This is the opening of my latest project- Billy and George, the story of two young men in World War Two and the effect the death of one has on the other.
SCENE 1 JUNE 6TH 1944
(World War 2, the morning of June the sixth. We are on board Landing craft 523 approaching the French coast. It is still dark. On the bridge is the coxswain, BILLY HOGAN, the duty officer, LIEUTENANT ARMSTRONG and the gunner, SMILER SMITH. The officer is scanning the coastline with his field glasses. SMITH fiddles nervously with his gun. HOGAN speaks without turning his head. )
You’ve checked that gun enough SMILER. It will work when you need it to.
It’s alright for you; you’ve been on one of these before. You were at Dieppe.
That was a tiddly little operation, nothing like this.
What was it like though? Was it rough?
It was rougher for the Canadians than us. They were so bloody confident when we dropped them off and then the pitiful few who were left were crying for us to pick them up after. It was a shambles. No this is better organized. Old Mountbatten learned his lesson. That’s why we waited in Southampton for an extra day. He wanted the weather.
Well he could have waited a bit longer. This is bloody awful.
Nah. This is just a little swell. Don’t you worry these lads’ll do the job. They are better trained than the poor Canadians were.
They’re French aren’t they?
(He looks around to see if any can hear him.)
They stink of garlic.
Don’t worry son. They probably think you smell of something much worse. Nearly time anyway. I can just make out the coastline.
Christ you’ve got better eyes than me.
You get used to it after three years. Make sure you are in that gun as tight as a Scotsman’s hand around his wallet. My oppo, Harry, he didn’t and broke his shoulder. That’s why you got transferred in. He’s stuck in the base hospital missing out on all this.
(Speaking into the voice pipe.)
Enemy coast ahead. Proceed to embarkation positions.
Won’t be long now. As soon as they see us they will open up with everything. Don’t you dare fire until Johnny One has told you.
I might be new but I am not stupid.
I know but sometimes your finger just tightens and seems to work on its own. I’ve seen it before. And don’t bother ducking. It does no good.
There are so many ships how can they target just one of us?
I don’t know. Perhaps it is Murphy’s law. Believe me as soon as they start to fire you will know…
Right ladies, enough of the chit chat. HOGAN, just keep exactly on your course. I don’t want to hit another of the flotilla.
(BILLY glares at SMITH and then stares straight ahead.)
And HOGAN is right SMITH. Wait until I give the order.
(The coast grows ever closer. The only sounds which can be heard are the throb of the engine and the rushing of the water at the bow. Suddenly there is a pinprick of light followed by an explosion and a water splash. Almost immediately the coast lights up with the flash of muzzles and the crash of guns. Water spouts erupt all around them. The Officer self consciously tightens his strap on his tin hat.)
Can’t we fire sir? They know we are here.
Shut up SMITH.
(Then more kindly).
They won’t be able to pick us out until we start to fire and so far they haven’t hit anything.
(The landing craft ahead of them suddenly bursts into flames and then explodes in a shower of plywood as it is hit. Burning men throw themselves overboard and then the small ship explodes and disappears.)
Now you can fire. All guns Shoot!
(SMITH’S Oerlikon begins to fire its tracer shells arcing towards the beach now less than four hundred yards ahead. Buildings and muzzle flashes now become clearer.)
88MM in that hotel! Take it out!
(SMITH changes his aim and his shells begin to pepper the hotel the shells striking the wall around the gun. Suddenly the tracer stops heading towards the coast and LIEUTENT ARMSTRONG turns to see why. As he does so a shell from the gun hits him, knocking half of his body over the side and leaving a writhing torso. HOGAN risks a look around to SMITH and sees, to his horror the headless body still strapped to the gun. He returns his stare to the beach and he stares at the enemy gun barrel still pumping out round after round up into the sky.)
SCENE 2 JUNE 5TH 1940
(Interior of a northern council house. MARY HOGAN is a small woman sitting in a rocking chair. She has naturally red cheeks but today she is redder as she has been crying. The mother of eight children, her life revolves around her husband, TOM and her children. She is holding in her hand the photographs of two of her sons, Tom and John, they are both in military uniform, both soldiers. Voices sound outside and she puts the photographs back into the Bible which is on the table next to her. She picks up the knitting and the needles click away. Two young men enter, BILLY HOGAN and his cousin GEORGE MURPHY. Although cousins they could be brothers having been born within a month of each other and having grown up next to each other. GEORGE has a cigarette in his mouth BILLY is holding a pipe in his hand. They both look guiltily at each other when MARY casts her gaze over them.)
Well what have you two been up to eh? From the looks on your faces I would say no good.
(She steps up to them and smells each one’s breath.)
I knew it. You’ve been to the pub.
(She looks closely at BILLY.)
Aren’t you supposed to be in work?
I worked a double ‘un last week and I got the day off.
And you wasted it in the pub!
We didn’t waste it Auntie Mary, we were celebrating.
You haven’t been gambling have you?
(BILLY glares at GEORGE to be silent.)
No mam. Just celebrating the lads getting out of Dunkirk. The Navy did well.
(She glances briefly at the Bible and puts her hand on it.)
I am just glad our John and Tom aren’t there.
Our John is safe. He is in Iceland. We are in more danger here if they invade now.
Oh don’t say that. I don’t know what I would do if Germans ever came here. The girls…
(He goes over to her and puts his arm around her.)
They won’t get over here mam. Not while our ships and our sailors are there. Britain is a fortress. We’ll be alright.
Come on BILLY. You promised to show me your new darts.