Focus Friday: Army of Worn Soles

It’s June, a time for great changes in the world. This month, 81 years ago, the largest part of the Second World War in Europe began. On June 22, 1941, Germany under the control of Adolf Hitler launched its attack on the Soviet Union with the largest land invasion in history—Operation Barbarossa. To mark this, BestSelling Reads presents and except from a book that tells the true story of a man who was there, fighting in the Red Army. It eerily echoes the events unfolding today.

By Scott Bury

One week later, Maurice squinted through a narrow window-slit in an armoured rail car, trying to get a clear view of their situation. “Kyiv. The enemy’s in Kyiv,” someone said behind him.

“How do you know it’s Kyiv?” someone else said.

“I grew up in Danyts’kyi. I know what Kyiv looks like.”

“The city is on fire,” a third man said. “The Germans have reached Kyiv already.”

All Maurice could see were houses and fields. The train crawled forward like a dying, groaning beast. He pressed his face against the shaking wall of the car, but could not see much other than the buildings along the track.

The view opened up briefly as they entered a rail yard then pulled up beside another train. Maurice saw men climbing out of wagons and unloading weapons, equipment, carts, supplies and horses. Officers and commissars strode and shouted. From overhead, he heard planes droning and roaring.

He turned away from the scene outside as the train slowed more. As its noise subsided, he heard more from outside: banging and clanging, orders yelled and acknowledged.

In front of Maurice were eleven men, his command. He had met them two days ago at the Okhtyrka train station, and he struggled to remember all their names. They were all Ukrainian, as was the rest of the company—except for the commissars. Maurice scanned over them. Vasylko looked bored, Yosyp nervous, Alexey terrified. Between them were their crates of supplies, two-wheeled carts, ammunition and two dismantled anti-tank guns.

The train groaned, shuddered and threw everyone aboard forward then back, then forward again as it stopped. “Get off me,” someone said. Someone else apologized. The door slid open to admit blinding sunshine and the tumult of an army assembling. Commissars ran along the train, banging on the wooden cars and yelling. “Out. Get off the train and assemble ready for action.”

Two men shoved a ramp out the wagon doors. It was really just boards hammered together, sitting on the edge of the wagon, not attached to anything. The men picked up sacks and boxes and ran out, or in teams pulled out carts and heavy crates.

“Come on, boys, off the train,” Maurice said.

My first order, he thought.

“Vasylko, Yosyp, Alexey, Myron, take the guns.” His men scrambled, picked up their things and joined the chaos of men and equipment pushing down the ramp.

Maurice saw two of his men reach the ground and look around, unsure of what to do among the throngs pushing in every direction. “Keep our equipment together, get it set up for transport,” he shouted to two men on the ground. Basil and Lev?

In the torrent of voices of men and horses and machine noise, a new drone pulled Maurice’s eyes up. Beyond the rail yard, empty fields fell down toward the Dnipro River, and beyond that, the city of Kyiv. Above, in the blue sky, two airplanes flew straight toward them.

“Messerschmidts,” someone yelled as the planes’ drone became a scream. The chaos of an army disembarking from trains became panic.

The planes were almost on top of them in seconds. Dust and dirt puffed up from the ground in twin rows, ripping toward the trains. Maurice did not have time to think. “They’re strafing us.” Men fell, screaming.

Maurice jumped to the right in the same instant he saw the wooden side of the wagon burst. He felt a scorching pain across his left leg, just below the knee. He hit the ground, rolled and found he could not stand up.

Two of his men ran to him. “Lieutenant, you’re hit,” one shouted over the din. Anti-aircraft guns boomed. Little black clouds cracked uselessly after the Messerschmidts. Somewhere, an equally useless machine-gun rattled. The Messers banked, graceful as eagles as they turned away to the west.

Railcars burned. Beside the track, Maurice could see a sergeant striking soldiers, screaming at them for setting up a gun too slowly. “Fucking cowards.”

The pain in his leg claimed his eyes again. His pant leg was ripped from his thigh to his ankle and his beautiful officer’s boot was shredded. Blood poured down his shin, soaking the cloth and leather. He gently pushed the cloth away to see jagged chunks of wood and metal splinters embedded in his calf.

Seeing the wound intensified the pain. Maurice clenched his teeth. If I start screaming, he thought, I’ll never stop. Two of his men picked him up under his arms and dragged him to a spot away from the burning train and the press of people.

Army of Worn Soles

is the first book of The Eastern Front Trilogy, the true story of a Canadian drafted into the Soviet Red Army in World War II.

A Canadian is drafted into the Soviet Red Army during World War 2, just in time to be thrown against Nazi Germany’s invasion in Operation Barbarossa. Caught in the vise of the Nazi and Communist forces, Maurice Bury concentrates on keeping his men alive as they retreat across Ukraine from the German juggernaut. Now the question is: will they escape from the hell of the POW camp before they starve to death?

Find it on Amazon.

Scott Bury

is about to launch a podcast, Beyond Barbarossa: the first English-language podcast to focus on the Eastern Front of World War II. Learn more about it at:

Scott Bury can’t stay in one category.

After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

The Eastern Front trilogy tells the true story of Maurice Bury, a Canadian drafted into the USSR’s Red Army to face the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Army of Worn Soles, the first volume, was published in 2014, followed by Under the Nazi Heel in 2016 and Walking Out of War in 2017.

Scott Bury was invited to write for three Kindle Worlds by bestsellers Russell Blake, Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman. From 2015 to 2017, he published six novellas and a novel. He has since revised and republished three as the Hawaiian Storm mystery series: Torn Roots, Palm Trees & Snowflakes, and Dead Man Lying.

In between writing books and blog posts, Scott helped found an author’s cooperative publishing venture, Independent Authors International. He is also President of an authors’ professional association, BestSelling Reads.

He lives in Ottawa with his two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a very understanding wife.

You can find more about Scott Bury, and contact him through his website, his blog, Written Words, and on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.

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