Significant Incident

Can you remember the past in the future? Here is a short story written for the fall 2013 CBC Short Story Contest.

Our thanks to Mrs Pearl Sefarian for editing it.

This short story combines some readings of JR Tolkien who created Lord of the Rings and served as an Infantry Battalion Signals Officer in WW1.

See more of JR Tolkien in WW1
An Essay on Tolkien and his Service here TOLKIEN in WW1

Tolkien and the Great War is an excellent book TOLKIEN AND THE GREAT WAR

Significant Incident

“This is Matt Mclintock, CTV News, reporting. We have learned from the authorities that three soldiers from the base in Edmonton have gone missing. They were on a night patrol during a routine training exercise in Wainwright Alberta. They had been expected to check into their command post this morning to confirm if there was an “enemy unit” to the north of them. As of 8 am this morning they have not been heard from.”

Now an update from CTV News Edmonton.

“Three soldiers, missing from Steele Barracks, are still unaccounted for. This morning two helicopters from Edmonton`s 408 Squadron were tasked with flying the path the soldiers had reported they were following. Their tracks had ended abruptly at an oil pipeline where it crossed under a road leading to the Town of Wainwright. Throughout the day RCMP were searching to the north, but as of sundown today, authorities still have no answers.   Police have reported interviewing oil well technicians who, last night, reported hearing staccato sounds like gun fire from rifles and seeing shimmering fireworks in the gloom.

Later at the supper hour news.

“An RCMP Dog Team was flown out to Wainwright at noon today. They retraced the missing soldiers planned route. All seemed in order, they had found a track and the K9 Dog handler and the four footed constable had reported various scent trails. Again – all pointed to something that ended at the pipeline road intersection.

Just as the sun was setting on the second day.

CTV reported “a pair of old army boots and a German helmet were turned up by the Dog Team.” Matt Mclintock of CTV News Edmonton and his cameraman breathlessly showed a National TV audience a helmet in new condition stamped with factory markings dated March 1915. CTV concluded their broadcast that night with a note that the entire battalion was going to search the area the missing men had followed by doing a shoulder to shoulder sweep the following morning. Military spokesmen were tight-lipped.

The rain was pouring down.

The three soldiers were very much aware that something wasn’t right.  They sheltered in a ditch.  All around them, shell fire banged and crashed. They tried to use their radio, without success. Their Blackberry’s and Iphones, brought along in case they needed real world first responders were no better. Broken ground and broken legs are not unknown on a pitch black prairie. But there was nothing – no signal – nada.

“Sarge! Wake up. Get a load of this!” shouted Corporal Jones.

Sergeant Jerry Smith, the patrol leader, rubbed sleepy eyes. As they came into focus a green and grey biplane was flying lazily over the battle field with a buzzing horn warning troops. Something was coming. A shattered village in God knows where was a few hundred yards away. Holes in the ground, farm houses once, were everywhere.

Suddenly a wall of flame erupted to their left.  And it started rolling and boiling toward them.

Jerry Smith had been in many training exercises. This was very different. From north and south, the explosions, smoke and dirt clouds kicked up came steadily closer. Snow was falling. “Always bring your parka to Wainwright” held true. The wall of flames jumped forward. Soon he saw grey clad figures streaming east, stopping here and firing at the flames. Then the barrage dropped around Smith and his men.  Crablike, they scuttled and toppled into a crater for shelter. Explosions from falling shells were blasting everything in their path. Smith and his men could only hope they were below the whiz and bang of random shell fragments thumping steadily just outside their thin walls of dirt.  Shells burst.  Smith and his friends jerked and twitched. As suddenly as it started, the barrage was now a hundred yards further east. Their walk in the park patrol had become a nightmare.

And then he saw them. He knew these figures. And they were coming towards him.

Soldiers dressed in ancient uniforms with Tommy tin hats came out of the storm of fire and continued past him. Smith and his little Army climbed out of the shell hole and started walking forward with the wool clad wave. The tide drifted to the east. Their weapons! Old bolt action rifles were in good shape. They had lots of ammunition in their pockets and on their belts. They were SMLE Short Magazine Lee Enfield 303s like those in the Battalion Museum in Edmonton. Smith’s modern weaponry with its shiny blanks was cast aside for real weapons with real bullets.

They were in a actual battle going up a long sloping hill. Men were dropping everywhere, but Smith and his two friends got those who were losing direction organised – the old fashioned woolen uniforms a sharp contrast to their hi-tech Gortex clothing. So much for fashion, the greater threat was the angry cracks and zips, like hornets, all around. If you hear the crack, you’re still alive.

Meanwhile overhead the drone had detected a faint signal north of the pipeline junction. “Niner Bravo (Smith’s DeputyCommander), this is India 2 (Smith’s team). We are off your map and engaged in a battle with Canadian soldiers wearing very old uniforms.”

The operations officer in the command post still can’t believe what happened next. He reached for his phone but his hands were glued to the table. His map display showed flashing red diamonds of an angry enemy. The faint blue friendly troops radiated like sonar in a 1950s science fiction movie.

“Fire Mission, Battery”  Smith was now calling for a real artillery strike against an enemy!

“Enemy in the open. Grid  22.Bravo.Five.Five.” The Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Fire Control Centre hidden away at Betty Lake swung the “Ready Battery” online pointing their M777 howitzers North West. Fire orders flashed to the guns and alignments were set. Gunners rammed GPS guided Merlin munitions into the breach. Menacing barrels elevated. And they waited for the Safety Officer who rapidly checked all bearings. They were ready. Bringing his arm down, old Gunner McNaughton shouted, “Fire!”  Four 155mm gun barrels belched flame and a  million dollars’ worth of ordnance went soaring off into the night sky. Smith’s radio echoed “On the way.” Thirty seconds later, the four artillery shells landed within a hundred yards of Smith and his by now growing woollen clad Army. It had taken two minutes.

Now Jerry Smith had his own storm to follow.

He barked. “Everyone up – advance!” And they quickly set off. Bullets popped and cracked. The sun was rising in the east, and the grey mass of a Tolkien battle scene was retreating down steep slopes in the shell shattered valley. Trees that had been budding out last evening were now defiant toothpicks.

“India 2 this is Zero (the command post). Report your position.” Smith and his men in India 2 spoke into their Satcom radio. “Zero – This is so screwed. We are overlooking something right out of a WW1 movie.” At that point the security monitor came on the radio and ordered, “All stations except India 2, ENDEX  now.” The exercises had come to an abrupt end. Across Wainwright radios abruptly switched to the safety frequency, their war game was over. But it wasn’t for Jerry Smith and his red eyed soldiers.

The east wind was driving everything before it. Zip! Bang! And the driving snow pushed them onwards.

The Special Access briefing at Canada’s sparkling new military headquarters in Kanata, outside Ottawa, was a busy place the next morning. Topping the daily briefing of the Chief of Defence Staff and his advisors was the case of the as yet unexplained disappearance of three soldiers on a routine training mission at the Western Ram Exercise in Wainwright, Alberta. The military’s special investigative units were hard at work reviewing the three missing soldier’s personnel files. All were selected for promotion, all had turned in outstanding performances in exceptionally dangerous missions overseas. Two were selected for Special Forces.  But, at the top of the information pyramid there was nothing to report, except three soldiers had vanished. “And that Sir, is the update for the Soldier Search.”  The no nonsense Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) said “keep working this,” and the brief went on to Ships and Tanks. Privately the CDS, a distinguished fighter pilot, had his doubts. Truth can be stranger than fiction though. What goes up always comes down, somewhere.

Silent night. Everywhere, it was quiet. Generators hummed across the darkened flatlands.

“Smith! Smith!” They declared ENDEX! The sentry shook Sgt JW Smith of the X Regiment, Canadian Infantry, awake.

He hadn’t slept well. His book Return to Vimy Ridge 2017 fell to the tent floor.

In Memory of 687334 Sgt John Wink Smith of the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders of Canada from Vancouver, SON OF THE REV. ROBERT SMITH, OF RAFFORD, MORAYSHIRE, SCOTLAND, who fell at Vimy Ridge, 9 April 1917.