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Chapter I – The Seed Of Europe
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
-- Wilfred Owen
November 20th 1909, Sicily
Archie Barry gazed out over the shimmering Mediterranean. The Autumn weather had been pleasant, the swooping birds silhouetted against a wide red sunset completing a picture of perfect peace. But thunder rumbled in the distance despite the few wispy clouds in the sky. This was no storm, but the sounds of war encasing the ravaged Sicilian landscape, the guns of the British and Italian Empires clashing over dusty and tired ground. Archie Barry picked up his rifle and walked slowly back to his billet.
The Pals battalions had been formed over the winter of 1908-9, with the war a year old and the tremendous German assault on France beaten into a stalemate. And so the clerks of Oxford swapped their suits for khaki, the dockers of Liverpool exchanged caps for tin helmets, and with their friends and neighbours set sail for King and Country behind the colours of the Empire. Archie was Liverpool born and bred, and although there were many in his Irish family with no love for the English, Archie had felt perhaps through the pressure of the patriotic ideas prevalent across the country that his duty lay in the army. Besides, a more cynical part of him had reasoned, the introduction of conscription was only a matter of time; it was surely better to march alongside those he knew well, and receive proper equipment and training.
At 19, Archie was already a veteran of the early battles of the war in north-eastern France. Now a corporal, he had seen many of his original company buried under or scattered across the mud of Champagne and Picardie. Four months in the scorching heat of the Mediterranean had been no better. There was more leave time, but the country was unfamiliar and disease more widespread. The Italians had not been the pushover many had expected, still maintaining the Strait of Messina and more than a third of Sicily itself. Like the French front, trench warfare now dominated with the line stretching from just south of Catania on the east coast to Cefalu on the north. Nowhere on the island escaped the rumble of the guns, no town had escaped their ravages.