The Linnet's Wings The Winter´s Tale, Ravens and Robins - Page 29

The Linnet´s Wings that forcing his normally disciplined mind to working concerns was sometimes very diffi cult indeed. Most of the press was still banging out its gung-ho nonsense, but Richard relied more on his occasional visits to Plymouth. No pub was empty of servicemen on leave, usually sailors but sometimes soldiers, and as usual, the men actually doing the fi ght- ing were the people who really knew what was happening. He knew some of them as ex-pupils and the fact that it was widely known that his pronounced limp was a consequence of his lower leg having been blown off in 1878 during the Second Anglo-Afghan War removed any protective anti-civilian ring they threw around themselves. Richard’s private opinion was that the Second Anglo-Afghan War was a monumentally pointless and hopelessly disorganised encounter, particularly the Battle of Ali Masjid which opened it on November 21st. An uppity Emir had decided not to admit a British envoy to his coun- try, and this fl imsy pretext started the war with an attack on the fortress of Ali Masjid. Battle was haphazardly joined as both sides blundered about during the night. The morning revealed that the Afghans had gone and the fortress, for what it was worth, was taken. But by then, Richard had lost interest in the proceedings, as a result of a random ricocheting Afghan shell removing his right leg from the knee downwards. After two years, the war allowed Britain to ensure that Afghanistan stayed out of Russian hands, though why either Britain or Russia should want the place mattered little to Richard in a Devon hospital as he painfully, at times agonisingly, learnt to move around on what he described to himself as ‘the device’; it was a leg only in so far as being vaguely the same shape. The experience had ended his military career, and probably none too soon; his young mannish wish for travel and glory had long since faded away in the teeth of the squalid and frequently foolish realities. But it was painful indeed to meet ex-pupils, eager, sometimes highly intelligent, former fresh-faced boys become haunted shadows of them- selves, marked and wrinkled by the horrors they had seen. However, as far as his home village and county was concerned, he was a hero, maimed in the service of his country, and after a struggle with this notion of himself, he eventually accepted that it was probably true enough to justify their respect. It had certainly saved him from the trouble some teachers were being given from boys still straining at the leash to go off and get themselves killed. But after three years of lost 29