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Authors: Anne Holman

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BOOK: Vera's Valour
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One lingered, clearly wanting to continue to talk to her, and Vera began to realise the young man wanted to see her again. So she showed him her wedding ring, and he bowed, clicked his heels together and walked away with the others - who all turned and waved to her.

She felt quite shaky when they had gone.

She’d been lucky. They were not the worst type of German soldiers who could have – well she didn’t like to think what they could have done to her as she stood in the courtyard, unable to think what she should do next.

Something caught her eye in the bushes and she gasped when Geoff stepped out, with a revolver in his hand. “Thank your lucky stars, they’ve gone,” he said putting his gun back into its holster.

She ran to him automatically. “Geoff! Oh Geoff – I was so scared . . . ”

“So, was I, Vera. I was ready to shoot them.”

“They,” she sobbed, “were alright really. Just lads like our lads.”

“Only on the wrong side.”

Vera took the large handkerchief Geoff offered her and wiped her eyes. “Yes,” she said, “And they could have . . . “

“Don’t think about it!”

Vera took a shuddering breath in. “No, I won’t. It’s all over now.”

Geoff released her and looked at her with much affection, but said firmly, “No, it is not over – it has only just begun.”

Tears welled into her eyes as she clung to him, and he comforted her rubbing her back as he held her close.

“You’re too late for dinner,” Vera retorted, “they ate it all.”

“I don’t care what they ate – as long as it wasn’t you, Vera.”

She chuckled, partly from relief that the danger had passed and that Geoff looked fit and well – although she was sure he’d more frown lines on his brow since she saw him last.

Suddenly aware there were other people in the courtyard, she said with surprise, “The others have come back and I suppose they want a meal – and the Germans have eaten it all.”

Geoff smiled at her ruefully. “I’m sure a good cook like you can rustle something up for us.”

Vera gulped. She hadn’t quite got over the frightening experience of feeling helpless in the presence of enemy soldiers – although she now realised the agents were probably hiding and keeping an eye on her all the time.

She stepped away from Geoff, and looked around at the brave men and women who were prepared to risk their lives to free Europe from Hitler’s grip and said, “I dare say I can.”

“Don’t take long about it,” said Geoff, becoming like a commanding officer again, “The invasion is due in twenty four hours and it may be the last proper meal we’ll have for days.”

Vera froze. What on earth could she give them to eat?

Then her training kicked in. Eggs. Omelettes. Salad with cheese, and some fresh fruit. She could manage that very quickly and easily. She’d collected some eggs only this morning and picked some soft skinned pink apricots from the tree in the garden were deliciously ripe and ready to eat.

“I’ll give you a hand,” Geoff offered, and with his towering strength by her side Vera was soon more concerned with eking out the small amount of butter she had left to fry the omelettes than thinking about anything that had frightened her earlier.

Someone, bless them, had nipped out and brought in some long French sticks of fresh bread, and soon the agents were enjoying a meal as they usually did.

But it was not a usual occasion, as Vera soon found out.

“This is the last meal we will have together,” announced Geoff standing up with his wine glass in his hand. “We are all on alert now for action.”

Everyone’s eyes turned towards the tall Englishman who perhaps had one the most difficult and responsible tasks in the whole D-Day operation. He continued, “We all come from different homes. Some of us are French and are fighting for France to be liberated. Some of us are British, and we are going to fight to put the Germans back where they belong – in Germany. And I know several of you are from other countries the Germans have overrun. But we all hope that our efforts – however small – and perhaps our lives will be given . . . for the cause of Peace in Europe, for those dear to us at home, and our children.”

After this solemn speech everyone was silent for awhile, deep in their own thoughts of why they were there, and doubtless thinking about what could happen to them in the next few days.

But the quiet period of reflection did not remain for long. After they had all held up their glasses and drunk their wine, a spontaneous party started with singing, shouting and even dancing.

Vera, being typically British, felt shy and looked with amazement at their jollity. But soon she was laughing at the antics and she felt her hand taken and she was pulled into the dancing circle and she found their enthusiasm infectious and was soon capering about like everyone else.

Exhausted after their exertions, everyone sat down again and as their goodbyes with kisses and hugs took place, one agent called out “Vera!”

Alarmed Vera found everyone looking at her.

A voice called out, “A toast to the pretty lady who has fed us so well!”

Cries of approval, whistles, and banging on the table showed that they all endorsed that statement.

“Stand up and say something,” said Geoff, giving her a prod.

Red-faced, Vera felt tongue-tied. “I don’t know what to say,” she whispered in all honesty. “All I’ve done is to provide a few meals. These brave people are going off to fight . . . ”

“Napoleon said an army fights on its stomach,” chuckled Geoff,

That was a well-known saying. She was sure they had all learned that at school. But, as a nutritionist she knew that good food was essential to every body, and she was delighted to know that she had helped in her small way to assist these fighters for freedom.

But what could she say on this poignant occasion? Everyone was looking at her.

She must think of something significant to say.

Suddenly the words of a song came into her mind. Vera Lynn used to sing it and she liked Vera Lynn. Standing she began singing the popular song:

We’ll meet again, we don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day . . .

To her relief she heard the English people among them recognise the song and begin to sing with her.

It made a fitting ending to the memorable meal, and soon the courtyard became empty as everyone drifted off to do their allotted tasks.

Still breathing heavily with the exertion of singing and dancing Vera was taken aside by Geoff who held her close and whispered, “I meant it when I said the invasion is on its way. You must hide until you see British soldiers around and know they have taken this part of Normandy. Now you can’t stay here any longer. I have marked on this little map an underground shelter where you can hide with other local people. It may take several days before you can come out and you will hear the noise of battle around you. But keep your head down, and pray we are successful. Now, promise me you will go there, Vera.”

Looking up into his eyes, she could tell he was as worried about her safety as he was about his role in establishing the floating dock.

“Of course, I’ll go there, Geoff. You mustn’t worry about me. God alone knows if I will survive . . . “

She didn’t think it was the right moment to tell him that it was not only her survival that was at stake – she felt sure she was going to have his child.

The tears in his eyes showed her that he didn’t want to part from her, that he was fully aware of the horrors of war that would descend on them very soon. And for one awful moment her courage left her and all she could do was to cling to him – she didn’t want to part from him or let any harm to come to him either.

But as the agents had gone off the fight courageously, not knowing their fate – and so must they.

“Geoffery Parkingson, I love you more than I can say,” she said sniffing and wiping her eyes, “but like everyone else we must get on and do our duty. I’ll keep you in my heart whatever happens, and please God, you will be safe, and come home . . . ” she was going to say, “to us,” but she didn’t like to add to his worries and responsibilities, by saying he might be a father by then, so she just said, “very soon.”

“I sincerely hope so. But you know the conflict won’t be over for some time . . . now you must leave this place before it gets dark and find the shelter it isn’t more than three miles from here.. Keep safe for me. Goodbye, my love,” he croaked.

He kissed her forehead and lips and without another word he gave her the little map, then swung around and marched off without turning back.

* * *

She was glad she’d been left with all the washing up. It gave her something to do putting away all the kitchen pans and crockery. She’d become fond of the house and garden that had provided her with somewhere pleasant to live during the summer days she’d been there. She wanted to leave it in order. Some French family had allowed the agents to use the house, but after the war they would want their home back – if it survived.

She loved the courtyard and the chickens that roamed wild with the other wildlife that lived there. The wild grasses and flowers – the sheer beauty and smells of nature she’d enjoyed.

And she regretted not being able to feed the old men and the mother with her young children any more. She couldn’t even say goodbye to them, and wish them well.

But Geoff was right she shouldn’t stay there in case the soldiers came back, and not all the German soldiers were as pleasant as the ones she’d fed. So she needed to leave and shelter from the coming bombing raids.

Practically minded as ever, Vera collected her clean underwear from a bush where she’d put it to dry that morning, and regretted the ladder she still had on her stocking, thinking that if she met some Americans she’d ask them for some nylon stockings.

She packed her knapsack with what she considered might come in useful. It was like Geoff’s car, which always contained things people found useful like Aladdin’s cave. Her bag, on a smaller scale, was stuffed with everything that might come in handy. She even put in some bread she’d dried out in the dying oven heat to make rusks.

Then, with a last look at the old French house she’d enjoyed living in, she found her old bicycle and set off, with cranking pedals to the shelter Geoff had told her to find.

It was an eerie feeling for Vera to think that a huge invasion force was about to shatter the peace of the beautiful peaceful countryside around her as she pedalled along the country road.

It was shocking, awful, horrifying to think that it was going to happen. But she knew it would. And there was nothing she could do to prevent it happening. The result of it might be that she was killed, or wounded. The same applied to all the people involved in D-Day and Overlord - the names given to the battles ahead. But Vera was determined to do what she could do. And the first was to protect herself and her unborn child from danger, and hopefully to get home and wait for Geoff to come back unscathed.

She was so deep in her thoughts that she almost wobbled off her bicycle as she saw a military vehicle ahead. It was blocking the road.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

GERMAN soldiers were strolling about, lolling against their vehicle and smoking, as though they were waiting for something.

Vera gripped her bicycle handlebars tightly. What should she do? They must have seen her coming. If she turned around and pedalled off they might think she was trying to avoid them and come after her.

During first days in France and agent had given her false identity papers that all French people had to carry with them and she now knew why they had impressed on her that she must have them.

Her chief worry as she cycled closer to the soldiers was that she knew a secret she must not divulge – the time and place of the invasion. Even a few hours of the enemy knowing that might make all the difference to the Allies successful landings on the Normandy beaches.

The heavy burden of knowing that, as so many top planners, generals and agents did, suddenly felt as if it was placed on her shoulders. Vera felt as if she could hardly breathe.

But she must carry on as though she was only biking to the next village to see her grandmother.

The soldiers were hanging around, looking bored as often soldiers were when they had no work to do. But they paid attention to the pretty young woman cycling towards them - pleased to see she might provide them with some entertainment.


Halt
!”

A young soldier made a great show of stopping her, making the other soldiers laugh at his remarks – which were in German, so Vera couldn’t understand what he said. Which, she felt, was probably just as well.

The soldiers didn’t appear too threatening either, and Vera felt able to breathe properly again.

Vera almost laughed as she put on her brakes - which were a bit worn - and she skidded towards a soldier who just hopped out of the way before she crashed into him.

The other soldiers began to laugh and make raucous comments about her driving, so Vera had to apologise, in French – she remembered just in time.


Fraulein
, your papers please.”

Vera knew where they were – with the map Geoff had given her in her pocket and she wished she’d had the sense to separate the two. But she had the wit to begin to searching for the papers as if she didn’t know where she’d put them.

The soldier stood patiently while she chattered to him in French about visiting her old grandmother who needed some provisions, and she intended to cook the old lady a meal when she got to the village that lay ahead.

By distracting the soldier’s attention, she was able to take out the identity papers and leave the map in her pocket.

With a shaking hand she offered the identity papers to the soldier and hoped the agents had done a good job making them look authentic.

Holding her breath, Vera looked down at her front tyre and noticed she had a puncture.

The soldier recognised the French identity papers and to her relief, only gave them a cursory glance, and gave them back to her.

BOOK: Vera's Valour
10.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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