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  • Writer's pictureDavid Mathews

About these short war-time stories

The 100 stories in the Imperial War Museums' series commemorating the end of the First World War are in a new form, a centena: 100 words exactly, and the first three words are the same as the last three. Could have been harder. We might have had to reverse those first three words for the ending.

Before I wrote about H W Lloyd (my 7 November contribution), before I knew it had to include a real person, I invented a photographer and wrote a centena for her. This is it.

‘Watch the birdie,’ she said to each man.

So that the town might laud its brave sons, Evie teased empty sleeves and trouser legs to fashion a suitable dignity.

The camera had been her brother’s.

Most men stood or sat, mute. One spoke. ‘Cut it off. My sleeve, cut it off. Let them see.’

Evie had kissed and been kissed, but detaching the sleeve of this man’s khaki was the most intimate act she had ever performed. She would remember it always.

The man smiled, his left shoulder frayed, improper. ‘Show our truth,’ he said, ‘and we’ll “Watch the birdie”.’

A hundred words doesn't seem much, but I surprised myself by finding room for dialogue, learning how few words you need to suggest a conversation.

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