Last in the class
Mon, 13 Feb 2017
Jess Steed hated his teacher with a passion. Mr Birkenshaw was a fervent nationalist who had constantly lectured his class about their ‘duty to the king’ and the need to ‘fight for what’s right’, until every last one of them had quit school early and signed up.
All 37 of them. The oldest was seventeen, most of them just sixteen. They all lied about their age. Mr Birkenshaw kindly endorsed all 37 applications.
One year into the conflict and all 36 of Jess’ class-mates were dead.
So when he heard that Mr Birkenshaw was conscripted and was being sent to join Jess’s platoon, he sat up all night planning his revenge.
Quite what Jess was planning we’ll never know, for he was hit by a sniper’s bullet early the next morning. However, we do know that he’d written out a list of all 36 names and details of when and how they died.
His friends in the platoon carried out the revenge on Jess’s behalf, for although they didn’t know Mr BIrkenshaw personally, they’d all encountered their own equivalent.
The revenge was quite simple. They sealed the boy’s body in a coffin, then, that night, they bundled Birkenshaw into the coffin with him, taking it in turns to sit on the coffin lid so he couldn’t get out. As they sat, they read out the list of names:
- Alex Jenkins, 16, died of dysentery at Mons, 1914
- Billy Sligoe, died from infection following a bullet in the leg, Marne, 1914
- John Doe, died of mustard gas poisoning, Ypres, 1915
- Richard Piper, died in a bombing raid, Ypres 1915
- Simon Murray, died of infection following a wound to the jaw, Marne 1915
The list seemed endless.
When Braithwaite was finally released the next morning, he was, by all accounts, stark raving mad.
He climbed up out of the trenches and ran into no man’s land screaming nonsense until, no doubt, he joined the souls of the 37 boys he’d taught.