|September 1941 off the coast of Guernsey|
‘It’s very foggy, Captain Mainwaring and we’ve been out a long time. And I can’t see Uncle Arthur’s boat at all.’
‘You stupid boy,’ Captain Mainwaring responded. ‘How could you see anything in the fog?’
‘Well I can’t hear the boat either,’ Pike said petulantly, winding his scarf round his neck more firmly.
‘The fog’s starting to lift and I can see land,’ Corporal Jones said. ‘Look, Mr Mainwaring.’
Land could indeed be seen and the spirits of the men in the boat lifted.
‘It’s not Walmington-on-Sea, Mr Mainwaring,’ Jones said. ‘We must have drifted along the coast.’
‘Don’t worry, men,’ Mainwaring said confidently. ‘We’re at Eastbourne. Soon be on dry land and we’ll get a lift home.’
‘Captain Mainwaring, there’s a German flag flying at the top of that cliff,’ Pike pointed out.
‘Yes, I wondered when someone was going to notice that,’ Mainwaring said, self-importantly.
‘DON’T PANIC,’ Jones shouted, almost overturning the rowing boat in his agitation. ‘The Germans have invaded Eastbourne. DON’T PANIC!’
‘Sit down, Jones,’ Mainwaring ordered. ‘The Germans have not invaded Eastbourne. It will be an exercise.’
‘How do you know, Captain Mainwaring, sir?’ Jones asked, pausing in his thrashing about.
‘The Germans would not have invaded without our being informed,’ Mainwaring told him with certainty.
‘Mr Mainwaring, there’s soldiers in German uniforms at the top of that cliff,’ Pike said, urgently.
‘DON’T PANIC,’ Jones shouted, again almost overturning the rowing boat. ‘The Germans have invaded Eastbourne. DON’T PANIC!’
‘We’re doooooomed,’ Private Fraser intoned, in his trademark Scottish accent. ‘Doooooomed.’
‘The fishermen are wearing berets,’ Pike announced. ‘We must be in France. Uncle Arthur says French men wear berets and have strings of onions round their necks.’
‘I can’t see any onions,’ Jones said, peering at them carefully. ‘I could do with some onions for the nice sausages I’ve got for my Sunday tea.’
‘Quiet, men,’ Mainwaring said. ‘We need to land unobserved.’
‘So now it’s not an exercise and it’s not Eastbourne,’ Fraser observed.
‘Quiet!’ Mainwaring told him.
They rowed quietly and landed the boat on the beach. The fishermen were looking at them in horror.
‘Who speaks French?’ Mainwaring asked.
‘Oh I wish Uncle Arthur was here,’ Pike said.
‘You speak to them Pikey,’ Jones encouraged.
‘Bonn Jewer,’ Pike said. ‘Comma allez vooos?’
‘This is Guernsey,’ one of the fishermen said. ‘We speak English.’
‘DON’T PANIC,’ Jones shouted. ‘We’re in occupied territory. DON’T PANIC!’
‘Quiet, Jones,’ Mainwaring insisted. ‘And that’s an order.’ He turned to the fishermen. ‘Can you hide us somewhere till we can work out how to escape?’
‘Come into these caves,’ the fisherman said, with one eye on the patrol at the top of the cliff. ‘We’ll get Michelle from the French Resistance.’
Half an hour later, Michelle arrived to see the worried soldiers. ‘What ho, old chaps,’ she said. ‘Got yourselves into a jolly old pickle, haven’t you? How did you get so far off course?’
‘It was foggy, madam,’ Mainwaring said, very much on his dignity.
‘Well we’ll need to find you a good billet until we can get you orf the island,’ Michelle said. ‘Wait until dark and we’ll come and get you. I need to arrange for distraction for the guards as well. Toodle pip.’
At Café René, a little later
Michelle slid silently in through the window. ‘Listen very carefully, I will say this only once.’
‘If I had a franc for every time I’ve heard that, I could give up the café and retire,’ René said to Robin.
Michelle frowned. ‘There are four elderly British soldiers in the caves.’
‘Is this a new code I am to broadcast?’ René asked, mystified. ‘Instead of “Allo, Allo, This is Night Auk Calling?”.’
Michelle shrugged impatiently. ‘I don’t know what you are talking about. I need help to rescue some British soldiers who have landed on our coast.’
‘What are they doing here?’ René asked.
‘They got lost between Walmington-on-Sea and Eastbourne,’ Michelle said.
‘Oh, the British are so stupid,’ René sighed. ‘What do you want us to do? We can’t hide them all here.’
‘I need to borrow Maria and Yvette,’ Michelle said.
‘With the greatest of respect, Michelle,’ René said. ‘I do not think they are rescuer material. And they might over-excite the old soldiers.’
‘I need them to distract the guards,’ Michelle told him. ‘But there are three so we had better send for one of those tarty girls from the school.’
‘Polly or Violet,’ René said.
‘Oh, let me go instead. Please,’ Robin asked, tugging at René’s arm.
‘You are too young and innocent,’ René said. ‘And Madame Edith needs you here.’
Trained to instant obedience, Robin gave in, pouting.
‘I will go up to the school now,’ Michelle announced. ‘Get Maria and Yvette to meet me at the cliff top at twenty-one hundred hours.’
‘What if Colonel von Strohm and Captain Geering want them then? That’s their usual time.’
Robin looked up hopefully.
‘Say it’s their night off and offer Madame Edith,’ Michelle said. ‘That will put them off.’
‘I heard that!’ came a voice from the corridor.
Michelle didn’t bother to answer and slid out through the window. Robin stamped off to do her work, in the huff.
Nine o’clock at the cliff top
‘Now you know what you have to do, girls,’ Michelle said. ‘Off you go.’
‘Hello soldier,’ Polly said, producing a cigarette. ‘Got a light?’
The German guard tried to resist but Polly was nestling up beside him. Further along the path, Maria and Yvette were doing likewise. Unseen, Michelle and Madge slipped down the cliff path to the caves. By the time they returned, with the four soldiers, the guards – and the girls – were nowhere to be seen.
Reaching the woods, Michelle stopped and spoke in an undertone to the soldiers. ‘We are taking you a farmhouse, old chaps. You can stay there for now. We’ll get you some clothes and you can pretend to be fishermen and land workers.’
‘Very good, madam,’ Mainwaring said. ‘We appreciate your helping us like this.’
They threaded their way quietly through the woods and reached the farmhouse, where Matey was looking out for them.
‘There’s beds all made up and a nice hot meal,’ she announced.
‘Thank you, Madame Matey,’ Michelle said. ‘I will leave you to look after the men. The young one seems very cold.’
Matey looked at Pike. ‘Oh dear, you don’t seem at all well. What’s your name?’
‘Well, Pike, as soon as you’ve had something to eat, you’re off to bed. I’ll give you a dose of something.’
‘I hope it doesn’t taste nasty,’ Pike said. ‘I won’t take medicine for Mum when it tastes nasty.’
Matey fixed him with a gimlet stare. ‘You’ll take what I give you, young man. I don’t stand any nonsense.’
Captain Mainwaring intervened. ‘I’m Mainwaring, Madame Matey. I apologise for this young man, he’s been terribly coddled, I’m afraid.’ He turned to Pike. ‘You will do what Madame Matey says, and that’s an order, Pike!’
They sat down to a meal and then Matey marched Pike off to be dosed. The others looked at each other.
‘Madame Matey speaks English very well, doesn’t she?’ Jones remarked. ‘This is a nice billet. I wonder how they’ll get us out of here?’
‘They won’t. We’re dooooooomed,’ Fraser intoned.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Eastbourne and Walmington-on-Sea aren't very far apart. But this doesn't stop some of the platoon, out on exercise, drifting off course and landing in Guernsey.