And why? Why?
All I have done is buy myself time, the time to write this. I haven’t really told anyone anything of use. I’ve only told a story.
But I have told the truth. Isn’t that ironic? They sent me because I am so good at telling lies. But I have told the truth.
I have even remembered some electrifying famous last words which I have been saving up to finish with. They are Edith Cavell’s, the British nurse who smuggled 200 Allied soldiers out of Belgium in The Last Lot, the 1914–1918 war, and who was caught and shot for treason. Her very ugly monument stands not far from Trafalgar Square and I noticed it, not bombed but buried in sandbags, when last I was in London (‘The Last Time I Saw London’). Some of her last words are carved on the statue’s plinth.
‘Patriotism is not enough – I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.’
She has ALWAYS got a pigeon on her head, even under the sandbags, and I think the only reason she manages not to feel any hatred for those flying rats is because she has been dead for twenty-five years and doesn’t know they’re there.
I think her actual words were, ‘I am glad to die for my country.’ I can’t say I honestly believe such sanctimonious twaddle. Kiss me, Hardy. The truth is, I like ‘Kiss me, Hardy’ better. Those are fine last words. Nelson meant that when he said it. Edith Cavell was fooling herself. Nelson was being honest.
So am I.
I am finished now, so I will just sit here writing it again and again until I can no longer stay awake or someone discovers what I am doing and takes the pen away. I have told the truth.
I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told
O.HdV.A. 1872 B. No 4 CdB
[Note to Amadeus von Linden from Nikolaus Ferber, translated from the German:]
SS-Sturmbannführer N. J. Ferber Ormaie
30 November 1943
SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden –
This is my final reminder to you that Flight Officer Beaufort-Stuart is a designated NN prisoner. She has been seen twice in your custody and I will be forced to take formal action against you if it happens again.
I recommend you send her at once to Natzweiler- Struthof as a specimen, with the order that she be executed by lethal injection after six weeks if she survives the experimentation.
If you show this devious little liar one atom’s worth of compassion I will have you shot.
I have got Julie’s identity papers.
I have got Julie’s identity papers.
I have got Julie’s identity papers.
DRAT DRAT DOUBLE DRAT AND BLAST
I HAVE GOT JULIE’S IDENTITY PAPERS
WHAT WILL SHE DO WITHOUT ID???
What will she do?
Just can’t think when it happened. She checked her papers, I checked my papers, Sergeant Silvey checked both of us, that headmistressy Special Operations officer who was nannying her checked, everybody checked. Anyone could have muddled them.
Drat. Double drat. She must have mine.
This isn’t a very good place to write things – will ruin my ATA Pilot’s Note Book and I probably shouldn’t make a record in any case, but it is the only thing I have to read or write on or do anything with until one of the Resistance circuit comes back. Can’t believe I didn’t check sooner. Two days have passed since we got here. I have looked and looked and I have got my ATA Authorisation Card but my licence and National Registration card are gone, and in their place are Julie’s ration coupons and forged carte d’identité – photograph doesn’t really look like her, she’s wearing her fair and scary Nazi spy face. Katharina Habicht. Can’t think of her as Katharina at all, though she tried to make me call her Käthe all summer – had only just got used to thinking of her as Eva.
Not that my own papers or lack of make any difference to me as I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO BE IN FRANCE. But Julie, who is supposed to be here, has NO IDENTITY. I have got her FORGED IDENTITY DOCUMENTS.
How – how? Like when Intelligence took my clothing coupons, but that was done on purpose. And I swore to be more careful.
I don’t know what to do.
If I am caught writing this I will be in trouble whoever catches me – German, French, British. Even American. I shouldn’t write anything down. COURT MARTIAL. But I have absolutely nothing else to do, and I have the most marvellous pen in the world – an Eterpen, it has a tiny ball bearing in the nib and is full of quick-drying printer’s ink. The ink rolls over the ball. You can write with this pen at altitude and it does not smudge and the supply of ink lasts for a year. The RAF have ordered 30,000 of these pens from the exiled Hungarian newspaperman who invented them and I have got one of the samples, a gift from Sergeant Silvey, who is soft on lady pilots and small fair double agents.
I know I shouldn’t write, but I’ve got to do something – something. That last ferry flight would have been an S chit, so that means I’ll have to make a report. Also an Accident Report. Ugh. I will have to do it anyway. I’ll work on that.
Crash landing in field Damask, near Ormaie, 11 Oct. 1943 – Aircraft Lysander R 3892
Permission for flight obtained from C.O. and I had made 4 successful night landings, 3 on simulated flare path, immed. previous to departure. Flight over Channel w/out incident although deviated from planned course over Caen to avoid anti-aircraft fire. New route took us from Mont St Michel to Angers where the aircraft was shot at from the ground and the tailplane was hit. I took action to control fire, but could not achieve level flight as tailplane control was completely gone, aircraft now trimmed for steep climb and barely manoeuvrable in descent
Now that I think about it, the tailplane adjustment cable must have snapped during the climb-out from the dive – or I wouldn’t have been able to dive.
That thought has given me chills, that has.
All right. Where were we. Stuck in the climb and also lacking some rudder control. Engine pressures/temps & fuel levels acceptable so continued to destination which (w/passenger’s assistance) I had no trouble in locating – however on arrival found descent v. difficult and was concerned about touchdown, and agreed passenger should bail out over airfield as she’d had appropriate training and was more likely to survive a parachute jump than a crash-landing with half-full fuel tanks and cargo of 500 pounds’ Explosive 808 and detonating wire.
Had already attempted 2 circuits over field prior to passenger’s departure and found it dead tiring so I stayed overhead for half an hour to burn off fuel before a final attempt to land. Flare path remained lit so I assumed and had to trust that I was still expected – possibly my passenger had come down safely and informed the reception committee about the damage to the aircraft. Maintaining level flight continued to prove challenging and eventually I attempted a descent.
Not sure how I actually managed to get the dratted thing down, sheer obstinacy I expect. Rudder wouldn’t let me sideslip and even at low speed with flaps down and no power the blasted thing wanted to stick its nose up. Couldn’t let go to put the landing light on, came down in the dark tail first and bounced straight back up again – wish I’d seen it from the ground – snapped off the whole tailplane and the poor Lizzie came to rest with the back of the fuselage stuck in soft ground at the very end of the field, near where the rivers meet, the whole aircraft pointing straight up at the sky like a standing stone. Made me think of Dympna’s Puss Moth crash back on Highdown Rise only the other way up. I didn’t know what had happened till afterwards, as the control column thumped me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me at the same time as the back of my head bashed against the armour plating of the bulkhead. Woke up hanging on my back in the cockpit staring at the stars and wondering how long before the Bang.
I’m not managing to make it sound like an Accident Report – bother. At least getting it down while I remember.
Had switched off ignition and fuel before landing as per Pilot’s Notes and Standing Orders for forced landing so all was quiet, a few creaks and groans but nothing else. Then three men of the reception committee, one of them English (an SOE agent, the organiser of this circuit, code name Paul), slid open the canopy and pulled me out of the cockpit upside down. All four of us landed on the ground in a big heap. These were my first words on French soil:
‘Sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!’
Over and over, thinking of the unlucky pair of refugees who were supposed to be ferried back to England on my return trip. And for good measure I remembered to say in French: ‘Je suis désolée!’ Oh, what a mess.
They helped me sit up and tried to get the mud off me. ‘This’ll be our Verity,’ the SOE organiser Paul said in English.
‘I’m not Verity!’
This was not helpful information, but it is what I burst out with.
Confusion and mayhem and a gun held to my head. Sorry to say the gun was far too much to cope with following my first ever reportable prang, in a plane I probably shouldn’t have been flying, and I burst into tears.
‘Not Verity! Who the hell are you?’
‘Kittyhawk,’ I sobbed. ‘Code name Kittyhawk. First Officer, Air Transport Auxiliary.’
‘Kittyhawk! My God!’ exclaimed the English agent. ‘You flew me to RAF Special Duties the night I came to France!’ Paul explained me in French to his companions, then turned back to me and said, ‘We were expecting Peter!’
‘He had a smash up in his motor car this afternoon. I shouldn’t –’
He covered my mouth with a big, muddy hand, and commanded, ‘Don’t say anything that could compromise you.’
I started blubbing again.
‘What happened?’ he asked.
‘Flak over Angers,’ I sobbed. This was my proper normal guns-and-bombs reaction, coming an hour and a half later than usual. ‘Set fire to the tail and disconnected the tailplane trim cable and I think one of the rudder cables too. Had to dive to put the fire out, knocked poor Ju – Verity – out cold in the back, then had to fight the plane so hard for the last leg that I couldn’t look at the map – ’
And more sob, sob, sob, dead embarrassing.
‘You were hit?’
They were all astonished. Not because I’d been hit, I discovered later, but because I’d successfully managed not to go down in flames over Angers, and had safely delivered them their 500 pounds of Explosive 808. They have been painfully nice to me ever since, all of them. I don’t really deserve it. There is only one reason I did not go down in flames over Angers, and that is because I knew I had Julie in the back. Would never have had the presence of mind to put that fire out if I hadn’t been trying to save her life.