Somwhere in France. That is where we all were.
And the mud and the rain made our lives hell. Oh! And there was also the small matter that any one of us could die...at any moment!
We had not moved for going on three weeks now. We were dug in good and proper. Second by second. Minute by minute. Hour by hour. Day by day. That is how we all lived.
It was turning colder too. Winter was fast approaching and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
You don't really notice the damp after a while. Everything was wet. Our clothes, our boots, our beds. But the cold made things worse. As if it could get any worse!
I was on late watch.
Nothing much happened at night these days. An impasse had been reached. It was all a waiting game now.
Our orders were clear though. At night we were to stay where we were and only engage the enemy if they attacked us.
But everything happened during the day. They shelled us. We shelled them. Some of us died. Some of them died.
It all seemed so pointless sometimes. But we all knew our purpose in the Grand Plan.
Night-time had become routinely quiet of late. No shelling. No sniper fire.
I remember making some tea that particular night. Steaming in enamel mugs. Like dishwater it was but at least it was something to warm us all up on a freezing cold evening. There was Sergeant Cockerell and a couple of other lads on night duty like me.
There was an uncanny stillness to the air. Punctuated by the odd sound of gunfire. Nothing major, I thought, just small scale night manoeuvres. Here and there rivulets of mist started to form and soon began to drift serendipitously around the lower reaches of our trenches.
I first caught sight of him then. Out of the corner of my eye. Just a glimpse over my shoulder. But he was there alright.
Even though the mist was obscuring some of this boy before me's legs, I could, none-the-less, see him quite clearly. He could have been no older than five or six years old. And he had fair, unruly hair.
Surprisingly, despite the cold and the damp of a Winter's night, he was only wearing grey check pyjamas! One or two sizes too big for him as well...hand-me-downs I suspected.
What on earth was he doing here? No living soul should be in these trenches. Let alone a small child!
But when I turned around fully to survey the spot where I had first seen him...he had simply vanished...into thin air? Run off back to where he came from more like. Even though that sentence did not ring true in my head.
After all, the nearest village, St Claire, must be about five or six miles away from here and although it was presently behind Allied lines and woodland covered the area leading there. It was not safe. Not safe at all! And highly unlikely, in my mind as a soldier, that a small boy would have got this far on his own.
St Claire was basically no more than a small hamlet. Only a few families had stayed put. One's with sick and elderly relatives. Most had fled in fear. Those that remained eked out an existence as best they could knowing death could strike at a moment's notice.
I tried to put the incident behind me. But there was something about the boy's troubled face. I couldn't get his image out of my mind. Even when I slept!
I told no-one else about my strange experience. Maybe I should report to the medic? But there was nothing wrong with my psyche despite witnessing what I already had. There were enough poor fellows who had been too severely scarred by this war to carry on fighting and plenty of those who would have taken any opportunity to get a one-way ticket back home. I was no hero but I was here to do a job. One I was willing to see through to some sort of end.
Three long weeks passed. Our war ground on.
I didn't see the boy again during that time but his sad little face still haunted me. As if life here wasn't haunted enough!
Then came the tragic news.
It was always a heart-warming, life-affirming moment to receive communication from home. But those rare occasions of joy were also tinged with the horror of this war.
And for Sergeant Dave 'Rooster' Cockerell, a close colleague and someone I considered to be a good friend of mine, it was a morning he, nor I, would ever forget.
His letter from home was of an official nature. The kind we all dreaded receiving as much as those back home.
He and his family lived in Coventry. The experts had said that they wouldn't bomb Coventry.
But they had. Hundreds had been killed on just one awful night. And his house had been one of many to bear the brunt.
His wife, Emma, was safe. Thank God! But his poor little boy, Tommy, had perished in the firestorm while he slept. He was just six years old for Christ's sake! That was me cursing the Son Of God...and I am not a religious man!
I heard of this terrible event second hand. But when I heard the date of the air-raid that had claimed so many souls, it chilled the marrow in my bones.
It was the very same night I saw the little boy in the trenches! A boy I knew now was the traumatised ghost of young Tommy Cockerill! Looking. Looking for his Father to comfort him.