A young soldier disobeys orders
Ernie was in my patrol at scouts. Ernie’s dad was usually a quiet sort of bloke but he came home from work one day to find his four children sitting round, watching the television. Not one of them took any notice of him of him, not even to say, “Hello Dad,” so he stepped over the top of them, picked up the television and hurled it through the French windows. Later, he explained that he expected basic good manners from his children; when anyone came into the room they were to be greeted properly.
As a young soldier, eighteen years old, doing his national service in Germany immediately after the end of the Second World War, Ernie’s dad was told what lots of British servicemen were told at the time – you are not to be friendly towards the Germans. They have done some terrible things and caused a lot of suffering and destruction. They are to be isolated so that they realise just how bad they have been.
It was winter time, a bitterly cold winter and Ernie’s dad was on guard duty somewhere, wrapped up in a greatcoat and standing still with his rifle for hours at a time. It was pretty boring as well as dark and the freezing weather simply made it a great deal worse.
One evening a teenage girl came along, followed by her two little brothers, all looking very sorry for themselves. There was little food for German civilians and the girl, who was about fifteen, was begging for food for her little brothers. Ernie’s dad had nothing to give them and, despite the instructions from his officers, he felt sorry for them.
Before he went on duty the next evening Ernie’s dad went to the NAAFI, the shop for British servicemen, and bought a large slab of chocolate. If anyone had questioned him he could have said it was for himself to eat while he was out in the cold; it was what most of the soldiers did, to keep the cold at bay. He slid the chocolate bar into his greatcoat pocket, collected his rifle and reported for duty.
It was not long before the girl came along again. With her came her brothers, all of them shivering with the cold, and looking very hungry. She held out her hand and from his pocket Ernie’s dad took out the slab of chocolate and handed it to the girl. Next evening, and for many more evenings, back they came for this food for which they were so desperate. Not once did Ernie’s dad worry about what would happen if he was caught. Every evening he watched and waited for the girl to turn up with her brothers.
Of course, Ernie’s dad was not Ernie’s dad then, but it was not very long before he had married the girl, despite her being one of those wicked Germans, despite orders not to be nice to the Germans. And soon after that he really was Ernie’s dad.
What do you think is at the heart of this story?
How does the writer show Ernie’s dad’s growing feelings for the girl?
What would you have done in Ernie’s dad’s situation, faced with an enemy girl who was trying to scrounge food? Why?