The morning mist that had hung heavily over the landscape had long been burnt away by the crisp, clear streams of the autumnal mid-morning sun; which in turn had surrendered to the steady drizzle of the light rain which was now falling. It was mid-afternoon in November in ‘some corner of a foreign field’. Corporal Tom Howerd peered out through the gloom over the zone of combat, and at the mud churned field that was to witness the inevitable clash between the two adversaries. Once the field was green and lush and grassy; now it had been turned into a quagmire from the previous conflicts. The two opposing forces faced each other with mounting tension. This then was to be the moment of truth, the decisive struggle between the British and German armies.
Corporal Howerd spat a thick, mucosal wad of spit contemptuously onto the ground, as he surveyed the scene. “Bloody Germans”, he muttered quietly under his breath. He was at the furthermost point of the front line. He could see the enemy in front of him. He viewed the ruined ground before him, mentally marking out the distance he would have to cover, and trying to analyse how long it would take him to run through the thick, cloying mud and reach the enemy front lines. His mouth was drying up…he was finding it hard to swallow. He knew what was to come. Beads of cooling sweat mingled with the fine rivulets of drizzling rain that dribbled down his furrowed brow. He fretted on the effect the rain would have on his kit, and how much more difficult it would be to manoeuvre as it became increasingly heavier. His boots were already covered and burdened with the treacherous mud. The conditions were going to make it a slow and very difficult encounter indeed.
On the opposite side, Corporal Hans Langfeld of the German army watched in restless anticipation. He was a hardened veteran of such events. He knew what to expect. He had been there before, yet he sensed that this time it would be different. Combat would commence as always…with a shrill blast of the whistle, followed by the British launching the first wave of the attack, culminating in a vicious, crunching, bone-jarring impact as the two forces came together. It would be violent and brutal with no quarter given. Pride and supremacy were at stake. There was territorial ground to be gained. Would his colleagues be able to withstand the British assault in those first few minutes? His mind loosened in a tangential collection of thoughts, and imaginations on what the outcome would be. He leant forward with his hands on his knees, bent his head towards the ground and closed his eyes tightly. In his mind’s eye he mentally rehearsed his drill, going over the instructions he had been given by the captain…at all costs to hold ground under the onslaught and not to give an inch.
Time seemed to tick by interminably as the two forces awaited the brutal confrontation. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, as if each of the combatants were seeing the unfolding of events in a tempo that would exacerbate the impact of what was to happen.
Corporal Howerd seemed lost momentarily in rapidly forming desultory thoughts. He wondered how he would act this day. He was well drilled, and at the peak of training. He was ready. But would it be enough now? Could he be better prepared? Was there some vital element to the preparation that had been overlooked? His mind drifted away…thinking of his family and young son back home…thinking of his colleagues beside him. He would not want to let them down. He would not want to bring shame on them by losing his courage in the face of combat…by letting his side down. His heart was beginning to pound. His stomach muscles were so knotted and taut that they were beginning to ache. He uttered a single anguished prayer… “Please God…don’t fail me now.”
Then, it came…a piercing sound brought him to his senses; the shrill blast of the whistle. He snapped out of his mental musings as the missile was launched into the German territory. And as one, the whole of the British forward line surged forward from their start up positions and ran screaming towards the opposing German defence.
Corporal Langfeld straightened up with a jolt as he felt his heart thump with sudden shock at the blast of the whistle. He was transfixed as the British forces immediately pressed the attack on his position after the missile had been launched. This was it then…battle had commenced. With uncontrolled trepidation he watched the British rapidly advancing, with their contorted faces screaming in naked aggression. “Mein Gott! Endlich. Sie kommen.” He felt a surge of panic as the missile came nearer towards him. And then all too quickly it was upon him. He caught it skilfully in both arms, held on to the precious object and turned to face his colleagues who were gathering around him.
Now Corporal Langfeld knew there was no going back. This was it. With the ball in his arms…the German Army versus the British Army of the Rhine Annual Rugby Football Match had begun…