of my information.