Oh, yes, letting people down. Is this next lot fear or guilt? It feels like a lump of granite stuck in the gears of my brain and stripping them raw. Letting people down. A great circular list of failure and worry. What if I’m caught and give away the location of the RAF Moon Squadron? I’ve already let down every one of those Lysander pilots – who liked and encouraged me so much they were daft enough to let me take one of their planes to France. Special Operations Executive trusted me too, not to mention the refugees I was supposed to pick up here. I’m a colossal failure as far as my own ATA ferry pool is concerned, done a bunk and AWOL indefinitely, and I dread betraying my hosts by accident – by being found on their property – or by being caught and giving them away under pressure. Don’t really believe I could keep anything from the Gestapo if they got to work on me. Oh help – here I am again, back to the location of the Moon Squadron and the Gestapo.
Everything leads to the Ormaie Gestapo. Well, they can be Fear Number 9. The Nazi secret police, something else it makes me sick to think about. I am fairly certain the Ormaie Gestapo HQ will be my first stop on my way to whatever prison I end up in.
Unless the Ormaie Gestapo HQ is blown to bits first. But that doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon. It is ten days since we got here. Part of the reason I’ve not written since last week is because I don’t want to put to paper what I am about to write, don’t want to give any kind of reality to this ugly ‘perhaps’. Also, if I’d let myself write this week I’d have just wasted half my paper listing possibilities and wondering. It’s been too long. It is torment, pure torment, waiting for news – for anything.
Julie has vanished.
It’s true she made her first meeting – Tues. 12 Oct., the day after we got here, but then she simply disappeared as if she’d never been in France. Today’s the 21st. She’s been missing over a week.
I understand now why her mother plays Mrs Darling and leaves the windows open in her children’s bedrooms when they’re away. As long as you can pretend they might come back there’s hope. I don’t think there can be anything worse in the world than not knowing what’s happened to your child – not ever knowing.
Here, it happens all the time. It happens ALL THE TIME – people just disappear, entire families sometimes. No one ever hears of them again. They vanish. Shot-down pilots of course, torpedoed sailors of course, you expect that. But here in France it happens to ordinary people too. The house next door just turns up empty one morning, or the post office clerk doesn’t show up for work, or your friend or your teacher doesn’t come to school. I suppose there was a time, a couple of years ago, when there was a chance they’d run away to Spain or Switzerland. And even now there is a narrow hope that Julie has gone to ground until some unknown danger passes. But more often than not the missing face has been sucked into the engines of the Nazi death machine, like an unlucky lapwing hitting the propeller of a Lancaster bomber – nothing left but feathers blowing away in the aircraft’s wake, as if those warm wings and beating heart had never existed.
There is no public record of the arrests. They happen every day. Often people look the other way if there is a fight in the street, to avoid getting in trouble themselves.
Julie has vanished.
It shocks me to write it, to see it here in the margin of my ATA Pilot’s Notes alongside ‘De Havilland Mosquito – Engine Failure After Take-Off ’. But it’s true. She has vanished. She may already be dead.
I’m afraid I will be caught. I’m afraid Julie is dead. But of all the things I’m afraid of, there’s nothing that frightens me so much as the likelihood – the near certainty – that Julie is a prisoner of the Ormaie Gestapo.
It made my spine crawl as I wrote it down and it makes me shiver again to read the words I just wrote.
Must stop. This ink is amazing, it really doesn’t smear even when you cry on it.
Verity, Verity, must remember to call her Verity. Bother.
They can’t move forward – no inside contacts yet. With Julie out of the picture, everything’s stalled. She’s supposed to be the central link in this operation, the informer, the German-speaking translator moving between the town hall and the Gestapo HQ. Mitraillette can’t do it – she’s local, too suspicious. Now the whole Damask Circuit is on edge, afraid that Julie’s capture will betray them.
I mean, that Julie will betray them herself. By giving them away under pressure. The longer the silence the more certain it is that she’s been caught.
Meanwhile, they’re still trying to do something about me. It’s been over two weeks – nothing’s changed.
Had my photograph taken. It will be a while before the exposures are developed. Difficult setting me up with the trusted photographer, who’s busy on many fronts. Most of the negotiating didn’t involve me, again they’ve gone to a good deal of effort on my behalf – could tell how nervous Mitraillette’s Maman was about having me and the photographer and Paul all gathered in her sitting room.
The idea is to do over Verity’s false carte d’identité to turn Kittyhawk – I mean me – into Käthe, I mean Katharina Habicht. I would become the family’s quiet and not-too-bright cousin from Alsace, whose parents have been bombed out and who has come here to be looked after and help with the farm. It’s a risk for countless reasons, the worst being that there’s always a possibility that if Julie has been caught she may have already compromised the name. We’ve talked and talked about it – Mitraillette, Maman and Papa, me as chief consultant and Paul as translator. If the Nazis have got Julie, Verity I mean, we’ve to assume 1) they’ve also got Margaret Brodatt’s pilot’s licence and National Registration card and already know MY real name, and 2) Julie’s told them her own real name because as an enlisted officer under the Geneva Convention that’s what she’s supposed to do and it’s her best chance of being treated decently as a prisoner of war. We don’t think she’ll tell them the name on the forged Katharina Habicht carte d’identité. Paul doesn’t think they’re likely to ask, and even if they did she could tell them anything and they wouldn’t know the difference. She could make up a name – she would too. Or perhaps give them Eva Seiler.
But the real reason she won’t tell them Käthe Habicht’s name is because she knows that if I landed safely it is the only identity I have.
The photographer works ‘for the enemy’ too. Proper British airmen flying over the European Continent carry a couple of photographs in their emergency kit, just in case they’re shot down and need fake ID. But my photographs are being taken by an official Gestapo-employed French photographer! One of his other jobs is developing enlarged pictures of my crash – he brought some of the prints to show us. Impossible to describe the dual thrill and dread in watching him undo the string fastener of his cardboard folder, then slide free the glossy paper – paper destined for the desk of the Gestapo captain in Ormaie. Like feeling the buffet of the first shadow fingers of cool air touch your wings, as the storm cloud you’ve been trying to outrun begins to catch up with you. This is how close I am to the Ormaie Gestapo – the photographer could hand me over with the pictures.
He warned me in English, ‘Not nice to look at.’
The most disturbing thing was knowing it was meant to be me. That terrible charred corpse was wearing my clothes, bone and leather fused into the shattered cockpit in my place. ATA wings still tracing a pale outline on the sunken wreck of the breastbone. There was a blown-up detail of the ghostly wings, just the wings – you couldn’t tell it was an ATA crest in particular.
I didn’t like it. Why focus on the pilot’s badge – just … Why?
‘What is this for?’ I asked. I could just about manage the French. ‘What will they do with these photographs?’
‘There is an English airman being held in Ormaie,’ the photographer explained. ‘They want to show him these pictures, ask him questions about them.’
They shot down a British bomber this week. In decent weather we get swarms of Allied aircraft flying over every night, and some in daylight too. Think we’ve stopped bombing Italy since the Allied invasion last month, but now Italy’s declared war on Germany, things are really hotting up. We’re too far from Ormaie to hear the sirens unless the wind is in the right direction. But you can see the sky flashing when the gunners on the ground fire at the passing planes.
That was me holding tight to the close-up print of my burnt wings, trying to figure it out. It’s the least horrific of the pictures of the fake pilot, but it’s the one that disturbed me the most. Finally I looked up at Paul.
‘What’s a captured lad from a bomber crew going to know about a wrecked reconnaissance aircraft?’
He shrugged. ‘You tell me. You’re the pilot.’
The sheet of glossy paper shook in my hand.
I stopped that straight away. Fly the plane, Maddie.
‘You think their captured English airman might be Verity?’
Paul shrugged again. ‘She’s not an airman.’
‘Nor English,’ I added.
‘But she’s probably carrying your English pilot’s licence and National Registration card,’ Paul pointed out quietly. ‘There aren’t any photographs on your British ID, right? You’re a civilian. So even if they know your name they won’t know what you look like. Tell me, Kittyhawk, how convincing do you think these pictures are? Would you recognise yourself? Would anyone else?’
That melted corpse was hardly even recognisable as a human being. But those ATA wings … Oh, I don’t want Julie to see these pictures and be told she’s looking at me.
Because she knows the plane. There’s no denying it’s the same plane – the markings are still visible, R 3892. I just – can’t think about this, Julie in prison, being made to look at these pictures.
I said to Paul, ‘Ask the photographer how long he can stall before he has to turn these in.’
The photographer understood me without needing a translation.
‘I wait,’ he said. ‘The Gestapo captain will wait. The pictures were not good when I made them, perhaps, not clear enough, and need to be made over again. It will take a long time. The Englishman must tell the captain of other things. He will not see the pictures of the pilot yet. We can give them these others to begin –’
He pulled more glossy sheets from the folder and held one out to me. It was the inside of the rear cockpit, loaded with the ashy remains of ‘onze radios’ – eleven ‘wireless sets.’
I gasped with laughter. Beastly of me, I know, but it is a BRILLIANT photograph – totally convincing. It is the best thing I have seen in the last two weeks. If they have got Julie and they show her that picture, it will be a gift. She will make up an operator and a destination for every single one of those phoney radios, and the frequencies and code sets to go with it. She will lead them blind.