Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Author in his younger days. (1980)

I still have a little way to go with the first series prequel 'Shaw, Lt - USMC' thanks to house moving, car trouble and a bout of Dengue Fever, and now of course we are expecting Super Typhoon Hagupit within the early hours of tomorrow morning, so my Solar Gorilla may again be in use.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Of Demons and Blue Moons

I have had Fae in my head for about a decade although the girl I see was a guest at a ball at Buckingham Palace back in the mid 1970s.

No, I was not a guest, I was standing sentry in the garden outside.

The story came to me thirty years later during a very boring planning session in an office overlooking that very same sentry box, where I suppose the Queen's Private Secretary thought I was being most industrious, scribbling away furiously as he spoke of Royal protocols.

I have some way to go on 'Shaw' but then Fae will have my undivided attention!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Brain malaise

With surprising alacrity, my brain went from 'productive' to 'beach-combing slob' after finishing the 'Armageddon's Song' series. I still have much to do as I am a one man band, and producing the hardcover versions with map content, and also beginning the process of expanding beyond Amazon, is a lot of work.
The hardback is a very different animal to an eBook or a paperback, and publishing takes a period of months, not days.

I am now beginning two books, a prequel 'Shaw', and a supernatural thriller that has sat in my head for a couple of decades.

Anyway, my head's holiday is now over so I am returning to 'the cave' to begin writing once more.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A good read for aviation buffs!

Having emptied my head of almost 700K words over three years of writing, I am reading a few non-military related stories as a form of detox.
Ernest K Gann, a pioneer in the early airline business, tells a fascinating tale or twenty, such as when Gann took off in an aircraft with engines of a new design. He half glided to safety a couple of minutes later, back onto the same runway, with spluttering engines and a cabin full of screaming passengers.
The Lycoming engineers put the blame squarely back on his shoulders and the management backed the engineers, on account of them having slide rules, and the pilot being a self-taught ex-barnstormer. 
He invited them to join him as he recreated the flight, and to their credit the engineers agreed, but he half glided to safety a couple of minutes later, back onto the same runway, with spluttering engines and a cabin full of screaming engineers. 
Ernest K Gann, hell of a guy!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

'Of Demons and Blue Moons'

I have found an exceptional young cover artist. 

Sanju R. Nivangune on

Sanju on Facebook

You will have to wait until publication to see his cover as it is original art, but here is an example of his portrait work.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Update and cover art for 'Of Demons and Blue Moons', my roughed out concept.

Currently I am re-editing Volume 2 'Advance to Contact' of my Armageddon's Song series and adding maps to both that book and to Volume 3, 'Fight Through'. I am also seeking a professional book cover artist to work on 'Of Demons and Blue Moons'. I am not switching genres, just expanding, and after chatting to the excellent, worthy and recently retired American warrior, Jason Ferguson, who took his collection of Louis L'Amour Western novels to Afghanistan, I may have a stab at that too. SF is also a distinct future possibility.

I will begin 'Shaw', a prequel to Armageddon's Song, next month. I will try writing OD&BM at the same time. The next on the list is a further prequel, one set in Northern Ireland with Pat Reed as a platoon commander in 2CG, and Colin, Oz and Ray as young Guardsmen going through the Depot before joining the battalion. I have yet to think of a title or an ending though.

Next month I will also be trying to move into publishing with Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Smashbooks and Nook as paperbacks, hardcover and ebooks. I would like to try audio books also but I need to somehow find the time to research the nuts and bolts into that.

Next year of course I will begin work on the sequel to Armageddon's Song, 'Armageddon's Anthem', which will be set two years after the point where 'Crossing the Rubicon' ended.

The hunt for a book cover artist

I joined a website called where you can find anything from potters to 3D CG movie animators. Having approached a number of very talented 3D artists and digital painters I laid out the following criteria and now I am awaiting the first samples.
Good evening,

I am currently seeking an artist to produce the cover of a
supernatural thriller.

 I have been let down a couple of times now by individuals who claimed
to be cover artists, so I have come to Deviantart to ask a few artists
here too.

I make most of my money from eBook downloads and the covers have to be
eye catching in order to stand out, so what would be a thing of beauty
on a bookshelf is not necessarily going to cut the mustard in getting
potential readers to click on the image and read the titles
description. The cover is the Lure and the description is the Hook

The book will be in hardcover, paperback and ebook, as a supernatural
thriller that will not be suitable for young adults, and it will be a
bit of a departure from the alternative history genre that pays the
bills for me, but if it sells then it can be turned into a series.

I do my own maps and cover designs for the military fiction series but
I am no artist, I have a cobbled together concept of what I would like
to see, based on the first chapter, and although the dimensions are
wrong for a 15.24cm (6") x 22.86cm (9") front cover it incorporates
the main character, the night, a cathedral and a blue moon.

I am aware that the concept I have may not be eye catching enough to
stand out from the crowd, which as I said is extremely important if
you want to sell books from what are pretty much postage stamp sized
images on Apple, Amazon, Nook, etc etc. So colour is important and the
black sky does not necessarily do the business in my very workmanlike
jobby which is posted at. but it does highlight the blue moon of the story.
I will obviously pay for the cover I like and of course the artist will be credited
within the book, but I am asking artists for a rough 
sketch/visual, first.RegardsAndy Farman

VISUAL CONCEPT (but I am open to suggestions to alternatives.

  Too much black sky, but how else to highlight the moon?

As ever, a cover needs to catch the eye. I had a brainwave though, just make the blue moon into a backdrop.

'Amy' would benefit from a more enigmatic expression, one similar to Mia Sara's.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Still a little stunned.

Three weeks at number one in the UK Kindle ratings for Alternative History for 'The Longest Night', and the second place for three weeks is the final volume in the series 'Crossing the Rubicon', although those positions are reversed in Australia. As CTR is set in the Philippines and Australia that stands to reason.

All the books have new covers and I am working to insert map illustrations into the first three volumes.

Some very nice things said about volume 2 and 3 after an earlier glowing review of volume 1 by the military community forum at ARRSE.CO.UK.

Review - Volume 1 of Armageddon's Song

Review - Volume 2 and 3 of Armageddon's Song.

The series is available at:

 Armageddon's Song at

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Response to the question of bad writing that was posted on another forum.

"I am very glad you are enjoying it. The answer to the puzzle is that my brain was suffering through decades of neglect. I did not finish school but joined the British Army as a boy soldier at 15 and until 2004 my jobs were all practical and outdoors, with not a great deal of creative writing involved (although defence lawyers/counsel for the defense, argued otherwise on a few occasions). From 2004 - 2011 I was responsible for the planning of operations and the writing of the operations plans*. (*plus having a good time on film sets and TV productions, putting on a few extra pounds with the excellent catering of course. Clint Eastwood really is just playing himself BTW!) I am not aware of any critical remarks from senior officers on grammar and punctuation. This probably evidences why they were not 'Superior Officers', just coppers who were paid more (No offence, just a play on an old joke).

I am only now really aware of how incredibly BAD my writing was, as my brain has been slapped up the side a time or three since publishing Volume 1 in 2013 (written in 2002) and Volume 2 (written in 2003). Since May 2013 this old dog has been learning new tricks I would otherwise have learnt in school if I had not run off to play soldier and street cop for forty years, back in 1972.

I am re-editing Volume 1 and 2 and publishing Map Illustrated Editions which are half the size 2-parters, due to the size of the maps adding to the cost of the eBooks on Kindle.
The paper versions will now become rather small print, once edited again, as CreateSpace, the printer, has lowered page maximums to 480 (From 700 back when I published the 665 page Volume 2 in June '13).

The maps are the usual Farman rough workmanship in comparison to the map makers on here, but this is the battlefield in the first book, the opening battle of World War 3, set 12 miles NW of the Czech Republic on a river called The Wesernitz in 'Stand-To'. "

Andy Farman 

A year on

One year and six days after publishing Volume 1 'Stand-To' I published what was intended to be the final part of the story as a fourth title but hit technical difficulties due to page count and file size. Volumes 4 and 5 were therefore published at the same time. I was very disappointed and annoyed at the reduction in maximum page size since publishing Volume 2, which was 665 pages in length, in June 2013.
However, a fantastic readership, many of whom have given a lot of encouragement over the year, have made both books a success. It really has come as a surprise and the very least I can do now is re-edit volume 1 which is embarrassingly bad....sorry about that.

Thank you one and all, and I think a revisit to Armageddon's Song may be on the cards in the future.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Next work in Military Fiction

'Shaw . USMC'
A prequel to Armageddon's Song with Henry Shaw as a Lieutenant in the USMC, a while before becoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of course. I will follow that with other characters in a prequel during 'The Troubles' in Ulster.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Trying another genre at the same time.

My rough idea for a cover as the story begins in a similar style.

A stab at another genre whilst still writing alternative history. I have asked a few artists for their thoughts based upon this.

Why did the intended 'Two books in one cover' not happen?

In short, the file size for eBooks was three times higher with the maps everyone asked for, and CreateSpace, the printers of the paperback, have lowered the maximum permitted page count quite considerably from last year. From 700 pages to 480 pages.

The cost of downloading an illustrated book from kindle of 12.3MB, for which they round the numbers upwards to 13MB, added  £2 to the price.

The book was 517 pages and I had to lose 37 pages to meet the new maximum.

eBooks and Paperbacks have to match.

I am not happy and neither are many of those who followed the series who automatically suspect it was a commercial decision.

Damned if I do and damned if I don't.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Long overdue editing and map illustrations for the new editions of volumes 1,2,3

'Stand-To' the edited and illustrated edition that is in the works.
When I published Volume 1 and 2 the paperback maximum was 700 pages, but it is now 480 so the new edition cannot even be uploaded. The only solution is to unpublish the 2 originals and republish in a total of four parts.
I will have a short free download period for the benefit of anyone who already paid for the original, but the period is set by Amazon and it is limited and not repeatable for 90 days.

Setting the scene for a battle I wrote in 2002. This is the ground as I saw it in my imagination with the Czech Republic 12 miles to the SE, woods and hills north and south with the valley, its fields, railway embankment, flood plain, River Wesernitz and the highway.1CG's position up on the wooded hillside to the north.I have included the fighting patrol area where the prisoner snatch takes place too, so with differing sizes of symbols I hope to use sections of this map to highlight the various stages.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The final volume.

                           ' THE LONGEST NIGHT '


                      ' CROSSING THE RUBICON '



Sunday, 20 April 2014

Striving for a unique style

When I decided to create maps to enhance my storytelling I tried several different styles, none of them particularly original, until I decided that as my signature style of writing is one of descriptive detail then the maps should be also. I was definitely not going to hand draw a crude map and scan it, and I was not happy with tracing existing maps and scanning them either. I wanted not too much detail so as to bury the message, but enough to engage the readers imagination. 

My artistic interpretation of the Macquarie Pass*, one of the land routes to Canberra, up the prehistoric sea cliffs of the Mt Kembla escarpment in New South Wales, is hand drawn digitally using a mouse and Paint Shop Pro version 1 (It may be inferior to Paint Shop Pro 8, but I am familiar with it.) Unlike the maps of  imaginary 'Vormundberg' in Germany or real life Moruya, further south along the NSW coast, the Macquarie maps are at a slightly oblique angle as I wanted to avoid using contour lines to emphasise hills on otherwise 'flat' maps.  You will of course notice that the maps detail of the ground does not faithfully mirror that of the real area but instead it compliments the story as I saw it unfold in my head.

The file size problem which I described in earlier posts brought some priceless help from Adrian Robinson with regard to image compression whilst retaining quality, and now Poofy Koshi (a nom de plume) on a source of high definition but low byte size map symbols, for which I am truly grateful also.

* Code for - Not to Scale :)

Friday, 4 April 2014

The pains of eBook illustrating.

I would like to say that I was shocked to see CreateSpace double the price of a very small booklet I produced as a companion for my book series, but unfortunately nothing they do comes as a surprise anymore.
I added four maps, all digitally created and together they increased the books total file size by a mere 800kb. This was enough to have the price leap up from $3.59 to $7.79.

Fortunately, I have not found that problem with Kindle, not yet anyway.

As to the eBooks, the trick is to produce a jpg picture, 800 pixiels x 600 pixels and of a file size below 250kb. The resolution is the problem as too low will result in a fuzzy image, and HD gives a huge file size. Keep the resolution at 300 PSI and that should do the trick.
Thanks again to Adrian Robinson for guiding me to the simple to use Microsoft Office image manager to achieve that!

The aerial photo of the area where the action takes place, in the book. 

reproduced by hand as a digital map

Standard military unit symbols representative of the story

Remembering of course to 'box' the enemy forces symbols so that they may still be discerned as such on black and white eReaders.

And of course an excerpt to go with it.

  89,030 words down....

‘Tango Four Three Charlie’, a German built Leopard 1 that was older than even the old man of the crew, Trooper ‘Bingo’ McCoy, the twenty eight year old driver, rocked on its tracks as a shell exploded in the trees nearby. The vicious splinters were little threat to the tank, but a deadly danger to the infantry who shared this ordeal by fire.
The Australians had decided on replacing the old main battle tanks with American M1A1 Abrams, but the war had occurred before that process had begun.
“This is just a diversion.” opined the tanks gunner, Che Tan, and not for the first time.
They were in a hull down position well to the rear of their fighting positions, beyond the boundary of Moruya Jockey Club, the race track north of the river of the same name. Che was Australian born and bred; his parents though had arrived as refugees from Vietnam. There was nothing inscrutably oriental about Trooper Tan; he said it as he saw it.
“They’ll get bored and bugger off in a minute.”
A near miss shook the vehicle, red hot steel splinters striking its armour.
The rest of the crew in the turret stared accusingly at the gunner for tempting fate.
“A minute?” asked the driver. “I’ve got five dollars if someone’s got a stopwatch and better odds.”
They were three quarters of a miles from the beach, and from their forward fighting positions among two platoons worth of the Royal New South Wales Regiment, along with a pair of ASLAV armoured recce vehicles of the 2nd/14th Light Horse. The racetrack, a coastal road, a copse and an airfield runway lay between their current position and where they would fight. 
Either side of C Troop’s current location were the company headquarters of the infantry, occupying a dug-in CP, mortar pits and trenches. The infantrymen had no armoured fighting vehicles; just canvas topped Mercedes Unimogs in a harbour area further to the rear. The clerks and storemen huddled in the shelter bays praying that no direct hit would end them instantly, and no near-miss would collapse the trench upon them and end them slowly. 
“Seriously though.” Che said. “What are we doing here? It’s not tank country; there are rivers and billabongs all over the shop, and enough trees per acre to make a billion matchsticks.”
“Colour, dash and daring, boy.” Chuck said. “Colour, dash and daring. Without us this would just be another mindless shitfight between their moron grunts and our cut-lunch-commandos” as he referred to volunteer reservists. 
The tanks crews had made good use of the aforementioned trees, cutting branches and foliage to strap to the turret and flanks with D10 telephone cable. By doing so they spared their cam nets and also took their cover with them whenever they moved.   
“Hello all Tango callsigns, this is Tango Four Three Alpha, ‘Wicked Lady’, over.”
“Tango Four Three Bravo, ‘Wicked Lady’, over!”
“Tango Four Three Charlie, ‘Wicked Lady’ over!” Gary Burley, the tanks commander replied.
 “Tango Four Three Alpha, ‘Wicked Lady’, out.”
Sergeant Burley switched to intercom.
“Okay Bingo, let’s go, get us to the first firing position, the landing craft have been spotted heading in!”
A hundred metres spacing between the vehicles, they moved slowly forwards at first like articulated garden features, leafy branches seemingly growing out of the steel plate. They maneuvered around trees until reaching the chain link fence surrounding the race track and accelerated hard. Four Three Charlies’s driver ignored an open gate in order the trash a long length of the fence which they carried with them, entangled over the front of the Leopard.  
“Well that was smart, wasn't it?” Gary said to the driver in censure.
“Bollocks, the amount of money I've lost in this place I reckon I must have paid for it twice over.” Bingo grumbled back. He had picked up his nickname because he was so addicted to giving away his cash to bookies after each Army Appreciation Day (Payday, in Anzac parlance), he had even been spotted sat among blue rinsed old ladies in Bingo Halls trying to win it back before his wife found out.
The Leopards were illuminated by the blazing spectator’s stands and stables. The horses, and much of the local population, had moved away over the previous week when it became evident that invasion was inevitable.
“Bloody hell, if you spent enough here to qualify as an owner then I reckon yer about bankrupt now, mate!”
The racecourse had received the attention of naval gunfire, as had the small provincial airport, where flames were leaping high from the hangars and buildings, clearly visible above the trees to their right. 
The damage wrought to the fence seemed rather trivial in the face of what the invaders were doing. When Banjo repeated it at the other side it became snarled up with the first one they had crashed through, leaving the fence raising sparks as it trailed behind them across George Bass Drive, the coastal road.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Setting the scene

The main problem with being a one man band is that creating artwork and maps to compliment the story is rather time consuming. The file size is also oddly hefty, but having tried various formats jpg is the best at 523KB, and tif the worst at 1.98MB.
The setting for the final battle between NATO and the Red Army in Europe is a fictitious hill and valley in Germany called The Vormundberg. Believe it or not, this is twelve hours work. I could easily have written 4000 words in the same period of time.

Ah well, onwards and upwards.......

Friday, 21 February 2014

A thousand words worth?

A picture paints a thousand words and adding maps can add to the readers enjoyment.
Map makers though do not come cheap and using anything on the web is likely to have a copyright.
The solution is to make your own.
As horses are for courses, so too are maps with regard to style.
Keep it simple, keep it basic and do not go overboard with the amount of information to put on it, have it relate to events in your story.

I started from scratch at 8am this morning. The representation of a tree was over an hours work and I need a lot of them so patch and paste got a little humdrum by lunchtime.
I picked an area I knew in Lower Saxony but my map bears little in relation to reality.
The symbols were fiddly too but now I have created them the next maps with be easier.
This was the landscape before place names were added, and the second frame adds these and the third frame is the calm before the storm. I think I will need six maps or segments of the maps to accompany the story of a battle from start to finish.
It is actually not as hard as you may think, just time consuming at first.

In no time at all I was being messaged by a Norwegian gentleman who observed that the symbol colours were incorrect. He is right of course and that highlights the need for accuracy in all things non-SF or suffer the slings and arrows of outraged experts as a consequence.
So Alton, just for you mate, and thank you for the nudge.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Sample - Volume 4

For those most worthy individuals who served in the Wessex Regiment TAVR:


Vormundberg: 2111hrs.

If not for the burning vehicles in the valley it would be as dark as a grave on the hillside, but silent it was not.
The cry came from the gun controller of a GPMG in the sustained fire role and its gun crew from ‘C’ (Royal Berkshire) Company, 2 Wessex, were firing on a DF he could not even see had it been daylight.
The GPMG was almost at its maximum elevation as fired twenty round bursts, with every fifth one being a tracer round to aid correction. The rounds arced away into the night but not to a pre-registered Defensive Fire in front of their own positions, they were disappearing over a protrusion of higher ground to their right to plunge down at a target 1700 metres away.
The gun pit was not situated for direct defence but instead to provide enfilade fire support for other companies or units on the flanks. The GPMG was particularly well suited for this as the ‘beaten zone’, the pattern in which the rounds from a burst of fire landed, was cigar shaped and therefore more effective when employed against advancing infantry.
Likewise the companies and units on either flank would fire on their neighbours DFs.
Its sight was the C2, the same as that used on the L16 81mm mortar, and similarly used in conjunction with an aiming post to register targets they may not even have direct line of sight to, and to lay onto those targets again at any time, come day or night although a Trilux lamp was clamped to the top of the aiming post for night shoots.  
Once the fall of shot was landing where it was required then the bearing and elevation was recorded. In this fashion a good crew could unlock the guns swivel mount, swing it onto the desired bearing where after a little fine adjustment they could put rounds on the ground in exactly the same place, very rapidly.
If it was necessary to engage targets to their front, the gun was dismounted from the tripod and used in the light role over open sights as the tripod was below ground level.
Some twenty three DFs were registered carefully in waterproof chinagraph pen along with three FPFs, Final Protective Fires, that would be called in in the event of units coming into close quarters with enemy infantry.
Thus far they had fired on those FPFs some eleven times this day, and the day wasn’t over yet.
In a trench to their rear a young soldier slung his rifle across his back and squatted to grip the metal handles of two ammunition boxes from a stash left by the CQMS. The yellow stencilling identified the contents as 7.62 link and the boxes were heavy, the handles slippery with mud and he used the remaining boxes as steps to exit.
“NO…crawl!” shouted the gun controller before flinching at the sound of a high velocity round, its sharp crack hurting his ears as it passed by at a velocity exceeded the speed of sound.
“Ah, bollocks!” Lance Corporal ‘Dopey’ Hemp snarled with feeling, tearing his eyes away before turning to the gun’s No. 2, yelling into his ear.
 “Back in a jiffy Spider, but get ready to throw smoke when I shout?.”
“I’ve only got the one.”
Dopey checked his pouches, but he had only L2 fragmentation grenades, the Brit version of the US M26.
“Bugger it…” Roger was busy doing his gunner bit so Dopey checked his pouches for him, and he was out of smoke too. He would have to use a wet and muddy route back to the trench behind them and save the smoke for the return journey.
“Where’d the shot come from?” Spider asked.
Dopey nodded downslope where Soviet AFVs and tanks sat disabled or burnt-out in mud that grew deeper with each new attack’s churning sets of tracks.
“The smart money says he…or they, will be five hundred odd metres away in amongst that lot down there.”
Downslope beyond their own units positions was known as the Thin Green Line, the ground held by the Royal Marines of 44 Commando who had allowed a group of enemy tanks and AFVs to roll over their forward trenches before engaging them where their armour was thinnest and knocking them out with infantry anti-tank weapons.
The NATO forces best tank killers were still the guns of their own MBTs, but attrition was at work there too on this seemingly endless day and night.
Clearly not all the enemy who had reached the defenders on the Vormundberg were dead as two members of D Company, 2LI, at whose rear the gun pit sat, had also fallen victim in the past hour.
Private ‘Spider’ Webber did not stick his head up to look; he had learned that lesson early on.
“I wonder what the Argyll and Sutherland guys will call us when we are the forward line of troops?”
“Same as always, I expect…” replied Dopey, stripping off his bulky fighting order and adding with his best attempt at a Glasgow accent “…yon fockin’ wee Eng-lish bast-ads.”
Spider checked the wind direction and decided he would have to toss the smoke to the right front of the gun pit, and not too far either as damp air made the smoke ‘hang’ in the rain rather than drift with the breeze.
Unburdened by the webbing Dopey slipped over the lip of the gun pit, keeping as low as possible he snaked through the mud into a depression carved out by this constant rain. He couldn’t remember when he had last been dry and neither could he recall when last he had last felt safe. He followed the depression on his belly for twenty metres up the slope.
Bracing himself, swallowing down the fear and forcing it away he left the depression with a dive and roll, and the lance corporal kept on rolling until he reach the other trench, dropping over the edge and back into cover.
He landed on a pair of legs, but the owner did not object, he lay where he had toppled backwards over the trench’s lip.
Dead eyes which had been alive but a few minutes before now stared back. The soldiers face was in shadow until illuminated briefly by a Soviet parachute flares sulphurous light and Dopey saw it held a look of surprise. He checked for a pulse anyway and it confirmed what he had learned to judge by sight, the difference from the living and the dead, so he wrested the ammunition boxes away from the body. Crouching below the edge of the trench he braced himself before heaving each one up and over, lofting not only those boxes but the six remaining boxes of link cached there.
There were also two boxes of 7.62 ball ammunition which could be belted together with the growing pile of expended links below their GPMG. One at a time he tossed these over the lip of the trench toward his own gun’s position. His arm and back ached with the effort.
The small arms fire from the both his 2LI hosts and 44 Commando rose to a crescendo seemingly at the very second he opened his mouth to call to Spider, and he froze.
Streams of tracer, almost akin to lasers, ripped through the air high overhead as the marine’s called in defensive fires.
Gradually the angles of the outgoing tracer altered, engaging DFs closer to the marine’s positions before again dropping plunging fire onto a FPF as the Hungarians closed almost to grenade range.
Mortar fire missions arrived on target and overhead the outgoing artillery rounds droned mournfully eastwards, the sound punctuated by those of Challenger and Chieftain’s main guns deliberate fire.
Dopey’s heart pounded and it would have been so very easy to just stay where he was, put his shaking hands over his ears and resign to fear, but the firing slackened from that of a deafening roar to one of a few desultory shots in the dark.
At times like this the good soldier does not grit his teeth and fight on for Queen and country, he does not risk his skin out of regimental pride either, what he does do though is to think of his mates and it is that spurs him out of safety and back into harm’s way. 
“SPIDER!” he waited for an answering shout.
“SMOKE!” Dopey yelled.
There was a pause until Spider judged that line of sight between the trench and the suspected firing point was sufficient.
Perhaps the sniper was now dead? But if not he was unlikely to have moved on as his last victim had emerged from this trench carrying ammunition boxes, so it was a potentially good source of targets.
Dopey did not leave the trench the way he came in, he left the far end  and rolled again, pausing only to check that the smoke was where it should be before slithering quickly downhill to where the boxes had landed.
The smoke was thinning out by the time he had tossed the last one the remainder of the way to the gun pit and rejoined the rest of the crew.
They were none of them regular soldiers, although Dopey Hemp had served a tour attached to The Queens Regiment in Iraq. They were all three of them part timers from Britain’s Territorial Army, a diverse mix in terms of background, education and employment in their day jobs, far more so than amongst the ranks of the regular army.  ‘Dopey’s’ given name was Mark and he was a barman by trade, pulling pints in a pub in Dedworth on the outskirts of Windsor. He didn’t know what Spider Webber’s Christian name was, but Spider was a machinist somewhere on Slough Trading Estate. The gunner was Roger Andrews, an apprentice butcher from Eton Wick and young man lying dead in the trench behind them had been a college student in Maidenhead.
Dopey and the others from 2 Wessex who were on loan to the Light Infantry were filling dead men’s shoes, and in their case manning one of the 2LI Machine Gun Platoon ‘gimpies’, the L7A2 General Purpose Machine Guns.
The carefully recorded bearing and elevation sight settings were not written in Dopey’s hand and they did not ask what had happened to the light infantrymen  who had been the original crew, the sandbags lining the gun pit were  torn  and ripped in places from an air bursting artillery round’s shrapnel, but the rain had washed away the blood.

Now back in the gun pit the barrel of the GPMG glowed red, the rain hissed and sizzled on the metal but the fire mission in support of 1CG’s left flank company was complete.
It is possible for the barrel of a GPMG to become white hot with constant use, and with that the barrel will warp and become unusable, but before that occurs then rounds will cook-off in the breach due to the heat. Three spare heavy barrels are part of an SF kit and carried in a thick wove bag of ’37 Pattern webbing, and it is but the work of a moment to replace a barrel that is glowing red orange with that of a spare.
According to the SASC, the Small Arms School Corps, the hot barrel should be placed to one side and allowed to cool naturally in order to prevent the metal eventually becoming brittle. But at one side of the gun pit stood a 16” high aluminium storage tin that had once held twelve shermouli para illum tubes, it was now brimming with rainwater and had two heavy barrels for the ’gimpy’ sticking out of it. Had it not been raining and the locale arid, then the tin would have been filled with the crew’s urine and the pungent odour of a public urinal on a hot summer’s day would have hung in the air.
A wonderful tool is a soldier’s urine, it has softened boot leather for centuries and cooled barrels since the invention of gunpowder.
In a cramped shelter bay dug into the side of the gun pit Roger was working on the third barrel with a wire brush from the weapons cleaning kit, also a webbing bag. Carbon builds up rapidly in the SF role and if unchecked it will adversely effect accuracy as it fills the rifling grooves.  The barrels gas regulator also collects carbon residue each time a round is fire and this eventually leads to stoppages.
Having once cleaned the inside of the barrel Roger removed the gas regulator and carefully placed this, along with its two small semi-circular lugs into an old compo ration tin. He dropped them into two inches of clear fluid that was already in the tin where they fizzed. If the SASC frowned up the method of cooling the barrels that the Berkshire men employed, then they would be seriously upset with the regulator being immersed in rust remover. Nothing, however, removed carbon quite as quickly and thoroughly as an acid solution. The gunner was far more concerned with husbanding his limited supply of Jenolite than he was of the SASC’s wrath.
The position had a field telephone with a direct line to a man-portable telephone exchange at company headquarters and he reported the death of their ammunition carrier to the D Company 2LI CSM.
“What was his full name?” the CSM asked.
“I dunno sir, his surname was Crowne.” Dopey replied, pausing to look at the other two, almost indiscernible in the dark.
“Fucknows.” Spider offered unhelpfully, and Roger's shrug went unseen in the darkness at the back of the shelter bay.
   A few months ago they would all have been greatly embarrassed at not knowing the name of one of their unit who had been killed, but that was then and this was now.
“He was a new guy…and we are down to six boxes of mixed link.”
“And smoke!” Spider reminded him.
The CSM could be heard calling out to the Q Bloke at the other end but the company’s quarter master sergeant’s reply was a mere nod. He was a busy man this day.
Dopey hung up the old fashioned handset and sat beside Spider on empty ammunition boxes in the entrance to the shelter bay, their boots squelching in the mud with each movement as the boxes of 7.62 ball ammunition were opened.
They were all deathly tired, and not just from lack of sleep. Fear produces adrenaline and adrenaline has a toll on the body but they squatted, silently creating fresh belts using spent links. There would be no tracer rounds in these belts so they would be carefully stored in the boxes the rounds had come from and placed with similar belts as their final ammunition reserve.
“Anyone got any scoff?” Spider asked “Me stomach thinks me throats been cut.”
Dopey fished out a small tin from a cardboard ten man ration pack beside him, tossing it across.
Spider worked his compo tin opener industriously in the dark interior of the shelter bay before giving the contents an exploratory sniff.
“Bacon Grill! What kind of grub is that for a good Jewish boy?” he grumbled “Hasn’t this man’s army heard of religious diversity?”
“Did you wash this morning, Spider?”
“Was it army issue soap, nicked from the bogs at Paderborn when we passed through?”
“Then the answer is no, it doesn’t give a stuff about rigorous debauchery because it was so old you were probably washing with your granny.”
Spider tried to feign offence at the remark, but he failed and joined the other two soldiers giggling like demented schoolboys at the bad, and very old joke, before bending the newly removed lid of the tin slightly and using it to scoop the contents into his mouth, taking care not let his tongue touch its jagged edge.
Roger fished the gas parts from out of the compo tin and grunted in pain as the rust remover attacked the tiny cuts on his fingertips that seem to appear as if by magic on infantrymen’s hands as soon as they get into the field. Roger’s discomfort was a minor thing, akin to getting lemon juice on a cut and the reassembly and reattachment of the gas regulator to the barrel went in silence.
The newly field cleaned barrel replaced the old one, and a brief hiss sounded from the shermouli container that one was doused too.
The white noise issuing from the radio headphones cut out abruptly.
“Hello Four Six Delta this is Nine Four Bravo, over?”
The trio paused in what they were doing.
“Four Six Bravo, send, over.” replied Dopey.
“Nine Four Bravo…shoot Dee Eff Three Six Echo, over!”
“Here we go again.” muttered Roger.