Barringer Publishing, 2011
I awoke with a gentle jolt. There was a motor and voices. “Is he alive?” one said.
“He just moved his head,” said a female voice.
I could barely see one person leaning over the side of the motor yacht trying to get a grip on the cart pole that I was leaning against.
“We saw your light,” the man said.
I reached for my flashlight and shown it on the man, an older person with gray hair. He looked strong and rugged. I shifted the light to the other person. It was young woman, too young to be his wife.
“I must be dreaming,” I said. “It’s a dream come true.”
“Give me your backpack. Can you get up and climb aboard the boat?”
I was stiff, but my adrenaline was flowing. I half stood and reached for the boat rail. Two other men grabbed my arm and helped me into the boat. I collapsed into a cushioned seat and looked around. It seemed to be a pleasure boat or perhaps a fishing vessel. Four other men were down below asking who I was.
“Is he French or British?” one asked.
“Neither,” I said. “I am American.”
“How did you get out here?” another inquired.
“Save that for later,” said the older man.
They pushed off from the makeshift pier and out to sea we went.
“Do we have anymore room?” the woman asked.
A voice replied, “We have four below deck and five on deck.”
“We could take two more,” the man calculated.
I sat in a dream world. I wanted to cry, and I wanted to shout out in celebration. I did neither.
“What’s your name, mate?” asked one of the soldiers.
“Mitchell,” I replied.
“Well, welcome aboard, Mitchell, or should I say Mitch?” asked the girl.
“Mitch is fine.”
We were motoring along the coast looking for more passengers. I saw several trucks piled up on the beach. This looked familiar to me.
“I think I slept here last night,” I blurted out. “Can you get in closer?”
We crept slowly toward the shore. Five men stood solemnly on the beach.
“Swim out to us,” shouted the older man.
“We can’t swim,” called back one of the men. “Just leave us.”
“Hell, no,” said another man from the rear of the boat. “Captain, pull as close as you can, and some of us will swim ashore and bring them back.”
The captain of the boat did as he was told. Six men slid over the side and swam ashore. It took some coaxing, but soon they returned with the reluctant non-swimmers. We pulled them aboard. Blankets and towels were distributed to the wet soldiers. Eventually, the young woman handed out cups of hot tea. The captain once again headed out to sea.
“We need to get to buoy number six near Calais,” said the captain. “To your left is Dunkirk, but it is too dark to see anything more than the flickering fires and the smell of smoke. From buoy number six, we head to Dover.”
As dawn broke, we passed the buoy. I was startled by the sounds of a harmonica. It was my friend from yesterday on the beach.
“I thought I recognized you,” he said to me.
“Keep playing; it sounds great.”
As the sun rose, it became light enough to see other boats and ships.
“I’ve never seen the channel so calm,” said the captain. “What a stroke of luck.”
We were riding low in the water with the heavy load we were carrying. I enjoyed the smell of the sea. There were airplanes above, but they focused on the larger ships with hundreds of men aboard. The girl was looking at me now that it was light enough to see.
“You’re wounded!” she exclaimed. “You’re bleeding!”
“It’s nothing but a flesh wound,” I murmured.
She removed my makeshift bandage and began clearing out the open wound. She applied disinfectant and sturdy dressing from her first-aid kit. As she worked on me, I wanted her quick efficient hands.
“Are you a nurse?” I asked.
“I’ve had training, but I am not a nurse,” she said softly.
She has long brown hair and a fair complexion. Her blue eyes were striking. She seemed shy but acted in a take-charge demeanor. She half smiled and sat back to admire her work.
“That should do it, Mitch.”
“Thank you uh…” I stammered.
“Liz,” she added.
“Thank you, Liz. I shall never forget you,” I looked her in the eye. My reward was a big beautiful smile.
“What are you going to do when we get to Dover?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. I have been so focused on getting there that I am drawing a blank. Let’s see. I will need to meet with the U.S. ambassador and make arrangements to return to America.”
“You know, there is a war going on,” she said, “and you need time for your wound to heal.”
“I also have something wrong with my shoulder. I got hurt when I took a fall off a bicycle.”
“You are a mess! Anything else wrong with you?”
“Nothing comes to mind.” I wanted to add that I was tired, hungry, lonely and needed a bath, but I kept that to myself.
I must have dozed off, because I was awakened by a cheer from the men on board. They had spotted British planes above, and there was no sign of the Stukas.
“We are almost home,” shouted the harmonica player.
“It won’t be long,” another yelled.
We continued our trip in silence. All eyes searched the horizon for land.
After a while a quiet voice said, “There they are.” It was a sound of almost mystical reverence. I searched ahead with my eyes trying to determine what everyone saw but my. Then I saw the White Cliffs of Dover. I started to ask what was the big deal, but for once I kept my mouth shut. When I got a better view, I realized why this was such a cherished sight. I looked around the boat. Liz had tears in her eyes and several of the men wiped their moist faces.
One of the men spoke in a forceful voice. “We’re home, laddies, we’re home!”
The Accidental Soldier is a World War II novel written by Door County resident Ben Bailey. His main character is Mitchell Morgan, an American graduate student in history, who travels to Germany and France in 1939 and 1940.
Copies of The Accidental Soldier are available at http://www.BarringerPublishing.com, http://www.Amazon.com, http://www.BarnesandNoble.com, in print and eBook editions. Books may also be purchased from Main Street Market in Egg Harbor, Passtimes Books in Sister Bay, or by emailing [email protected].