I can never decide if it is worth it. It was a truly hilarious moment, but all I seem to have achieved this time is a totally unexpected collusion between Engel and Thibaut.
Did I call them Laurel and Hardy? I meant sodding Romeo and Juliet. This is flirting, à la Gestapo underlings:
She: Oh, you are so strong and manly, M’sieur Thibaut. Those knots you tie are so secure.
He: That is nothing. Look, I pull them so tight you cannot undo them. Try.
She: It is true, I cannot! Oh, pull them tighter!
He: Chérie, your wish is my command.
It is my ankles, not hers, which he is binding so tightly and with such masculine charm.
She: I shall have to call you in tomorrow morning as well, to do this task for me.
He: You must cross the cords, so, and knot them behind –
Me: Squeak! Squeak!
She: Shut up and write, ya wee skrikin’ Scots piece o’ shite.
Well, no, she did not use those exact words. But you get the idea.
Something is Up. They have stepped up the pace a bit – not just with me. They are relentless with the Resistance prisoners. An inspection due, perhaps? A visit from von Linden’s mysterious boss, the dreaded SS-Sturmbannführer Ferber (I picture Horns and a Forked Tail)? Perhaps he’s making an inquiry into von Linden’s work here; that would explain why v.L.’s got to get those notes of his in order. Trying to make himself look good.
Desperately trying to marshal my own thoughts in narrative order. I am very tired and (shall I be melodramatic about it?) rather ‘faint with hunger’ – in fact I don’t know if it’s hunger I am faint with, but I am very hungry and feeling quite light-headed (I have not been allowed any more aspirin since the episode with the cognac). Perhaps Engel has given me concussion. I am going to make some lists to try to get through the next bit.
The weather at Glasgow was so dreadful that day that no one would take off and everyone was stuck there. I took the train back, but Maddie had to wait for a gap in the clouds. And sodding Glasgow still wasn’t finished with me so I had to go back in
Feb. ’43 Oakway Glasgow Who cares?
Mar. – 5 flights, various, all in southern England, 2 at night
RAF Special Duties, Operational Cross-Country
I did take the train to assignments too, more often than I flew. And Maddie taxied other people besides me, who in all likelihood were not doing the same work as me. But those flights I’ve just listed are the flights that count. 15 flights in 6 months. Maddie took the secrecy more seriously than I did – I was never sure how much she guessed. (Turns out, not much. She just genuinely took it seriously. After all, she started as a Clerk/Special Duties.)
On that night last April we had to go back to That Airfield, the secret one, the one the Moon Squadron uses for France. Jamie was stationed there now. Maddie was In the Know with them, and had been for some time – trusted, accepted, invited to supper that night, in fact. No supper for poor Queenie though, who was instantly whisked away by the usual mob. (Really my reception committee only consisted of about three people, including my admirer the RAF police sergeant who doubles as Security Guard and Chief Sausage Frier for The Cottage, but it feels like a mob when everyone is bigger than you and you don’t know where you are being taken.) Queenie had a small travelling case which she left with Maddie, and from experience Maddie knew she wouldn’t see her friend again until at least tomorrow morning. Maddie went to supper with the pilots.
It wasn’t something she did often, you know – once in a season, perhaps – and it was special because Jamie was there. In fact he was about to go on a drop-off and pick-up mission that night, a ‘double Lysander operation’ as they called it, two pilots flying two planes to the same field. There was a third plane taking off with them, taking advantage of the moon, but not technically operational – a new squadron member doing his first cross-country training flight to France. He’d part company with the others over the Channel. He’d fly into France on his own for a bit, then turn back without landing.
This young fellow – let’s call him Michael (after the youngest of the Darling children in Peter Pan!) – was quite nervous about his navigation skills. Like Jamie, he’d previously been a bomber pilot and had always had a navigator sitting next to him telling him where to go, and also he’d only flown his first Lysander a month ago. His mates were full of sympathy, having all been through it themselves. Maddie was not.
‘You’ve been practising on Lizzies for a month!’ she said scornfully. ‘Crumbs, how long does it take? The instruments are the same whether you’re flying a Barracuda dive-bomber or a clapped-out old Tiger Moth, and the flaps are automatic! Easy peasy!’
They all gave her Looks.
‘You go on and fly to France then,’ said Michael.
‘I would if you’d let me,’ she said enviously (not remembering about anti-aircraft guns and night fighters).
‘Ah ken what t’ dooo,’ drawled Jamie, The Pobble Who Has No Toes, dragging out his vowels to make them exaggeratedly Scots. ‘Tak’ the wee lassie alang.’
Maddie felt as though she’d been struck by lightning. She looked up at him and saw the familiar, faint lunacy shining in Jamie’s eyes. She knew better than to say anything herself – either the Pobble would win on her behalf, or she couldn’t go.
The others laughed and argued briefly. The English SOE agent who was being dropped off that night was disapproving. The Moon Squadron pilots, of necessity a bunch of giddy lunatics, put it to their leader as a proposition. He was clearly torn, but chiefly because Michael was supposed to be solo that night.
‘She won’t be helping him fly the plane in the back of a Lysander, will she!’
‘She could tell him what to do. Keep him straight if he goes off course.’
Jamie pushed his empty plate away and leaned back in his chair, his hands behind his head, and gave a low whistle.
‘Ooo-ee! Arrre you suggestin’ she’s a superior pilot to oorrr Michael?’
They all gazed at Maddie, sitting quietly in her civilian uniform, looking very trim and official with her gold wings and gold stripes (she was a First Officer by now). The only person whose eyes she dared to meet were those of the agent who was going to be dropped off that night. He was shaking his head in defeated disapproval as much as to say, If You Must, My Lips Are Sealed.
‘I’ve no doubt she’s a superior pilot,’ the squadron leader said.
‘Well, what in creation is she doing ferrying clapped-out Tiger Moths about in that case? Give the Bloody Machiavellian English Intelligence Officer a ring and get permission,’ Jamie suggested.
Michael said, rather excitedly, ‘Don’t count it as my operational cross-country. I need the practice.’
‘If it’s not an operational flight,’ said the squadron leader, ‘there’s no need to ring Intelligence. I’ll take responsibility.’
Maddie had won. She could scarcely believe her luck.
‘I don’t want this out of this room,’ the squadron leader said, and everybody looked blank, shrugging with innocence and indifference. Maddie walked shoulder to shoulder with the SOE agent when they went out to climb into the waiting aircraft. The ground crew gave her funny looks.
‘Michael needing help with his navigation again?’ one of them asked kindly, offering her a leg up the ladder into the back of the plane.
Secretly Maddie thought Michael was as lucky as a boy with jam smeared all over his face, with his carefully annotated map marked with every single anti-aircraft gun and navigation pinpoint all the way into the middle of France and back.
She didn’t have her own map, sitting in the back, but she had an absolutely fabulous view out of both sides and behind, a view she didn’t normally get, and the leisure to enjoy it. She had a job too, keeping her eyes peeled for night fighters. It wasn’t far over the blacked-out villages of southern England before they reached the coast. The great golden moon made the blue lights on the wing tips of the operational Lysanders ahead of them scarcely distinguishable from stars – they bobbed and winked in and out of Maddie’s line of sight, but she knew where she was. That river, that chalk quarry, that estuary in the glimmering night – familiar landmarks. Then the unbelievable bright loveliness of the English Channel, a shimmering, infinite, lamé cloth of silver and blue. Maddie could see the black silhouettes of a convoy of ships below her. She wondered how long it would take the Luftwaffe to find them.
‘Oi, Michael,’ Maddie called out over the intercom. ‘You’re not meant to follow that lot into France! You’re supposed to change your heading here, and go further south on your own, aren’t you?’
She heard a lot of cursing from the front before the pilot pulled himself together and reset his course. Then she heard his sheepish, ‘Thanks, mate.’
Thanks, mate. Maddie hugged herself with pride and pleasure. I’m one of them, she thought. I’m on my way to France. I might as well be operational.
Deep in her stomach she nursed two cringing, niggling fears: 1) that they might be fired on, and 2) court martial. But she knew Michael’s route had been carefully plotted to avoid guns and airfields, and that their most dangerous moment had probably been when they crossed the shipping convoy. If they made it home safely there would be no need for court martial. If they didn’t make it home safely, well, presumably court martial wouldn’t be much of a problem in that case either.
Now they were over the ghostly white cliffs of eastern Normandy. The Seine’s loops shone like a great unwinding spool of silver mesh off the port wing tip. Maddie gasped at the river’s inadvertent loveliness, and all at once she found herself spilling childish tears, not just for her own besieged island, but for all of Europe. How could everything have come so fearfully and thoroughly unravelled?
There were no lights over France; it was as blacked-out as Britain. Europe’s lamps had all gone out.
‘What’s that!’ she gasped into the intercom.
Michael saw it at the same time and banked sharply away. He began to circle, a hair too steeply at first, then with steadier rudder control. Below and ahead of them, lit up like a ghastly funfair, was a rectangle of stark, garish white light desecrating an otherwise blacked-out landscape.
‘That’s where the last pinpoint is supposed to be!’ Michael told her.
‘Some pinpoint! Is it an airfield? It’s jolly well operational if it is!’
‘No,’ said the pilot slowly, as he circled back and got another look. ‘No, I think it’s a prison camp. Look – the lighting’s around the perimeter fence. To catch anyone trying to get out.’
‘Are you in the right place?’ Maddie asked dubiously.
‘You tell me.’ But he said it with confidence. He stuffed his waymarked map back through the opening in the bulkhead, followed by a pocket-sized electric torch. ‘Keep that under cover,’ he said. ‘There’s supposed to be an airfield twenty miles to the east. I’ve been trying to steer clear of it. I damn well don’t need an escort.’