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Authors: Anne Holman

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BOOK: Vera's Valour
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What would the future bring for them both?

And the other people using the house?







AFTER the shock of knowing the dangers that lurked around her, Vera realised her next problem was where to hide. Unlike the British who had built underground shelters, the French in the area were not expecting to be attacked and the house only had a wine cellar.

But did she fancy waiting in a damp cellar for hours – perhaps days – for danger to come? She daren’t go far away from the house, no further than the walled garden anyway. It was not only her safety she had to think of. It was all the people using the house who might be shot, or captured, if she was caught.

So her next concern was boredom. Sitting waiting to be bombed, or raided by the Germans, was a dreadful feeling as the long hours dragged by. Everyone who came to the house seemed to be busy and Vera longed to have something useful to do. She was used to working - not sitting about being idle.

Should she offer to clean the house or wash their clothes - or feed the hens that were clucking around the garden?

Of course, she smiled. She could cook a meal for them! She was a well-qualified Cordon Bleu chef – well used to French cooking. And her war service was cooking hundreds of meals using stringent wartime food rations – so she was also well able to make do with what was available.

It lightened her mood to have something positive – and useful to do. The men and women risking their lives to liberate France needed good sustenance to keep them healthy and able to do their work. And all they seemed to have was endless cups of coffee and bread someone fetched from the bakery once or twice a day.

Standing in the beautiful country garden, aware of the sweet smells of nature, Vera’s mind raced. A chicken dish would be easy to make if she had the ingredients and the wood fire kitchen range lit to put the cooking pot on. Then here in the large garden there was bound to be a vegetable patch with a few onions and carrots, herbs - and knowing the French they would have a bottle of wine tucked away somewhere.

Yes, it is possible, she mused. “But where am I going to get some butter from?” she said aloud to a cat who sat on the wall cleaning its paws. “The French use a lot of butter in their cooking.”

“This is a country area, with dairy farms around, I dare say I can get some for you.”

It was Geoff back.

Vera gulped back her emotion at seeing him again. It brought tears to her eyes just knowing he was still alive. She said, “I thought it would be a good idea to cook a meal for everyone.”


“Can you get some wood for me? I’ll need to get the range going.”

* * *

Vera was soon in her element, occupied collecting some onions, parsley, thyme and bay leaves from the garden. Soon she was washing the vegetables and plucking the chickens while Geoff went off the find some butter.

She felt happy preparing to cook the meal, and received many delighted smiles from the people coming and going from the house.

“Haven’t you got any work to do?” she asked Geoff when he’d come back with a bundle of firewood and a big pat of butter.

“Nope. Not now. My work is at a standstill until the invasion is over. Then, if our troops manage to get a foothold on French soil and drive the enemy from the coast, I’ll have to help get the Mulberry B dock in place.”

With delight Vera realised she’d have Geoff’s company for a few days. They had drifted apart since their wedding and with the stress of their wartime work. But now they were together with plenty of time, and able to renew their close relationship – although in a situation that they least expected their love affair to continue and thrive.

The old tiled French country kitchen had old fashioned, cooking utensils - but all she needed.

Geoff teased her saying, “When I first recruited you to cook meals in the town hall kitchen in Lynn, you said you wouldn’t even scrub a carrot in it!”

Vera, who was chopping onions rapidly as a professional chef with a sharpened knife, laughed. “Yes, I remember I was rather spoilt after working in a first class restaurant. It was a shock having to cook cheap meals helped only by untrained assistants.”

“But I knew you were sterling and would manage, Vera.”

Flattered, Vera smiled and replied. “Just as the British engineers trust you with you work on Mulberry, Geoff.”

A shadow passed over his face and she knew he was still worried about his responsibility with setting up the floating dock. “I wish you didn’t know about it,” he muttered, squatting down and feeding the stove with small logs of wood that crackled in the fire.

“Why? It allows me to understand the heavy load of responsibility you carry. I know you are suffering from thinking your past, and that another error may occur again. Which doesn’t help you feel you can do the job – but I know you have worked so hard to get it right and you have the necessary knowledge and skills. No one can expect more from you than that. But everyone learns from their mistakes – and you will have too. You have experience on your side.”

He didn’t reply, but he went over to where she was sizzling some chopped onions in a frying pan, and took her in his arms. “The only success I want is with you,” he said softly in her ear. “And I’m sorry I’ve been so snappy over the past months.”

“Oh Geoff, just remember, I love you. We’ll get over this war together, with all its horrors and difficulties.”

He kissed her.

“Aye, aye,” shouted a man who’d come into the kitchen, “You can’t do that there here! Get on with the cooking – I’m starved and those fried onions smell delicious.”

Grinning at each other Vera and Geoff parted.

Vera said, “Why don’t you put some tables and chairs out in the courtyard then they’ll be plenty of room for everyone to sit down and enjoy their meal in the fresh air.”

It was a merry party of men and women, as well as some children that appeared, and who sat around the long table as Vera served the portions of chicken casserole to the hungry people.

That was her usual job: to feed the hungry with nutritious meals. And very satisfying it was for her too to see them all tucking in. They appreciated her effort to make the meal tasty, and she had even thought to make a bowl of stewed apple with some small biscuits to go with it too as a dessert.

At the end of the meal, Vera received many compliments. “You’re a wonderful cook, Mrs Parkington.”

“That was the best meal I’ve ever had.”

“Geoff’s a lucky man to have you as a wife.”

And the French children came up to her to say solemnly, “
Merci, madam
,” and kissed her rosy cheek.

“Whew,” exclaimed Vera, who’d also benefited from the meal, because she hadn’t had one for some time. “I’m glad they all liked the food. Now for the washing up, Geoff.” Because just as the diners had come from nowhere – they had melted away.

Piles of dirty plates, bowls, knives and forks and empty wine glasses needed to be washed and put away. “You ought to feel proud of yourself,” remarked Geoff, giving her a hand with the chore, “you cooked the meal superbly well.”

“Thank you,” Vera replied as she washed a pan, “I feel pleased you think my journey here has been worthwhile.”

“I didn’t say that. I wish you hadn’t come. It is far to dangerous here, and you being here is a constant worry for me.”

Vera flared up. “I’m a worry to you! What do you think you are for me? I worry all the time about what you are doing - ”

“I have no choice. I’m in the army and I am doing my duty. You are not. You need not have come.”

Vera turned to shout at him, “How would you have got that information you needed if I hadn’t come, eh?”

“I would have managed I expect.”

Vera was now upset and furious with him. “Well, that’s a fine thing to say. You could have managed without the message I brought you. I dare say you could manage without me too. Well then, go and get yourself killed – I don’t care!”

He threw down the tea towel he was holding and stamped out of the kitchen.

Vera stood horrified.

What had she said to him in anger?

It wasn’t true – just the opposite, she did care. She cared very much what happened to him.

Tidying away the kitchen things, she felt even more remorseful. Whatever had got into her?

* * *

The burden of guilt lay on her for days because he avoided her. She didn’t see him at all. Over and over again she thought about her temper tantrum and why it had happened. She had hours alone to think about it - which was dreadful. Of course she was under stress, trying to make the best of a dangerous situation she was in. Hoping to find a way to get back to England, but realising she had to lay low and not be captured.

She thought of writing a note for Geoff – but would it ever get to him? He seemed to have vanished.

But she had said she didn’t want him.

The only way she could cope with her distress, and feel that her presence there was of use, was to continue cooking a midday meal for everyone who came for it. And a good many people turned up.

Some brought some food – a little meat, or flour or olives and vegetables – whatever they had – and Vera was adept at making the best of what she was given and preparing a tasty dish for them all. They all seemed to enjoy what she cooked. And they praised her. Normally she would have felt elated – but as Geoff wasn’t there she felt distraught. He needed a good meal and he was avoiding not only eating with them all – he was avoiding her.

She was being well punished for her sharp, careless words to him.

* * *

It was all too quiet around the house.

But one night she heard sounds like bombing in the far distance. She huddled under the bedcolothes, but knew if a bomb landed on the house she would probably not survive - or she might be badly injured.

Next day she worked hard to prepare an oxtail casserole. It was ready for everyone – but few people came. All the agents were missing. It was such a shame that in the summer weather she had no fridge to store the dish until they turned up.

The long dining table, which was usually busy with hungry people coming and going, was almost empty.

“Where is everyone?” she asked a young mother with two small children.

The woman shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Several old men were there enjoyed their meal, and thanked her, before they shuffled away to play boules.

Worried, Vera ate hardly anything herself, and began to clear the dishes away when she heard the sound of people outside.

“Ah, here they are at last!” she said, thinking she might have to warm up the meal, but when the courtyard gates opened, Vera’s mouth dropped open in horror.

In marched a small troop of German soldiers carrying rifles.

Vera clutched the oven cloth she had in her hands as she watched the enemy soldiers crowd into the courtyard and began to search around – shouting to each other in their guttural language, and even entering the house without asking anyone if they may.

Finding she was taken deep breaths and unable to move, Vera brain whirled to think what she should do.

Get on with what you were doing. Pretend you are busy. They will soon go away.







AS Vera tried to control her fear and began to busy herself in the kitchen, doing the ordinary kitchen jobs, she didn’t hear the German soldiers and thought they had gone.

Thank goodness for that!

Then, aware that someone was staring at her, she swung around to see a helmeted face looking at her though the window.

Horrified, she almost dropped the pan she was carrying.

They haven’t gone!

She was desperately trying to think what she should do when the man began tapping at the window, seeking her attention.

All she could think of was to try and pretend to be a French housewife, because she could understand and speak French, and would not be expected to understand German – which was just as well.

Going to the window Vera was struck by the soldiers’ penetrating blue eyes. They seemed to see right through her. Terrified, she began to sweat.

But he couldn’t possibly know she was an Englishwoman, could he?

The window was open and as the soldier took off his helmet and she saw he was a young man, with flaxen hair. He pointed to his mouth.

What on earth could he want?

He said something in German.

Das Essen
,” said another soldier who had jointed him.

Vera suddenly understood. The soldiers wanted some food.

Well, she had the casserole she’d prepared for the agents, who hadn’t turned up for their meal – so why not offer it to the Germans? It was better than wasting the food. And it wouldn’t mean she was going to give away any military secrets.

With hammering heart-beats, Vera went to open the kitchen door and indicated that the six soldiers should come in, and be seated at the kitchen table.

Guten Morgan
!” they chorused as they entered and removed their helmets.

The rabbit stew really needed to be heated, but she was damned if she was going to heat it up for the enemy troops. They would have it as it was and like it.

After doling out soup plates full of the casserole she watched while they devoured the food as if they were starving. Perhaps they were? The German army was known to be efficient fighters, but ruthless. And clearing away the cooking pot – hoping not to drop it and show how nervous she felt - she watched them surreptitiously and noticed how young some of the soldiers were. Little more than sixteen years old she guessed. And they probably missed home cooking, and their civilian life. They had been rounded up to fight in Hitler’s army like sheep to the slaughterhouse.

She could find nothing objectionable about the four young men’s manners as they thanked her when every scrap of food had gone.

But Vera was not so pleased when as they left they wanted to kiss her! But she reasoned that would be considered polite in Germany to thank their hostess for a good meal. So she tried not to stiffen and show that they were on opposite sides.

BOOK: Vera's Valour
12.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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