William Hay

Canadian Author

THE ORIGINALS

 Released fall of 2007 

 

 The Originals is about Bill Dawson, a Canadian veteran of the Boer war. He joins the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry at the outset of the First World War. The novel is about those early days of that tragic conflict and a graphic portrayal of trench warfare during World War I.

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      Vlamertinghe, remained a hub of activity. Armies from around the world passed through this vital route, some heading to the rear for rest and refit, while others, like Dawson’s company, headed forward.

      The rumours of their destination were confirmed as they marched out of Vlamertinghe. Instead of turning south toward Dickebusch and Voormezeele, they continued directly east, toward Ypres. This news was received with some relief by the Patricias, after their long and grueling winter in the St. Eloi sector.

      Ypres was the largest city the Patricias had been since they left Le Havre before Christmas. Its numerous church steeples appeared awkward in the flat agrarian countryside surrounding the community.  It was visible from far off, in part, due to its sprawling size, but also due to the smoke steadily rising from the many smoldering fires.

      It was late afternoon when the Patricias marched across the Yser Canal and into the most western corner of Ypres. Dawson noted the city showed the scars of war, but was amazed when he observed many inhabitants still remained and somehow etched out a living surrounded by warring armies and under the constant threat of artillery.

      “Look at ‘em.” Magee remarked. “You’d ‘ardly know thar was a war on.”

      “Where’re they gonna go?” McAllum offered. “This is thar ‘ome.”

      Artillery shells occasionally passed overhead striking one of the historic buildings. No one seemed to take notice, such attacks were sporadic and unpredictable. The soldiers and the inhabitants of the harassed town seemed prepared to leave their fates in the hands of God. Dawson and his company marched by several dead soldiers lying out in the open awaiting burial; people stepped around them like they might a puddle after a long rain.

      The middle of town was dominated by a massive, gothic building. It was one of the largest buildings Dawson had ever seen. Already, many holes and scars bore evidence to it frequently falling victim to enemy long range artillery. They stared at the magnificent structure as they marched past, admiring both its architecture and its awesome size.

      “All right lads!” Forman brought the company to a halt out front of a school. “This is to be our billets for the next few days. Remember, Jerry can reach every piece of ground within the salient. One place is as safe as the next!”

      “This is alright!” Dawson commented as they entered the school, pleased with the quality of their billets.

      “What? No farm animals?” Magee said.

      After settling in, Dawson and some of his section left the school and wandered about the streets, always in sight of their billets. The evidence of war, its death and misery was apparent everywhere. People were often seen searching within piles of rubble for missing family or possessions; children played on the streets while bodies lay not far off.

      The shelling of the city started after seven pm. They didn’t feel safe inside their billets during the barrage; they headed out onto the streets. They remained scattered, watching the sky as though they could actually see the shells coming. The Newbies watched The Originals for their reaction during the roar of each shell, not sure what to do and not wishing to over react.

     The large gothic building, dominating the center of the town, received a direct hit to its large steeple. Chunks of its marvelous carved stone blew into thousands of pieces. Larger chunks started the long slow drop to the ground below. A small crowd, which had been congregated nearby, scattered to avoid being hit. Several were struck; killed outright by the huge pieces of concrete and stones. The Patricias watched on with little reaction.

      “What is that place?” Dawson lit a cigarette.

      “The Cloth Hall.” A member of the Royal Scotts, billeted beside them, advised. “A factory or some such thing.”

      “A lot of bloody craved stone for a factory.” Magee thought.

      “Won’t be much left befur this is over.” Dover noted.

      Another shell roared through the air. They looked up warily. It crashed into a building out of sight. A second shell thundered toward them, giving little warning this time. It smashed into one of the buildings on their street, uncomfortably close.

      “Mudder of Jesus…she’s a ‘ot place fur billets.” Hacking said.

      “Fritz gives the city a pasting every evening.” The Royal Scots checked his pocket watch. “Jerry’s on time as usual.”