Private Michael Boyd was not cut out for war. Or for a life in the army for that matter. He was too slight in build, too short in stature and too vibrant in spirit.

But when war was announced he signed up, caught up in the fervour of patriotism. He had never met a German before, nor an Austrian, nor a Hungarian, but he knew they were the enemy.

With basic training behind him, in which he passed without excelling, he was shipped over to France and marched onwards to Ypres in Belgium.

There he adapted to life in the trenches. He suffered trench foot in the wet winter months and lost a big toe to gangrene, but was ordered back to the front. He suffered split eardrums from a shell exploding close by and never lost the ringing in his ears.

He lost many comrades by his side but soldiered on because by then he knew nothing else. He was nineteen when he killed his first fellow man. By twenty he thought nothing of killing another.

He made it through Ypres and the Somme and was in France when the end of the war was announced. The German prisoners-of-war celebrated alongside him.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest medal, along with 626 of his fellow men.

He returned home a hero, but found no employment or house or loved one waiting for him. He thought then of the men he had killed and the friends he had lost.

His mother took him back in and he lived out his days in the shadow of the Great War.

A shadow of the boy he had once been.

One of the army of shadows lucky enough to return at all.

Copyright Sue Vincent

This is a response to the #writephoto Prompt – Shadows  curated over at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. Click on the link to read other stories inspired by the image.

I recently guest posted on Sue’s blog to talk about my new novel and some of the ideas behind it. You can read that post here: GUEST AUTHOR: IAIN KELLY ~ A JUSTIFIED STATE.



‘The plot was brilliant, with characters that grabbed your attention, and incredible detail in every scene. A page turner, exciting, and emotional’ – Reader review. /

30 responses to “ARMY OF SHADOWS”

  1. I suffer from tinnitus, but if both my eardrums had been “split,” I doubt I’d be hearing anything at all. However, a loud explosion nearby would have had that result, which is what caused both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy to develop tinnitus thanks for an accident on the set of “Star Trek.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Quoting from the first result that came up on ‘Google’, many others say similar:

      A ruptured eardrum — or tympanic membrane perforation as it’s medically known — is a hole or tear in the thin tissue that separates your ear canal from your middle ear (eardrum).

      A ruptured eardrum can result in hearing loss.

      A ruptured eardrum usually heals within a few weeks without treatment. Sometimes, however, a ruptured eardrum requires a procedure or surgical repair to heal.

      Causes (among others): Loud sounds or blasts (acoustic trauma). A loud sound or blast, as from an explosion or gunshot — essentially an overpowering sound wave — can cause a tear in your eardrum.


  2. That was so very touching. My Grandfather fought in the trenches, he was at Ypres and the Somme. He survived.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I wonder did he ever talk about it much? I know many did not, but he must have had some remarkable and terrifying memories.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Unfortunately he died before I was born. I only heard about him from my Mother. He was a quiet man, a poet, a wanderer. I don’t think he ever got over the war. Who could?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Does anybody get over war?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very moving. He must have felt terrible about his share of the damage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. It’s a heavy guilt to carry for the rest of your life.


  5. Gritty and powerful story, Iain. When I see the horrors soldiers went through and conditions they fought under, my admiration and gratitude for them increases by leaps and bounds. Yes, your MC, although reduced to a shell of the man he used to be, was one of the lucky ones because he returned. War was more than fighting the enemy and fighting for freedom, for many it was an ordeal, a reality that they would never forget or recover from. Killing the enemy and watching comrades fall took a toll on so many. I’ve watched veterans share their stories and they still get choked up.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. aheartforafrica641064503 Avatar

    A very apt description about the horrors of war and its lingering effects.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Such a moving story. I loved that last line. It can be tough for veterans to reminisce about their way experiences. Experiencing a war firsthand can totally change a person and their perspectives.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It can’t fail to change a person. Thank you Shweta.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. deborahsdeliberations Avatar

    Touching story of one man’s harrowing experience. Although he was a shadow of the boy he used to be, he returned home. Many did not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true Deborah, thank you.


  9. War, what is it good for?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You know the lyrics to that song are brilliant 💜

        Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a very compelling story, Iain. You have perfectly captured how war breaks people down.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So many tragedies amongst the ‘lucky ones’…and so many untold stories. Thank you, Iain, for telling this one.

    Liked by 1 person

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