This is the way that he told it.
‘We were stationed somewhere in France, don’t know where, couldn’t pronounce it if I did. It was this old wooded area, much like round here, only bigger. Huge old trees everywhere. Had to be careful, anything could be in them they said, but really, by that time we were on our own in the countryside, walking. We were supposed to be soldiers, but we never got to fight. We just got to sweep up.
‘We had taken our time getting there, mind. The officers would have said our morale was low, but really we were just too tired to care anymore. All that walking. And it wasn’t like it was sunny going. We were walking in the country, wet and bored and tired. That was the war, son.
‘There was this one town. Some of us went in for supplies. Water, whatever.
‘Now we had our orders. If there was a white flag we had been told not to go on. Avoid those towns they told us, which basically meant no looting. Andy Russell found a shirt tied to a stick. It might have been supposed to be a flag, but really, how were we supposed to be sure?
‘There’d been a lot of fighting. We could see that as we approached the buildings. They were all black with old burns. Every so often we’d find a dead dog or an empty gun, but we didn’t see any people, not at first. The one shop stood empty, its doors unlocked. The boys piled in, there was no need for the food to go to waste, after all.
‘It was Stewie Hodder found them, back where the bread should have been baked. A whole room full of bodies. We’d seen it all by that time, so he just called us in and we looked. We knew there’d been a lot of fighting, but it looked like the locals must have won. We recognised the uniforms on the bodies instantly. They lay sprawled in a heap over a bed.
‘“I think there must be about forty,” Hodder said. I remember the way the he looked at them. Thoughtful, like.
‘I don’t recall who thought of the game.
‘It was simple really. We lined the corpses up against a wall, standing them best as we could. They’d been there a while and were slack and cold. No rigor mortis anymore. I remember it was this big white wall…
‘I don’t quite know who found them, probably Fitchley; he always ended up finding stuff. Nevertheless, eventually he came up with some bowls. Green bowls, for bowling. We started off by just playing skittles, trying to knock the bodies over. That’s how it started. But these were old corpses, so after a while bits started dropping off of them. That’s really where the game came from. Really that’s where.
‘We were heaving the bowls at them. You got a point if they fell over, two if they dropped a piece – five if it was a whole limb – you got ten for the head.
‘Andy Russell got the most points, hundred and fifty, I think. I ended up with a respectable seventy-eight.
‘After a while the light started to fade and we swept up as best we could. It took a while to stack the parts back up in the way that we had found them, but we managed eventually.
‘In the morning we pressed on, leaving the empty town behind us in search of some real sport.’