John Fish B.Sc. Publishers of Tenby in Wales (UK)

ROWSE LITERARY AGENCY

DANCING ON THE WIND

by

Brian Lewis

e-mail: Brian Lewis

SYNOPSIS

SAMPLE CHAPTER

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synopsis

Following the recent death of his grandfather a young man (Edward) returns to his grandfathers lovingly restored farmhouse in Crete for a family remembrance. Whilst on the island he meets Angelina a beautiful and frivolous young arts student, taking her on a journey of discovery. Through his enquiries with his grandfatherís longstanding friend and caretaker Spiros he gradually discovers his grandfather Richards role in Crete during WW2. Injured in the defence of Maleme airfield during the German airborne assault in May 1941, he attaches himself to a New Zealand Maori battalion witnessing the bayonet charge in Galatas against the attacking German forces. During the bitter fighting and withdrawal a young Cretan boy named Georgios befriends him. During the evacuation Richard together with thousands of other allied troops are left stranded on the island. Travelling back across country to Georgios family home Richard and Georgios witness acts of German atrocity. After days of furtive travel they reach the family home only to find it razed to the ground and both his parents missing. Subsequent enquiries in the village show that his parents and other villagers; had been executed by the Germans in reprisal for attacks on their forces.

Richard and Georgios travel to his drunken uncle Manolis house where Richard is introduced to Georgios young cousin Spiros. Vowing vengeance for the death of his parents Georgios, Richard and Manolis join a local guerrilla group headed by Vassillis. Operating from their base camp in the mountainous caves of the White Mountains, Richard helps Vassillis to train organise and plan attacks against German convoys and supply depots. During the cold winter months the men are forced to abandon their mountain retreat and return to stay in Spiros simple homestead. During early spring Richard and Georgios accidentally stumble upon two German motorcycle troops. Forced to kill both men, Richard seriously injures his leg as they narrowly escape capture by the pursuing German forces. With Georgios help Richard is taken back to their base camp, where his injured leg becomes swollen and infected. As his condition worsens Georgios takes him by donkey to Spiros house where they manage to secure the services of a local doctor. After months of slow recovery Richard and Georgios return to join Vassillis guerrillas.

Affected by his continued heavy drinking and exploiting his abilities as a skilled hunter, the unpredictable Manolis becomes a pathological killer operating on the peripheral fringes of Vassillis guerrilla group. After completing a successful attack on a German supply depot, Vassillis men return to their base. Georgios is given a German helmet as a souvenir; the triumphant guerrillas encounter a well-armed motorised German unit with supporting air cover. Forced to flee back into the shelter of a thick copse the retreating Cretans desperately fight their way through the wood in their attempt to escape the Germans. Having evaded their pursuers Richard and Georgios near edge of the wood when a single shot rings out seriously wounding Georgios in the chest. As Richard desperately tries to administer first aid a dishevelled Manolis appears having mistaken Georgios for a German. Cradling a dying Georgios in his arms Richard curses and screams at Manolis to go for help. After making Richard promise that he would take him home, Georgios dies. Wracked with guilt and emotion Richard struggles to carry the fallen boy home. With help from Christos a family friend Georgios body is returned to the burned shell of his family home where he is buried in the courtyard.

Having told his tale of Richardsís activities Spiros, Edward and his family gather together in the courtyard, finally scattering Richardsís ashes over the ground where Georgios body lay.

 

 

 

 

Sample Chapter

Chapter Five

Inside the hospital the scene was one of alarm and chaos, as those trapped inside suddenly realised the predicament that they were in. Panic broke out amongst some of the patients whilst others seemed to be more resigned to the inevitable fate that seemed to await them. The doctors and orderlies frantically ran amongst the frightened patients, trying their best to allay their fears. Under great stress they somehow managed to maintain their dignity and control, calmly reassuring and tending the wounded whilst inwardly preparing for the surrender to the advancing German forces. Unknown to the patients trapped in the hospital, soldiers of the 21st New Zealand battalion who were defending Platanias had also seen the German approach. Waiting in their defensive positions they watched the advance before opening up with their semi-automatic weapons.

The advancing Germans were caught unawares by the hail of bullets; several twisted and spun before falling grotesquely to the ground. The others rapidly returned gunfire on the New Zealand positions before running towards a derelict building, which offered them some cover and defence against the unexpected attack. Back in the hospital the patients became mere spectators, reduced to watching the fighting and praying that the German advance would be halted and driven back. The defending New Zealanders knew they could not allow the Germans time to dig in so close to the hospital, and await the arrival of reinforcements. Attempting to flush the Germans out from their cover, the Kiwis raked the enemy position with Bren guns. The embattled paratroopers were in no mood to retreat, after sustaining unexpectedly heavy losses they were determined to hold their defences. Trying to repel the assault, they returned fire on the New Zealand positions, pinning them down and waiting for reinforcements to arrive.

Watching from the confines of the hospital, Richard felt helpless, his fate lay in the hands of the defending New Zealanders and now they themselves were under attack. As each side desperately fought to gain the advantage, the vulnerability of the hospital and its patients became even clearer. Like pawns in a deadly game of chess, Richard wondered whether the patients and hospital would be sacrificed for the sake of the wider tactical game plan.

The sustained New Zealand fire on the German position gradually lessened; and a temporary lull ensued as both sides recovered and reassessed their strengths and weaknesses. The silence was broken by the sound of explosions as the New Zealanders rained small mortar on the defending Germans; this was accompanied by more intense firing from the Brens. The combined firepower was too much for the paratroopers who were outgunned and outnumbered. They scrambled shakily from their defences still firing back at the Australians' reinforcements who had arrived to defend the hospital, rapidly retreating back down the coast towards their comrades.

As they fled, the New Zealand soldiers emerged from their hidden positions, some continued firing on the retreating Germans providing covering fire for their colleagues who ran into the hospital compound. They were greeted with shouts of delight and thanks from assorted wounded and medical staff; Richard grabbed hold of one of the Australians and shook his hand vigorously. However, once the euphoria was over, the vulnerability of the hospital once again dawned on him and he vowed to return to Maleme at once. He did not want to stay here and risk being captured again; now that he had decided what to do he returned to his bed where he collected his few personal belongings. As he pushed past he was relieved to be leaving. The situation within the hospital did not inspire confidence; confusion and chaos reigned as they heard conflicting reports of the battles raging around them.

Richard overheard a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps on the radio, frantically trying to reach Creforce headquarters in Chania to inform them of their close escape and to seek orders on whether to evacuate patients. The doctor cursed as the radio failed and they were left to decide their own fate; he stumbled past Richard to the New Zealand soldiers outside, frantically seeking their assistance. They called up their radio operator who tried desperately to make contact with headquarters but he too failed. The officer looked around in desperation, he had seriously injured patients and they were caught in the middle as the battle raged all around them. If the Germans regrouped and were strengthened by reinforcements the small number of New Zealand and Australian soldiers who had prevented the fall of the hospital could not possibly hold off a full assault.

Creforce headquarters must somehow be made aware of the precarious position they were in, but the news from the New Zealanders was that fighting had broken out all along the northern coast. A fleeting thought flashed across Richard's mind; they had no way of knowing for certain whether headquarters were still there. With that sobering thought fixed in his head he hurriedly fastened his ammunition and supplies belt, before collecting one of the many-discarded Lee Enfield rifles. He ran from the hospital compound to join forces with his Kiwi liberators, determined that he would make his way back to defend Maleme airbase.

Richard soon learnt from the Kiwis that the through road to Maleme was now impassable. Large numbers of German troops had managed to secure pockets of strong resistance and were holding parts of the road waiting for reinforcements. It was impossible to say with any certainty which areas were still secured by Allied forces and which areas were now under German control. Skirmishes were breaking out all along the coastal road as each side battled to control strategic points, and the Allies tried desperately to prevent the German forces from securing any sort of foothold. As the two rival forces battled for superiority, the pendulum of warfare frequently swung from side to side. Allied troops managed to force the advancing Germans to retreat, only to be repelled later when the Germans regrouped and once more advanced on to their positions. In the midst of this chaos and bombardment the local population had been forced to flee their homes in terror carrying what precious few possessions they could. Richard heard some reports of local men and women taking up arms against their German aggressors joining Allied troops in the desperate attempt to prevent their homeland being occupied by enemy forces.

Richard managed to hitch a ride away from the coastal plain into the prison valley hoping that from here he could eventually skirt around back up towards Tavronitis river valley back into Maleme. Sporadic fighting and muffled sounds of gunfire were heard behind the low-lying hills, the soldiers were constantly under threat from aerial attack from Stukas and were forced to take cover behind the drystone walls or take shelter in the recently abandoned houses. News from the New Zealand and Australian soldiers was patchy and sometimes seemed to contradict each other, however, it appeared that the island's defences were holding and that the Germans had been halted taking heavy casualties. Moral remained high and the Allies still had several battalions of reinforcements available near Souda Bay, lack of air cover was a constant cause for complaint as the Luftwaffe reigned supreme and unchallenged in the skies.

Richard had been unable to break through to Maleme. He found himself on the outskirts of the village of Galatas; despite the heavy fighting his confidence and spirit was high. Supplies and munitions were plentiful and the German advance had ground to a halt. Richard spirits rose further when he saw three Matilda tanks pressing forward into position against the advancing enemy. It was here that he heard the devastating news that the troops defending Maleme airfield had been ordered to fall back to hill 107, which overlooked the base. The Germans now had control of the airfield and were rapidly landing great numbers of supplies, heavy guns, and transport together with additional reinforcements. News of the airfield's capture spread rapidly. Richard and the defending soldiers knew of the strategic importance of the airfield and expected an imminent counter attack in an attempt to retake the airbase. As more news filtered through, he learned to his dismay that hill 107 had not been reinforced and that the troops defending the hill had been ordered to retreat against the sustained German attack. As the significance of this news was taken in, the exhausted troops rallied around Galatas waiting for orders for a counter offensive. Large numbers of New Zealand soldiers were attempting to regroup; they were joined by stragglers who in the confusion of battle had become separated from their units, and local peasants and farmers who had taken up arms against the common enemy.

Richard joined some New Zealand soldiers who had taken shelter behind a damaged town house, crouched amongst the rubble were half a dozen grim-faced Cretan men armed with an assortment of weapons. Some carried ancient and rusting rifles, others their newly acquired weapons recently collected from fallen soldiers. As he searched from face to face he caught sight of one of the men, who was little more than a boy. He was of small build and his clothes appeared too big, hanging loosely off his thin body. His dark hair was tousled and unkempt and his dark eyes stared blankly from his dust-streaked face. When he noticed that Richard looking at him, his face broke into a sheepish grin and he muttered something inaudible in Greek. The other men turned and looked in Richard's direction, he suddenly felt awkward as if something was expected of him. He swallowed hard before addressing them in broken Greek. He had studied ancient and classical Greek in school and had been excited when he first heard that he was being posted to Crete. He had hoped to practise and improve on his language skills but had found much to his dismay that the Modern Greek spoken on the island bore little resemblance to the ancient Greek of the classroom.

Although his knowledge of Greek was basic and his pronunciation and dialect sounded strange and faltering, it had the desired effect. The hardened look on the men's faces rapidly changed from one of distant indifference to one of amazement that a foreign soldier was able to speak their language. Gathering around him the men excitedly introduced themselves, heartily shaking Richards's hand. They spoke so quickly that he was only able to understand a small part of what they said. Still a smile and handshake were often worth more than a thousand words. He then reached into his pocket and removed a packet of cigarettes, which he offered to each of them before turning and doing the same to the Kiwi soldiers who were gathered nearby. Discarding the empty packet he reached into his pocket and took out a small photograph of a young girl; he held it tenderly in his hand recalling another place another time. Lighting his cigarette he was momentarily lost in his thoughts, despite the noise and movement around him he sat in quiet reflection studying her face. Finally drawing heavily on his cigarette he carefully returned the photograph into his tunic pocket; he sat there grim-faced before looking at the faces of those around him.

As the soldiers lit their cigarettes a brief moment of calm seemed to descend upon them, some sat silently in private contemplation, others talked in hushed voices not wishing to intrude on their comrade's meditation. Strangers thrown together from the far corners of the world enjoying a quiet smoke, wondering what cruel twists of fate lay ahead of them. A loud explosion shattered their peace as a mortar shell hit a nearby building showering them in dust and splinters of debris. Each man automatically reached for his gun snapping the bolt action into place and straining his eyes on the road ahead. Further mortar fire landed uncomfortably close to their position.

Richard waited, nervously fingering the trigger on his rifle in anticipation of a forthcoming attack. Small arms fire broke out close at hand and was immediately answered by a short burst from a light machine gun. The sound of the guns intensified and drew closer; above the rattle of assorted gunfire voices could be heard shouting to each other. A small group of New Zealand soldiers appeared unexpectedly in the street ahead; firing their weapons they retreated rapidly back in Richards's direction. Shortly behind them German paratroopers were in hot pursuit. Richard steadied himself and squinted through the sights of his Lee Enfield rifle, targeting the leading German. Before he could pull the trigger he heard a loud crack of a rifle alongside him, instantly followed by a volley of covering fire. The leading German was hit by a hail of bullets and fell headlong into the street, his body bouncing as it hit the hard surface.

The others immediately scattered, some dived for the nearest available cover taking shelter in doorways, others beat a hasty retreat back up the street. Both sides briefly held their ground, each firing their guns as they fought for advantage and probed each other for weaknesses. Neither side gained the upper hand and a stalemate was reached. Late in the afternoon German reinforcements arrived from the 100th Mountain Regiment. They were supported by Stukas that wheeled down in formation, their sirens screaming before unloading their bombs and strafing the besieged defenders. The noise was deafening. Richard looked at the faces of the men around him, most showed no emotion simply a steely resolve and grim determination to concentrate and do their duty and bugger the consequences.

He stared at the local villagers with their antiquated guns and pitchforks, some appeared bewildered and frightened as they had abruptly been plunged into the front line in a desperate attempt to protect their homeland. He caught sight of the teenage boy who was crouched below a wall trying to reload his weapon. As he loaded the ammunition he crossed himself, whispering a silent prayer before kissing a small gold cross, which hung from a chain around his neck. The boy seemed to sense that he was being stared at and quickly raised his head. Richard smiled back weakly and turned away wishing that he hadn't intruded on the youth's privacy. The boy seemed embarrassed as though he had been discovered hiding; as the boy stood upright he raised his gun in defiance.

At that moment there came the loud yelling from a street behind them accompanied by the deep rumble of approaching tanks. Richard froze thinking that they had been surrounded and were cut off from their allies; all of a sudden soldiers emerged from the adjoining streets and advanced towards them. As they neared they broke into a chant, the Kiwi soldiers positioned with Richard recognised it and immediately left their positions running to join their advancing countrymen. As the Maori battalion advanced they fixed their bayonets, still shouting their harka war chant they charged up the street. The effect was exhilarating, Richard looked around in bemusement; the local fighters appeared to be just as confused as he was but nevertheless this was a counter-attack which was gaining momentum as stragglers from assorted units joined in to swell the ranks.

As the leading Maoris thundered past, he caught sight of one giant of a man who stood head and shoulders above the others; he was waving and shouting encouragement to his comrades. Richard instantly recognised him as the soldier who had carried him to safety at Maleme, the man didn't see him, but Richard knew that he had risked his life to save him. He jumped forward, raised his gun and joined the charging men as they advanced rapidly on the enemy lines. He couldn't understand what was being said and didn't know the words but none of that seemed to matter in the heat of the battle. He joined in as best he could, shouting and screaming at the top of his voice as all his anger and frustration was released. As the Maoris advanced he could make out the words

Ka Mate! Ka Mate!

Ka Ora! Ka Ora!

Ka Mate! Ka Mate!

Ka Ora! Ka Ora!

Tenei Te Tangata Puhuru Huru

Nana Nei I Tiki Mai Whakawhiti Te ra

Hupane! Kupane!

Hupane! Kupane!

Whiti te Ra

Hei!

The German troops were taken aback by this sudden unexpected ferocious attack and many turned heel and fled; Richards's spirit soared as he finally saw the enemy take flight.

In the gathering dusk the advance slowed down as each house was systematically searched and cleared. Richard desperately tried to reach the front of the advancing force in an attempt to find his saviour and to thank him once again and fight alongside him. He last caught sight of the big man as he led a charge across the village square scattering a group of Germans who disappeared up the side streets hotly pursued by the Maoris. The area around the square was a labyrinth of narrow streets each one offering shelter for the retreating Germans, and in the gathering gloom it was impossible for Richard to follow the big Maori. As the realisation of the situation sunk in he resigned himself to the fact that he would not see the big man today, and there was no knowing what tomorrow might bring.

Now that the adrenalin rush was over, he felt physically exhausted, his head pounded and his wound throbbed, he felt his knees buckle beneath him. As his vision became fuzzy he instinctively reached out his hand grabbing a door handle for support, he threw himself against the door drawing deep breaths as he tried to recover his strength and composure. The moment passed almost as quickly as it had arrived. After a few brief seconds his vision returned to normal, he breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief. He pressed himself against the doorway grateful for the lengthening shadows and for the shelter provided by the damaged house. Pushing open the door he slipped inside, lit himself a cigarette and reached for his water canteen. Removing it from his belt he shook it and found that it was empty, he cursed and drew another puff on his cigarette.

At that moment he caught sight of the young Cretan boy who had fought with him earlier. The boy was sitting on a pile of rubble from a blown-out window, looking in through the door that Richard had just opened. Richard was unsure how long he had been there or how much he had seen. Addressing him in Greek, he called the boy over; the lad gave a cursory glance up the street before scrambling across to join him. Richard still had the packet of cigarettes in his hand; he hesitated before offering him one reasoning that if he were old enough to fight then he was old enough to smoke.

They both inhaled deeply, quietly enjoying the calming sensation of the tobacco before slowly exhaling. The smoke swirled forming a small white cloud, which hung around their heads before drifting away on the warm evening air. The boy introduced himself; he said his name was Georgios, and that he was from the village of Gerani. He asked Richard if he had ever been there. Richard replied that he hadn't, he had never even heard of the place but didn't want to offend the boy. Georgios said he had been fighting the Germans for three days and many had been killed. He had two older brothers who were fighting with the Cretan Regiment in Greece, he wished that they and the rest of the Cretan soldiers were here defending their homes; they would kill every German who set foot on their soil.

Richard could see the hatred burning in his eyes, looking at the boy's youthful face and tried to guess his age. Georgios had told him that he was sixteen but Richard knew that he was lying; he guessed he was no more than fifteen, possibly younger. As he pondered on these thoughts he wondered whether the boy had actually killed any Germans. This disturbing thought sent a shudder down his spine, he had seen and experienced many horrific sights over the past few days and considered himself to be relatively battle-hardened. Yet as he sat amongst the deserted ruins he felt saddened that the war had thrust itself upon this ancient land, wrenching a young peasant boy away from his home and family to fight against the invader.

As he considered these feelings Richard became aware that Georgios was looking at him quizzically. He instinctively reached for his water bottle then remembered that it was empty; Georgios watched him intently with eager eyes then leaped up. Taking hold of the water bottle he announced, "I will get you some water."

Richard hesitated, but before he could protest Georgios continued, "It will be okay I know a place where I can get water and it will be safe."

Grabbing the bottle he ran through the open doorway into the twilit street, Richard watched him disappear into the shadows, there was nothing further he could do so he slumped back against the wall and waited. The minutes slowly slipped by, sporadic gunfire shattered the still evening air; finally there came the hurried sounds of boots.

Richard raised his gun, holding his finger against the trigger he braced himself and waited. Straining his eyes he peered out into darkness, a shape appeared silhouetted in the doorway a head cautiously appeared and shouted. Richard recognised Georgios's voice and peered at him through the gathering gloom, as he stumbled back into the room he held out the water bottle. Richard gratefully took it and drank a slow satisfying draught of the ice-cold water. "Where did you get this?" he asked.

"From the well in the village square," Georgios answered.

"What," Richard shouted, "that square was crawling with Germans earlier - you could have been killed."

The boy grinned but did not answer.

"That was foolish," he continued "it's not worth risking getting killed for a bottle of water." Then his tone changed; he knew the boy had been brave and foolhardy but he was only trying to help. "Even if it is the sweetest tasting water I have ever had." He smiled. "Thank you - that was very brave."

Georgios sheepishly looked at the ground, and said, "The soldiers are pulling back from the village."

Richard nodded, "Good, the Germans are being pushed back at last."

"No," Georgios continued, "not the Germans, the British are pulling out."

Richard grabbed his gun. "Quick, follow me," he commanded as he moved cautiously from the shelter into the street. Moving quietly back towards the square they heard the raised voices of Allied soldiers. The square had become a focal point for the troops who had become dispersed in the narrow streets, the Germans had been forced to retreat against the unexpected Kiwi counter attack but now orders had come through to surrender the village and retreat back towards Sfakion. As the disgruntled and weary soldiers grasped the importance of these orders they cursed the senior command, now that they finally had the Jerries on the run they should have pressed forward and driven them back. Instead they were told to retreat back through the streets they recently won and regroup behind the line of Australian artillery, which lay just behind the village.

Many of the ANZAC troops were wary and distrustful of senior British officers and command staff, a lasting legacy of the Great War and the heavy losses suffered by both countries. Recollections of an earlier bloody campaign remained fresh in their memory when a previous generation of fresh-faced young men had sailed from their native shores to fight for king and country. In 1915 Australian, New Zealand and other empire forces had followed Lord Kitchener's instruction and had enthusiastically enlisted in defence of the empire before embarking for unknown lands. Many were destined for the Mediterranean theatre, their travels leading them to the shores of the Dardanelle's in Western Turkey where they were disembarked onto the hostile shores of the Gallipoli peninsula. Following the plans of Kitchener, Churchill and General Sir Ian Hamilton, naval ships from Egypt transported the British Mediterranean Forces onto the barren inhospitable shores of the Ottoman Empire. Here for months they clung desperately to a narrow strip of coast under constant bombardment from Turkish and German artillery.

There appears to have been little strategy or planning to the campaign and communications and coordination were appalling. Tens of thousands of young men met an untimely end as wave after wave were ordered over the top only to be mowed down and slaughtered by the Turkish machine guns. The ground was regularly torn apart by the supporting British naval guns from ships anchored off the coast, and by the Turkish artillery who held all the surrounding high ground pumping a continuous barrage of shells and shrapnel upon the Allied defences. Thousands were massacred in the rocky gullies and ravines, slaughtered on the beachheads as they fought for a scrap of land near the ancient and fabled city of Troy. If the ghost of Helen of Troy had looked down on the bloodstained earth she would have wept, whilst Hector and Achilles would have saluted the new fallen heroes.

The seas turned red with the blood of the wounded and the dead, while on the land unburied bodies grotesquely lay, bloated and disfigured under the burning sun. After repeated attack and counter attack a stalemate was reached. There were no winners apart from the carrion crows and the millions of iridescent flies and maggots that flourished as they feasted on the carnage and mutilated corpses strewn before them. A carnage made possible by the modern weapons of war and by inept officers who had little conception or understanding of the ways of modern warfare.

Under cover of darkness New Zealand soldiers and composite units slowly filed out from the village. There had been heavy casualties on both sides and many of their comrades had fallen. The Maori battalion had suffered heavy losses; their harka war cry had been a rallying call for all a few hours earlier, now with heavy hearts and with heads bowed they had to leave their fallen kinsmen behind. As Richard joined the despondent ranks of troops leaving the village a lone voice was heard chanting a Maori cry. Only this time it was not a stirring call to war but a softer, more melodic song, gentle and touching in a hymn to their fallen comrades. Other Maori soldiers took up the song. The soft melodies and harmony of male voices added to the solemnity of the occasion in a fitting impromptu memorial to the fallen.

Tama Ngaka Marie

Tama A Te Atau

Tenei tonu matoe

Arohaina mai

Murua ra nga hara

Wetekina mai

Enei here kino

Whakaarau nei

Takahia ki raro

Tau e kino ai

Kei Pa kaha tonu

Ko nga mahi he

Homai he Aroha

Mou I mate nei

Tenai re, e lhu

Takina e koe

Tenei arahina

Atukuki noa

Puta I te pouri

Whiwhi hari nui

Tama Ngakau Marie

Tama a te Atua

Tenei tonu matou

Arohaina mai

Amine.

Once again Richard could not understand the words, but the sentiment and sense of loss was clear to all. He looked around him in the forlorn hope of seeing the Maori who had saved him but detected no sign. He couldn't help but wonder whether he was one of the many fallen, perhaps he would never see him again and would be denied the opportunity to finally thank him. With the melancholic sound of the Maori hymn fading away into the distance he bowed his head in reverence and trudged wearily onwards. He felt a lump rising in his throat, as he fought desperately to hold back the tears, which welled in his eyes. He occasionally glanced at Georgios and the other men around him, the mood amongst the retreating troops was very sombre, many appeared preoccupied and subdued, as each man quietly contemplated what the future might hold.