Europe, June 29th, 1914
The headlines were somber that day. In Sarajevo, Bosnia, not 24 hours before, the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. The culprits, a gang of Serbian rebels known as the Black Hand, were hell bent on independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and longed for the unification of all Serbs. With the majority of Europe interlocked and interwoven by treatises and decrees, a European war went from being a distant possibility to the inevitably near future. Bloodshed was unavoidable.
Liverpool, England, September 1st, 1914
The dockworkers had been at their posts since 6 o'clock that morning. The four man crew unloading the last of the Blue Funnel Line pallets on Dock Eleven had worked together since they all joined up at the docks when they were 15. But the four had known each other since they were small, all living in the same street since they were seven years old. Brick, Selly, Kitten and Jimmy, longtime friends and drinking buddies.
Marty 'Brick' Russo was a fiery-tempered, dark-eyed brunette who looked as though he'd be more at home in Italy, than his native Liverpool. Loyal to a fault, Marty Russo had, more than once, jumped into a fight against impossible odds to help one of his mates. Brick was an unassuming, hardworking man who believed in four things; friends, family, lager and the Liverpool Reds. His one claim to fame was that he had almost gotten arrested once for beating a much larger boy senseless with a wooden mallet for sitting on his garden wall when he was just nine years old.
Tom 'Selly' Selway was a short, quiet man, with shaggy brown hair that would constantly flop into his eyes if it weren't for the round, wire-rimmed glasses he wore. He was the only black man in the crew, and the only one who could talk Brick down out of a temper. The lads all joked that Selly talked so seldom, it was pure shock that brought Brick down off a temper, not anything in particular that he said. But it was unanimous amongst the four, when Tom Selway spoke, you listened and you learned. Because chances were, you weren't ever gonna hear him say his piece a second time.
Christopher 'Kitten' Bettancourt was a whip-thin, wiry man with the reflexes of a cat and a cheeky sense of humour that had the ladies falling all over themselves for him. With his wavy black hair, piercing grey eyes and dazzling smile, his sense of humour was not the only reason the ladies loved him. Trouble was, Kitten didn't love the ladies. This had caused many of the impossible fights Brick had hurled himself into, as well as a long period of awkwardness amongst the crew that had lasted until Selly, in one of his rare displays of temper, had told them all to "Pull their frelling heads out the oven, he's still the same lad we grew up with, just means more girlies for us, now don't it."
The last member of the crew was James 'Jimmy' Dunbar, a handsome blonde haired, blue-eyed man who was considered by many as arrogant, but those who knew him knew that he wasn't. He knew what he could do well, and he didn't mind telling people so. Jimmy was a friendly, jovial man with a heart the size of a horse blanket for the most part, but when he lost his temper, he was worse than a dozen of Brick. The lads had only ever seen him lose his temper twice, and they all agreed that they would do whatever it took to make sure it never happened again. James Dunbar also considered himself a good singer, he had a decent tenor, but his mates would never let him know that. Jimmy sang when he was drunk, he sang when he was sober, he sang when he was in the bath, but for the most part (to the dismay of his friends), he sang when he was at work.
"Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summers gone, and all the flowers are dying,
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must…"
"You must learn to sing, that's what you must do, Dunbar," Marty Russo interrupted from his place atop the ladder.
"… bide," Dunbar continued, taking note of his critic only long enough to flip him a two-fingered salute.
"But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so."
"Beautiful, Jimmy, now will you pack in and do some bloody work! Them pallets aren't goin' to unload their frelling selves!" Kitten called over to him, hoisting a crate onto his bare, muscle-bound shoulders.
Jimmy just grinned at him, accepting the crate Selly handed down to him with a muttered "Ta, lad", before walking it down to the end of the dock where he dumped it unceremoniously on top of the one Kitten had just put down.
As he slowly trundled back up the dock to collect another crate, Jimmy began to sing again.
"Oh! I will take you back, Kathleen
To where your heart will feel no pain
And where the fields are fresh and green
I'll take you to your home again!"
Just as he was about to launch into the first verse, Selly spoke up from underneath his crate, "Come ahead, Jim-lad, sing summat different, they played that 'un at me ma's funeral."
Dunbar blinked a couple of times, it always surprised him whenever Selly spoke, but to hear him talk about his past was completely shocking. Throwing a lopsided smile in Tom's direction, he launched himself into another song.
"Liverpool Lou, lovely Liverpool Lou,
Why won't you behave just like other girls do?
Why does my poor heart keep followin' you?
My Liverpool Lou!"
September 1st had started out much the same as every other day had. The four walked home, complaining about their jobs and their various aches and pains, as usual. The little Fogarty lad came and tried to sell them all a newspaper, same as he did every other day. But today was different. This time instead of teasing the kid and walking him home, Selly actually bought a newspaper. The headline jumped out at him from the top of the Liverpool Echo. BRITAIN TO ENTER EUROPEAN WAR – MEN NEEDED TO FIGHT THE GERMAN MENACE. The four read the article, their eyes getting bigger and bigger. When they'd finished, each and every one of their minds was a flurry of emotion. Anger at the reported atrocities of the German Army. Indignation that 'plucky little Belgium' got dragged into a war it wanted no part of. Patriotism, them German bastards wouldn't know what hit 'em when they ran into a bunch of Liverpool lads. But most of all the four friends felt excitement at the thought that they could see places other than Liverpool.
The lads came to an unspoken decision as they walked home from work that night. The next morning, they were joining up. Brick, Selly, Kitten and Jimmy were going to war.
Author's Note: The songs used in this chapter are not mine, I just borrowed them. They are (in order of appearance) "Danny Boy", "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" and "Liverpool Lou".