Book V of the World War Two Series
Fiction: war/adventure/historical romance
Nazi Germany has invaded Norway. The Ehrdahls are returning from a vacation when their ferry, nearing Narvik, is sunk. In saving her brother from the ensuing fire, Margrete, twenty, pretty, and a popular model, is horribly burned. Their charred lifeboat is found by a merchant ship and she and her brother are taken to England, where she recovers her strength but not her looks.
Resentful and hostile, she trains to return to her invaded homeland as an Allied commando. Her first assignment is to bring back a crucial English scientist, Creswell Bryce, who is stranded in Norway. When she finds him, she is shocked to find he has been injured, and she tries to get him across the hills to their assigned pickup. But their progress is too slow.
In trying to get help from the resistance with an alternate plan, Margrete discovers that her mother and father have been imprisoned, and Bryce refuses to leave without taking them too. But the resistance is infiltrated by the Nazis, and many of its members are meeting betrayal and death. Getting them all to safety is beginning to seem impossible, but Margrete wants her old life back and is unstoppable.
Occupation of Norway Facts
The Nazi invasion of Norway, Operation Weserübung, began on 9 April 1940. Despite fighting valiantly back, Norwegian forces were forced to capitulate two months later, and the country remained occupied until 8 May 1945. Norway’s King, Håkon VII, along with the Cabinet, narrowly escaped on 7 June 1940 to represent Norway from exile in England. The Norwegian Captain Martin Linge organized a British Special Operations Executive group in Scotland to train commandos for raids in occupied Norway. In Norway itself, several resistance movements grew to harass the Germans, the largest of which was Milorg. It facilitated intelligence gathering, sabotage, supply missions, raids, espionage, the release of prisoners, and the escorting of refugees to neutral Sweden.
Sample chapter: © David Andrew Westwood 2012, all rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced without written permission from the author.
Chapter 30: May 1942.
The road to Oslo, Norway.
“Well,” began Margrete, brushing herself off as she stood shivering in a patch of sunlight. “That was the worst night of my life.”
“I m-may never get warm again,” Bryce said, struggling to his feet from the mound of pine needles he had piled around himself in the night. “I kept thinking about that flying jacket. Could’ve done with it.”
Ferske, his mood even blacker than the day before, said, “What do we do now?”
“Rescue them,” Bryce replied.
They turned to look at him. He looked almost laughably determined for someone who couldn’t see, didn’t speak the language and wasn’t armed. He was also stuck with resiny pine needles like a hedgehog.
“What? Who?” Margrete asked, wondering if she had misunderstood, if this were another of his oblique and colorful comments.
“Or at least try,” he explained. “Damned if I’ll sit by and let them take your mum and dad, Miss Ehrdahl.”
They were silent for a long moment, a silence only broken by the manic chittering of some squirrel high in one of the trees, and the soft thud of a falling fir cone.
“If we’re going on an operation together, you’d better start calling me Troll,” Margrete said. “It’s my code name.”
“Troll?” Bryce repeated. “How unkind. Who—?”
“Oh. I honestly don’t know if I can. Well, let’s get started. Where are my snowshoes?”
“But what can we do?” asked Ferske, strapping them on for him. “And what about your plane?”
Margrete was wondering the same thing. What could a burn victim, a kid, and a blind scientist do to the Wehrmacht and the Gestapo? It was like some kind of joke, a joke in extremely poor taste.
“Oh, bugger the plane,” Bryce said. “We’ll call in a pickup another time, somehow. Right now,” he shuffled off in what he thought might be the right direction, “I’d like to kill something and eat it.”
“I was given permits for myself, my family and Bryce. Here—” Margrete showed them to the boy.
Ferske stopped and examined them dubiously, comparing them with his own. “They seem to be accurate. For this zone, anyway. You even have the Englishman’s photo.”
Margrete took them back and placed them carefully in an inside pocket. Then she took Bryce’s elbow and led them back out of the forest.
· • ·
“Bacon,” said Bryce, sadly, as he plodded along. “I could do with some bacon.”
They followed a high path north a kilometer or two to Telavåg. The plan they hatched was for Ferske to go down into the fishing village and check in with his Milorg contact, as he had been instructed, while the others waited for his report.
“Why do you have to see him?” Margrete asked the boy, as he prepared to descend.
“I have to tell him the English scientist has missed his pickup, so he can tell Oslo, and they can tell London to send another plane. He has to be careful that no one in town is blamed.”
“Why? Have there been reprisals?”
Ferske looked back at her. “They shot my mother and father.”
After a moment’s shocked silence, Bryce asked softly, “What for?”
“The resistance booby-trapped a German ship. It sank. They lined up the people of my village, Køpersund, and shot every tenth. My mother and father got separated, and they picked them both.”
“Then,” Margrete asked gently, “Aren’t you angry with Milorg for…?”
Ferske looked down on Telavåg with his cold eyes. “It’s war. They were casualties of war.”
Margrete and Bryce sat on a boulder as the boy’s slim figure dwindled away down the hillside. She watched him descend, while Bryce slapped his hands about his body to keep warm.
“Not used to this kind of cold, y’know,” he said. His dead eyes still darted this way and that, but registered nothing. Even sightless, though, they revealed a boyish enthusiasm for life. Unlike Ferske’s. “England’s wet, of course, but it never gets really cold. Glad the boy found me this coat, otherwise I’d have become some kind of snowman up here after a while, carrot for a nose and all that.”
Margrete ignored him. “I know this village like my own,” she said, musing. “My school sent us out with the fishermen one summer, a couple of kids on each boat.”
Bryce continued to muse. “How the Fritz-X works is that it’s dropped by a bomber, you see, aimed at a ship. But the bomber can stay out of range of the ship’s guns while the bomb carries on toward its target. It’s guided by someone in the aircraft, but he has to maintain eye contact, so there’s a flare in the bomb’s bum, so to speak, so he can keep an eye on it. Not surprisingly, its main failing is its vulnerability to channel jamming.”
“They were very good to us,” Margrete continued, “My boat was the Fridtjof Nansen, I remember, and we caught a lot of halibut. Strange fish — dark on one side and light on the other, eyes both on the dark side. We even snagged a porpoise once. I got to touch it before we threw it back. It was smooth, like wet velvet. It looked at me. I’ll never forget its gaze. It—”
The roar of several trucks filled the air as a convoy of German vehicles ground around the bend and drove toward them. She pushed Bryce down behind one of the boulders at the side of the road, and hid beside him until they had passed.
“What the hell is going on?” she muttered, brushing herself off.
Bryce sat up. “Wagner, now, invented another kind, more along the lines I’m working on — the Schmetterling. Butterfly, we’d say. Anyway, that was a ground-to-air missile, but the project was abandoned, we think, before they could iron out the gremlins. Pity. I thought it held promise.”
Margrete was startled back to the present. “Was that a gunshot? There seems to be a fuss down there.” She peered through the glasses. “There are trucks rushing around, troops…”
“Then there was the Feuerlilie, an anti-aircraft missile. But we believe they were having trouble with its controller. That’s where I come in, you see. I have a—”
“Shhh!” Margrete told him. “Ferske is coming!”
The boy trudged up and sat down heavily next to them, trying to catch his breath, his eyes burning with a very unchildlike malevolence.
“Trouble,” he said.
“Trouble?” she echoed.
“Two agents of the Linge Company were caught in the village, apparently, and one has killed a Gestapo officer.”
“Oh, God,” she said. “It must have been Penguin and Anchor.”
“Two agents I came over with.”
“Well, one is dead, the other wounded. The Gestapo is rounding up everybody.”
“All the villagers. I was hiding. I managed to escape as soon as I saw what was going on. They didn’t see me.”
Margrete and Ferske looked at each other. “Are they going to kill them?” she asked him.
Ferske looked back down. “I … I don’t think so. Look — you can see from here. They’re separating the men and women. The men are being loaded onto trucks. If they were going to kill them, they’d just line them up in the middle of town and get on with it, like they did with…” His mouth became a thin line, and his chin quivered slightly.
“What are the trucks for, do you think?”
“I think they’ll take them to a camp.”
“A camp in Germany?”
He shrugged. “If so, they’ll have to drive them to Bergen and put them on a train to Sweden.”
“Not a ship? It would be quicker.”
“The British Royal Navy rules the North Sea. Everything goes through Sweden now.”
“I thought the Swedes were neutral.”
Ferske scowled, still looking down at the scurrying figures below. “They let the German troops go through, so I suppose they allow their prisoners too.”
“And what about the women and children?”
Ferske peered through his glasses. “They’re taking them to the main road, away from the houses.”
“You don’t think—?”
“No, it doesn’t look as if they’re to be shot. Wait…”
“What? What is it?”
“Drittsekker,” Ferske said, through gritted teeth.
Margrete took his binoculars and looked down at the little hamlet. Soldiers were carrying flaming torches into each house, one by one. The houses were wood. They caught fire rapidly. When all the houses were alight they started on the fishing boats.
“What’s going on?” Bryce said. “What’s that smell?”
“Fire,” Margrete told him. “The Germans are setting fire to the town.”
Margrete and Ferske watched in fascinated horror as the entire village burned, a vast pall of gray smoke rising hundreds of feet into the air.
“What now?” Bryce asked.
Ferske said in a dead voice, “My contact was down there — Gardener. Now we must see the baker in Oslo. He will contact London for a new pickup. And we can move in Oslo without being so conspicuous.”
“Baker?” Bryce said. “Jolly good. I—”
Ferske frowned at the Englishman in frustration. “He is our contact. There are so many customers that visit the shop that we won’t be noticed.”
Margrete considered this. The coast of Norway was so convoluted that no place inland was easy to get to. “Oslo is a long way,” she said. “Are we supposed to take the train?” She didn’t like the idea of undergoing the scrutiny of German guards for the long ride into the capital, the checks of papers at the beginning, middle and end. Train passengers were trapped.
“No, we go with the Esso man. He drives his tanker truck to and from Oslo all the time.”
“All three of us can fit in his cab?”
Ferske shrugged. “I don’t know how. All I know is he is the way to the city.”
“I don’t know how to contact him. Gardener didn’t have time to tell me. We will just have to wait until he passes.”
· • ·
Shivering by the side of the road, Ferske running out every time they heard a vehicle, did not seem to Margrete the most sophisticated way to hitch a safe ride into the capital. But she could see no alternative. What if the boy was wrong? He had apparently never met this Eirik. What if it was a substitute driver? What if the truck did not deliver today, or had already passed?
It was frustrating to be so out of control of events, at the mercy of the vagaries of luck. Perhaps they should risk the train after all. Anything to avoid another freezing night spent in the open. Yes, better to try the train. She turned to Ferske to explain her plan. He was in the road, waving. A large red Mercedes tanker was grinding down through its gears.
· • ·
“You will not be comfortable,” Eirik the tanker driver told them. He had pulled off the road at Ferske’s frantic waving.
“We’re rather getting used to that,” Bryce told him. “We’re a traveling circus.”
Eirik blinked in confusion, then showed them the locker behind the cab. “This is for the hoses, normally. Help me take them out and I’ll strap them to the underside. I will stop every now and then and make sure you’re all right in there, and let you out for … for …”
“Yes, thanks,” Margrete told him. “We appreciate your help.”
“Anything to get back at the Germans and that traitor Quisling.” He looked at Margrete, avoiding the ruined side of her face. “You came back from England?”
“Is the King safe?”
“He is. I met him.”
“You met him? That’s wonderful! Does he know we are still fighting on his behalf?”
“He does. And he’s very grateful.”
This pleased the Esso man, and he straightened his greasy dark blue coveralls as if they were a uniform and helped them into the grimy locker. “We leave now. As long as it’s safe, I will stop every hour.”
· • ·
The forced intimacy of the truck’s hose locker was awkward at first, but Margrete just tried to imagine that they were a family, a mother and father and child escaping, which in a way they were. They were thrown together on every bend, and the suspension on the truck was old and needed replacing. The diesel fumes leaked in and gave her a headache, but she reminded herself that the hardships they were undergoing were nothing compared to those her mother and father must be enduring.
The English scientist was lost in his own thoughts, doubtless mentally continuing his experiments or inventing something new. The boy, though, radiated something that reminded Margrete of herself in the convalescent hospital. She tried to break through to him.
“What are you studying at school, Ferske?”
The boy made a disparaging grunt. “Nothing relevant. We learn about Norway as if it’s still a country of its own, and not part of Germany.”
“Who … who is taking care of you now … now you’re on your own?”
“There is a widow up the street who feeds me. She lets me sleep in her spare room.”
“Does she … I mean, does she take care of you properly?”
“She is old. She has never had children. She means well, I suppose. Like everyone else, she tries to pretend we’re not slaves.”
She sighed. “We’ll get through this, Ferske. Oh, can’t I call you by your real name?”
“We’ll get through this war, and—”
He turned to her in the dark. She could just make out his grubby face, his fierce eyes. “That’s what my dad used to say. And he’s dead.”
“We’ll win this war, Ferske,” said Bryce suddenly. “Whatever the Germans can come up with, we can go one better. They used to bomb England using this radio system, Knickebein — ‘crooked leg’ — where bombers following one radio beam released their bombs when they crossed a second. Modified Lorenz beam with two lobes. But we found out about it and jammed it. Then they tried another, the X-Gerät, but we flummoxed that too. We always go one better. And now, with the Yanks and all their factories on our side, they can’t possibly hold out. You’ll see — their Reich will shrink back to Germany, and then—”
“Then what?” said Ferske, unimpressed.
“We’ll put barbed wire around it and take away all their sauerkraut.”
“Thanks, Bryce,” said Margrete, “but I don’t think he cares all that much about science. He just wants to kill Germans.”
“Ah, well, but science is the answer, see? The Jerries are fools. They chased off or imprisoned some of their most brilliant minds just because they were Jewish. And now they work for us.”
· • ·
As he had promised, the driver let them out once an hour, into bitterly cold windswept mountain roads, pitch-black and empty of cars. They hobbled around trying to flex their stiff limbs, flapping their hands against their bodies to try to warm themselves.
After the third such stop, Eirik said, “Not much longer now. The next time you get out you will be in the Esso depot. It will be light by then. You must not make a noise when we stop. I will have to wait until there is no one around before I unlock your door. You will go up the ramp to the street and turn right. At the first intersection you will turn left on Grønland and walk for two blocks on the left side of the street. There you will find the Andersen bakery. Andersen himself will tell you where to go next.”
“Go next? I thought—”
“He is just a go-between.”
Margrete nodded off on the last leg of the journey, and awoke when the gears shifted and the truck tilted downwards. “We’re here,” she said. “Look normal.”
Bryce laughed. “Not a chance, old bean, but I’ll give it a try.”
They walked, stiff-legged, up the oily ramp and into the morning bustle of Oslo. Everywhere they looked were uniformed Germans. One for every eight Norwegians, Hesketh had said. It had sounded farfetched at the time, an exaggeration for effect, but she could believe it now. Margrete felt they must look very conspicuous, and wished there was somewhere they could get off the streets.
They passed her old modeling agency on the corner, and she wondered if the company was still in operation. Even if it was, its owners would be unlikely to appreciate an unexpected visit from a fugitive. A fugitive that was at the opposite end of the spectrum from being a model, now.
As they passed, an attractive couple came out of the agency’s double doors. It was Harriet Stalblazer, the girl who had been the other local beauty, arm in arm with a German soldier. They were laughing. She was probably the top model in Norway now; who knew — perhaps the only one. Perhaps she posed for German magazines. She imagined the caption in Germany’s Signal magazine, and its Norwegian version Signalet, “An Aryan beauty in Norway, showing a lucky soldier the north.” Margrete gripped Bryce’s elbow and quickly turned away. What would Harriet think of her now, her face no longer on display but crumpled and wrapped up like some Russian babushka. Harriet had better hope the Nazis stayed forever. If they ever left, she would be an object of national hatred, a tyskertøser.
They found the bakery without trouble. Bryce scented it, like a dog, a block away. Margrete pulled her hood around her face and they walked in, past the line of people outside waiting patiently for their ration. A large, red-faced man behind the counter looked up and at them. His expression turned from one of professional bonhomie to one of alarm.
“Ah,” he said, recovering, “the bread for the hospital. Come with me. Take care of the customers for a moment, Agna,” he told the girl next to him, and ushered the trio through a curtain to the rear of the shop. “You look terrible,” he whispered, as soon as they were out of earshot of the customers. “You stand out like sore thumbs.”
“So would you if you’d been crammed in a trunk all night,” Margrete snapped. “We just witnessed Telavåg being burned to the ground. We missed a British plane by five minutes and spent a night in the forest with no shelter. It’s hardly surprising we look a little disheveled.”
“All right. Sit. Eat. You can’t stay long — you never know who’s watching these days.” He twitched aside a net curtain and looked out onto the side street. “Here’s the latest. The teachers are still in Grini, but they are about to be taken north, some say Kirkenes.”
“Kirkenes?” Margrete repeated. “But that’s all the way up by the Russian border.” Andersen smiled grimly. “That’s the way the Germans work. They ship prisoners to awful places and work them until a lot of them die. Resistance to their demands usually dissolves. The remainder are likely to sign anything at that point.”
“But … teachers?”
He shrugged, as if to say, we are used to inanities here under the Occupation. “They’ll probably go by ship. Out of Trondheim or Narvik, we think. But first, by truck to East Oslo station, then the Hovedbanen Line out of Oslo.”
Margrete looked down at Ferske. “Can we get her off the train?”
Ferske looked back at her with his cold eyes. “Off a passenger train? We can try.”
“Not a passenger train,” Andersen said, “A freight train. That’s what they’ll use. Cattle trucks and the like.”
Margrete stood, incensed. “Why, those—”
“An electric locomotive?” Bryce asked.
The baker looked at the Englishman’s blind eyes. “Yes. Like the Ofotbanen line.”
“Single phase fifteen kilovolts, sixteen and two-thirds Hertz?”
“That sounds right, but I’m a baker, not an electrician.”
“And is there a signal box outside Lillestrøm station?”
Andersen shrugged. “I don’t remember. I think so. Why?”
“I can stop the train,” Bryce said.
“All right,” Margrete said, “Let’s get out of here before you’re compromised. When will they leave?”
“My source says tomorrow at six in the morning from the prison, eight from the station. And the Germans are punctual.”
Bryce spoke up again. “Is there a passenger train before eight?”
Andersen rummaged in a drawer and pulled out a timetable. “Six fifty, to Lillestrøm. Here — you can take this. Take these too,” he shoved some buns into a bag. “And here is an address where you can spend the night. Memorize it. It’s about a mile due north of here.” He wrote quickly but clearly on a piece of paper, showed it to Margrete and Ferske, then lit the corner with a match and dropped the ashes on the floor. “Go out the back way. Good luck.”
“Long live the King.”