Operation Charnwood

In Fiction on July 8, 2013 at 5:19 pm

British soldier at Caen

Operation Charnwood

The young man led me by the arm through the rubble, helping me over fallen walls and crushed motorcars. I could have made the way myself, but the bombs had rendered the place unrecognizable.

“The historic district is mostly gone, I’m afraid,” the soldier explained as we walked. The corners of his mouth went up a bit, with pride for the might of the Allies, I suppose.

“The rest of the city held more for me,” I said. “But that’s gone now, too.”

The soldier nodded, and the shadow of his smile faded.

I had lived my entire life in Caen. I had scraped my knees on the schoolhouse cobbles as a child; stolen kisses (and more) behind my mother’s patisserie; there was a wall—or there had been—where my first husband and I had been photographed by the elder Lumière himself. But even the photo was gone now, under the pile of stone and glass that had been my home. The city was a graveyard, and my whole world lay beneath its stones.

“Where are we headed?” the soldier inquired. “Your kids live up this way?”

“No,” I replied. “My children are dead.”

The sky cleared as we advanced, slowly climbing out of the city and into the heights to the north. The sun was white and the sky was pale, but it was warm on my skin. Here, grass and wildflowers grew thick at the roadside.

“Boy,” I said, pointing to a pretty bunch of purple and yellow, “pick me some of those.”

“Ma’am?”

“And those white ones by the rocks.”

I smiled as I climbed ahead of him. Before long, I’d filled his arms with color. When we crested the hill, I pointed down the other side.

“I can manage from here,” I said.

“What do I do with these?” the soldier complained.

“Give them to a pretty girl, of course,” I replied. “The years fly, boy, and too many of yours have already blown away in the war.”


This is my response for this week’s Trifecta Writing Challenge: Fly. Pop on over to the Trifecta page to read the rest of the responses as they pour in—you won’t be disappointed!

If you’re interested in the history behind this particular story (and the photo), check out the Wikipedia article on Operation Charnwood here.

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  1. You gave me a smile when it was unexpected. Beautiful.

  2. nicely written, reminded of our visit to Normandy.

  3. Solid writing. Love the pacing, her tone and ease inspite of the destruction. And his surprise at her instructions – priceless.

  4. Brian, you’ve done a wonderful job of bringing this interaction to life in a literary yet very real way. Unusual setting in many ways, yet perfectly drawn. Lovely writing. :))

  5. Loved the detail, and the ending was brilliant.

  6. How wonderful that the old woman still had enough spirit to give yet another a gift, and one to a total stranger.

  7. I just read Life After Life which has as it’s dominant setting London during the Blitz. This reminded me of that. I highly recommend the book, by the way. Your piece is beautifully rendered. Beautiful writing, as always.

  8. I like the historical setting and how she left the soldier with the picked flowers. That last line is the perfect ending. War is such a thief of time and lives.

  9. Lovely and moving! Very well written.

  10. I’m left with the image of an old woman tumbling down a hillside. Like.

  11. What a lovely heart-rending story…beautifully told.

  12. Brian, this is just gorgeous. So richly written and such a lovely thread of hope in such a desolate setting.

  13. Brian, I think this is the best I ever read from you. It shows the strength of historical fiction, reality at least sometimes beats fiction, but when combined it’s heart wrenching.

  14. This was a very tender moment. War touches us all in so many different ways.

  15. This is such a lovely, nuanced story, written with great delicacy. Beautifully done.

  16. I tried to decide – is this lovely or melancholy? It feels nostalgic in a way too. Of course, in the end, it’s all of these things.

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