The noise a bullet makes when passing through the air is like that of a bee, an angry bee with a sting that can ruin your day.
A high velocity bullet, can quite often crack past you, like a whip flicking your ear. Whether you hear a buzz or a crack, the end result is the same; you take cover as quickly as you can.
Blaise found his face down in the dark, stinking mud of the Somme before he even realised what was happening. An invisible cloud of foul-smelling gas puffed up with the sound of a wet, trouser ripping fart.
The gas mask did nothing to keep the smell out and his cheeks bulged as his stomach tried to add to the stench by forcing his breakfast back up as well.
He looked down and realised that he was lying on the body of a German soldier, his face snuggling into what he had previously thought was mud, but which he realised was its groin.
He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and ripped off his mask. Vomit hurtled out of his mouth, so fast that he was surprised at the strength of his stomach.
He put the mask back on for another breath and then back off for more vomit. The chuckles around him from the men he was leading only added to his misery.
‘Cheer up sir, I’m sure your boyfriend won’t mind you going first!’ Colour Sergeant Jones was a mild-mannered, slightly built man, and every soldier in the regiment held him in the highest regard.
It didn’t stop Blaise retorting with a muffled ‘Fuck off Colour, there’s a good chap.’
Another bullet cracked through the air, spanging off the wrecked hulk of an allied tank. Sparks flew through the air and the metal glowed where it had been struck.
‘Bastard’s got a high velocity rifle. Anyone see the shot?’ a chorus of muffled no’s rang out.
This was the part of being an officer that he hated. The responsibility for the lives of his men and the authority to make sure he could save as many as possible, or throw them away in order to achieve the objective.
‘Jones! When I say, up and run five paces. Everyone else, look for the shot!’
Jones stared over at him, tightly gripping his rifle, the bladder on his mask inflating and deflating rapidly.
‘Go!’ jones scrambled to his feet and lumbered forward the five paces, dropping down into the mud and rapidly rolling away to a different position.
At the same time the rest of the squad popped their heads up and scanned for the shot. Nothing.
‘Fuck! Jones, up five on my command! Go!’
The unfortunate Jones was just scrambling onto all fours when the bullet punched through the top of his head, drilling through his body and erupting from his arse in a fountain of gore. His corpse dropped back into the mud with a macabre tail of guts trailing from his back end.
‘One o’clock, two hundred yards. Low wall. Five yard to the nine o’clock of the wall. Watch my shot.’ there was a pause as the spotter loaded a tracer round. With a muffled crack, the tracer raced towards its target.
‘Fire and manoeuvre in pairs! Fire at will!’ shots rippled from the squad as they slipped into manoeuvres that had become second nature. One member of the pair provided covering fire for the other as they ran forward five paces and took cover, then repeated the process.
There was no return of fire from the enemy sniper, and it made Blaise uneasy.
‘Colour! To me!’ he waited until the Colour Sergeant reached him. He was interrupted before he could voice his concerns.
‘Too fucking quiet sir! We should have taken at least two casualties by now.’
The concern on the Colour Sergeant’s face said it all.
‘We can’t bally well fall back in the face of a determined lack of opposition can we Colour. Let’s get to the wall at least and see what to do after that. The chaps are nearly there anyway.’
It was true, the closest pair was only ten yards away, close enough for grenades and he watched as a couple were lobbed towards the target.
They had barely finished exploding before the man surged up and charged the wall. A flurry of shots and then silence.
Blaise and the Colour Sergeant stood up and stared as faint shouts of ‘all clear’ drifted towards them.
‘What the ..’ the Colour Sergeant didn’t get to finish his sentence. The ground erupted with a roar and flames twenty feet high shot from the ground. Blaise watched in stunned disbelief as his men were incinerated where they stood, dying without even screaming as the superheated gases flowed down their throats and cooked their lungs as they instinctively drew breath to scream.
Even at two hundred yards the heat was intense, steam rising from Blaise’s wet uniform, the mud drying almost instantly.
Within seconds it was over, the flames dying down as quickly as they appeared. One or two corpses stood, looking like Negro scarecrows, all humanity burnt from them.
‘Come on sir, nothing we can do.’ the Colour slowly led his sobbing officer back to their lines.