Book IV of the World War Two Series
Fiction: war/adventure/historical romance
Sean Russell, a Boston teen, has signed on as seaman on a convoy to Liverpool. His ship is torpedoed by a German submarine, and he’s washed ashore on the coast of County Mayo, the only survivor. His best friend has been drowned.
He is nursed back to health by the Connolly family, fishermen who live outside the law. As he recuperates, he meets Sally, the daughter of the local policeman, which alienates the Connollys. Sean does his best to remain his ties with them, though, because he plans revenge for the loss of his friend, and they could be useful.
Meanwhile, yet another German agent has been dropped into Eire to replace the others who have been caught and imprisoned. This one, cold and brutal, is determined to show his worth to his superiors, and he contacts the Connollys with a plan of his own.
This provides Sean his opportunity, but a neutral country at war with itself has its own minefields, and he finds himself in the middle of one.
World War II Ireland Facts
During the Second World War, the island of Ireland was divided politically, as now, into two countries. The six counties in the north were part of Great Britain, ruled from London, and known as Northern Ireland or Ulster. The other twenty six counties were a republic known as Ireland or, in Gaelic, as Eire.
Northern Ireland was thus at war with the Axis, provided soldiers to the British armed services, and had Allied soldiers stationed on its soil.
Eire had declared itself neutral, like Portugal, Switzerland and Sweden, and its government, the Oireachtas, worked hard to avoid involvement. It interned both Allied and Axis soldiers who crashed or were washed ashore in Eire, along with uncovered spies.
As the war progressed, the Irish people suffered greatly from the lack of food and fuel that had formerly been imported from Britain.
Sample chapter: © David Andrew Westwood 2011, all rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced without written permission from the author.
Sean reckoned he could have traveled from Boston to Chicago and back in the time it took the aged and underpowered Irish trains to reach Dublin. The first locomotive was a dwarfish green 0-6-0 with a tall, thin funnel and ‘Midland Great Western’ on its side. It looked as if it had escaped from a museum. After the huge trans-Canadian locomotives he’d seen loading the convoy in Sydney, on Cape Breton, its scale seemed that of a boy’s train set. And running on peat, much like the rest of the country, it took the hills like an asthmatic. It moved so slowly, in fact, that people jumped on and off at will. The second, slightly bigger and newer, stopped at every station to load and unload freight, mail and passengers, and consequently never managed to get up any appreciable head of steam.
He watched the countryside slide by his window. Rolling fields, strangely irregular, bordered by low stone walls. Sheep, cows, chickens, horse-drawn plows, few cars and trucks; fewer buses. He started to feel as if he were in a corner of the world that time had ignored. There seemed to have been no industrial revolution here.
They passed a stationary train with odd wagons — quaint Victorian passenger cars with their roofs cut off and doors and windows boarded up, piled to overflowing with the kind of turf Sean had been digging.
He had begun his journey at 7:15 in the morning, and it wasn’t until 8:30 in the evening that his train wheezed into the terminus at Dublin. By then it was too late to transact any business, and he walked the darkening streets in search of a cheap place to spend the night. The remains of some kind of celebration littered the pavement — streamers and confetti, flags, bottles, and a few fallen drunks. When he asked a passer-by what had happened earlier, the man said, “Parnell Day.” When Sean expressed puzzlement, the man explained about the uncrowned King of Ireland, and Sean walked away no wiser. He despaired of ever understanding this island.
On a dingy side street leading to the River Liffey, he saw several windows sporting small cardboard signs reading ‘ROOMS’ and ‘ACCOMMODATIONS.’ He felt at a loss to pick one, since they all looked consistently seedy, and he was also unsure if the signs were some kind of Dublin code for brothel. So he walked up to the front window of one and peered in, trying to get an idea of the state of the house through the net curtains. Behind the net curtains were heavy drapes, though, and he wandered down the side driveway to see if there was some kind of office.
A woman, aproned and with her hair in curlers, burst through the side door and confronted him.“What d’ye want?” she demanded.
“Uh … a room. For the night.”
“Oh, you’re American.”
“I thought you was the glimmer man.”
Sean looked at her blankly, wondering if he’d misheard her. “Mr. Glimmerman? No—”
“The glimmer man. The man who comes ‘round to make sure you’re not usin’ too much of the gas, divil take him.”
Was this some kind of slang? Some kind of Irish joke? “You have people checking on the height of your gas jets?”
“D’ye not have them in America? I suppose not. All the gas in the world there, I ‘spect. Not here. Very strict they are, very strict. I’ve been fined twice. Twice! Usin’ the gas out of hours. Still, ye haven’t come all the way from the United States to listen to me blather on about glimmer men. What can I do for ye?”
“I’d like a room for the night, please.”
“Oh, that’s right. Come in, come in.”
The landlady showed him up the narrow stairs of the narrow house, to a slope-ceilinged garret on the top floor. The place was redolent with a heady musk of boiled cauliflower, onion and sweat.
The landlady seemed inclined to talk more, but Sean was bone tired, and politely cut her short, paid her and steered her out of the door.
Once she’d gone he lay on the bed, hands behind his head, staring at the cracked ceiling plaster and musing. For the previous two weeks since the sinking of the William Penn he had been in a kind of convalescent fog, his past attenuated so that it began at his shipwreck, his future shrunken to a blurred reunion with his family, with nothing beyond. Now that he was embarked on that future, though, its details demanded to be thought through. He would cable his parents, get the boat to Liverpool, jump on a ship home, and … well, start again. But the thought that he could be sunk a second time, a third, brought back the image of the hated U-boat.
No, he would not sign on again. It was dry land for him from now on. He could follow in his father’s footsteps and drive a truck. He could get a job at a garage, or on the docks. He could join the Army and fight back, for though America was not in the war, he had the feeling it would soon be weighing in. But no Navy. No Marines. And no Coastguard.
His head buzzed with plans, and he was not aware of having slept until the morning traffic brought him to consciousness with a start. He dressed and shaved quickly, after examining his bedbug bites with resigned disgust, then found a teashop where he spent some precious pennies on tea and toast.
Then, at the nearby Post Office he filled out a telegram form.
MR RICHARD RUSSELL 143 BECKLER AVENUE BOSTON MASS USA
I AM OK STOP GOING TO LIVERPOOL FOR SHIP HOME STOP LOVE SEAN
He was at the U.S. Embassy and through its gates the minute the guard had unlocked them. “I need to see the Ambassador,” he told the receptionist urgently, as soon as he was inside. She was chewing gum, and seemed more interested in her hair, whose arrangement she had apparently been unable to finish before her workday began.
She looked at him, then down at his shabby clothes. “The Ambassador, sir? What is this in regard to?”
“I’ve been shipwrecked. From an American steamer. I have to get home.”
The receptionist removed the gum from her mouth long enough to pick up her phone, dial a number, and say, “Mr. Reese, it’s Ardith at the front desk. I have a gentleman here who says he was shipwrecked … yes, an American.”
She replaced the receiver and looked at Sean. “Mr. Reese, the undersecretary, will be with you shortly. Please take a seat.”
Sean fidgeted, twisting his hat in his hands and wishing he’d managed to buy clothes that fitted better. Everyone in this country, with the exception of Matthew O’Reilly, seemed skinny and short. His bites itched, and though he tried not to scratch he had to give in to the impulse at times.
Now that he was officially on his country’s soil, he felt unworthy in a way that was new to him. He looked around the foyer of the Embassy. A tattered Old Glory with a mere 45 stars was framed behind glass at one end. Smartly dressed young men and women brusquely crossed the shiny floors, clutching papers and looking important. Telephones rang and were answered with accents that he knew. He hoped the receptionist would ask if he would like coffee, and his mouth watered at the thought, but she was involved with her lipstick now.
After most of an hour, a harried-looking man with receding hair and lips like a fish came toward him. The man reluctantly held out a limp hand as Sean stood. “Please follow me.”
Once in his office, Reese sat behind his desk and stared at Sean with pale and indifferent eyes. “Do you still have your passport?”
Sean nodded and handed over the buckled and smudged booklet.
Reese handled it as if it were contaminated, pried apart its pages. “’Sean Aloysius Russell,’ of Boston. And how is it you come to be stranded in Ireland, Mr. Russell?”
“I was a crewman on a merchantman, in a convoy to Liverpool out of Cape Breton. My ship, along with others, was sunk by a German U-boat. As far as I know, I’m the only one who was washed ashore alive.”
Reese considered this. “I see. And what do you expect the Embassy to do?”
Sean felt himself getting irritated. This was not the treatment he had imagined receiving. “I would like to get home again, sir. My employers have an office in Liverpool, and I thought—”
“Then why come to the Embassy? Boats leave for Liverpool twice a day. You could be on one now.”
Sean started to seriously dislike the man. “I was sunk, sir. I have nothing except the clothes on my back.”
“So you want money.”
“I would appreciate a loan, sir.”
“Mr. Russell,” Reese began archly, “We are an Embassy of the United States government in a neutral country surrounded by warring nations. We are not in the business of providing handouts.”
Sean stood, incensed, and bunched his fists on Reese’s desk. “I’m not looking for a goddamn handout! I’m trying to get back to serving my country!”
Reese went pale, and pressed his intercom’s button. “Ardith, call the MPs.”
Sean continued, his emotions let loose now, giving full rein to his pent-up feelings from the last three weeks. “I was shipwrecked by a German sub! My best friend was killed! And all for Lend-Lease for the Limeys!”
The door swung open and two MPs strode in and grasped Sean’s hands, forcing them to his sides. As they looked at Reese for instructions, Reese looked past them.
“What’s all this noise?” asked a well-dressed man in the doorway.
“Mr. Ambassador! I’m sorry, sir, but this man is demanding money from the Embassy. He—”
The ambassador looked at Sean, then at the guards. “Let him go,” he told them. “Now, Mr…”
“Mr. Russell. I’m David Gray, Ambassador to Eire. What seems to be the problem here?”
“My ship was sunk by a U-boat. I need to get home. I have nothing except my passport.”
“Brave man. Give him a hundred from petty cash.”
“But—” began Reese.
“I’ll sign for it,” Gray told him.
“Ah, of course—”
While Reese was unlocking his cash box Gray asked one of the MPs, “When Geiser went back to the States last month, did he leave his raincoat in the cloakroom?”
“I’m … not sure, Mr. Ambassador. I think so.”
“Well, when you show Mr. Russell out, give it to him, understood?”
Reese handed Gray two fifties, and Gray added a twenty from his own wallet, then folded the bills around his business card. “Here,” he said, handing the bundle to Sean, “Get yourself some breakfast. And good luck, lad.”
Sean nodded, suddenly choked. “Thank you, sir.”
Outside, he felt better. He walked to the docks feeling taller, somehow, as if a large part of his identity had been returned to him after a long absence. The sight of a sign reading ‘Swastika Laundry’ was a little unnerving, but a lot of things seemed absurd in this country.
At the docks, he bought a ticket to Liverpool and calculated that he had almost two hours before he had to make ship. Taking the Ambassador up on his suggestion, he treated himself to a large lunch of steak and kidney pie with French fries that they called chips, and a coffee.
Afterward his shrunken stomach was so stuffed with food he felt drowsy, and he walked back to the docks — now crowded with what looked like very poor people, judging by their clothes — and nodded off on a bench for a while.
When he awoke, a little disoriented, he looked around for the big clock to check the time. As he did so, he saw men in uniforms of all nations strutting around the dockside. One he thought was Italian, two were perhaps Spanish. Another uniform in particular caught his eye. It consisted of a gingery brown tunic and jodhpurs, and its owner wore jackboots, a peaked cap and a red and black swastika armband. With him was a young man in a short tweed jacket and bristly hair, and they were walking calmly, self-importantly, among the crowds. Sean was doubly shocked at the realization that the Connollys had been talking with a Nazi, but more so at the absolute indifference of the crowd. Here were two fascists and no one seemed to care.
He was beginning to comprehend that this neutrality was a strange animal.