‘Tell me your assignment,’ I commanded. ‘Tell me your contacts, and I will filter what I pass on to the English. Tell me, and you have confessed to your countrywoman and given nothing to the enemy.’ (I am shameless.) ‘Tell me, and perhaps I will forgive you for threatening to murder me.’
His behaviour then was truly embarrassing and I actually kissed him on the top of his head in benediction when he had finished. Miserable, nasty man.
Then I did call for help. But with disdain and dismissal, not with fear.
Good show, my dear. My, you’ve nerves of steel, haven’t you! Jolly good show, first rate.
I didn’t let on how much he’d hurt me and they didn’t think to check. It was that night’s nerves of steel that landed me in France six weeks ago.
I forgot to change my hair back to normal when I changed my clothes – I don’t wear my WAAF uniform for interrogations – the hair was a small mistake. They took the nerves of steel into account, but not the small mistake. They didn’t notice that he’d hurt me and they didn’t notice that I do make small, fatal mistakes from time to time.
But Maddie noticed both.
‘Come and get warm,’ she said.
Queenie stubbed out her cigarette and turned off the light. She didn’t get into her own bed though; she climbed in next to Maddie. Maddie put careful arms round the bruised shoulders because her friend was shaking all over now. She hadn’t been before.
‘It’s not a nice job,’ Queenie whispered. ‘It’s not like your job – blameless.’
‘I’m not blameless,’ said Maddie. ‘Every bomber I deliver goes operational and kills people. Civilians. People like my gran and granddad. Children. Just because I don’t do it myself doesn’t mean I’m not responsible. I deliver you.’
‘Blonde bombshell,’ Queenie said, and spluttered with laughter at her own joke. Then she began to cry.
Maddie held her lightly, thinking she would let go when her friend stopped crying. But she cried for so long that Maddie fell asleep first. So she didn’t ever let go.
my heart is sair, I darena tell
my heart is sair for somebody
O, I could wake a winter’s night
a’ for the sake o’ somebody
ye pow’rs that smile on virtuous love
O sweetly smile on somebody
frae ilka danger keep her free,
and send me safe my somebody
we two ha’e paddl’d in the burn
frae morning sun till dine;
but seas between us broad ha’e roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne
for auld lang syne, my friend
for auld lang syne
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet
for auld lang syne
Oh God, I am so tired. They have kept me at it all night. It is the third night I have had no sleep. Too little, at any rate. I don’t recognise any of the people guarding me; Thibaut and Engel are all tucked up in their pensions and von Linden is busy tormenting that screaming French girl.
I like writing about Maddie. I like remembering. I like constructing it, focusing, crafting the story, pulling together the memories. But I am so tired. I can’t craft anything more tonight. Whenever I seem to stop, to stretch, to reach for another sheet of paper, to rub my eyes, this utter shit of a bastard who is guarding me touches the back of my neck with his cigarette. I am only writing this because it stops him burning me. He cannot read English (or Scots) and as long as I keep covering page after page with lines from ‘Tam o’Shanter’ he does not hurt me. I can’t keep it up forever, but I know an awful lot of Robert Burns by heart.
Burns, ha ha, Burns to stop the burns.
Behead me or hang me, that will never fear me –
I’LL BURN AUCHINDOON ere my life leave me
Burning burning burning burning
Oh God, those pictures.
Ormaie 23.XI.43 JB-S
Von Linden himself put an end to the proceedings last night – came storming in like the Charge of the Light Brigade and swept the pages together while I fell flat on my face on the table in a pool of ink with my eyes closed.
‘Lord God Almighty, Weiser, are you an idiot? She will not produce anything worth reading when she’s in this state. Look – this is verse. English doggerel. Pages and pages of it!’ The Jerry philistine proceeded to wad everything I can remember of ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ into balls of waste paper. I think he may read more English than he lets on if he recognises Burns as English. ‘Burn this rubbish. I have more than enough irrelevant nonsense out of her without you encouraging it! Give her water and take her back to her room. And get rid of that filthy cigarette. We will talk about that tomorrow.’
Which was as emotional an outburst as I have ever heard from him, but I think he is overtired too.
Oh yes, and ENGEL has been CRYING. Her eyes are very red and she keeps scrubbing at her nose, which is red too. I wonder what would make On-Duty-Female-Guard Fräulein Engel blub on the job.
Special Operations Training
After that disastrous interview last April (it wasn’t disastrous for Intelligence, I suppose, but it left Eva Seiler a bit damaged) Berlin’s interpretive liaison was given a week’s leave To Think About Her Work and whether she wanted to continue it. In other words, Queenie was given the opportunity to Gracefully Bow Out. She spent the week in Castle Craig with her lady mother, the long-suffering Mrs Darling (as it were) – poor Mrs Darling never had a clue what any of her six children were actually doing, or when they were coming or going, and she was not best pleased at the black marks on her fine-boned daughter’s Celtic white skin.
‘Pirates,’ Queenie said. ‘I was bound to the mast by Captain Hook.’
‘When this dreadful war is over,’ said her mother, ‘I want to know Absolutely Every Last Detail.’
‘Absolutely Every Last Detail of my work falls under the Official Secrets Act and I will be thrown into prison for the rest of my life if I ever tell you anything about it,’ Queenie told her mother. ‘So stop asking.’
Ross, the youngest of the Glaswegian evacuees, overheard this conversation – it was just as well Queenie hadn’t given her lady mother any details (careless talk costs lives, etc.) – but the official-looking, pretty wireless operator became rather a worshipped goddess among the Craig Castle Irregulars after that – she had been held prisoner by pirates.
(I love those wee laddies, I really do. Nits and all.)
During that week also, Queenie’s darling, elegant French nanny, her lady mother’s constant companion, in a fit of maternal compassion began to knit Queenie a pullover. Being limited in materials, due to shortages and rationing, she used a gorgeous, sunset-coloured wool which she had unravelled from a suit tailored for her by Ormaie’s most expensive modiste in 1912. I mention my sweater’s advent here because I think of it as part of the endgame – as though my poor loving nanny is a sort of Mme Defarge, knotting my fate inexorably into the stitches of this nobly field-tested woollen garment. It doesn’t look much like military issue, but it has seen active service and has the bloodstains to prove it. Also it is warm and fashionable – at least, the memory of fashion clings to it. It is still warm.
At the end of my week of reflection I decided that, like my dubious ancestor Macbeth, I was in figurative blood stepped in so far that there wasn’t much point in turning back; and also I loved being Eva Seiler. I loved the playacting and the pretence and the secrecy of it, and I flattered myself with my own importance. Occasionally I pulled Very Useful Information out of my ‘clients’. Location of airfields. Aircraft types. Code. Things like that.
At any rate, after that April interview, everyone including Eva agreed that she needed a change of scene. Perhaps a few weeks on the Continent, where she could put her sangfroid and multiple languages and wireless operator’s skills to much-needed use in Nazi-occupied France.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Do you know – you probably do know – that in enemy territory the life expectancy of a w/op, or W/T operator as they say in SOE, is only six weeks? That’s the usual time it takes your direction-finding equipment to ferret out the location of a hidden radio set. The rest of a Resistance circuit, the web of contacts and couriers, skulks in shadows, squirrelling away explosives and carrying messages that can’t be trusted to a postman, moving every day, never meeting in the same place twice. At the hub of the wheel, still and vulnerable, the wireless operator sits amid a pile of equipment that is awkward to shift and difficult to conceal, snarled in a fixed web of stat and code, radiating noisy electric beacons that beckon your trackers like neon advertisements.
It is six weeks today since I landed here. I suppose that’s quite a good innings for a wireless operator, though my success at staying alive for so long would carry more weight if I’d actually managed to set up a radio before I was caught. Now I really am living on borrowed time. Not much more to tell.
Still, Fräulein Engel will probably appreciate the closure of hearing about Maddie’s operational flight to France. I suppose somebody will be court-martialled for that. I’m not sure who.
The Special Duties squadron leader was supposed to take me. The Moon Squadron was suffering a bit at the end of September – they’d had a fantastically successful summer, a dozen flights a month, twice as many agents dropped off and scores of refugees picked up – but injury and incident had winnowed their Lysander pilots down to four at this particular point in time and one of those was so stricken with ’flu he couldn’t stand up (they were all exhausted). You can see where this is going.
For me, the preparation took months – another parachute course, then an elaborate field exercise in which I had to scramble around a real city (an unfamiliar one, they sent me off to Birmingham to do it) leaving coded messages for contacts I’d never met and arranging clandestine pick-ups of dummy parcels. The chief danger is that a policeman will notice your suspicious activities and arrest you – in which case it is quite difficult convincing your own authorities that you’re not working for the enemy.
Then there were specific arrangements to do with my own assignment – taking apart and putting together every one of those flipping radios a dozen times; making sure my clothes couldn’t be traced back to England, ripping the labels out of all my underthings (you see why the pullover is so ideal a garment – wholly anonymous and made over from locally obtained materials). Learning yards and yards of code – you know (all too well) that the wireless code gets keyed to poems so that it is easier to remember, and I was rather hoping von Linden would make his cipher breakers try to crack the ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ so I could laugh at them. But he is wise to me.
Then I had to undergo the nastiest sort of drills to make sure I had my story straight. They found it very difficult to simulate an interrogation for me. Most people find it disconcerting being woken in the middle of the night and dragged off for questioning, but I simply could not take it seriously. I knew the routine far too well. After about 5 minutes we would be wrestling over some detail of protocol or else something would send me into gales of laughter. In extremis they blindfolded me and held a loaded gun to the back of my head for nearly 6 hours – it was sinister and exhausting and I did go a bit wobbly eventually. (We all did. It wasn’t fun.) But even so I wasn’t ever afraid. You knew – you knew you’d be all right in the end. There were a lot of people involved because they had to keep swapping over guards, and my C.O. refused to tell me who it had been, to protect them, you know? 2 weeks later I presented him with a list of suspects that turned out to be 90 % accurate. I’d made the narrow rodent eyes at everybody for a few days and over the next week every single one of the men who had been in attendance that night bought me a drink. The women were harder to figure out, but I could have opened a black-market corner shop with the chocolate and cigarettes they slipped me. Guilt is a marvellous weapon.