When I reported in at the command post near to the bridge, there were the bodies of three deceased soldiers to be transported. On the road, pushed over to one side on the grass verge, I had passed a burned out truck. It was black, and split open where it had taken a Russian direct hit, the bodies belonged to its occupants.
I was ordered to remove the dead from a field just behind the main camp. All three bodies were covered over, eerily still and ghostly on the ground. Although I could have done with a hand to load up, no one came to help me. No one came to say any last farewells either. I was left alone to haul each man onto my shoulders, one at a time, before placing him on to the cart. It was very awkward manhandling each lifeless, dead weight. I had not previously appreciated the difficulties involved, I will have more respect for mortuary assistants in the future.
The German military are very good at administration, keeping all kinds of records. The army likes to account for its dead better than it does its living, recovering as many bodies as possible from the front for respectful burial. German officers meticulously record their dead and their dying, along with their missing, detailing every battle casualty before dispatching bodies to collection points. Returning the dead to military mortuaries is carried out on a regular basis.
Whilst I was still at the bridge, the Russians began a bombardment. They rained bombs down on to the entire site – on to the bridge, into the camp as well on to the empty fields. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to shelter. I had been caught out on the open road with no trench or bunker in sight. My only protection came from the small cart containing those three dead soldiers.
Although the German’s fired their guns as quickly as they could load them, it was no use. The Russians succeeded in blowing up the entire wooden bridge. That noisy old plane must have spotted them the previous night and once a days target has been identified, the Russians do not stop pounding until it has been wiped from the battlefield.
With just a few hits, all three of the big guns were obliterated. They must have been positioning incorrectly. Someone must have made a mistake, miscalculated the distances between each one. They had to have been too close together for all three to go up like that. For that battalion of men it was a costly blunder. A hit to one big gun should not have taken out all three. There had been at least twenty men on that one bridge; at least twenty men were taken with one strike. Three guns and twenty men all lost because one bloke could not do maths.
I was so very pleased to get out of there alive, to get away with my horse and cart. It was a struggle keeping the horse moving forward because the Russian’s continued their bombing long after the bridge was gone. It felt like they were chasing after the horse and me as if we were important military targets.
Nearing the house, I could hear the German artillery at it, aiming their little anti-tank gun into the sky and firing their mortars. Our commander had repeatedly assured me that our bunker was the strongest one ever made but the kitchen unit’s defences were not as good. By the time I got back, the commander, along with everyone else, were gone. Our base had taken at least three direct hits during the raid. The Russian’s had stationed themselves on a hill far off in the distance but they were still close enough to cause my unit serious damage. Just like the bridge, my unit had gone. My fellow soldiers had been seen, targeted and destroyed. I had seen the commander’s room several times when taking him papers, it had been nice and comfortable but now all of the communication equipment had been destroyed. Communication posts always have half a dozen cables running through camp. If ever I need to find command in a new camp, all I do is follow the cables. That’s how I found it in amongst the rubble. I followed what remained of the cables to where command should have been. All that was left were bits and pieces of wreckage. There was nothing recognisable any more, nothing of any use or consequence remained.
Our field kitchens never have any chimneys. The men never make a fire using a chimney because an enemy spotter could see the smoke, plus it makes it easy for any passing enemy soldier to drop a grenade down. However, it had not mattered in the end, even without sending up smoke signals, our kitchen had been demolished. I had liked working for the kitchen, I had liked being with those men. They treated me well because I was useful, because I could take the food out on the horse and cart so that they did not have to carry it out and about by hand. I also liked having hot food every day, having enough in my stomach to stop it from aching and churning.
The few men still left alive told me to just walk away. I did not know where to go or where I should be heading but neither did they. I do not think that anyone did. There was a lot of military traffic everywhere. Slow traffic loaded with miserable, worn out soldiers and so I followed them. I never found out what had happened to all those blokes, to all of my mates. I never found out how many survived but I am glad to have gotten away from there myself. It had been a massive raid, possibly an important raid for the Russians but as I do not know where I was on a map, I can never enquire.
The horse had always been kept away from the main kitchen. It was kept in the small barn close to gully and that at least had survived the attack. I put him back in the shed where he had first been found, only this time I made sure he had water as well as food I do not know what happened to that horse. I hope he survived. I hope no one bombed him later and I especially hope no Russians ate him.
I have looked for the river with its bridge on maps but I have not been able to find where it was. I thought the river might be the one that flows past Lielvārde but it is not. The entire bridge was smashed up by the Russians. Three big important guns, even the little guns near to the house have gone. Those little ones were rapid but they could not do any damage and they did not always work. They were complicated, they often jammed and no one liked them but still the Russians destroyed them all. And all of those men, all of those blokes killed during one raid. Everyone I knew gone and I can never go back with flowers. I cannot return to morn my mates because no one ever told me where I was on a map.