A Casualty of War

At six years old even I knew it. The Second World War was over!

No more air raids, blackouts, or sirens. Liverpool came to life again. Troopships at the Pier Head let down their gangways; uniformed men marched ashore, amid confetti and streamers. Breaking ranks they charged towards their families, amid laughter, tears and singing. It was a joyous time for those who had come through the war unscathed.

There were many things I had never tasted, owing to food shortages and rationing, but real American chewing gum was something I'd dreamed of. What did it taste like?

My pal Georgie said that American troops were to come along Walton Road. We ran up there and found a great spot, right at the kerb edge.Then they came, a convoy of olive drab painted trucks, with the canvas awnings rolled back, packed with GIs.

Girls were cheering and blowing kisses, us kids held our hands out and pleaded for gum. The soldiers tossed stockings, cigarettes, and chewing gum sticks in long foil packets.

Being only a little fellow, I didn't expect to get any. But still I roared "Any gum chum?" Suddenly the lorries halted, I found myself looking up into a steel-helmeted soldier's smiling face. He pulled a packet of chewing gum from his pocket and hurled it toward me. I was never much good at catching things. It hit me, right between my eyebrows and burst the skin. With blood pouring into my left eye, I grabbed the gum.It was sweet, juicy and sticky, all I'd imagined it to be... Juicy Fruit! I was too overjoyed to cry, or worry about injuries.

Darkness was falling, I dashed home and washed my face, the cut stopped bleeding, I never stopped chewing. Out in the street a party had started. Men in uniform danced with wives and girlfriends. Red Cross parcels of good things to eat were being ripped open and distributed to the children. I was with Georgie and we sat on the kerb edge with our feet in the gutter. The war was over. Happily we drank lemonade and munched real chocolate.

Then it happened. A giant Sergeant, wearing full Highland Dress uniform, kilt swirling, came waltzing past, partnering my Auntie. Accidentally he stamped on my big toe, crushing it under his heavy boot. It was like a tram running over my foot. I screamed in agony. Somebody rushed me into a nearby house. It was good old Uncle Charlie, just back from fighting in Italy, still in uniform with a star and ribbon on his tunic. Removing my shoe and sock, he sat me on the kitchen table. "Come on lad, soldiers don't cry!" I took my clenched fists away from my eyes. I had rubbed my chewing gum cut open again.

Uncle Charlie dabbed iodine on the cut, and also on my rapidly purpling toenail, whilst I bravely explained how both injuries had happened. He bandaged my foot, and brow, with a khaki silk military dressing, then held me up to the mirror laughing. "You've really been in the wars, haven't you lad. Never mind, you look like a real wounded soldier now!" I marched back out to the street party. Six years old and a real war wounded soldier. Not bad eh!

Brian Jacques' 14th book in his Redwall series, published by Hutchinson, is The Taggerung, a tale of adventure and suspense, which begins with the kidnapping of a very special young otter. Redwall books, about a kingdom of woodland animals, are popular all over the world. Visit www.redwall.org for more information

THINGS TO DO

After hearing the piece read aloud, read it to yourself a few times and discuss it with others

Discussion points

* Sense of immediacy. The author provides a vivid picture of events at the end of the Second World War. Notice how the pace of the writing conveys excitement and action.

* Emotion. Track through the story identifying the emotions felt by the author. Some are explicitly mentioned (overjoyed, happily), others can be inferred. What emotion is felt at the end of the story, and how is it conveyed to the reader?

Writing Suggestions

* You may recall an occasion or event in which you were involved. Think it through in your mind and recall the emotions you felt.

* If, as a class or group, you can recall an experience you have all shared, select parts of the event to act out. At important points in the event, freeze-frame and take it in turns to voice your thoughts and emotions. Then, when you write, you can convey your emotions as well as the events.

Teaching suggestions by Lorraine Dawes, English and Literacy Co-ordinator, London Borough of Redbridge Recommended reading for teachers: First Person Reading and Writing in the Primary Years by Margaret Mallet, from NATE (tel. 0114 255 5419)

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