February 7, 2009

The Dispatch Rider
Robert Rogge

The canvas-and-leather dispatch case clung wetly to the Don R's back. He cursed wearily and struggled in the flooded ditch with his heavy Norton motorbike. Tire tracks, rapidly flooding away in the teeming rain, marked his path off the road, across the slick grass berm, and into the ditch.

Soaked through his leather jerkin, the Don R flung his helmet to the ground. Rain streamed down his face as he strained at the awkward machine, gradually hauling it out of the water to where he could grip the handlebars. His left leg ached from the fall and the rain splattered the blood on his gashed hand.

A lumbering convoy growled past, spraying mud and water, seeking traction in the muck. None of them stopped. They saw the Don R up, fighting his machine, and knew he was not injured.

He got the Norton onto its wheels and pushed it to the berm, leaning against the handlebars, head down, gasping in the rain. He got his helmet and stuffed his torn leather gloves into a pocket and straddled the machine.

He fiddled with the controls, raised his right leg, and lunged down at the kick starter. The engine hacked and he gunned it with the twist grip, venting his anger.

He sidled into the convoy and moved down the middle of the road, slit-eyed, spraying his own small wake. He threaded the traffic, avoiding the worst holes, aware that if he went down this time, he would have a three-tonner up his arse.

At a crossroads an MP urged them on, one by one. A German salvo screamed down through the rain, exploding fountains of mud in the fields. Splinters whined across, slapping sharply against truck metal; clods of soggy earth splattered the line of vehicles.

The Don R, behind the bulk of a lorry, saw his chance. He kicked the Norton into low gear and funneled across and away in a long shower of mud.

He dodged ahead as another salvo came in. Heavy smoke, logy with rain, drifted downwind. The roadside ditches were brimful. This message must be worth gold. Twenty-five miles in this muck. They had field phones, didn't they?

The big brown stuttering machine turned into the tire-rutted filth of the farmyard. A clutch of low, red-tiled buildings, looking bloody in the rain, surrounded three sides of a square with a high wall and a double gate on the side facing the road. He kicked down into low and, standing, rode the stirrups as he guided the machine to the buildings. He leaned the bike against the wall and ducked through the door. He opened the dispatch case and fumbled for the sodden envelope.

The captain took it, thumbed up the flap, and read. "They might have spared you your ride, private." He nodded at the field phone. "We had this three hours ago."

The Don R stood dripping and wanting a smoke.

"Go tell the cooks I said to feed you," the captain said. "You kip down here tonight. See the QM sergeant for blankets."

The Don R went into the rain and spread his gas cape over the Norton's saddle and the ticking, still-hot engine. Then he went to the cookhouse and watched the rain pour off the eaves as he ate warm stew.

—Adapted from Fearsome Battle


Robert Rogge, an American, fought with the Canadian Army in World War II. He wrote of his experiences in Fearsome Battle. Under the pen name, Robert Elliot, he is also author of The Eagle's Height, a novel of air combat in World War I.

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