John Murray, who had led our No.5 Section in the attack, came up and indicated he had something to say. By the set look on his face and the way the others kept clear, it could only have been bad news. He said that Fred had died of wounds in Tobruk. He put his hand on my shoulder and went his way. I thanked him and wandered off along the ridge and sat down on the ground and wept. There are few die well that die in battle. What of those who die on the perimeters of battle – in the casualty clearing stations and the field hospitals? Those who die alone and in a strange and unfamiliar place?
Sometime later old Jim Wright, the platoon’s mortarman, reported there was a wounded German soldier about fifty metres in rear of our position. I went back to kill him. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. He was wounded and alone and he would die in a strange and unfamiliar place. The instrument of death would be an Italian Biretta pistol and perhaps there was something ironic in that. He lay in a fold of the rocky slope of the ridge. He had been wounded in both legs, which were heavily bandaged and soaked in blood. He couldn’t have been more than 18 years of age and even in the poor light I could see that his hair was red, the same as the bandages wrapped around his legs. He was perspiring profusely and his face was gleaming. His face was pale, devoid of blood, which seemed to be draining out of his legs, and he looked frightened. He moved before I did, raising his hand in a half salute. “Wasser, bitte, kamerad!” he whispered. I hesitated, impulsively looking around to see if there were any to witness my guilt. Then I gave him a drink of water and went back up the ridge, angry and confused, the unused Biretta cold in my hand. Men were adding the finishing touches to the flimsy defences from which they would face the uncertainties of the coming day. It would be daybreak soon. The moon had set and far out across the Desert a faint light glowed with a friendliness and constancy that promised hope to men whose minds were near to madness. It was the North Star.