I look like I’ve just emerged from a sanatorium and am about to lose a long battle with consumption. Starvation and sleep deprivation do leave visible marks, YOU IDIOTS.
‘I haven’t seen the sun for six weeks,’ I said. ‘But sometimes the weather’s like that back home too.’
‘Well, it’s sure nice,’ she drawled. ‘It’s nice to see they’re treating prisoners so well here.’
Suddenly, in one great dollop, she sloshed all her cognac – untouched, the entire glass – into my glass.
I slugged the whole lot back in one like a sailor before anyone could take it away from me, and spent the rest of the afternoon being sick.
Do you know what he did last night – von Linden, I mean – came and stood in the doorway of my cell after he’d finished work and asked me if I’ve read Goethe. He has been chewing over this idea that I can ‘buy’ time in exchange for bits of my soul and he wondered if I likened myself to Faust. Nothing like an arcane literary debate with your tyrannical master while you pass the time leading to your execution.
When he left, I said to him, ‘Je vous souhaite une bonne nuit’ – ‘I wish you a good night’ – not because I wished him a good night, but because that is what the German officer says to his unyielding, passive-resistant French hosts every night in Le Silence de la Mer – that tract of Gallic defiance and the literary spirit of the French Resistance. A copy was given to me by a Frenchwoman I trained with, just after she was brought back from the field late last year. I thought that von Linden might have read it too, as he is such a Know Your Enemy type (also he is very well-read). But he didn’t seem to recognise the quotation.
Engel has told me what he did before the War. He was rector of a rather posh boys’ school in Berlin.
Also, he has a daughter.
She is safe at school in Switzerland, neutral Switzerland, where no Allied bombers raid the skies at night. I can safely assert she doesn’t go to my school. My school shut down just before the War began, when most of the English and French pupils were pulled out, which is why I went off to university a bit early.
Von Linden has a daughter only a little younger than me. I see now why he takes such a clinically distant approach to his work.
Still not sure whether he has a soul though. Any Jerry bastard with his wedding tackle intact can beget a daughter. And there are a lot of sadistic head teachers about.
Oh my God, why do I do it – again and again? I HAVE THE BRAIN OF A PTARMIGAN HEN. HE WILL SEE ANYTHING I WRITE.
Ormaie 21.XI.43 JB-S
Engel, bless her, skipped over the last few paragraphs I wrote yesterday when she was translating for von Linden last night. I think it was self-preservation on her part rather than any good nature towards me. Someone will eventually discover what a chatterbox she is, but she’s growing wise to my efforts to get her in trouble. (She pointed out to von Linden some time ago that I know perfectly well how to do metric conversions and only pretend ignorance to torment her. But it is true that she is better at them than I am.)
In addition to my extra week, I’ve now been given a fresh supply of paper. Sheet music, surely also the ill-gotten spoils of the Château des Bourreaux – a lot of popular songs from the last decade and some pieces by French composers, scored for flute and piano. The verso of the flute parts are all blank so I have paper in abundance again. I was getting a bit weary of those flipping recipe cards. We are still using them for the other work.
Wartime Administrative Formalities
I am condensing now. I can’t write fast enough.
Maddie was being groomed by the SOE long before she became aware of it. About the same time Jamie started flying again somewhere in the south of England, back in Manchester Maddie was put on a course to do night flying. She leaped at the chance. She was so used to being the only girl around, there being no more than two other women in the Manchester ATA ferry pool, that it did not occur to her there was anything unusual going on.
Everyone else on the course was a bomber pilot or navigator. The ferry pilots don’t fly at night, in general. In fact Maddie didn’t fly at night for a while after she’d clocked the hours and had her log book stamped, and she had a difficult time keeping in practice because she used it so little. Since 1940 we have not come off daylight saving at all, and in summer it is double, which means for a whole month it doesn’t get dark till nearly midnight. Maddie couldn’t have used her night flying anyway in the summer of 1942 unless she’d gone up in the middle of the night, so she didn’t wonder about it. She was busy – thirteen days on ferrying and two off, in all kinds of weather, and there were so many ongoing senseless administrative formalities or blunders that a bit of pointless night training was unremarkable.
They gave her parachute training too – an equally random and apparently useless skill. Maddie was trained not as an actual paratrooper, but she learned to fly the plane while people were jumping. They use Whitley bombers for the parachute training, a type Maddie hadn’t flown before, and they flew from her home airfield – nothing about it seemed strange until she was asked to come along as Pilot 2 when I was making my first jump from a plane over the low hills of Cheshire (at this point I had no choice but to cross ‘Heights’ off my list of fears). Maddie certainly hadn’t expected me and was too sharp to take it as a coincidence. She recognised me instantly as we climbed on board – despite my hair being uncharacteristically tied back with a ribbon like a pony club competitor (otherwise it wouldn’t have fitted inside those ducky wee helmets that make you look as though you have stuck your head in a Christmas cake). Maddie knew better than to register surprise or recognition. She’d been told who this group was – or who they weren’t, anyway – six of them, two of them women, jumping from a plane for the first time.
We weren’t allowed to talk to the pilots either. I made three jumps that week – the women do one less training jump than the men, AND they make us jump first. I don’t know if that’s because we’re considered cannier than men, or braver, or bouncier, or just less likely to survive and therefore aren’t worth the extra petrol and parachute packing. At any rate Maddie saw me twice in the air and never got to say hello.
I got to watch her fly though.
You know, I envied her. I envied her the simplicity of her work, its straightforward nature, the spiritual cleanness of it – Fly the plane, Maddie. That was all she had to do. There was no guilt, no moral dilemma, no argument or anguish – danger, yes, but she always knew what she was facing. And I envied that she had chosen her work herself and was doing what she wanted to do. I don’t suppose I had any idea what I ‘wanted’ and so I was chosen, not choosing. There’s glory and honour in being chosen. But not much room for free will.
Thirteen days’ flying and two days off. Never knowing where she’d get her next meal or spend the night. No social life to speak of – but moments, now and then, unexpected and unlooked for, of solitary joy – alone in the sky in the cruise, straight and level at 4000 feet over the Cheviots or the Fens or the Marches, or dipping her wings in salute to a passing vic of Spitfires.
With Tom as her co-pilot (she was his senior by 100 hours’ flight time) she delivered a Hudson to RAF Special Duties. You have to take a pilot assistant with you when you ferry a Hudson. The Moon Squadron use them for night-time parachute drops, the Hudsons being bigger than the Lizzies, not so suitable for short-field landings. They sometimes land them if they have a lot of passengers to pick up. Maddie had flown a few other twin-engined bombers before (like the Whitley), but not a Hudson, and she slammed the tail a bit when she landed. Afterwards she spent a long time examining the tailwheel looking for prangs with three of the local ground crew (who decided there was nothing wrong with it). When she and Tom finally went into Operations to get their ferry chits signed, the radio chap told Maddie politely, ‘You’re to step into the debriefing room in The Cottage for a few minutes, if you don’t mind. They’re sending a driver. Your second pilot had better wait here.’
That was because The Cottage is fairly out-of-bounds, even to people landing at the big airfield on legitimate business. But of course Maddie herself had been there before.
She swallowed an anguished sigh. Court martial? No, it was just a heavy landing. Tom had supported her loyally when they were talking about it with the ground crew and the Air Ministry would laugh if she tried to file an Accident Report. She’d be court-martialled for wasting their time. Oh – she thought – what have I done now?
The smart and charming First Aid Nursing Yeomanry girl who does the driving for the Moon Squadron didn’t ask Maddie any questions. She is trained not to ask her passengers any questions.
No room in The Cottage is so severe and forbidding as the debriefing room (I do know). It was formerly a laundry (about 200 years ago), I think, all limewashed stone walls and a big drain in the middle of the floor, and only an electric fire to heat it. Waiting in this tiger’s lair for Maddie was our dear friend the English intelligence officer with the pseudonym. I suppose you may want to dig his pseudonym out of me, but it’s rather pointless – could be anything now. He wasn’t using it any more when he interviewed Jamie early in 1942 and he certainly wasn’t using it when he cornered Maddie in the laundry.
The spectacles are unmistakable, and Maddie recognised him straight away and was so immediately suspicious she didn’t step through the door. He was leaning casually against the shabby deal desk which is all the permanent furniture in that room, flexing his bony hands in front of the electric fire.
‘Second Officer Brodatt!’
The man is charming.
‘Beastly rotten to surprise you like this. But one isn’t able to arrange such meetings ahead of time, you know.’
Maddie’s eyes widened. She felt like Red Riding Hood staring at the wolf in Grandma’s bed. What big eyes you have!
‘Come in,’ he invited. ‘Do sit down.’ There was a chair, there were two chairs, pulled up in front of the heater. Maddie could see that it was all set up as informally and cosily as it was possible to make this bleak little room. She swallowed again and sat down, and found the presence of mind to say something at last.
‘Am I in trouble?’
He did not laugh. He sat down next to her, leaning over his knees with concern drawing a line down his forehead. He said sharply, ‘No. No, not at all. I’ve a job for you.’
‘Only if you’re willing.’
‘I’m not –’ She took a deep breath. ‘I can’t do that kind of work.’
This time he did laugh, a brief and quiet sympathetic chuckle. ‘Yes you can. It’s air taxi work. No intrigue attached.’
She stared at him with tight-lipped scepticism.
‘It doesn’t mean anything will change for you,’ he said. ‘No special missions to the Continent.’
Maddie gave him the ghost of a smile.
‘You’ll have to do some night landings, and you’ll have to be available as needed. There won’t be any advance notification for these flights.’