The Field

The sun cast long shadows over the auburn field of corn. It was a beautiful summer's day, a peaceful idyll. The trees whispered quietly in the breeze, and birds twittered happily from their branches. In the field, a farmer, sweating in the heat of his tractor cab, manoeuvred his clumsy vehicle into position to begin the harvest. To him it was just another day on the job. Little did he know what was to come.

For this was England in the first year of the new war.

About a mile away, in an equally abundant field, Sergeant Joe Everson watched the farmer through the periscope in the cupola of his Chieftain tank. It was hidden with the other four tanks of the squadron, waiting for the inevitable. Everson wiped the sweat from his brow and moved the periscope to watch the surrounding area.

"You wouldn't think there was a bloody war on, would you?"

The rich Welsh tones of Everson's gunner, Thomas, broke the relative silence inside the tank. To save fuel the engine was off, saving the crew some of the usual blast of noise that somehow penetrated their earphones. Thomas was also watching the farmer. Everson grimaced at him.

"He'll know it's on soon enough."

All had been quiet for the last few hours. Despite being told that Soviet armour was about to start pouring through these fields, not a soul had been seen. In the distance there was the occasional rumble of artillery, which vibrated through the steel hull of the tank, but apart from that and the occasional jet whizzing overhead, these fields were still at peace.

"King 2-4, respond, over."

The voice of Everson's troop leader fizzled in his earphones. He pressed his throat mic to respond to the officer, three tanks up.

"Go ahead."

"Reconnaissance report has just come in from AAC, they say there's a platoon-sized formation of T-72s moving south from Grasfield towards us. Should be visible to you in about two minutes."

"Roger." Everson wheeled the cupola to look in the direction his troop leader had ordered. The tanks were hull-down behind the crest of a ridge that overlooked the fields the farmer was gently harvesting, and the long, straight Roman road that led from the tiny hamlet of Grasfield towards the British tanks. Nothing stirred on the road. Everson looked down at Thomas.

"Load AP, traverse right."

"Roger"

"I'm going up." Everson pushed open his hatch, letting the sunlight blast into the murky turret. He stood up and breathed deeply, relishing the summertime smells that filled his nose and took away the ever-present stink of sweat and oil. Then, removing his helmet, he tilted his head and shut his eyes and just listened. Everything was still. Even at this distance from the hamlet, the sound of armoured vehicles would be clear to Everson's experienced ears, despite their many hours of battering by the noises of war. Yet there was nothing…nothing except a steady thrum in the sky.

It took a few seconds for Everson to realise what it was. Helicopter rotors. In the instant that he opened his eyes and faced the field in front of him, three Hind helicopters rose up, almost from behind the corn, and opened fire.

"Jesus Christ! Reverse! Reverse!" Everson slammed back down inside the turret, his headset ripping out from the tank as he did so. Three missiles slammed into the ridge in front of the Chieftan, sending a shower of flame and dirt. The tank rocked violently in the blast wave. The two tanks next to Everson's exploded instantly, one sending its turret feet up into the air to land six feet behind the broken hull.

In the front of the Chieftain, Everson's driver slammed into reverse gear and the Chieftain pulled back. The Hinds flew low over the field, one of them riddling the tractor with a blast from its 30mm cannon pod and splattering the farmer over the inside of his cab. Everson's troop leader died in their next volley of missiles, burnt alive inside his Chieftain before he had time to react. Only Everson's tank escaped down the ridge towards the safety of a small wood. The Hinds pursued.

"Jesus Joe they're still on us!" Thomas screamed in horror.

"Fire a blast of MG at them, it might…" Everson was cut off as his head slammed into the turret. Unable to see behind him, the driver had reversed at full speed into the wood and slammed the tank into a group of solid oak trees, stopping it sharply. Overhead, the Hinds opened fire with their cannon on the lightly armoured top of the tank. Two of the rounds penetrated the forward section and killed the driver, while another ripped into the turret to send slivers of shrapnel that sliced off Thomas' right ear and ripped open Everson's left thigh. Thick smoke filled the turret. The Hinds whipped past and searched for new targets. The fields returned to silence, the plumes of flame rising from the ruined tanks the only signs of the short battle.

This was England in the first year of the new war.