Authors: Leslie Thomas
Shaking the outstretched military hand, Ormerod said: 'I won't have to parachute, will I sir? I don't fancy parachuting.'
'Oh no. It will be a sea landing, I imagine.'
'I get seasick,' said Ormerod. 'But I'd rather the sea than the
sky. The sky always seems so empty.'
'Yes it does a bit,' said the Brigadier as though it had never
occurred to him before. He looked out of the window and examined the sky. 'Jolly empty,' he agreed. 'A long drop.'
He led Ormerod to the door. The busty girl had again knocked the paper clips on the floor and had just finished
gathering them. I must get that magnet,' she smiled at Ormerod.
'It was a very good idea.'
'I'm full of them,' said Ormerod flatly.
'Did you like the tea?'
'Delicious,' said Ormerod. 'Best thing that's happened to me
The girl went into the inner office to collect the cups. Clark
leaned confidingly towards Ormerod's ear. 'The junket hasn't
got a classified codename yet,' he said. 'Purely privately, I'm
calling it Ormerod's Landing.'
'Oh, you've named it after
said Ormerod, trying to sound
'But it's only for the present. It will get a proper code later and you will have a codename. It won't do to use your real name. If you die on this sort of jaunt, it's better that you die anonymously.'
After a week in the special camp at Ash Vale, near Aldershot,
Ormerod could still scarcely credit what was happening to him.
At night he would lie staring at the ceiling of the small room
which had been allocated to him at the remote end of the empty army hut, wondering, and not the first man to do so, whatever was to become of him in the following weeks. For him, with his personal sense of isolation from the war, it was an accentuated doubt. It was as if he was being thrown into a
serious conflict that was nothing whatever to do with him. Even
the thought that he was to be given the chance to seek out the shameful Albert Smales had lost a proportion of its previous attraction. He looked at the map of France and realized how
many miles it was overland from the Normandy coast to Paris.
Somehow he had to get
in the darkness, slept fitfully, and woke to bare daylight with the English birds singing beyond the cold-eyed window.
A cheerfully grubby private in an ill-defined regiment brought
him a mug of tea every morning, whether from friendship or
duty Ormerod never discovered. He drank half the tea and used
the rest as shaving water, as advised by the soldier, because
there was no hot water in the taps of the elderly latrines of his
empty billet. At the end of the week he had a brown chin from
'Everything all right then?' the private would say ritually every morning. 'Treating you okay, are they?'
'Great,' nodded Ormerod grimly. 'Wonderful.'
'What will you be doing today then?'
'Can't do that, mate. They'll only catch you. I kept hopping off and I'm more or less on permanent jankers. The only chance I've got of getting out of this bloody hole is if the Germans come and get me.'
'Just like me,' agreed Ormerod. 'It's a rotten choice.'
'Cheer up. It'll be all over when we're dead.'
'Thanks. You make it seem all worth while. Now sod off.'
Wearing an anonymous army battledress he spent his days
in the study of maps and photographs and films of Normandy
from the Manche
on the coast to the Perche country inland, half the way to Paris. He sat solitary, in a
lecture hut like a dull and lonely child kept after school, while
two instructors took it in turn to teach him the geography, topography, history, industry and humanity of the region.
He was taken to a small arms range and further instructed in the use and care of a variety of pistols and automatic weapons and, for some reason he could not fathom, except that it was part of the set syllabus, how to charge fiercely with
a bayonet. Despite his solid policeman's outlook, Ormerod was
a sensitive man and, as many sensitive men have discovered, the shouting charge with a bayonet to stab a sack supposed to
be an enemy was the most sickening experience. 'Do I
shout?' he pleaded with the instructor, a fat, jolly fellow from
Cornwall. I mean I thought the whole operation was supposed
to be done on the quiet. It's
I can't see I'm going to
under any circumstances. And where do I get the
rifle and bayonet in the first place? I can't march through Occupied Europe with a rifle and bayonet now can I?'
I don' know anythin' about your business, my old darlin','
said the instructor with a wide western smile. 'All I know is that
the use of the bayonet is in the course, so that's why we be a-doin' it, see? Now get the fuckin' thing stuck in that sack.'
He was better with more stationary training, especially marksmanship. He had always enjoyed the special skill that went with drawing a line on a distant target, steadying the hand, the eye, the gut, the breath, and drawing the trigger. His marks were high. 'Keep it like that,' advised the pistol instructor grudgingly. 'It's the difference between life and death.' He paused and added: 'Yours.'
One afternoon a week was devoted to camouflage and con
cealment, a subject, Ormerod suspected, which again had to be
included simply because it was in the manual, and the army stuck by the manual. He was taken to a path beside a Hamp
shire field, scarred and muddy with the tracks of training tanks.
It was as void and open as any field he had ever seen and after a lecture by two young officer instructors he was told to go anywhere within two hundred yards and lie low. They would then spot him and tell him where he had gone wrong.
They had driven to the field in an army fifteen hundredweight
platoon truck, which was standing a few yards away on the track, and while the instructors turned their backs and, in a
curiously juvenile way, hid their eyes in their hands and coun
ted to a hundred, Ormerod quietly climbed into the back of
the truck and lay there. The counting completed, the instructors
turned and, searching with their binoculars, went over every yard of the landscape of mud and coarse grass. They failed to
find him. Eventually one said: 'That's bloody well impossible,
Justin. No one could lie
flat. I think he may have buggered
'Let's see, Archie,' said Justin. He cupped his hands to his mouth. 'Righty-ho you can come out now!'
Grinning, Ormerod rose from the truck only two yards in
front of them. They stared at him in disbelief as if he were a
spoilsport. 'Bang,' he said quietly. 'Bang.'
He was given training in the use and maintenance of the
portable wireless receiver and transmitter and spent an idyllic
afternoon lying in a meadow of thyme and buttercups, relaying practice messages, gazing up at the enormous sky and listening
to the lyrical larks.
There was an hour's physical training every morning, orches
trated by a man with the leanings of a sadist, supplemented by
a fierce course in unarmed combat under the charge of a blond
boy whom Ormerod regarded with the gravest suspicion.
'Do you know Mrs Sweetman?' smiled the instructor as the
opening line of their first session.
'No, can't say I do,' replied the mildly surprised Ormerod.
'Well, I'm her son Charles.'
'Oh, I see.'
The young man almost simpered. 'I'm going to teach you silent killing.'
Ormerod found the youth's scented hair almost too much for
him in their close-in fighting and the instructor grabbed his
testicles rather more times than he would have thought neces
sary during the course of the training, but there was no doubt
that Staff-Sergeant Sweetman knew his business. Ormerod's
natural revulsion at tearing apart the nose of another human being with his outstretched fingers, enemy or not, was tempered by the immediate need to protect himself against the
assaults of the slight young man. Eventually they were throw
ing each other around like the best of enemies.
During the entire time of his training, a total of five weeks, he was virtually in solitary confinement, for he saw no one
close but his instructors and the grubby private who delivered the tea. On a couple of occasions he saw three men, mysteri
ously wearing snow suits in the bright sun, undergoing some sort of ritual at the distant end of the camp, but he was told
he could not contact them because they were on secret training
also, and in any case they were Norwegian. He ate his meals
alone in a yawning army mess-hall and in the evening he swot
ted up his geography and listened to the BBC Forces Pro
gramme in the threadbare room. Every weekend he telephoned
his wife and told her how his police course was going.
Three days before his time at Ash Vale was finished, although
he did not know that at the time, he was called to a briefing
given by a major and a captain. He had spent the morning
brushing up his facts on Normandy and making his will (ad
vised in that order by the grubby private who apparently knew
more of what he was doing and where he was going than
'When these two blokes come to see you then it's a racing certainty that you'll be disappearing soon,' the perpetual jankerwallah forecast cheerfully. 'They won't have you hanging around here for the duration. It goes without saying.' He nodded at the Michelin Guide,
Country Walks In Normandy, The Normans, A History of Normandy
and the maps on Ormerod's bed. 'Mind you,' he said eagerly. 'After reading all that guff you'll probably find they shoot you off to Norway with those other poor buggers.'
It would not have surprised Ormerod either. But when he reported at two in the afternoon to the briefing room he saw there was a reassuring map of France spread across the wall. The briefing officers, the major and the captain, were a strange pair, like a music hall turn, Ormerod thought. The major short and young and the captain tall and almost elderly. They sat behind twin desks and the moment that Ormerod went in the major asked: 'Have they taught you burial yet?'
'Burial?' said the horrified Ormerod. 'Er ... no. They haven't got to that yet.'
'Very important, burial,' said the captain. His voice was squeaky and insistent while the major's was slow and sleepy. Ormerod wondered if they had spent a long time rehearsing.
'Secret burial, that is,' enlarged the major. 'Essential. Must give you a crash course before you actually take off. It's not any use hiding out yourself if you leave your dead pals lying around. It's bound to give you away. I mean, I suppose they've taught you to bury your parachute haven't they? I jolly well hope so.'
Ormerod's heart appropriately dropped. 'Parachute? They said I wouldn't have to go by parachute. Brigadier Clark promised.'
'Promises in wartime,' shrugged the captain, 'are promises in wartime. They are hardly ever kept, you know.'
'But... I can't even ...'
'Don't worry, as it happens,' put in the major. 'We've actually discounted the parachute notion in case you missed the damned island because it's no size at all. You have to go by submarine.'
'Island?' asked the bemused Ormerod. 'There's an island?'
'Chausey Island. Oh for God's sake, they've crammed you with the geography haven't they? You're supposed to have covered all of Normandy.'
'Yes sir, I have,' said Ormerod carefully. 'Except Chausey Island. They seem to have overlooked that. I don't even know
where it is.'
sighed the captain. 'It's typical.' As if
propelled by the force of the sigh he stood and went to the
map of France. He picked up his officer's cane as he went and
used it to point.
'France,' he said dramatically.
Ormerod's eyebrows ascended. 'Yes sir,' was all he could say.
'Normandy,' said the captain knocking the cane on the map again. He moved it north a few inches. 'Chausey Island,' he
added with theatrical patience. 'Seven miles, give or take a bit,
off the Cherbourg Peninsular ...'
'Ah, the Cotentin Peninsular,' Ormerod put in quickly to show that he knew. The captain looked at the major, not at
Ormerod, and raised his face in a shrug. 'Chausey,' he continued
sternly, 'is one main island, two kilometres long and about seven hundred metres at its widest, and a number of small uninhabited islands and a few hundred rocks. It's the only one of the Channel Islands that belongs to the French.'
Ormerod, thinking he was expected to contribute, nodded and said brightly: 'They all belong to the Germans now.'
Both officers regarded him with expressions they apparently
reserved for dolts. 'That,' said the major stiffly, 'is why we're
going in there.' He smiled an almost sinister smile. 'Well ... you are.'
The captain continued, tapping the map impatiently with his cane. 'The island is normally inhabited by fishermen, that type
of fellow. We don't know how many Germans there are be
cause the only contact we've had since the occupation is some
one signalling with torches at overflying aircraft. God only knows what they're trying to say.' He smiled. 'Unless it's "help!"*