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Authors: Leslie Thomas

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BOOK: Ormerod's Landing
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'There was a house in Auxerre which was a sort of base for smuggling people out of Occupied France. They had done it
in various ways - even getting one man clear by including him in a team of cyclists and letting him pedal on over the border
(with the connivance of the French border police, I have no
doubt). I couldn't see me being able to ride a bike like that, but
they came up with a really novel idea to get me out. I was to be taken by train to Perpignan on the Spanish border as a civilian prisoner-under-escort, handcuffed to a bogus detec
tive. Since I was an officer of the Metropolitan Police Criminal
Investigation Department this struck me as quite a joke, but it
was a good idea. It overcame my main difficulty - my lack of
French. If the Germans, or the French police for that matter, checked the identity cards on the train, the bogus detective,
who had forged papers for both of us, would do all the talking. Prisoners-under-escort are notoriously sullen and quiet. That's
all I had to do.

'The Frenchman who turned up to take me to Perpignan really looked the part, trilby hat and long raincoat. For all I know he might have been a real detective like I was. He
brought a good pair of handcuffs and just before we set out for
the station at Auxerre in the evening he slipped the bracelet

233

onto my wrist. It was a very strange sensation, believe me.

'We had decided to travel by night since there would be
fewer people on the train and less likelihood of snap security
checks. From the time we left the house until we reached Narbonne in the morning we hardly said two words to each other. On the frontier between Occupied and Vichy France, at Chalon-sur-Saône I think it was, two immigration men, a Frenchman and a German, came into our carriage. I was slouched against the window, pretending to be asleep. I heard my accomplice murmur something to them and then they noticed the chain of the handcuffs between our wrists. They both laughed and went out without even checking on my escort's papers.

'By the time we reached Narbonne in the morning my wrist was sore from the bracelet and, indeed, in later years if I have had to escort a man in handcuffs for any distance I have always made sure that every now and then I allowed him to
change wrists. It is for the comfort of the police officer as well,
of course, because his wrist gets sore too. And while he is your
prisoner, when you are in handcuffs, you are just as much his prisoner. It was a bit like the Germans were in France.

'Funnily enough, the people in the south did not seem so lively as those in the Occupied Zone. It was almost as if they felt guilty about being more or less free. But they certainly did everything they could to help me. I was in Perpignan for two days and then I was smuggled over the hills into Spain and taken to Barcelona. Everything was arranged and done efficiently.

'After only a day in Barcelona I was taken to the harbour and onto a fishing boat. Nobody spoke to me although they all knew I was there. We went out to sea for three or four hours
and then I was called onto the deck. Imagine my feelings when,
riding on the waves only a few hundred yards away, was a
destroyer flying the white ensign! I waved and cheered to them
from the deck of the fishing boat. The Spaniards all watched without a flicker of expression. I suppose they were getting well paid. The warship was already putting down a boat and in only fifteen minutes I was aboard and drinking a good
cup
of tea.

234

'We put in at Gibraltar and within three hours I was on an RAF plane with assorted other strange-looking people, bound for England. I think they called the plane "spy special".

'I arrived in England again four weeks and two days after I had left it. I must confess it seemed like years. From Croy
don, where the plane put down, I telephoned my wife Sarah to
tell her I was home from my supposed police course that day. She said she might have to go out. I said I had my own key so
I could let myself in. She gave a sort of laugh and said I would
not need it. I did not understand this at the time.

'It was odd going home like that on the underground. I could not help looking at the people there in the compartment
and wonder what they would say if I told them that I had been
on the Metro in Paris only a few days earlier. In those days, however, so many strange things were happening that this might not have seemed all that unusual to them. In any case, a lot of them were going through night after night of bombing and had their own adventures.

'The street seemed quiet, almost hollow, when I got back. A
house down the road had been hit by a bomb and the houses
on either side had collapsed. People were just walking past the
debris, taking no notice. When I got to my house I saw that the windows had been blown out and had been patched up
with bits of wood. The front door had also come off its hinges
and all the plaster had fallen from the ceiling in the hall. I
opened the door without having to use the key.

'Sarah was not in. She had left a note saying: "Have to do the shopping. Please try and do something about the bedroom window. It's very draughty. Hope you had a nice course. Sarah."

'From anybody else it would have been a joke, but not from Sarah. I went wearily up the stairs and found that the window had been blown out, frame and all. It was blocked up with some plywood which had come adrift. I found the hammer
and some nails and fixed it the best I could. Then I sat down to
wait for my wife to come home and to think what a funny world it was.'

Ormerod and Marie Thérèse, the Dodo and the Dove, who

235

had shared so much, met only once more in their lives. It was
after the war on the evening before the victory parade in London in 1945.

'I heard that a special contingent of French underground fighters were coming to London to the parade to meet the King,' says Ormerod in his recollections. 'I made inquiries in
a semi-official capacity and discovered to my great delight that
Marie Thérèse was to be among them. I was not all that surprised because she had become quite a celebrity in France after
the liberation of Paris in 1944,1 even saw a photograph of her in one of the newspapers, being decorated by General de Gaulle.

'I discovered that she would be staying at a certain hotel in London with the rest of the Frenchmen and, through official police channels, I got myself a pass to go and see her. This may sound strange, having to get a pass, but the fact was that although the war was over there was still a lot of scores to be settled between all sorts of people and factions and the security at the time of the victory parade was quite tight.

'The hotel was called the Bedfordshire and I put on my best
suit and went up there at seven o'clock in the evening. It was amazing but I saw her immediately. They were having some sort of cocktail reception in the main room of the hotel and
almost the first person I spotted was Marie Thérèse. She looked
beautiful, really beautiful, tanned face and arms and shoulders
and in a blue evening dress with a sort of sash like the Tricolor. She had a glass of champagne almost to her lips when
she saw me. I was standing in the doorway and she was talking
to a young man she later introduced to me as her fiance", although she never married him as far as I can make out, so what happened to him I don't know.

'When she first spotted me she just stopped and stared for a moment, but, like in the old days, nothing really surprised her. She walked forward just as if we had seen each other the day before. We shook hands and she kissed me on the cheek the way the French do. I felt very awkward and I must have
gone a bit red because she smiled at me as she stood away after
the kiss. She really was lovely. You would not have thought that she had seen all the things she had seen and done all the

236

things she had done. Then she introduced this chap, but she said something else to him quickly in French and he drifted
off. She put out her hands and held mine, smiling into my face.
It was all I could do to manage a grin.

' "Dodo," she said. "You are blushing."

' "Sorry," I said. "I do sometimes. Not very good for a police
officer, I suppose. To blush."

' "How have you been all this time?"

' "Fine, pretty good. Usual things, police work, a bit of ex
citement in the bombing and all that. But nothing all that outstanding."

' "How is Sarah?" She remembered my wife's name.

' "All right. Just the same really. Not a lot happens to us."

'"You have children?"

' "Well, no. We've never had them."

' "I see. That is a pity. I always thought you would be a good
father."

' "Yes, it's a shame. Your husband is dead?"

' "Yes," she said steadily. "He was fated. The Germans did it
first."

' "You've been doing all sorts of brave things. I saw a picture of you getting a medal."

'Her eyes clouded. "It was for the others. For Jean Le Blanc
and for Raymond and the others."

'"Oh. They're dead?"

' "Jean died in Rennes in 1943," she said. "They caught him
and he died. Very bravely of course."

' "Of course. He would have done. And Raymond?"

'She shook her head. "He died on the day of the Liberation.
He was with the students and they were throwing cobblestones
at the Germans - tearing them up from the streets and flinging them. People say it was foolish, but it was a last gesture. He was hit by a stray bullet. It might have come from anywhere, even from our own side. But at least he lived to see Paris free again."

'It was odd but after all we had been through together and
everything, we suddenly ran out of things to say. I could see her
fiance hovering at the other end of the room.

' "I think you're wanted," I said, nodding towards him.

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' "Yes, I must go," she said, turning to look.

' "Me too. Early duty tomorrow. Goodbye."

' "Goodbye, Dodo," she said. I like to think she whispered it, but anyway it was softly.

'She leaned forward and for a minute my hands touched
hers. We kissed on the cheeks and she turned away.

'I stood watching her. I felt very hollow, just like some sort
of ghost. I suppose I was pretty upset inside. I went out of the
room and down the steps of the hotel. Then I went on the District Line, home to my wife, Sarah.'

 

 

The End

BOOK: Ormerod's Landing
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