So, mentally prepared, there was then packing to do – cigarettes (for gifts and bribes), clothing coupons (forged and/or stolen), ration cards, 2 million francs in small notes (now confiscated – it truly makes me ill to think about it), pistol, compass, brain. And then just waiting for the moon. Actually I was very good at being summoned to action without any notice, I was used to that (also at learning poetry by heart) – but this business of waiting, waiting, waiting for the moon, nibbling at your cuticles and watching the moon nibbling at the sky, is very testing. You sit by the telephone all morning, leap out of your skin when it rings; then when it turns out there’s too much fog over the Channel or the German army has put a guard over the farmer who owns the field you’re supposed to land in, you’re let off again for the rest of the day. Then there’s nothing to do except mooch about wondering if you can bear to sit in a smoke-filled cinema watching The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp for the sixth time, and if you will get in trouble if you do, because the Prime Minister disapproves of it and secretly you fancy Anton Walbrook as the noble German officer and you’re pretty sure your C.O. knows it. Just as you have decided ‘Bother the Prime Minister!’ and are looking forward to spending another dreamy afternoon with Anton Walbrook, the phone rings again and You Are Operational.
Have I got the right shoes on, you wonder frantically, and bloody hell, where did I leave my 2 million francs?
An Irregular Ferry Flight
Maddie, lucky beast, did not have to endure any of this. Maddie just picked up her ferry chit as usual from the Oakway Operations hut, grinned at the ‘S’ and the destination ‘RAF Buscot’ because it meant she’d get to share a cup of tea with her best friend at some point in the next twenty-four hours, and walked out to the Puss Moth with her gas mask and her flight bag. It was routine. Incredible to think what an ordinary day it was for her, to begin with.
It was still light when we landed at RAF Special Duties. Moonrise was early, half past six or so, and because of Double Summer Time we had to wait for it to get dark. Jamie – call sign John – was flying out that night, and Michael. The call signs are all from Peter Pan of course. This particular night’s venture was called Operation Dogstar, which seems appropriate. Second to the right, and then straight on till morning.
It’s awful, telling it like this, isn’t it? As though we didn’t know the ending. As though it could have another ending. It’s like watching Romeo drink poison. Every time you see it you get fooled into thinking his girlfriend might wake up and stop him. Every single time you see it you want to shout, You stupid ass, just wait a minute and she’ll open her eyes! Oi, you, you twat, open your eyes, wake up! Don’t die this time! But they always do.
I wonder how many piles of paper like mine are lying around Europe, the only testament to our silenced voices, buried in filing cabinets and steamer trunks and cardboard boxes as we disappear – as we vanish into the night and the fog?
Assuming you don’t incinerate all record of me when you’re done with it, what I’d love to capture, to trap here for eternity in amber, is how exciting it was to come here. Me skipping across the concrete as I got out of the Puss Moth, through crisp October air smelling of leaf smoke and engine exhaust, thinking, France, France! Ormaie again, at last! The whole of Craig Castle had wept for Ormaie as the German army marched in three years ago – we have all been here before, visiting la famille de ma grandmère – now the elms are all cut down for firewood and barricades, the fountains are all dry except the one they use to water horses and put out fires, and the rose garden in memory of my great-uncle in the Place des Hirondelles has been dug up and the square is full of armoured vehicles. When I got here, there was a row of rotting dead men hanging from a balcony of the Hôtel de Ville, the town hall. The evil of daily life here is indescribable and if this is civilisation then it is beyond the capacity of my smallish brain to imagine the evil of a place like Natzweiler-Struthof.
You know, I speak German because I love German. What good was a degree in German literature going to do me? I was reading it because I loved it. Deutschland, das Land der Dichter und Denker, land of poets and thinkers. And now I will never even see Germany, unless they send me to Ravensbrück – I will never see Berlin, or Cologne, or Dresden – or the Black Forest, the Rhine Valley, the blue Danube. I HATE YOU, Adolf Hitler, you selfish wee beastie of a man, keeping Germany all to yourself. YOU RUIN EVERYTHING
Bother. I did not mean to deviate like that. I want to remember –
How after supper, my admirer the police-sergeant-cook produced real coffee for us. How Jamie and Maddie lay on the hearthrug in front of the fire in the sitting room beneath the staring glass eyes of the stuffed foxes and partridges on the mantelpiece, Jamie’s sleek blond head and Maddie’s untidy black curls bent low together in conspiracy over Jamie’s map, thoroughly against all regulations, discussing the route to Ormaie. How we all crowded round the radio to hear our own code announced on the BBC – ‘To us les enfants, sauf un, grandissent’ – the random message that told our reception committee in France who to expect that night. It is the first line of Peter Pan. All children, except one, grow up. Expect the usual lads with one exception – tonight there’s one wee lassie coming along.
How we all sat shivering on deck chairs in The Cottage garden, watching the sun set.
How we all jumped when the telephone rang.
It was the squadron leader’s wife. Peter – that is not his real name, Engel, you silly ass. Peter had met his wife for lunch, driven her to the railway station afterwards, and almost immediately after dropping her off had been involved in a messy road accident in which he had broken half his ribs and been knocked completely unconscious for most of the afternoon. His wife had not heard about it earlier because she had been sitting on a train that had been 3 hours delayed after it was shunted on to a siding to give priority to a troops train. In any case Peter would not be flying to France tonight.
I confess that it was my idea to find a substitute.
After the sergeant hung up there was a lot of flap as everybody gasped in dismay and concern and disappointment. We had been tut-tutting from time to time all evening over Peter’s late arrival, but it never occurred to anyone that he wouldn’t turn up well ahead of take-off. And now it was dark and the BBC announcement had been made and the reception committees in France were waiting and the Lysanders were out there with their long-range tanks full of fuel and their rear cockpits full of guns and radios. And bouncing on her flat heels, full of coffee and nerve and code, was Eva Seiler, Berlin’s interpretive liaison with London, soon to insinuate herself into the German-speaking underworld of Ormaie.
‘Maddie can fly the plane.’
She has presence, Eva Seiler or whoever she thought she was that night, and people pay attention to her. They don’t always agree with her, but she does command attention.
Jamie laughed. Jamie, sweet Jamie – the interpretive liaison’s loving, toeless Pobble of a brother laughed and said with force, ‘No.’
‘Just – no! Never mind the breach of regulations, she’s not even been checked out –’
‘On a Lysander?’ the liaison said scornfully.
‘Night flying –’
‘She does it without a radio or a map!’
‘I don’t fly without a map,’ Maddie corrected prudently, playing her cards close to her chest. ‘It’s against the rules.’
‘Well, you don’t have your destination or the obstacles marked most of the time, which is much the same thing.’
‘She’s not flown to France at night,’ Jamie argued, and bit his lip.
‘You made her fly to France,’ said his sister.
Jamie looked at Maddie. Michael, and the goddess-like Special Operations officer who was there to oversee Queenie’s packing, and the RAF police sergeant, and the other agents who were flying out that night, watched with interest.
Jamie played his ace.
‘There’s no one to authorise the flight.’
‘Ring the Bloody Machiavellian English Intelligence Officer.’
‘He’s got no Air Ministry authority.’
ATA First Officer Brodatt made her move at last, and trumped him calmly.
‘If it’s a ferry flight,’ she said, ‘I can authorise it myself. Let me use the telephone.’
And she rang her C.O. to let him know she had been asked to taxi one of her usual passengers from RAF Special Duties to an ‘Undisclosed Location’. And he gave her permission to go.
Ormaie 24.XI.43 JB-S
He knows now.
Nacht und Nebel, night and fog. Eva Seiler is going to fry in hell. Oh – I wish I had some clue whether I have done the right thing. But I don’t see how I can finish this story and keep Eva secret. I did promise to give him every last detail. And ultimately, I can’t imagine that giving her identity away will change my fate much, whatever it is.
Because I’d written such a lot the day before yesterday it has taken a while for Hauptsturmführer von Linden to get caught up on the translation, and he and Engel (or somebody) must have kept going without me after I’d been locked up in my cell again last night. I have still not quite slept off the excesses of that day and was out cold at 3 a.m. or whenever it was that he came in – but woke instantly when the padlocks and bolts on my door began their official-sounding sequence of thuds and clicks, as it always fills me with the most curious mixture of wild hope and sick dread when they unlock my door. I have slept through air raids more than once, but when my door is unlocked I am instantly On My Guard.
I stood up. It is pointless backing against the wall, and I have stopped bothering about my hair. But the Wallace in me still makes me want to face the enemy on my feet.
It was von Linden of course – I almost want to say ‘as usual’ as he often comes in now to chat briefly with me about German literature when he’s finished work. I think it is the only self-indulgence of his day’s strict routine – Parzival as a nightcap, to clear his mind of the blood that flecks the silver pips on his black collar patches. When he stands in my door and asks my opinion on Hegel or Schlegel, I dare not give him less than my full attention (though I have suggested he needs to take modern writers like Hesse and Mann more seriously. How those schoolboys of his, back in Berlin, would love Narziß und Goldmund!).
So – a visit not wholly unexpected, only last night it was not ‘as usual’ – he was alight. Animation and colour in his face, his hands locked behind his back so I could not see them shaking (perhaps also so I would not notice his ring – I am wise to such evasive tactics). He threw the door wide so my cell was lit by the blazing electric bulbs in the interrogation room and uttered in disbelief, ‘Eva Seiler?’
He had only just found out.
‘You lie,’ he accused.
Why the hell would I lie about that? I’m Eva Seiler. Ha ha, not really.
You know, I was astonished he had heard of me, that he seemed to know who Eva Seiler is. I’ll bet it was that imbecilic Kurt Kiefer who spilled the beans on her, back in Paris blabbing about his conquests. Ugh, that ridiculous proposal. I warned them he wasn’t clever enough to be a double agent even before we decided to arrest him.