Teagan Kearney/G.N. Kearney: Writer: Courage Under Fire

Courage Under Fire

As D-Day approached, I remembered a short story, Courage Under Fire, I'd written some time ago. Although my story takes place during WWI, and D-Day was during WWII, I wanted to share this story.

The idea came from a visit to the War Museum in London when I was a teenager, and my older brother had dragged me along with him. While he meandered, eyes wide, gawking at the weapon displays, I found myself almost in tears reading accounts of outstanding acts of bravery performed by soldiers awarded medals of honor in WWI.

Many years later, I remembered those stories and my reaction, so while Courage Under Fire is a work of fiction with names, characters, places and incidents either a product of my imagination or used fictitiously, the inspiration came from a real event.*

Courage Under Fire

Eddie clutches at wisps of his dream. Summer. His ma smelling of babies and herbs. He shivers, curling hedgehog-like into a ball, something he did when he was small after Da came home and battered anyone who said anything he took umbrage with. Even those harsh childhood memories appear rosy compared to what he is encountering now.

‘Time, lads.’ The sergeant’s heavy hand taps Eddie’s shoulder before moving along the trench. For such a big man, his movements are tender. The mercy of the hangman for the condemned.

Eddie pulls the coarse blanket up around his ears to keep the freezing cold at bay. The need to empty his bladder forces him to move. While he waits his turn at the latrines, the stink of feces mixed with quicklime curls up his nostrils, filling his mouth and belly with nausea. At least he’s not seen Jameson’s face for a few days.

Eddie thrusts aside the memory of his field punishment: tied to a gun wheel two hours a day for eleven days—awarded for a brawl started by Jameson. He won’t forget that in a hurry. After returning to his position, he finishes his bully beef and biscuits before sipping the cold tea that tastes of turnips. He relishes the rare moments of quiet before the day’s action.

‘You ready?’ his mate, John, whispers.

Eddie nods.

Both kneel. ‘Our Father who art in Heaven. Hallowed be thy name ...’

Eddie glances up and down the line. Most have put their rifles aside, and a gentle murmur rises as, with eyes shut, minds turned inward, they pray.

‘No one is an atheist when the bullets start flying,’ John had told him once. ‘Then everyone prays.’

The ack ack ack of enemy weapons knots Eddie’s guts, the fear familiar. Training kicks in, and he grabs his Lee-Enfield, checking the bolt-action mechanism, the ten-round box magazine, cartridges, cylinder and bayonet.

He dismisses the seditious whisperings, appearing daily now. But they return. The bastards move us like pawns while they sit far from the front line. This is just a game for them. It’s not their guts being smeared into the soil. But if you question, hesitate or, God forbid, lose your wits, your own side executes you. He clenches and unclenches his hands, feeling the cold metal of his weapon against his palms, as he remembers Willis, a private condemned to death as a traitor after walking away from the battlefield, stunned and in shock. Jameson had volunteered to be on the firing squad, but it was the contemptuous sneer on his face as he aimed his rifle at Willis that sticks in Eddie’s mind.

‘2nd Battalion,’ the sergeant growls, ‘move up the fire steps.’

The men surge up the rough ladders lining the wall and fling themselves to the ground. The angled top protects them as they lie on their stomachs.

Eddie tenses. There’s nothing that equates to warfare. Before the action, adrenaline primes you. You lie motionless, but alert, poised, every sense heightened. Each sound you hear draws a response from a nerve somewhere in your body. You don’t dare think this might be the last few seconds of life, because if you did, you’d remember your loved ones, and lose the hate you hold on to because you need it to kill.

He stares out at No Man’s Land. If he half closes his eyes, he can almost believe he’s with his Da in Chelmsbury Woods; an early morning mist creeping along the ground, frost nipping at his fingers, and cold seeping into his bones as he lies concealed in bushes, holding Da’s old rifle and waiting for a rabbit or squirrel to happen past.

The earth shudders as a barrage of artillery pounds targets, and choruses of mortar detonations swell to a deafening volume.

‘Fire’ bellows the sergeant.

Eddie raises his head, scanning the area; he aims and discharges his rifle. Bullets scream through the air. Empty the magazine; reload and fire. Again and again. 

The Huns are too distant to distinguish individual features, but close enough to see rows of steel helmets and glinting bayonets.

Eddie pauses, rubbing his numb fingers. Something catches his eye. He squints. ‘Look! There! Isn’t that Housby? ’ he mutters to John.

Housby had fallen too near enemy lines for an attempted recovery even under darkness. That was two days ago when they tried—and failed—to storm their adversary’s position.

Sure enough, where Eddie is pointing, barely distinguishable from the churned, frozen sludge, John sees a brown-gray lump twitch. “You’re right, lad.”

But Eddie’s up and moving.

'Hey! Eddie! Stop! You can’t save him. They’ll shoot you,’ John yells after him.

Eddie doesn’t stop, keeps racing forward.

'Cover him, lads!’ John orders.

Eddie moves in stops and starts; bent, scuttling crabwise, he scuffles sideways and forwards, his heart pumping so hard he thinks it’ll rupture. Then he trips, and his face smacks the earth as shells whistle by far too close to his ear. The wounded man groans; Eddie scans the injured soldier and realizes he’s not Housby. It’s Jameson.

More shells detonate.

Eddie freezes. What if John’s right? What if he doesn’t survive? The thoughts crowd in, and he can’t control the violent temors running through his body. Oh God, I don’t want to die out here in this freezing hell of muck and mud. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Not yet, dear God. Please. Why am I risking my life for that rat Jameson? Have I come too far to go back? Then he hears Ma’s voice: ‘You always got to try, Eddie. All you got to do is try.’ He seesaws. Should he save himself? Or try to rescue Jameson?

He makes a scurrying, scampering, mad dash toward the prostrate man, ignoring the incessant shellfire and shots screaming past. Somehow, he reaches the fallen soldier. He crouches and sees black blood oozing from Jameson’s wounds. ‘Jesus, you’re a mess,’ he whispers.

Jameson whimpers as Eddie heaves him up onto his shoulder.

Balancing Jameson’s weight, trying not to breathe in the smell of festering wounds, Eddie locks eyes with the Boche soldier facing him, not twenty feet away.

The young, blue-eyed, dirt-smeared lad, who couldn’t have been a day over sixteen, if that, has him in his sights. But he’s frozen with fright. This must be his first battle.

And Eddie knows that look. Once, out hunting with Da, there’d been a deer, a creature whose grace captivated him. Eddie recalls the soft innocence in the animal’s eyes as it looked up, sniffing for danger—oblivious to death’s approach. Da, impatient, snatched the gun from his hand and, with one sharp shot, secured enough meat to feed his hungry brood for a week.

Eddie winks at the German lad and grins through cracked lips.

The youngster manages a stiff nod.

But Jameson is heavy. The same as the deer Da had forced him carry home. A full-grown doe is a heavy weight for a thirteen-year-old boy, and twice he fell. Da stood, his expression hard, and watched without helping each time Eddy labored to rise. It took an hour to walk the mile to their cottage. Afterwards Da made him skin and butcher the animal while he sat and smoked his pipe. But Eddie’s committed. No-one is going to butcher Jameson.

Incoming Howitzers whine and lights flash as they strike their targets: excruciating cries echo from both sides as heavy mortar rounds find soft flesh which explodes outwards. The sound of aircraft overhead adds a deeper bass growl to the awful cacophony of battle.

Eddie recognizes that not a single shot from behind comes anywhere near them. They are blessed; their return a miracle.

John scrambles out and rushes toward them. Grabbing Jameson’s arms, he lowers him from Eddie’s back and together they half-carry, half-drag the unconscious man to safety. The three of them slide in a tangle of limbs into the trench. A rousing cheer erupts from the men, who, hardly believing what they’d just witnessed, had expected Eddie to be killed at any minute.

‘Bloody fool!’ barks the sergeant as he takes Jameson off them. Carrying him like a babe in his brawny embrace, he moves up the line, throwing more words over his shoulder. ‘You’re a bloody fool, Eddie, but a bloody brave one!’


Thank you for visiting my blog and reading the story. You can find my books and audiobooks on the relevant pages (click on the tabs at the top of the post) and I also publish on the following platforms:

Substack:    Medium:

To read about the fearless soldier who inspired this story, visit Wikipedia and seach for Abraham Acton.

Stay well, stay safe and keep reading.

Best wishes,


FYI: I have published previous editions of this story under the title, Eddie's War, but I flashed on this new title this morning, and it just fit a whole lot better. 👍


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Courage Under Fire

As D-Day approached, I remembered a short story, Courage Under Fire , I'd written some time ago. Although my story takes place during WW...