Maurepas, France, 12 October 1916
"Come on ladies!" bellowed the authorative Sergeant Harris as he strode through the dormitory tent, "We are marching out in thirty minutes! Let's go, let's go!"
The brawny thirty-four year old career noncom took his work seriously. It was important in war to have a soldier who did. This was despite the unglamorous command he had. He was in charge of a Penal Battalion unit known as the ‘Scraps'. All the deviants and criminal elements fit to fight were grouped into one large separate regiment, who's official designation became the 1st Royal Correctional Fusiliers, and were used for expendable or dangerous work.
Mostly though, it just involved manual labor. Units of the regiment were dispatched to serve under other regiments along the Western front, and were known collectively as the Penal Battalion soldiers. With the Battle of the Somme still grinding on, and the personnel losses having reached critical proportions, Sergeant Harris's unit was increasingly being used in a combat role.
"Ah crap sarge," moaned Toby Pickering the twenty-five year old convicted battlefield looter, "It's still dark out there!"
"I said now private!" roared the balding sergeant.
Toby struggled out of his warm camp cot and began dressing. Few had the skill or menace to keep the malcontents that made up the Scraps in line. Sergeant Harris however was one of them.
"Today's the day," muttered John Muller, a nineteen year old South African who found himself among the ranks of the Scraps after decking a captain. The teenager took exception to the way the man interrogated a German prisoner. That prisoner eventually died. The captain received no censure for his actions, while Muller, who stepped in, got the penal battalion.
"It sure is," agreed Tommy Jones as he laced up his boots. The twenty-four year old got caught running an illegal lottery for the soldiers in his former regiment. He supposedly made good money, but not enough to buy his way out of being seconded to the penal battalion.
"Any guesses where we'll be going?" mused big, brawny, twenty year old Damian Curtis, a promising amateur boxer nicknamed the ‘Bradford Bull'. His career was however on hold till he served out his time in the penal battalion for killing a sailor in a fist fight, after catching the man with his girl.
"No man's land?" offered Muller.
The three were lamenting the fact that the Scraps had been seconded to the Special Operations Service under one Captain Shaw for a ‘special' mission. The SOS were a shadowy section within the British Army Intelligence section, of which very little was known. Some referred to them as the Spy-Unit.
"My sainted aunt!" scoffed Bernie Shackleton the hulking thirty year old convicted murderer, "It's better to be out there fighting than rotting in some dark hole back in London!" Bernie had killed two of his fellow soldiers in a drunken brawl. Instead of prison he was offered the penal battalion. The rough former dockworker eagerly accepted.
"Sure Bernie," lied Tommy. He knew better than to disagree with the volatile killer.