Focus Friday: The upcoming Army of Worn Soles

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Captured Red Army soliders

The German army captured over 600,000 soldiers of the Red Army in the first few months of its invasion in 1941.

This week’s Focus Friday is a little different: it features an excerpt from the soon-to-be-but-not-quite-yet-published new novel by Scott Bury, Army of Worn Soles.

This is the true story of Maurice Bury, Scott’s father-in-law, a Canadian citizen living in Ukraine who was drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941 just in time for the German invasion called Operation Barbarossa.

Chapter 1: Prisoner of War

Kharkiv, October 1941

Maurice sat on the ground, put the bottle beside him and took off his shirt. Spreading his officer’s uniform on the smoothest piece of ground he could find, he lay the bottle near the collar then pushed down and rolled it over the shirt. The lice cracked under the glass. He rolled the bottle back and forth, feeling a dull satisfaction at his first pathetic victory in more than half a year.

Crunch, crunch.

The effort was exhausting. He stopped. His stomach ached and his throat burned with thirst.

He slumped back until he leaned against the barracks. Men in grey uniforms stood or walked across the cobbled courtyard of the ancient castle. One came toward him, a slim man with light brown hair and hazel eyes. He stopped in front of Maurice and leaned down.

“Maurice? Is it you?” he said.

Breathing required effort. So did looking up. Maurice had not eaten in days, but he still trusted his sight. He knew the man with the light-brown hair and hazel eyes, even in a Wehrmacht uniform.

“Maurice?” the young man said again. “What are you doing here?”

He couldn’t swallow. His mouth held no moisture. “Dying. I’m starving to death, Bohdan.” Maurice closed his eyes and hung his head.

Bohdan crouched beside him. “You got drafted?”

Maurice made the effort to look up again at his old friend. “The Red Army made me a lieutenant. What the hell are you doing here in a German uniform, Bohdan?”

“The Germans kicked the Russians out, something we couldn’t do. Why shouldn’t I join the winning side? And it’s ‘Daniel’ now, not Bohdan.” He looked around to make sure no one noticed him, a Wehrmacht officer, talking to a prisoner of war. “I’m glad you survived, that you were captured instead of killed. The Germans killed a lot of Red soldiers.”

“I know. I was there.”

Bohdan looked around again to make sure no officers were watching him talk with a prisoner. “How did you get here?”

“Like you said, we were captured, the whole army, outside Kharkiv. They brought us here.”

Bohdan shook his head. “Are you all right? I’ll see if I can bring you anything, but I have to be careful.”

Maurice looked into his friend’s eyes. “Get me out of here.”

“Set a prisoner free? Are you crazy?”

“Bohdan—sorry, Daniel, you’re my best friend. Or you were. If I ever meant anything to you, get me out.”

Daniel—Bohdan, looked left and right again. “I cannot let Red soldiers go,” he whispered.

Maurice took a dry breath. His strength was almost gone. “Daniel, you’re an officer in a victorious army. You have the power. You can get me out, me and my boys. You have the power to get us out of here.”

Daniel shook his head and stood. “Stalin’s going to surrender within six months, and then all the prisoners will be freed. Hitler has promised freedom for all nations. We’ll all be free. Ukraine will be free.”

Maurice looked at the ground between his splayed legs. He could no longer lift his head. “I can’t wait six months. I can’t wait two days. If you wait, you’ll find a corpse. We’ll all be dead. You have to get us out now.”

Army of Worn Soles will be available in June. In the meantime, visit Scott’s

and follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.

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