Early on the first day of August 1936, coaches took the athletes to the Olympic Stadium, some fourteen kilometres to the west of the village. As the teams paraded into the arena, Adolf Hitler declared the games open from his box high on top of the grandstand. The German spectators began screaming and swaying in unison, shouting Hitler’s name which he acknowledged with an upraised arm. A German athlete holding aloft a flaming torch ran out of the tunnel, around the stadium and up the many steps to the top of the grandstand, where he lit the eternal flame in the cauldron. The Nazi Party had invented the concept of an Olympic torch relay especially for this Olympiad. Three thousand separate runners had carried the flame from Olympia to Berlin, a distance of over three thousand kilometres, in twelve days and eleven nights. The flame would burn throughout the entire duration of the games.
Despite the pomp of the opening ceremony however, not all went according to plan. The officials released twenty five thousand pigeons into the sky above the stadium as a sign of peace. As pigeons do, they flew around overhead in circles to get their bearings before flying off, when a loud bang rent the air from a cannon fired to declare the ceremony open. The result was instantaneous as the scared pigeons scattered, showering both the crowd and athletes below with hundreds of bird droppings.
‘Well, I’ve already seen a lot of bullshit in the short time we’ve been here, but this takes the cake! Could this be, I ask myself, the Luftwaffe’s latest secret weapon, a shite hawk squadron!’ quipped Johnny.
‘Very funny. You weren’t hit. I was!’ retorted Anthony, trying to wipe the mess off the shoulder of his running shirt.
Forty-nine teams from around the world were competing, more than in any previous Olympics. Germany was fielding the largest team with three hundred and fifty athletes, so competition against the host nation would be stiff.
The heats for the track and field events began with athletes running on the cinder track around the edge of the stadium, encircling other athletes shot putting and throwing javelins on the centre field. All the competitors were giving their best in the heats to get places in the finals, cheered on by the enthusiastic crowd.
Johnny Faulkner and Anthony Barker were entrants in the one and two hundred metre sprints and would have their work cut out, as their fastest times were below that of the American athletes competing. One of the Americans was the favourite, Jesse Owens, a black American from Oakville, Alabama. In the first qualifying heat for the two hundred metres, Johnny Faulkner and Max Schiller got ready with the other competitors at the starting line. The runners dug small holes with hand trowels in the track to place the soles of their feet and stabbed the pointed ends of the trowels into the grass beside the track out of the way.
Anthony Barker, who was taking part in the second heat, watched from the side-lines as each athlete prepared himself for the task ahead. Johnny closed his eyes and willed his strength and stamina to peak just before the start, to send him down the track lane and be the first to break the tape at the finish. The German, Max Schiller, appeared to go into a trance, flexing his muscles and biceps and taking deep breaths.
‘Gentlemen, to your marks, please.’ called the starter.
The crowd in the stadium went quite, apart from a couple of shouts of encouragement from members of the respective teams.
Johnny positioned the soles of his running shoes into the dug outs and crouched down with his hands in front, the pent up energy inside him bursting to be released. The starter checked that all the competitors were behind the starting line on their marks, looked down the track to make sure it was clear and pulled the trigger. The gun barked and six athletes leapt up and launched themselves down the track to the loud cheers of the spectators. Anthony Barker willed his friend on as Johnny and Max Schiller battled for the lead, the others close behind. Johnny kept his focus on the thin white tape at the end as Max Schiller raced alongside neck and neck, matching his pace.
To the loud cheers and shouts of support from the many Germans in the crowd, Schiller inched ahead to the dismay of the British team and supporters as the two neared the finishing line. Both athletes made a supreme effort over the last few metres, but as the German thrust his chest out to break the tape, Johnny gave all and reached it first. The momentum of the two athletes propelled them on past the finish line as the broken tape fluttered to the ground, until they came to a stop in total exhaustion.
Max Schiller remained on his feet, although bent double with his sides heaving, while Johnny collapsed on the track, breathing short, laboured gasps. The commentators announced the results over the stadium’s public address speakers.
‘First Faulkner, Great Britain, in a time of 21.3 seconds.’ The shouts from the Germans in the crowd fell silent, replaced by the loud cheers of the British and Commonwealth teams and their supporters.
‘Second Schiller, in a . . .’ The announcer’s words were drowned by a tremendous roar filling the Olympiastadion as the German crowd cheered their athlete.
Johnny felt a hand grip his shoulder and glanced up to see the handsome, sweat stained face of Max Schiller looking down at him.
‘Well done, Englander!’ Max congratulated, panting hard. ‘That was very close!’
‘It was!’ gasped Johnny, pulling himself up into a sitting position.
Max sat down on the ground beside him.
‘There’s still the quarter and semi-finals to go, not to mention the final.’ panted Max. ‘I will beat you!’
‘Well you can try, but I will give you a good run for your money.’ said Johnny, giving short snorts of laugher in between gasping for air.
‘Until next time.’ said Max, getting up and walking away.
Johnny watched the young German go and thought to himself that Max was not a bad chap. Perhaps not all Germans were Nazis, he thought to himself.
Anthony Barker did not qualify for the semi-finals, although Johnny Faulkner and Max Schiller secured places in the final for the two hundred metres. The stiff competition from the American athletes had knocked them all out from taking part in the final of the prestigious hundred metres. During the heats, Johnny and Anthony had become good friends with Max Schiller and accepted his invitation to dine that evening in the hotel in the Olympic Village.
Later, the two English athletes entered the plush hotel, which was reserved for the exclusive use of high-ranking members and officials of the Nazi Party. In the restaurant, the maître d’hôtel ushered them to a well-placed table with panoramic views across the countryside where Max Schiller, Hans Mueller and some other officers were already seated.
‘Good evening, gentlemen.’ greeted Max, rising to his feet.
‘Allow me to make the introductions. You already know Hans and these two likeable rogues, Eckart Schneider and Klaus Weber are fellow pilots in my squadron.’
The other two pilots laughed, got up and shook hands. At that moment, Johnny realised that these German pilots were just like himself and Anthony: fun loving and living life to the full, flying their fast aeroplanes, driving fast cars and dating beautiful girls.
‘And this is Major Reichmann.’ said Hans Mueller, gesturing to an older, gruff looking man sitting at the head of the table who nodded his head in acknowledgement. Johnny was not surprised the major had remained seated, as he appeared to have the arrogance and lack of grace of a Nazi. He had small, hawk-like eyes that stared through pince-nez glasses and his black uniform, displaying the prominent death’s head insignia, clashed darkly with the smart blue uniforms of the Luftwaffe officers present. Both RAF officers sat down and the major cleared his throat.
‘So you are the Englander fly boys that have been giving our athletes, what is the term you use, a good run for their money. I hear you have not just been running fast, but flying down the track without the use of wings!’ he chortled at his own joke.
Waiters handed out menus and took orders for drinks as the Germans boasted about their expanding air force and the new aeroplanes in production that would join it. Major Reichmann asked inquisitive questions about the RAF, to which both Johnny and Anthony gave guarded replies as they suspected he was an intelligence officer. Johnny swopped flying yarns with Max Schiller, while Anthony Barker listened to the major and Hans Mueller talking about the socialist reforms that were sweeping Germany.
Johnny drank his glass of wine, relaxing in Max Schiller’s company as they both realised they had much in common. After dinner, Anthony moved to sit between Hans Mueller and the fat German major. It dismayed Johnny to hear his friend speak loudly about the political problems at home in Britain. Worse, his friend seemed to agree with the radical ideals of the new Nazi Germany being spoken at the table.
On the day of the sprint finals the phenomenal Jesse Owens from America, the fastest man in the world, flew down the track and won the prestigious 100 metres in the amazing time of 10.3 seconds, a resounding world record.
Among those lined up on the start line of the 200 metres stood Max Schiller and Johnny Faulkner, going through their pre-race warm ups. There was still a good chance of Johnny winning gold, but it was not to be as Max Schilling pulled out the stops and was first past the finish line, Johnny finishing a close second.
Officials awarded the victorious athletes their medals at the closing ceremony on the sixteenth day of August, to the cheers of the spectators. The results of the Olympics were broadcast around Britain by the former runner and gold medallist, Harold Abrahams, reporting over the airwaves from Berlin for the BBC. The British team returned to a hero’s welcome in England, with their four gold and seven silver medals. In London, Johnny Faulkner joined in the celebrations for winning his silver medal, while a disappointed Anthony Barker caught the train for Dover. Collected by the chauffeur from the station he arrived home in Westcliffe and Lord Barker took him into his study. Anthony handed his father a letter Hans Mueller had given him in Berlin. Lord Barker ripped open the envelope, devoured its contents and looked up at his son.
‘Excellent, this is just what I wanted. We can now forge a close relationship with our German cousins. I instigated the proposal although you can accept some credit, Anthony for being the successful messenger.’
‘Thank you, Father.’ replied Anthony, pleased with the compliment.
‘The destiny of this country could now be in our hands.’ stated Lord Barker, gesturing to his son to sit down. Barker picked up a decanter of malt whisky and poured a generous amount into two glasses. Passing one to his son, he swore him to secrecy and outlined his intentions as Anthony listened expectantly.
England basked in higher than normal temperatures that summer. Holidaymakers made their way in droves to the beaches and many games of cricket were played on village greens. Only a few spared thoughts for the tense situation that was developing in Europe.