One Thousand Words Plus logo
Published in Australia
Fiction - Historical Fiction, Anthologies and Collections

Print: 978-1-925447-69-9
ePub: 978-1-925447-70-5
Mobi: 978-1-925447-71-2

Date of Publication: 30 Nov -0001
Errors, spam or harmful content?
Report this book


Jeff Hopkins

Published by

Find out more about Jeff Hopkins: Author's website | Twitter



A Story of Friendship

It is the 25th April 1919 and Captain Christopher Murphy has been invited back to his old school, Guildale College, to deliver an address in the first year of peace after The Great War. When he arrives at East Guildale railway station, which is adjacent to the school, a flood of memories come rushing back.

Captain Murphy’s reflections go back to 1908; his final year at Guildale College Preparatory School and Stephen Lamont appears for the first time. Life during that year at the ‘Prep.’ is retraced and a tragedy, from which a great friendship grows, is recalled. 1909 – 1913 in the Guildale College Senior School is a series of vignettes.  Each one is based on a year in the school life of the five main characters.

During 1917, some of the boys from Guildale College reappear as young men facing the horrors of trench warfare at Fleurbaix on the Western Front.  Captain Murphy faces a personal crisis, but an old association helps him.

Captain Murphy’s reverie on East Guildale railway station is interrupted, as it is time for the commemoration service.  His reflections have helped him crystallise his thoughts on duty, dreams and friendship, but most importantly on the significance of this Service of Remembrance.  He now knows what he must say and with renewed confidence, he walks up to the school to deliver his address.




Chapter 1: April 25th 1919 Where Captain Christopher Murphy returns to Guildale College.

East Guildale railway station was one of those clever pieces of planning that had benefited Guildale College for decades. In the 1880’s when the railway line was extended from Perth to Midland, someone with foresight, that may have been inspired prescience, built a halt at East Guildale. It would be two more decades before the founders of Guildale College chose their location on the banks of the Swan River, but the existing railway station was a bonus. Generations of boys caught the steam train from Perth to East Guildale, lugging huge trunks, and stuffed suitcases, as they made their way ‘reluctantly to school’ at the start of each new term. The handful of dayboys and day boarders who attended the school knew the platforms north and south like the backs of their hands. A late train from Perth meant a dash to parade to avoid a late note and the inevitable detention, or worse! A merciful, or premature release, from the last lesson of the afternoon, would see a race for the platform to catch the ‘early’ train home.

Captain Christopher Murphy had caught the early morning train, more out of habit than sensible planning. The College service was to start at eleven o’clock in the morning and here he was standing on East Guildale railway station at eight a.m. Even the late train from Perth was still to arrive, sparking the dash for parade and morning roll call. The man standing alone on the station was twenty-two years of age and of medium height and build. Today he wore his officer’s uniform signifying his position in the Australian Imperial Force in the Great War.


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

Along with his officer’s jacket, green tie, peaked cap, jodhpur- like trousers disappearing into knee length boots and leather ‘Sam Browns’. He carried an army great coat, although it would be superfluous in the pleasant autumnal weather and he had a small suitcase. Under the peaked cap was black hair cut formally in a soldier’s style. The eyes were soft and brown and the face was rather too weathered and lined for a young man of his years. Christopher Murphy had been to hell and back in the last few years and it showed.

Captain Murphy walked slowly across the platform. In the silence he stared around. Each sight evoked a poignant memory. Eventually he put his suitcase down beside a railway bench and sat, folding the overcoat across his knees as he did so. As he continued to look around him he could not stop the memories flooding his consciousness. When he finally spoke and broke the silence, the words surprised even him, firstly because he was speaking them aloud and then because they came very slowly and thoughtfully:

“East Guildale railway station; how I have come to know you. You haven’t changed much.”

Captain Murphy laughed at his own silliness for saying the words out loud to no one. The rest of his flood of thoughts he internalised:

“I guess that is how it should be; how I wanted it to be. How I hated you on the first day of a new term and how we all loved you at the end of the year and here I am again neither at a beginning nor an end, but for a moment you are a safe place, because once I walk up to the school, it will all come back then.”

The young Captain just sat and let the thoughts wash over him. He recalled the first time he had come to East Guildale railway station. The journey from his home farm in the southwest of Western Australia had been arduous. The buggy ride to the station, the tearful farewell from his mother and the solid handshake and pat on the back from his father, had been the prelude to the seemingly endless train journey to the City. Then


Part One: At Guildale College Preparatory School

alone at Perth Station and taking his own decisions for the first time as he negotiated the platform change to wait for and finally catch the Midland train. Then the comparative short trip to this little railway station nestled among the trees with the rich ochre gravel paths leading to and from it on all sides. He thought about his fears and his aspirations. They were all muddled up in something he had heard others call ‘a new adventure in his life.’

He laughed inwardly at his naivety. He was a country lad with country ways. He did not have the artifice or guile to see through those who were more worldly wise and sophisticated in their attitudes. Yet he had won them over with his unaffected charm and scrupulous honesty, not to mention his spectacular natural talent as a sportsman.

Then came that inexplicable phenomenon, when the past sneaks up on your thoughts and invades your consciousness with ideas and feelings that you had hoped to suppress. For Captain Christopher Murphy, alone on the station that morning, it manifested itself physically as a shudder of recollection. He recalled painfully that he was not a naïve country lad anymore. The Western Front had seen to that. He had developed traits that would have horrified the parents who farewelled him on his ‘new adventure’. He had developed guile, he could and had, manipulated situations and he had knowledge that was frightening. No, not just frightening, terrifying; he had seen and heard and smelt and tasted things that no man should have to sense.

The young Captain thought about the things this school had taught him. It had taught him the importance of duty. It had taught him to dream and hope and work for the progress not only of himself, but those he knew and loved. It had been his home. Now it was not home; it was a mirror to show him what he had become. In its reflections it had the power to mock those ideals of duty, dreams and progress. He knew what he had become and now he was returning to a place to be confronted with what he once was. This was not a simple journey to his old school for a


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

speaking engagement. This was profound reflection, maybe even a revelation. Perhaps he shouldn’t even be here?

Chris Murphy turned his head towards the southern platform and thought how often he had waited there, sitting on his over- packed trunk, anticipating the journey to Perth and then the long wait for the six o’clock departure of the southern steam train that would take him home. He contemplated getting up and crossing the footbridge to the southern platform right now and leaving all this behind, while there was still time to do so. The hissing of the steam train from Perth pulling into East Guildale railway station awakened him from his reverie.

This would be the last train before school. Who would the latecomers be? There were two. Chris found it hard to judge ages, but these were boys from Grades five or six. He guessed this by the treble of their talk. The size of their suitcases being half dragged and half carried, told Chris they were not senior boys. Justin and Wesley were two boarders from the school, returning from their Easter holiday. They were both dressed neatly in the Guildale College Preparatory School uniform, namely green jackets with yellow piping, a matching green pullover, white shirt and bottle green tie emblazoned with horizontal gold stripes, grey shorts (a Preparatory School give away), long grey socks with green and gold bands at the top and black shoes. A straw boater with a green and gold hatband set off the whole picture. Along with their suitcases they carried overcoats, a precaution for the winter cold, which would soon be upon them.

Captain Christopher Murphy had done all this observation before the two boys had even noticed him sitting on the W.A.G.R. (Western Australian Government Railways) bench. Instinctively, Chris took a keen interest in the conversation that was unfolding between Justin and Wesley, who were both busy straightening themselves up before making the trip up to the school. Wesley initiated the conversation, with a tone of schoolboy’s annoyance:


Part One: At Guildale College Preparatory School

“Well you may not care ‘Juddy’, but I’m angry. I’m sure I could have talked Mum and Dad into letting me stay home another couple of days if it hadn’t been for this special service of remembrance that ‘Old Wally’ has dreamed up.”

Justin tried to be more conciliatory.

“No, but it’s a good thing isn’t it?”

“Good thing?”

“Well I mean it’s sort of our duty isn’t it?” Wesley was prepared for an argument: “Duty? What duty?”

Justin tried to explain his position with patience:

“Well to pay our respects and honour those people who went to the war and died, especially the boys who used to go here to Guildale. I guess ‘Old Wally’ knew all of them personally and he wants to do something.”

Wesley, a little reluctantly was beginning to see the point:

“Well I suppose you’re right, but I wish we didn’t have to come back early from Easter just for the service.”

Now Justin had a chance to explain everything he knew in full:

“But don’t you see? This is the day that the services are going to be held everywhere all over Australia!”

“O.K! O.K! Come on let’s not hang around here. If we don’t report in there’ll be all hell to pay from the ‘Frog’.”

Justin dredged up more information he had stored away for just such an occasion as this:

“Did you know the ‘Frog’ studies the timetables and if there is any delay between the time your train is due and the time you actually report in to the House, there is trouble?”

Wesley spoke with mocking contempt: “Croaking old fool! He belongs in a swamp!”


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

As Wesley threw this last line away he leaned down to pick up his suitcase. Justin did a similar thing, but glanced across and saw the young Captain sitting watching them from the bench. Justin stopped and turned back to Wesley, who was fiddling with his bag. Justin grabbed Wesley’s shoulder in alarm:

“Hey, Wes, who do you think that is?”


Justin directed Wesley’s gaze to the army officer:


Wesley just shrugged, but Justin’s mind was alive and analysing the situation as he spoke:

“Do you think it could be that old boy who is going to give us the speech today?”

“Well, I guess it could be.”

Then Justin added conspiratorially:

“You don’t suppose he heard what we just said?”

“With my luck, you can bet he did.”

Ever the conciliator, Justin worked it out quickly:

“Well we had better go across and say something, just in case it is him and he gets offended and tells ‘Old Wally’.”

On this occasion Wesley saw the logic immediately. It wouldn’t be the first time some member of the public had overheard a schoolboy conversation and reported it to the Headmaster, with the usual investigation and reprimands or punishment. Wesley surmised it would be better to eat humble pie here, rather than later in the Head’s office. Sheepishly the two boys dragged their cases across the platform and finished up standing in front of the bench where the soldier sat. Chris Murphy was kind and he spoke their language. After all it had once been his own:

“Coming back from your Easter leave boys?”

Nervously Justin and Wesley responded in unrehearsed unison:


Part One: At Guildale College Preparatory School

“Yes, Sir.”

“And you had to make a special effort because of the service today?”

Both boys looked embarrassed, but Justin managed an answer, although he fumbled for the words:

“Yes ... we thought ... we thought you might be the old guest speaker that the Headmaster invited.”

Justin stopped short realizing his error, but Captain Murphy just smiled:

“I mean the old boy ...”

At last Wesley fulfilled the responsibility of friendship that Justin always hoped he would, but had rarely seen in reality:

“Juddy means the young old boy who ...”

Christopher Murphy was in complete control and he was enjoying himself as he remembered his own fumbling attempts to explain away poorly expressed statements or excuses, when he was a schoolboy. It occurred to him that he hadn’t smiled at anyone or anything for quite a while. This stilted conversation with two preparatory schoolboys was taking his mind off other things. Finally he sought to reassure the boys and put them at their ease:

“I know what you mean and yes I am.”

Justin heard the gentle tone and seized upon it. This was not the sort of voice who was likely to make a complaint. Justin wanted to make amends:

“Well would you like us to show you the way up to the school?”

“Thank you for offering boys, but just like you, I’ve made that walk once or twice before and I think I can remember the way.”

“O.K., Sir, well we’ll see you at the service.”

Chris became suddenly serious and chose his words carefully: “Yes, perhaps you will.”


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

Why had he said that? Was he still thinking about the southern platform and a quick escape from this situation? The two boys, having survived a close call, turned away quickly and were making their way towards the ochre gravel path when Chris called after them:


The two boys stopped and turned in a precision manoeuvre that made Chris smile again. They waited, two boys who thought they had made good their escape, only to be called back for the final sentence:

“Yes, Sir?”

Chris made an exaggerated gesture to check his watch and then said gently:

“The ‘Frog’ always gives you seven minutes, after the train arrives at the station, to report in at the House. You only have two minutes left.”

Two reprieves in two minutes quadruples the joy of relief, and Justin and Wesley did a schoolboy doubletake, realising the implication of what the young army officer had just said. They called back over their shoulders as they began to run:

“Thanks, Sir!”

The two boys disappeared as the ochre gravel path arced between an avenue of flame trees, rapidly losing their leaves with the season and Captain Christopher Murphy was alone again. He surprised himself once more by hearing his own voice musing out loud:

“Hmm, the ‘Frog’, the ‘Ferret’, ‘Old Wally’, new terms, new boys, Stephen and I as new boys. How long ago does that seem now?”

Chris drifted. Reflections are strange things. Sometimes they come in fleeting glimpses of a moment in time, touch an emotion fleetingly and then are gone. On other occasions they fill the mind with a technicolour narrative, so vivid and


Part One: At Guildale College Preparatory School

seamless, that it could be the whole event playing itself out again in real time. It was this second type of recollection that Captain Christopher Murphy slipped into now. He was in the same place, but it was a different time. Over a decade had fallen away and it was eleven years earlier. 1908; a new beginning.

Chapter 10: 1910 – Second Year Peter Holloway’s story: where Philip Best introduces physical and outdoor education to the Senior School and almost loses his life in the process.

Peter Holloway was running as fast as he dared over the difficult terrain. For a moment he allowed himself to think that he was running for a life, but annoyed with himself for thinking such a thing, he dismissed the thought. The life had already been saved. He was running to prevent unendurable pain and the faster he got to help, the faster that pain would be relieved and he wanted to help the person suffering the pain more than anything else. There would be miles still to cover. When he started out on this mercy dash he figured it would be four times the cross-country course and he had come less than half way. Could he sustain this pace, on this ground, for the remainder of the journey? He forced his mind to think it through. What had he always been told? The mind would defeat you long before the body would actually reach its limits. Peter Holloway was an intelligent fourteen-year old in his second year at Guildale College and he wasn’t going to let anyone down in their moment of need. In his head he chanted the mantra:

“Think it out Peter, think it out. Let the legs do the running and the eyes pick the path over and around the bush that came right down to this river track. Make the mind think of something else. Think of something else. How had all this begun?”

Slowly he remembered the chain of events.

“Structure it into an essay in your head, Peter. Tell the story in the correct sequence.”


Part Two: At Guildale College Senior School

That would be the plan. Take his mind off the journey and concentrate on the sequence of events that had led to this moment. He concentrated and then he could see the beginning.

Philip Best had been another of Richard Caprice’s inspired appointments. The Headmaster of Guildale College had received a letter late in 1909 from a colleague at a College in Victoria. The letter suggested that a young man of some quality was looking to come west to further his career in teaching and in football. He was a new breed of Master who specialised in games and adventures for schoolboys. Later when all this became much more fashionable it would be called Physical and Outdoor Education. However, the letter also said that he could teach mathematics and was a wonderful coach of Australian Rules football. The final point was that Philip Best was a single man who had experience as an Assistant Housemaster in a boarding house and was highly regarded by his colleagues and students. Richard Caprice did not hesitate and wrote immediately to Philip Best and sight unseen, or interviewed, he invited him to join the staff of Guildale College from the beginning of the school year in 1910. A week later, a beautifully scripted epistle landed on Mr. Caprice’s desk confirming, with thanks, that Mr. Philip Best gratefully accepted his offer.

Philip Best arrived in January and settled into a small, but adequate room in School House. He was an impressive man of almost thirty years and he made an immediate impact on the school and on the boys. Short in stature and very stocky in build, Phil was a classic Australian Rules Football rover and part of the reason for coming to Western Australia was to pursue his football career. He had been denied opportunities in the Victorian Football League, but had heard that newly formed teams in the West Australian League were keen to recruit players. Philip Best had dark brown hair, which he wore longer than most men of his generation. He also sported a grand moustache, which gave his face an amazing sense of character. He had sharp blues eyes, which observed everything and were collecting information at all times. The small nose that sat above the moustache completed a full and friendly face. Not to put too


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

finer point on it Phil was a good man. He knew how to work hard and relished it, but he also had an inbuilt sensitivity that could always put him in tune with people around him who did not always share his views. Richard Caprice had done it again and appointed another fine member of Staff.

Philip Best taught mathematics with a passion, but he impressed most when he persuaded Mr. Caprice to let him convert a disused storage space into a gymnasium. The building was stoutly constructed and was two storeys high. Originally it had been intended for a hall stage area, but dramatic arts had not flourished and it was simply too convenient to fill the space with desks, chairs, bookshelves, cupboards and bedsteads which were not currently in use. The building became known simply as ‘Storage’, and everyone used that term when sending more materials there that no longer had a utilitarian function, or on the odd occasion when someone went searching for a piece of furniture that could enhance a classroom or a personal living space.

Richard Caprice pondered Philip Best’s unusual request for some days, but it was Dora who finally said:

“Let the young man have his head, Dick. You can always rein him in later if it gets out of hand. After all the building is there and he is not asking for a lot of money to set it up.”

A week later Richard told his wife:

“I’ve decided to let young Best go ahead with his gymnasium project, Dora.”

He informed Philip by letter the next Monday and stipulated the conditions under which ‘Storage’ could be emptied, cleaned and then developed. Like everything he would do throughout his life Philip was inspired and worked tirelessly on the project. Boys of all boarding houses, caught at a loose end on the weekend, would volunteer to help in the process. Firstly, the contents of ‘Storage’ had to be sorted. Philip was thorough in this regard. He catalogued everything that came out of the building and then classified it into sections for suggested recycling, reallocating or


Part Two: At Guildale College Senior School

simply as rubbish. The Bursar was impressed with the orderly way in which resources were assessed and Philip won an important friend and ally for his future projects. Although much of the furniture was simply got rid of, some was sent to a local charity organisation and one or two pieces of fine quality were put back into active service. Philip squeezed a leather-topped desk of some value into his own room in School House and Dora Caprice had a beautiful jarrah sideboard taken back to the Headmaster’s house where she spent many happy hours restoring and polishing the piece. Dora Caprice had taste.

Once it was cleared out, ‘Storage’ began to speak silently but eloquently of its untapped potential. Its jarrah wooden floor, though neglected for many years was, upon inspection well sprung. The brick and limestone walls stretched up two storeys to a series of large windows that ran the length of the building on the eastern and western sides; these spilt huge volumes of natural light into the large and airy space. It had two anterooms either side of an entrance corridor on the northern face and a solid limestone wall to the south, which towered the full two storeys. When Philip saw that southern face exposed clearly for the first time he dreamed one day of a climbing wall.

On the third weekend the painting began. Volunteers of all ages pitched in and the Bursar found some tins of paint and whitewash that were superfluous to requirements. Philip would learn later that those tins of paint had been purchased on consignment in the City and railed out to Guildale. They never appeared in the School’s official accounts and the Bursar paid for them cash on delivery. The cash came from his own pocket. The young man from Victoria had inspired him greatly. Fully painted, ‘Storage’ fairly glowed. On the fifth weekend the jarrah floorboards were sanded by hand. An army of persistent boys, who worked their way from the southern wall to the northern entrance in a dusty and dirty operation, did the sanding. The oiling of the floor was left to Mr. Best who did it lovingly and alone and made the final strokes of application well after midnight. He was on duty for Chapel the next morning and


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

everyone quietly marvelled at his energy, strength and endurance.

In April, Philip Best’s attention was drawn to an auction advertisement in the classified section of the newspaper. He sought and gained approval to attend the auction on a Thursday morning during school time and being the only bidder he was able to secure a whole array of gymnasium equipment for seven pounds, eight shillings. The equipment came out by rail the next week and was lovingly installed and tested. ‘Storage’ was a newly clothed princess wearing an array of attractive accoutrements that anyone would admire. Then came the crunch. Literally cap in hand, Philip called on Mr. Caprice in his office only to be told that he had gone over to his house for a short while. There was to be no turning back now so Philip went to the Head’s house. Dora answered the door and asked him to sit down and take tea. He did and could not help but admire the restored sideboard from ‘Storage’. The Headmaster was nowhere to be seen so Dora coaxed Philip into telling her about his mission today. It was a radical idea; Physical Education, as part of the timetable, for every boy in first, second, and third year. Philip spoke passionately:

“This building that we call ‘Storage’ was not simply a place for after school activities or games, it was a valuable teaching resource and Physical Education is the way forward, Mrs. Caprice.”

“And you seem just the man with the energy, enthusiasm and vision to take it forward in this school, Mr. Best”.

Philip blushed and finished his tea. When the Headmaster did not appear after a second cup was taken, Dora Caprice suggested she would convey Mr. Best’s ideas to him when he returned and Mr. Caprice would ‘get back to him’. True to her word Dora did more than explain the idea to her beloved Dick, she sold it to him in its entirety, with a few additions of her own. So Philip Best was informed by letter that formal Physical Education classes would begin for first and second year boys in Term Two, 1910 and would be extended to third year boys in 1911. Philip


Part Two: At Guildale College Senior School

privately changed the name of ‘Storage’ in his own mind. He called her “Dora’s Domain”, but he never shared that name with anyone else.

On the first day of Term Two, Peter Holloway’s second year class had the first formal Physical Education lesson in ‘Storage’. Their instructor, Mr. Philip Best showed them the two anterooms he had fitted out during the vacation with benches and clothes hooks. He explained the dress code and changing procedures for Physical Education. Every boy was to come to the change rooms at the north end of ‘Storage’ and strip out of their uniforms. They were to wear a pair of shorts for gymnasium activities and otherwise would be bare-chested and bare footed. He described it as a manly activity and boys should be proud of their bodies and enjoy watching their own development. He did remind them of the Greeks who did all their gymnasium work completely naked and when he said that would not be the case here, he evoked the first of many laughs and happy moments that would emanate from ‘Storage’ in the coming years. He told them time to change back in their uniforms again would be allocated at the end of each lesson and changing from gymnasium activities was never to be used as an excuse for being late for the next class. Not once did he ever use the words Physical Education, the term that would become synonymous with what Philip was pioneering here.

Philip firstly taught all the boys to run correctly. It was one of his passionate philosophies. You didn’t need equipment for that and the boys loved the explanation of technique and the practice drills. Philip Best demonstrated everything, against the best advice he received from some ageing members of the Common Room. Gymnastics came next and boys gained confidence and displayed remarkable flexibility in newfound skills. Peter Holloway marvelled one day at the lithe performance of Tony ‘Louie’ Le Deux who was like a cat on the bars and rings. Tony Le Deux was wiry, but he was so strong in his upper body and Philip Best knew he had someone special to work with in this talented second year athlete and footballer.


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

Selling the Headmaster the idea of outdoor education camps was easy after the success of Physical Education and the non-stop activity that was engendered in ‘Storage’ both throughout the school day, in the afternoons and sometimes into the evenings under gas-light as boys like Tony Le Deux prepared for their first gymnastic competitions. Outdoor education activities were scheduled for weekends. They started after senior school sport had concluded on a Saturday and ran until Sunday evening. The Headmaster agreed the boys could miss Sunday morning Chapel as long as they were back, showered and dressed correctly for evensong on Sunday night. It was all agreed and camps proceeded without incident until Philip took his second years on a canoeing trip.

The idea was to catch the afternoon train to Northam and then work their way down the Avon and Swan Rivers back to Guildale on Sunday night. It would involve putting the canoes on the train and carrying them to the start point on the Avon. They would make overnight camp at the falls and on a swollen river in mid August they should have little difficulty in coming down the river on Sunday.

All went well until late morning on the Sunday. Philip Best was never reckless and he took no risks when he had boys in his care, so the accident was simply a misjudgement. He approached the rapids in classical form, turned the paddles at the correct moment and inexplicably capsized. He was dragged upside down through the swirling water for longer than he liked and just when he was going through the correct righting method, which he had demonstrated and practised many times, his right shoulder smashed into a submerged boulder and was severely dislocated. Now Philip knew he was in serious trouble. He had no control of the craft or the paddle and his right shoulder was sending pain signals that threatened to scrape the enamel off his clenched teeth. The unspoken rule in disasters is when you think it can’t get any worse; it usually does. The water swept Philip and his craft down stream and then flung them into a clump of tee-trees. Submerged, Philip was wedged underwater in the tee- tree roots with his dislocated shoulder taking the brunt of the


Part Two: At Guildale College Senior School

wedging force. He now realised he couldn’t extract himself from here and he knew he had limited air left in his aching lungs. He allowed himself one self-pitying thought:

“Fancy working this hard and getting all these opportunities to do everything I ever wanted to do, to have it end like this.”

He dismissed the thought and began the fight for his life.

Peter Holloway was in the canoe immediately behind Mr. Best and Tony Le Deux was next in line. They saw it all. Peter got his craft safely to shore and after tying one end of a safety rope to a stump and the other end around his own waist, he set out for the tee-tree clump focussing on where he thought he saw his teacher go under. In a ridiculous act of bravery and having no regard for his own safety, ‘Louie’ Le Deux directed his craft straight at the tee-tree clump and with extraordinary balance and poise he stood up and caught the tee tree branches and lifted his legs gracefully out of the craft which sped on down the river without him. Those who witnessed the next few seconds did not believe their eyes and found it difficult to describe immediately afterwards; the story gained momentum and descriptive power in its many retellings after that.

‘Louie’ described a roman rings arc from the branches of the tee-tree and dived flat into the water where he thought his gymnastics’ coach had disappeared. Underwater ‘Louie’ felt the situation rather than saw it and he tore at the branches that wedged Mr. Best. When he surfaced briefly to get a breath, ‘Louie’ saw Peter Holloway fighting his way towards him, but he realised he would never get there in time to help. It had to be ‘Louie’ and ‘Louie’ alone and he knew it. No one will ever know how ‘Louie’ used his gymnastic skills underwater to pull and lever the branches apart and then physically extract Philip Best from his watery incarceration, but he did. When they both broke the surface Peter Holloway was there to help. ‘Louie’ was a tough fourteen year old but he was exhausted and Philip Best was unconscious. Peter took over and the other nine boys helped from the riverbank straining against the safety rope, which was snaking and twisting in the current out to the tee-tree clump.


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

Slowly they inched their injured Master and Peter Holloway, who was supporting him, to the safe haven of the bank. Philip Best taught them all life saving skills as the first part of his outdoor education programme, never realising they would use them for the first time on him. Second years, fourteen year olds, are boys on the cusp of what they might be. In a situation like this they became young men in an instant. Their mentor and guide, Philip Best was badly injured and unconscious, but he was breathing. They cleared his airways and folded the bottom half of his pullover up over his dangling right forearm so the pullover took most of the weight of the arm. They then turned him gently on his left side into the prone position. Meanwhile ‘Louie’ lay coughing and spluttering near the water’s edge. Peter had started running before anyone had attended to ‘Louie’.

Peter ran the seven and a half miles along the bank of the river and then up a bush track to raise the alarm. He concentrated on telling himself the story of Mr. Best, ‘Storage’ and the events of that ill-fated morning. After raising the alarm he collapsed in the Jolley’s kitchen where Jessica Jolley looked after him, while Tom Jolly rode to organise a search and rescue party. The group of second years missed evensong, but Mr. Caprice was not concerned. Philip Best was transferred to the hospital in Perth and underwent surgery on a badly dislocated right shoulder. It was trussed up for some weeks and he was forced to follow his old colleagues’ advice about ‘never demonstrating’ for all of that final term. Boys who went to gymnasium classes in ‘Storage’ from then on watched and admired Mr. Best ‘in a new way’. His legend grew over his years at Guildale College.

‘Louie’ and Peter Holloway never spoke of the incident again, although their friends begged them for more details, and constant retellings. Two weeks after he left hospital Philip Best asked ‘Louie’ Le Deux whether he would like to enter a gymnastics competition to be held in the City. Mr. Best explained that ‘Louie’ could enter the novice category and the boy readily agreed. Phil took ‘Louie’ through all the basic manoeuvres he would have to perform on each piece of apparatus. It was a steep learning curve, but Phil knew he was


Part Two: At Guildale College Senior School

handling a very special talent. ‘Louie’ lapped up the hard work and Phil watched in quiet admiration as the boy in his gymnasium shorts, with perspiration sparkling on his torso, mastered the uneven bars, the vaulting horse, the Roman Rings and the beam. When Phil explained the free form floor routine that ‘Louie’ would also have to perform he described it as ballet and waited for ‘Louie’s’ negative reaction. He didn’t get one. In fact ‘Louie’ said his sister had taken him to see the ballet and he was fascinated by it. So Phil stepped the lessons up a notch and designed a floor routine for ‘Louie’ that was elegant and had strong elements of ballet in it. ‘Louie’ Le Deux revelled in this new artistic and gymnastic challenge.

Tony Le Deux won his novice gymnastics competition. The judges particularly commented on the wonderful floor routine he had performed. It was a proud moment for Philip Best who watched from the elevated audience seating with his arm still in a supporting brace. Tony’s sister, Christina was another proud supporter sitting in the stands that night and she penned a lovely letter to her father in Albany describing and praising Tony’s achievement. ‘Louie’ looked to have the brightest of futures. Unfortunately, 1911 was not going to be a memorable year for him.

Chapter 15: 1917, November – At Fleurbaix on the Western Front Where Captain Christopher Murphy and Lieutenant Stephen Lamont severely test an old friendship and Captain Murphy reflects introspectively on the possibility that he has become a shadow of himself.

The horrors of the Great War have been well documented and what wasn’t written can be corroborated by the black and white motion picture film record of the period. Trench warfare on the western front, in France, was perhaps the worst of the nightmare. Epitomising futility; the fatuous struggle for yards of ground, which effectively resulted in months and years of stalemate left men to live, suffer and die in appalling conditions. It was no different at Fleurbaix, which was a farming village some 15 miles northeast of Béthune and 13 miles west of Lille, at the border with the department of Nord. This was where Captain Christopher Murphy had been in the front line of trenches, without a break for nearly seven months. Fleurbaix was a bog, everything, including the men whose task it was to fight, was bogged down. It was raining all the time and the water couldn’t get away. Bailing water out of the ‘listening trenches’ and trying to keep it out of the main trenches was a continuous and unforgiving activity. At night, when there was no action, it was as black as ink.

In all of this dank, damp and ultimately depressing landscape there seemed to be one dry, reasonably warm and comparatively safe haven – Captain Christopher Murphy’s dugout. It was large by most standards, almost cavernous. From the trench level it


Part Three: In England and in France

was almost eight further feet down a rough, but well constructed set of stairs to the dirt floor level of the dugout. As each bombardment threatened the stability of the dugout, Captain Murphy had literally demanded that the men ‘dig in’ further and so the dugout had been excavated three times in as many months to gain its present levels.

Those, of all ranks, coming into the dugout always remarked on its size and its strangely warm and homely atmosphere. There was a potbelly stove in the centre, which sent its rickety flue skywards through the roof of the earth cavern, and it burnt constantly providing physical warmth. Captain Murphy had insisted that the sleeping areas be separated from the general living areas and so a hessian screen provided that partition and most visitors never saw the bunk arrangements. In the body of the dugout around the potbelly stove was quite acceptable packing case furniture, which served well. However, when fuel ran low a rough-cut stool or table would have to be sacrificed to the flames and a hunt began for more packing cases to replace those that had had to be burnt. On this night the glow of the potbelly was being augmented by candles strategically placed around the officers’ living quarters. The candle on the packing case table was stuck in a bottle and was providing the illumination for Lieutenant Richard Hawthorne who was working close to a letter he was writing. Private Jim Dickson, who was Captain Murphy’s batman was busy at the potbelly making a pot of coffee, the smell from which was adding to the incongruous sense of warmth and welcome in the dugout. Behind all of this was the curtain of sound, which indicated that the war was continuing outside, but it was somehow muted and a little removed in this place.

On the third step from the bottom of the access stairs sat Lieutenant Scott McIntyre. He had his feet resting on the second step and was playing variations on Australian tunes on his mouth organ. Any casual observer took no time at all to realise that Lieutenant McIntyre was an accomplished musician. He was a Victorian and hailed from ‘sleepy hollow’, that’s Geelong on Corio Bay. He had been educated at one of the two great


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

boys’ private schools in the district. Scott McIntyre was always at pains to point out that he had gone to Geelong College and not the Grammar School, but few could appreciate the significance of the difference.

As a first year boy at College, Scott had taken up the flute, and the clarinet and had been captured by both. His music tutor, octogenarian Jock Campbell had recognised the talent immediately and had nurtured it throughout Scott’s five years at College. If the Great War had not intervened, Scott McIntyre might well have gone on to the Melbourne Conservatory of Music and be playing for a Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’ audience on this night. However, the war had intervened and Scott realised that he couldn’t take his valuable flute or beloved clarinet, his ‘liquorice stick’, as he called it, to war. So he spent some hours of the last day before embarkation combing Melbourne music shops to find ‘just the right’ mouth organ. That was what he was playing so expertly now. He segued effortlessly through creative versions of tunes that would become iconic musical memories of Australians at war. Lyrically he had moved into a soulful version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ as Jim Dickson finished his coffee preparations. Jim carried the steaming pot over to the packing case table where Richard wrote and said in his distinctive Australian up country twang, which was always slightly naïve:

“Here you are, Sir. It’s hot. I don’t know what this latest lot of coffee they’ve sent us is like, but it will warm you anyway.”

Richard looked up and smiled. He was a fine man, loving and kind. He was writing a letter to his wife, but as always, he had time for everyone, and he did not falter in giving his time to other people.

“Thanks Jim, that’s all I really need.”

Jim then turned and spoke to Lieutenant Scott McIntyre:

“Do you want some coffee, Sir? I’m afraid I can’t guarantee the taste.”


Part Three: In England and in France

Scott McIntyre acknowledged Jim with a flick of his eyes and started to invent a coda for variations on a well-known tune. It took four bars only to beautifully wind the piece to a satisfying conclusion, but Jim waited, delighted by the talent and the music. When he had finished his musical exploration of themes, Scott took the mouth organ from his lips and said:

“I think I’ll risk it.”

Private Dickson poured mugs of steaming coffee for both Lieutenants Hawthorne and McIntyre. Richard Hawthorne was back at his writing as Jim handed him his coffee and Scott McIntyre pocketed his mouth organ and took his mug in both hands and instinctively lifted it that way to his lips. He them moved thoughtfully to the foot of the stairs and peered into the extra light that diffused its way through the entrance to the dugout.

“Will that be all, Sir?”

Jim directed the question to Richard Hawthorne, who did pause from his writing this time. He looked up at Jim:

“Yes, thanks Jim. Just put the pot on the stove. Captain Murphy will no doubt want some when he gets back.”

“Yes, Sir. Then I think I’ll turn in, Sir.”

“O.K., Jim.”

Richard Hawthorne had resumed his writing by that time. Private Dickson returned the coffee pot to the potbelly stove and then went to the hessian screen that marked the entrance to the sleeping quarters. Instinctively he turned back one last time and said:


In unrehearsed unison the two Lieutenants responded. Characteristically Richard Hawthorne said:

“Goodnight, Jim.”

While Scott McIntyre distractedly managed:


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

“Goodnight, Dickson.”

Still staring up the stairs, his coffee mug held close to his lips in both hands, Scott McIntyre waited until he was sure Jim Dickson had gone and then asked abruptly:

“Where’s Murphy gone?”

This time Richard put down his pen and looked up from his letter and gave his full focus to Scott.

“Perhaps a little more respect is required, Scott. He is our superior officer here; whatever you may think of him.”

Scott was chastened, but there was still a strong echo of cynicism in his corrected question:

“O.K., Richard, where has Captain Murphy gone?”

“He went for a walk along the line. He left about a half an hour ago.

Scott McIntyre acknowledged the information with a nod of his head and then his attention was once again drawn to the light at the top of the stairs. This time there were voices and Scott loved to listen and play guessing games with the sounds that people made. The first voice was full of quality and sounded like an officer, but he didn’t recognise it.

“Excuse me soldier, but is this Captain Murphy’s dugout?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Scott knew the reply. He also knew who was on sentry duty so there wasn’t much sport here, but who was the interrogator? The quality voice sounded again:

“Thank you.”

‘Excuse me’ and ‘thank you’ from an officer thought Scott. Must be someone new. Those niceties disappeared in trench life pretty quickly. The light at the top of the stairs was blocked and then provided a poorly framed silhouette as the intriguing voice began to descend. Scott almost laughed as the sophistication of the voice was about to be matched by the crisp newness of the


Part Three: In England and in France

uniform and the smart unused look of the kitbag slung over his right shoulder. When he was fully in view Scott did a full assessment. Rank of Lieutenant, smart pressed and creased uniform, tall and well proportioned, a gentle look to match the quality of the voice. When he finally made it to ground level, Scott made a mental correction. Very tall! Now he could also see wisps of brown hair under the peaked cap. Scott’s further thoughts were truncated when the strange Lieutenant greeted him:

“Good evening.”

“Hello.” replied Scott, still intrigued by the manners of the man. He knew he had to begin answering some of these questions so he asked.

“Are you the new officer?”

The Lieutenant with the manners and the voice, began an explanation:

“Yes, I’ve been to Battalion Headquarters. They told me to report here.”

Lieutenant Richard Hawthorne had stood when the stranger arrived and now he gestured as he spoke.

“Welcome to Captain Murphy’s dugout. Sit down won’t you?”

Somewhat out of character, it was Lieutenant Scott McIntyre who added:

“Would you like some coffee? The taste is revolting, but it is hot.”

“Thanks, that would be good.”

The next few moments were played out as a mime. Scott McIntyre went to the potbelly and brought the coffee pot to the table where he poured the new Lieutenant a steaming mug. The tall stranger slung his kitbag next to the packing case table and sat down where Richard Hawthorne had indicated. The latter resumed his seat where he had been writing. Reaching across the table, Lieutenant Hawthorne offered his hand.


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

“My name’s Richard Hawthorne. I’m second in command of the company. This is Scott McIntyre.”

Shaking hands with both of them the new Lieutenant announced:

“Hello, I’m Stephen Lamont.”

“Welcome aboard,” said Richard and continued “Captain Murphy commands our company.”

Stephen looked around the dugout: “I know. Where is Chris?”

Scott McIntyre latched straight onto the obvious friendliness and familiarity in Stephen’s tone and wanted to know more:

“Chris? I’ve never heard anyone call him by his Christian name before. Do you know him?”

“Yes. We were at school together; the last year at Preparatory School and then five years at Guildale College. We enlisted at the same time.”

Scott couldn’t contain his delight. At long last pieces of the enigma that had been his commanding officer were falling into place. He almost laughed, but the tone was still cynical:

“Well, well, well! He actually has a past. Perhaps he is human after all.”

Richard was quick to pull Scott into line.

“That’s enough, Scott!”

“Sorry, I forgot, he is our superior officer here.”

Richard now tried to rebuild the situation that had clearly confused Stephen by the expression that he now had on his face.

“Don’t mind Scott, he and Captain Murphy don’t always see eye to eye. Incidentally Captain Murphy is walking up the line at the present. He shouldn’t be too much longer.”

Scott realised that time was short and that Captain Murphy could walk back into the dugout at any moment. He wanted to use


Part Three: In England and in France

every opportunity to find out more so he went on a verbal fishing expedition:

“Tell me, Stephen, isn’t it? “Yes.”

“Tell me Stephen, what was Captain Murphy like when he was at school?”

Richard instantly saw the direction of this interrogation and wanted it to end.

“Out of order, Scott, an unfair question.”

Stephen just smiled and the tension melted away. He spoke with memories flooding back into his head. He wasn’t so much responding to Scott McIntyre’s line of questioning as reminding himself of what he remembered with great fondness.

“No it’s alright. I don’t mind telling you. He was a fine fellow, a talented scholar and a natural sportsman. He had never been to a school before his last year at the ‘Prep.’ Everyone liked him. He would do anything for anyone and do it really well.”

Scott’s sarcasm was right out in the open now.

“Well the war has certainly changed him!”

Richard’s voice had anger in it for the first time.

“Scott, I think you’ve gone too far. I’m sorry Stephen. Scott gets carried away at times.”

“That’s alright, these times have tested us all. Still, what did you mean the war has changed him?”

Richard answered, ever the conciliator.

“I think you had better judge that for yourself.”

“Yes, I for one,” added Scott, “will be particularly interested in your observations.”

Then, as if on cue, voices were heard at the top of the stairs: “Evening, Captain Murphy”


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

“Evening, Sir.”

Both Lieutenants Hawthorne and McIntyre recognised the voices of the two sentries, and Lieutenant Stephen Lamont instantly remembered the voice of his friend when he replied:

“Good evening, men.”

Richard almost whispered:

“Quiet now. That’s Captain Murphy.”

Scott couldn’t resist adding:

“Don’t be too disappointed Stephen, he’s been out here a long time.”

Captain Christopher Murphy came down the stairs slowly. He wore his peaked cap and an army great coat that gave him an eerie full and floating appearance as he descended. He looked tired and drawn and oddly distracted. He was clearly far away in his own thoughts. When he reached the dirt floor level Lieutenants Hawthorne and Lamont stood as one, but Lieutenant McIntyre couldn’t help himself. He turned away and walked past the potbelly stove into a darker corner of the dugout. He clutched his coffee mug in both hands and pressed it close to his lips as he did so. He would listen, but he did not want to view what was to come directly. Lieutenant Richard Hawthorne broke the silence. His voice was bright and full of anticipation:

“Sir, a surprise for you. One of your old friends has come to join us.”

“Hello, Chris.”

Stephen’s voice was assured and gentle and it jolted Captain Murphy. Chris stared for a long time as if he was in a daze and was struggling for clarity in his consciousness. When he did speak it was without familiarity or friendliness. There was an edge to his enunciation:

“How did you get here?”

“I was told to report to this company.”


Part Three: In England and in France

“Oh, I see. Quite a coincidence!”


Captain Murphy moved closer to the packing case table, but Stephen misread the move. He did not approach to shake Stephen’s hand, he merely gathered the last remaining coffee mug from the table and walked slowly to the potbelly stove and proceeded to pour himself a cup of coffee. As he did so he removed his peaked cap and half threw, half placed it on another smaller packing case table. When he had finished pouring the coffee, he picked up the mug in two hands and pressed it to his lips in exactly the same way that Scott McIntyre had done. From Stephen’s position at the larger packing case table there was now an odd piece of mirror imaging. Lieutenant Scott McIntyre had drifted to a darker corner of the dugout to his right and Captain Christopher Murphy had done exactly the same thing to the left. Even with their backs turned to him, Stephen could see they had adopted the same pose with coffee mugs pressed close to their lips. If the silence had not continued and the tension mounted, Stephen thought he might suggest they looked like a pair of comic book ends, but he dismissed the thought and waited out the unsettling silence. Finally Captain Murphy spoke. It was the matter of fact tone of an order commencing:

“Lieutenant McIntyre” “Sir.”

He turned instinctively with the instruction and lowered his coffee mug.

“Go over to Captain Garrard’s dugout and tell him that the Colonel wishes to see me at 2100 and he is to see the Colonel after me at 2130 hours.”

“Yes, Sir”

Lieutenant McIntyre drained his mug of coffee and put it on the same table where Captain Murphy had placed his hat. He almost ran to the stairs and took them two at a time eager to be out of that den which had an atmosphere of high explosives. As much


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

as he would have loved to hear what was going to be said, he was more relieved to be out of it for the moment. When it was clear McIntyre was out of the dugout Captain Murphy spoke again. He still had his back turned to Lieutenants Hawthorne and Lamont and he only removed the coffee mug from his lips to give the orders.

“Lieutenant Hawthorne.” “Sir!”

“Go and check the machine gun posts at either end of our line. Tell them I want to brief them here at 2200.”

“Yes, Sir!”

Lieutenant Hawthorne didn’t bother to drain his coffee. He simply put it down, picked up his cap and moved quickly to the stairs and disappeared up them. Stephen’s mind was racing. You didn’t have to be all that clever to realise what his friend Chris Murphy was doing. He was clearing the decks, getting rid of the audience for the confrontation that was to come. Ever since he had left the Chaplain and ‘Louie’ Le Deux in London, he wondered how this was going to play out. However, even in his worst-case scenario he didn’t expect this coldness, this antagonism and suspicion, at least not right from the start. Now he just waited. How much had this young man, who he thought he knew so well, changed? He didn’t have long to wait to find out. Captain Murphy asked him without even turning to face him:


“Why, what, Sir?”

This time Captain Murphy did turn and took a step towards Stephen aggressively.

“Don’t bother playing the naive new boy with me, Lieutenant. How many allied battalions are there in France?”

“I don’t know exactly, Sir.”


Part Three: In England and in France

“Well let’s say fifty divisions. That’s a hundred and fifty brigades; four hundred and fifty battalions. That’s one thousand eight hundred companies. There are one thousand eight hundred companies in France, Lieutenant and you might have been sent to anyone of them and you come to mine. Now, why?”

“Coincidence, Sir.”

“Coincidence be damned! I suppose the fact that ‘Louie’ Le Deux was out here two months ago asking questions about me was a coincidence too?”

“I don’t know, Sir.”

“Don’t insult my intelligence, Lieutenant and don’t try and put me off be calling me, ‘Sir’. This is no everyday run of the mill posting is it?”

Stephen knew that the moment had come. He had planned a much gentler strategy as he had travelled here to France and then on to Fleurbaix and this front line dugout, but he had assessed the new situation in the short time he had been here. There was going to be a confrontation first and maybe the reconciliation would come later. He steeled himself for the first stage.

“No it isn’t. May I speak frankly?”

Chris Murphy did not reply. He moved to the potbelly stove and poured himself another mug of coffee. Then he just stood and stared. Stephen realised it was going to be a battle of wills and wits. He tried to remember when and where there might have been such a struggle between them in the past? For the moment he couldn’t recall being in a situation like this with his friend before. So he determined, this is breaking new ground so let’s get on with it. He repeated his question:

“Well, do you want me to speak frankly?”

“Do what you like!”

“Chris you have done longer out here than any man in this battalion. It’s time you went away for a rest. It is more than due to you.”


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

Chris needed no further information to confirm what he already suspected. He turned on his friend with fire and passion.

“So that’s it! You’re the messenger boy who will finally persuade me to come out. No one else could convince me and they can’t find a legitimate reason to order me out, so they dig up an old school friend to kid me into leaving the front.”

“I’m not a messenger boy, Chris. I am your friend.”

“Well let me tell you, Lieutenant, I will not leave! Do you know there’s not a man left who was here when I first arrived? Do you know what that has been like?”

“I can image.”

“You cannot imagine! Watching everyone I came with getting killed, maimed, ‘or go round the bend’. It hasn’t been a ‘Prep.’ School cricket match and you just can’t walk onto the field and ask me to retire. This is war! This is the real world and I’m staying, right to the end, if I last that long.”

There was another sustained pause. Stephen sensed he was different, but he also sensed that, not far away from this young man ranting and raving in front of him, was someone he knew. He was going to persist.

“Chris they told me you had changed, but up until now I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t believe it!”

“Well, you’ve seen what you came to see, now you can hot foot it back to whoever organised this little charade and tell them that it’s true. Tell them Murphy is mad. Tell them he has a death wish and he wants to die at the front like all his men have done. Tell them that. It’s near enough to the truth.”

“You’ve had enough, Chris. You’ve given more than enough and somebody had to tell you. That’s why I came. You wouldn’t listen to anyone else. I was hoping you might listen to me, before it really is too late. What are you trying to prove?”

Stephen had softened his tone deliberately. He was now going to try and talk to his friend as a friend. Now he waited to see if


Part Three: In England and in France

Chris would adopt a similar stance. There was no conciliation. Chris spoke with mounting anger:

“I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone. I don’t have to; and don’t patronise me with the ‘I’m here to help you treatment’. Where have you been for the past six months?”

The question made something snap inside Stephen’s head. Without control he raised his voice:

“So that’s it? Just because you’ve been at the front you think you’ve been fighting the war single-handedly. You’ve been here too long Chris, your mind is twisted and torn, you can’t see things as they really are and if you think you’re going to achieve anything by staying here until you eventually get yourself killed, you’re wrong!”

“Wrong, am I?”

“Wrong, wrong, wrong! You’ll just add another death to all those you’ve seen already. It won’t help reverse anything that’s gone before. I came here hoping to tell you that and why? Because you were once my friend! What’s more, you still are my friend and I want that friendship to last beyond all this death and destruction.”

“You can’t hope for that. Friendships don’t last forever, because the people don’t last. Out here you can’t afford to form a friendship because it’s just another friend you have to bury or mourn.”

“Yes you can and friendship can last. I hated to have to listen to the reports of what was happening to my friend and I hate to see you like this. You are destroying yourself and for what? Chris you are just a shadow of what you used to be and somebody had to tell you and now it seems you’re even turning your back on me.”

Stephen had seen Chris start to turn away and he threw the last line at him hoping to get him to stay looking at him. It didn’t work and the familiar move of drifting into a darker corner of


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

the dugout and clutching the coffee mug close to the lips in two hands was an act of defiance and dismissal. Stephen exploded:

“Well go on, go on and do it Chris, tear yourself to pieces, destroy yourself, make a martyr of yourself. Be the hero who lasted seven, eight, nine months at the front line. Stay here until you eventually go right round the twist or you get killed when your luck finally runs out. You’re just a shadow of the person I used to know!”

It was done. Stephen had let out all his pent up frustrations. It had come out with anger and not, as he had wanted, through friendship. There was no going back now. It had been done. There was a silence. Then with impeccable grace and timing Chris Murphy turned around to face his friend square on.

“Get out! Get out of here! You may have got yourself posted here easily enough, but I’ll get you posted out again before you can turn around. Now get out!”

Stephen stood quietly. Who was this young man? Had all those years at school been a sham? It was with the voice of an old friendship that he used now:

“You needn’t bother, Chris. I’ll go. I’ve said what I came to say and I’m not sorry for that. The only thing I regret is that I see you like I see you now. Why? Because that makes me really sad.”

“Get out! Get out!”

Stephen picked up his cap from the packing case table and walked in a measured way to the foot of the stairs. Halfway up the stairs he stopped and turned back once more. Chris had already turned his back and was pouring himself another mug of coffee at the potbelly stove. Despondent, Stephen turned back to the stairs and climbed them all the way out of the dugout. Chris noticed that his hands were shaking as he gulped down the coffee. In pure anger he turned back towards the stairs and threw the coffee mug at them with all the force he could muster. He then walked to a stool quite near the potbelly stove and slumped down onto it. He put his head in his hands. There were no tears.


Part Three: In England and in France

There had been no tears for a long time, but he ached. He ached from the inside out. Ever so slowly he began to realise what the recent confrontation had been about. He raised his head and the thoughts formed in his head. He truly was just a shadow of himself.

For the first time in such a long time his thoughts had clarity about them. Here he was sitting amid devastation, trying to fight all his doubts, and depending on just his stubborn determination to survive. Stephen Lamont was right. He had become a shadow of himself. Chris lost track of time as his mind began to sort all this out. He realized he had spent so much time on introspection, that he had lost sight of the new direction that he was so desperately seeking. In the process he had successfully destroyed every old connection he had had, and rejected any new offers of affection and support. This wasn’t him. Chris Murphy didn’t do things like this. Stephen Lamont was right; he was a shadow of himself.

Moments of revelation and epiphany are well documented in religious texts of all faiths, but until you actually have one, you do not appreciate the powerful force in your being that they are. It wasn’t a flash of understanding, because it took a long time to form in his head. Time had passed without him being conscious of its passage, but now he found his mind retracing important things from the past. He pictured the faces of his parents and his dead brother, Paul. Jenny was there again standing watching him at the side of the swimming hole at home. School friends fired into his mind with their laughter and occasional tears and finally he wept. After all these months of stoic denial, Chris Murphy cried almost uncontrollably. There was no one there to watch the spectacle. If they had, they would have concluded that finally the war had broken the unbreakable. However, it wasn’t that. The false shadow that had been Christopher Murphy was being wept away. How long did this all take? Minutes? Hours? Who would know?

An unusual breeze blew down the stairs, and all the candles in the dugout flickered out. Captain Christopher Murphy sat in the


REFLECTIONS: A Story of Friendship

fire shadow of the potbelly stove and realised that Stephen Lamont was and always would be, his friend.

Want to read the rest of Reflections? Buy it here:

Smashwords Smashwords

Amazon Amazon USA

Other - print Other - print

Other - ebook Other - ebook