Authors: Leslie Thomas
There was a girl in an ATS tunic sitting at a desk writing on
various sheets of paper. She looked up briefly. Ormerod said :
'My name's Ormerod. I've been told to come here.'
'Yes,' she said succinctly. 'Will you please wait. In a few
moments you will be attended to.'
Attended to! Christ, it sounded like a dog being brought
into a vet's for doctoring! They were
to him all right.
All of them. Here he was going off to risk his life - no, more than that, probably
his life - on some dreamlike mission
and they gave him rhubarb and fucking custard and a mouthful
of abuse. There was a knock at the door. The girl did not look up from the desk so Ormerod defiantly said: 'Come in.' He had a feeling it was for him. He was right.
The parade ground sergeant was there stiff and puce in the face like a piece of frozen fruit, and with him was the young
officer, now obviously embarrassed, who had called him after
'Been telling tales?' Ormerod mocked the drill sergeant. He mimicked. 'Sir, that naughty man walked right across our nice
clean parade ground.' He glared at the sergeant as a rebellious
boy might regard the school sneak. Both the officer and the NCO opened their mouths but Ormerod got in first again. 'Listen chaps,' he said with deep disdain. 'Since I'm just about
to be pushed off to trespass on enemy-occupied-bloody-Europe,
I'm not all that worried about trespassing on your manky parade ground.'
With that he closed the door in their rigid and astonished faces. To his surprise the uniformed girl at the desk suddenly
jumped up, called him a fool and opened the door again. She went outside with the two complainants and Ormerod sat down, deflated and sick. Who was she to call him a fool?
Within two minutes she was back, giving the impression that she had given the military pair short shrift. She was small and neat with dark tidy hair and notable eyes. 'How in God's name could you do that?' she demanded.
'What? Walk across their parade ground?'
'No. You shouted about going to Europe. Are you mad or something?'
'Everybody else knows,' he shrugged. 'The submarine crew know for a start. I wouldn't be surprised if Hitler himself didn't know by now. And, if you don't mind, don't call me a fool. I may be one - in fact I think I am one - but I don't like being called one. Who am I waiting for anyway? Nobody tells me anything.'
'Mr Ormerod, you are waiting for me,' she said briskly, returning to the desk and sitting down. 'I am Marie-Thérèse Velin. We are in this together.'
His jaw slackened. He half rose from the chair. 'You ...' he began. 'You're the girl? The agent?'
'I am,' she said almost primly. 'But please do not tell the world.'
He stood up the rest of the way. I suppose we better shake hands,' he ventured, holding his out. 'Since, as you say, we are in this together.'
'Of course,' she said, offering her hand but remaining stiffly behind the desk. 'How do you do? Are you looking forward to this?'
Ormerod sat down again. He couldn't believe they would send someone so small. She looked as if she should be behind a drapery counter. 'I can't say I am,' he answered eventually. 'Not one bit.'
'You are frightened?'
'About average frightened,' he nodded. 'But the whole thing seems such a mess, such a hotch-potch. It's all so bloody amateur, if you'll excuse my language. Does
know what they are really doing?'
'I doubt if they do,' she said, suddenly smiling. Her teeth
were small and perfect. 'But once we are there in France, we
will be on our own.
will know what we are doing. We will
not have all this hotch-botch, as you say.'
'Hotch-potch,' he corrected. She repeated it. Her English
was touched only with the minutest of accents and the occasi
onal rearrangement of words. Her eyes were grey and her hands
now flickering through the papers on her desk were finely formed. They did not look substantial enough to hold a gun.
'In any case,' she said, 'I understand you are very excited
about going there because there is a criminal you wish to catch
'Yes,' he said. I I was. Albert Smales. He's a murderer.'
'France is full of murderers right now,' she said grimly. 'If
we are successful, within a short time you and I, Mr Ormerod,
will be numbered among them.'
'I wish Smales had hopped it to Birmingham or somewhere a bit easier like that,' said Ormerod moodily.
She laughed briskly. 'We will make an epic, don't you worry.
We will make a trail across France. The Boche will know that
Dodo and Dove have passed that way.'
'Who?' he asked, half hoping that it might be someone else.
'Dodo and Dove? Who are they when they're at home?'
'You are Dodo and I am Dove,' she said in a pleased voice as if they had both been given citations.
He considered the implications. 'Somebody's got a sense of humour, anyway,' he grunted. 'Even if it is at my expense. It's the first time I've heard it. Still, there's a lot I haven't been told.'
She shrugged. 'There is little to tell,' she said. 'We will be the
first true agents to enter Occupied France, which is an honour
in itself. We are to see what the prospects are for the formation
of underground resistance groups in Normandy continuing down to Paris and, where it is possible, we are to help in the organization of these groups, Mr Ormerod. My countrymen are waiting to fight the Germans who have fouled France.'
'You think so?' said Ormerod. 'I'd have thought they were fed up with the whole business by now.'
Marie-Thérèse regarded him caustically. 'It was the British
who ran away, if I may remind you,' she said. 'Three months ago at Dunkirk.'
'And the French stayed and surrendered,' shrugged Ormerod. 'So?'
'Betrayed,' she said bitterly. 'Betrayed by the British, betrayed by their own leaders. But they will fight again. They will see the banner unfurled.'
'You sound like Joan of Arc,' smiled Ormerod quietly.
'She was too flamboyant,' she replied. 'I think my way will be better.'
Ormerod leaned forward. 'What do you know that I don't know?' he inquired. 'I didn't come here to argue. I'd like to know what the exact plan is.'
'AH right,' she smiled tightly. She riffled through the papers on the desk and selected an inked map. 'There
no exact plan.'
'You surprise me,' he groaned.
'From the moment we are off the submarine we are on our own,' she said. Her finger traced the outline of the map. 'Chausey Island,' she said. 'We cannot land in the place marked The Sund, right here, because the submarine cannot risk entering there. So we land over here.' Her finger ran across the forms of outlying islands and rocks. 'The submarine will come a little to the surface and we will take a canvas boat to get to the shore. Afterwards we must sink it without trace. No one will find it. We then make our path across these rocks and little isles which are out of the sea at low tide, until we reach the eastern side of The Sund. Then we must get across to the main island and wait there for the opportunity to get to the mainland.'
'Always accepting the natives are friendly,' pointed out Ormerod.
Her eyebrows went up and she projected her lips impatiently. 'They are Normans,' she said as if no further explanation were necessary.
'What about the Germans? Surely there are bound to be Germans on the island.'
'That is logical I suppose. But signals have been seen by planes flying over Chausey - and they are seen regularly. So, if there are Germans they are not very much awake. But if they are there, and they get in the way of our plans, we must eliminate them.'
'Of course, of course,' nodded Ormerod as though he eliminated Germans every day.
She glanced at him and smiled. 'It will be all right,' she said. 'You will learn.'
'You know I don't speak any French,' he said, looking directly at her.
'So I believe.'
'The best way for me to get across France is as a deaf mute.'
'At first,' she told him, 'I thought it was ridiculous, crazy, sending somebody like you. But they said there was no trained agent they could send. And you wanted to go, to get this man - what is his name?'
'Smales. I should have kept my mouth shut.'
'But later,' she continued, ignoring the remark, 'I thought that an amateur would be just as good, it could be even better. As long as you can look after yourself. Sometimes trained people become too ... how can I say it? ... too involved, too sophisticated. Because of this they might be caught. They seek perfection. You will not do that. And if they catch you, the Germans, then a trained agent has not been wasted. This is only a kind of ... exploration, yes exploration, anyway.'
'Everybody's so nice about me being expendable,' grumbled Ormerod.
She laughed genuinely. 'I'm sorry for you,' she said. 'We are all expendable, but it's more difficult to replace some than others.'
'Well I'll have to keep my mouth shut in France,' he said solemnly. 'Deaf, dumb, drunk or doolally, that's me.'
'Doolally, what is that?'
'Mad,' he said. 'Batty. That probably fits better than any of them.'
'It will not be so difficult moving about,' she continued. I am certain of this. I have your forged identity papers and ration book here for you. Many men are still returning to their homes from the French army, after the surrender. Those permitted by the Boche. Some of them are walking across the country. Also there are many people who work in Normandy at this time of the year on the gathering of the apples for cider. They travel also from place to place.'
'Cider. You have cider in Normandy?'
'Of course. It is the Norman's wine. You have this in England also?'
'Cider? Yes, they make it in the West Country.'
'The Normans probably brought it over with William the Conqueror,' she said airily. 'But to return to the point, there are many workers who will be moving around the countryside from farm to farm.'
'Won't the Germans be checking on them?' said Ormerod.
'They will, I expect. But our papers are as good as anybody else's. The Boche knows that the farming must go on, life must go on, even if he is the boss for the moment. People must eat and drink.'
Ormerod said: 'I'm partial to a glass of cider myself.'
'This western part of Normandy,' she continued, ignoring the observation, 'was not damaged by the battles. The countryside is peaceful as it was before. And the Germans, they are not organized yet. They have only been there for a few weeks. Also their security services are not good. They fight all the time between each other, themselves, I mean. There are many things in our favour.'
There was a sharp knock on the office door. Marie-Thérèse nodded and Ormerod opened it. A petty officer and two ratings stood outside. 'Captain Peterson's compliments, sir,' he said to Ormerod. 'We've come to take you to the ship.'
Ormerod stood aside and let the girl go first. To his surprise he saw some hesitation in her expression. She glanced at him as she moved forward.
'It is this submarine I do not like,' she whispered. I do not like it one bit.'
Ormerod attempted a grin. He touched her arm. 'Don't worry dear,' he said. 'It can only sink.
On September 20th, 1940, the highest tide of the year occurred
along the Channel coast of Normandy and Brittany, giving a rise and fall of no less than forty-one feet. If the sea was powerful, however, the air was still. The night was moonless and without stars. At four o'clock in the morning HM submarine
was in position off the eastern rocks of Chausey Island.
The submarine partially surfaced just after dawn which was at 6.22 a.m. and two minutes later the conning tower hatch opened and a petty officer looked out at the island. 'Found it,'
he said with satisfaction. He and two ratings led Ormerod and Marie-Thérèse Velin along the deck and assisted them in the
launching of the collapsible canvas boat. Both Ormerod and
the girl were armed with pistols. They were each in possession of a full set of forged identification documents and the girl had
a reduced-scale Admiralty chart of the locality. Both were
dressed in blue Breton fishermen's trousers and jerseys. Orme
rod also carried a prayer sheet issued by the Missions to Sea
men which had been discreetly and decently given to him by a
religious rating aboard the submarine. Marie-Thérèse had five
hundred thousand francs in one thousand franc notes.
Ormerod was first, climbing clumsily into the jerky canvas
boat. He wobbled and all but capsized it while Marie-Thérèse
regarded him doubtfully through the insipid light. He returned
the look apologetically and the ratings helped her into the
boat. The petty officer saluted with some sense of drama and
then leaned over confidingly. 'Bugger off quick,' he advised. He
nodded towards the submarine's conning tower. 'Before this can of beans goes down again, or she'll take you under with us.'
'AH right,' said Ormerod. One of the other things they had
not taught him in training was to row a boat at sea. Possibly
because there were no facilities at Ash Vale, in the middle of
Hampshire. 'Have a good football match,' he whispered laconically to the petty officer who nodded as though he ap-
preciated the thought and jogged thankfully back along the wet deck towards the conning tower. Ormerod began to pull at the oars.