There he was – pale in face with dark blue lips and half closed eyes, almost as though he was half awake, but in fact Pvt. James Richards was very much dead. By his side lay 25 other soldiers who were also dead, including the courageous Pvt. Joseph Rogers and family man Pvt. Sam Turner, whose bodies were unrecognisable.
Severe burns made them look almost demonic.
Earlier that day, Pvt. James Richards and the rest of his regiment were very much alive and preparing for what would be their deaths.
It was an early, warm summer’s day in the heart of Paris and the men were gearing up to move west, where they were desperately needed by a tank squad coming under heavy fire from German troops. Pvt. Joseph was taking photos of the remains of what used to be a cathedral but had been replaced by rubble and a litter of dead German and French troops.
‘I am sure I’ve been taking the best photos out here!’ he blurted out uneasily.
He walked towards the stockpile of grenades left by retreating French soldiers where Pvt. Sam Turner was writing a letter to his wife explaining the horrors of war.
‘You are so full of it Joe,’ Sam muttered, grabbing the attention of fellow soldiers who had also been sharing the same thoughts but did not have the courage to say. Suddenly, there was a flash from the tower in the cathedral; Sam did not utter another word.
Joseph carried on past the stockpile toward Pvt. James Richards and sat next to him.
‘When do you think we’ll be getting out of here?’ Joseph asked and in that same second, another flash moved in the distance. This time he realised. He screamed ‘Sniper!’ before throwing himself to the ground, dragging James down with him. The bullet this time hit the stockpile of grenades and, in a huge mushroom cloud, sent Sam’s body hurtling metres into the sky like a rag that had caught fire. It was sucked into the sky by what looked like a miniature tornado and was hurtled back to earth leaving the unforgettable, sickly sweet stench of burning flesh.
Once re-establishing the situation, Joseph dived for his rifle, but before being able to even think, he came face to face with a bulky German SS trooper. The villain had a twisted smile on his face and a flamethrower at hand. In a second, Joseph was lit up like a Molotov cocktail flailing from side to side. He could not make a sound as his voice box had been completely engulfed by the flames.
The other English soldiers watched in horror as 100 more SS troops came into vision from every crack and crevice of the rubble-filled street, seeping out like gas and overrunning them in no more than a minute. In that minute, James was completely stunned, his ears ringing, his eyesight impaired. He stumbled forward and dived for a fox hole as the English troops were completely torn to shreds by machine gun fire.
The commander of the SS troopers leant forward, pulled James out of the fox hole and sat him upright.
“You did well, James. We will be able to overthrow the Ally tank squad after all. For your cooperation.” The commander paused then stared at James with an evil, dastardly look and uttered “I will make it quick.” James jumped up but was instantly knocked back by a luger pistol round to the head. It killed him before he touched down for the last time.
Rumours go that not a single shot was fired by Pvt. James Richards and the rest of his regiment, that they were already overrun by SS troops by the time they had even contemplated fighting back. Or at least that was what most assumed happened.
Pvt. Joseph Rogers, Pvt. James Richards, Pvt. Sam Turner and the rest of the regiment were recorded as MIA (Missing In Action) on the 19th of June 1943 and their families were notified later that day.
Pvt. Joseph Rogers’ camera was found sticking out from the rubble like a grave stone in the cathedral’s yard. The pictures were recovered and sent to his family.
Pvt. Sam Turner’s wife had become pregnant with twins not long after Sam was drafted into the army; she had two boys and died in labour giving birth to the pair.
Pvt. James Richard’s brother was notified of his death and died later fighting in the Pacific, battling the Japanese.