We slept al fresco and even in early summer you'd wake with aching limbs and a bedroll damp with dew. Kipping at the Canal Turn with its famous ninety-degree bend was a treat for a lad who had lived and breathed horses on the farm. After three weeks of that we moved to a large civic building and at last we were out of the damp.
It was here I met Eddie Richardson for the first time. He was a fine fellow from an established military family so we called him Regimental Eddie, 'Reggie' for short. He was very well spoken, a little posh perhaps compared to the rest of us, and we shared a room. Months later he was to get into trouble in the desert on the same day as my fortunes turned south.
Training in Liverpool took on a different dimension. We were being prepared for house-to-house fighting in streets set aside for demolition. We learnt the delicate art of making and throwing Molotov cocktails, glass bottles filled with petrol. We mastered the Mills bomb, a hand grenade with a segmented steel shell and the appearance of a mini pineapple. I would become pretty familiar with them in the months ahead. They were mean and simple. You could alter the length of fuse, to give you three, seven, or nine seconds before detonation but you had to time it right. The last thing you wanted was the other feller hurling it back at you. You'd pull out the pin, run forward and throw with a straight-armed bowling action as you dived on your stomach. If you didn't blow yourself to kingdom come, the grenade was supposed to end up in a huge pit where the explosion was relatively contained. I had been able to throw a cricket ball a hundred yards when I was sixteen. It was still a game.
Excerpted from The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz by Denis Avey and Rob Broomby. Copyright © 2011 by Denis Avey and Rob Broomby. Excerpted by permission of Da Capo Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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