A Wing and a Prayer

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Chapter 21

The New Year of 1945 passed through Whiting Bay in a similar way to the Chistmas celebrations. To Klein, it just looked like a repeat performance of the same event, except for the strange custom of linking hands while singing a song, the words of which, he had no comprehension. This time, Klein was careful to pace himself with the lethal ‘B17’ ale and as a result spent January 2nd in a much more productive frame of mind. By now it was time to work out just how he was going to spend his time on the island until the end of the war. The routine of doing odd chores around the house was fine, but it wasn’t occupying his whole time, and Klein was anxious to be kept busy. His instinct for all things mechanical was useful whenever the tractor, or the little Austin van needed field repairs, and he began to take an interest in the history of the region he was now a resident in.

At this point in his forced incarceration, he was enjoying the opportunity to walk around most of the South of the island freely, since most people here knew who he was and why he was here. People who he had met, perhaps only once at the Christmas or New Year parties, would wave to him from their fields, or shops as he passed, and he felt more at home as a result. He had been particularly charmed at the way people would see him, wave, and then rush out to hand him a parcel of fish, or a box of vegetables, or something obscure like a box of nails. He in turn would regularly go out, armed with similar weird and wonderful packages to take to those who had been promised them. His wanderings around this area of the island gave him a great sense of freedom, although he was always cautious whenever he saw a strange face, or a strange car on the

island. It became an instinctive routine, to see an unfamiliar car or van and dive into the bushes at the side of the road or hid in a shop doorway until it had passed. Klein began to appreciate his evasion training in the Luftwaffe and laughed to himself as he thought about using it in these circumstances. It wasn’t that he was paranoid – it just seemed so much easier to hide rather than have to explain himself, or try and hide his accent. He never forgot that he was here illegally and that the discovery of his presence by the wrong people would get his new friends into serious trouble. Dodging into bushes was no great price to pay for that. This caution was made more acute when, one cold, but sunny January morning, he was taking his now customary walk up to the fields where his ’plane landed when he noticed a trawler coming in to the small, derelict pier at the base of the small cliffs, where Andy had thrown away his Luftwaffe uniform. Instinctively he stood behind the bushes and watched with an even amount of apprehension and curiosity as the trawler deliberately stopped and tied up at the pier, and then stared with much puzzlement as it began to unload crates and boxes at the land end of the pier, each group being covered with a trawler net and seaweed. A wiry old man in oilskins and wader-like boots scanned the surrounding land with a telescope while the strange cargo was unloaded. This unloading went on for about half an hour, before the trawler slowly backed away from the pier, and with a puff of diesel smoke, turned and headed back out towards the estuary. Klein watched it head out to the open estuary for some time before coming out of the bushes and headed back to the farm as quickly as he could, not knowing if what he had seen was of any concern to anyone here or not.

When Klein arrived at the farmhouse, he was out of breath and struggled to get the words out as Andy and Mags were preparing dinner.

“I have just seen a boat at the old pier, leaving boxes behind on it. It looked very suspicious to me,” Klein panted,

“Is it an invasion? Would the Police be disguised?”

Andy looked up at Klein and then over to Mags and said,

“They’re a bit early! We could have done with a bit more notice than that!”

Mags laughed and replied to Klein,

“I can think of better disguises than fishermen in a rickety old trawler!”

Andy dried his hands on a towel and asked Klein,

“Did they cover the boxes up, or just leave them on the pier?”

Klein was even more puzzled, as Andy obviously knew something about this!

“They covered them with a net that they pulled out of some rocks, as if it had been planned. The net seemed to be already there,” Klein replied.

Andy went over to the ’phone and as he dialled a three digit number on the black, metal dial, said,

“Oh, aye, it was planned, alright – just not as soon as this, though! Bloody Irish seem to be just as efficient as you bloody Germans – no wonder Harkiss and Crook were caught out!”

He then turned towards the ’phone, and spoke into the mouthpiece,

“George! It’s me. This damned stuff has arrived already . .”

Mags explained to Klein what was going on as Andy made arrangements with George to let all the others in their little consortium know that some of their ‘shopping’ had arrived!

“Sandy had taken the money over to Ireland and had managed to open several bank accounts for everyone, in different banks in different towns. He was careful not to put too much in the same place and always used the same excuse – that a family member had died and left it to him as a legacy. Sensitive bank staff tended not to pry into his ‘grief’ when he used this excuse!”

Mags continued as Klein’s expression never changed,

“We can’t go around spending the money on the mainland yet, so Beverley hit on the idea of actually buying stuff from Ireland and shipping it over from Ireland, using one of Sandy’s Irish fish suppliers. Easy, really, when you have the right contacts and the right form of transport available to you!”

“Do they not question why you are buying all these goods?”

Mags took her coat from a hook on the back of the door and put it on.

“Well, we just stuck to the same ’dead-but-rich, elderly relative story, and now we can spend the legacy as we please! As long as no-one outside of the island gets in the house, of course!”

Klein was, once again, put in awe of the villagers’ resourcefulness in the face of adversity. If there was a will, then there really was a way! They even had an import business, now!

“What have you all been buying?” he asked Mags.

“Nothing much for ourselves, yet,” she replied,

“Mainly hardware – tractor parts, fencing, plumbing materials, stoves, electric wiring, that kind of thing. All the stuff we’ve needed for years.”

Andy hung up the ’phone and turned to Mags and Klein and said,

“Right, we’d better get down there, then and get loaded up. Gordon, John and Sandy are already on their way.”

They made their way down to the old pier in the van, with a smaller trailer bouncing and pitching behind it and as they made their way down the rough track, they could see John Clark’s flat bed lorry and Sandy’s small fish van, which wasn’t much bigger than Andy’s own little Austin (although it was in much better condition!), near the pier.

McCulloch greeted them with a wave, and as they jumped down from the tractor, he said,

“Your stuff is over there. There is a note saying the next delivery will be next week, depending on the traffic, of course. George will keep us right about that, though.”

George, of course, was able to listen to the shipping traffic and would be able to tell if there were any Navy or Coastguard vessels in the area that might prevent a landing.

Sandy, John and McCulloch carried on busily loading their boxes and crates on to their respective vans and Andy and Klein examined the contents of their boxes before loading them in to the van and the small trailer. While they did that, Mags scanned the area all around with binoculars to make sure there was no-one around that could see all this going on.

There was an odd assortment of rare items in the boxes, and most of them would have been quite expensive if they had been available on the mainland.

“That’s the advantage of having a neutral country on your doorstep,” grinned Andy as he looked into a box containing a brand new oil burning stove.

“The stuff is a little more expensive, anyway, but at least you can get it - and with no questions asked.”

Klein helped to heave the box on to the back of the trailer and replied,

“But I thought Ireland was British?”

“Aye, Northern Ireland is. We got this stuff from the South – remember? Eire? Sandy has family in Ireland and some good friends who live near Dublin, so he got George to connect him up and asked if they could come over, take him back with them, and come back with the goods on our list. Easy, really!”

Klein began shuffling another box over, this time it contained rolls of galvanised wire and electrical flex.

“But surely, the authorities would see the boat coming over and investigate?” he said as Andy grabbed the box and they hauled it up on to the trailer with a grunt.

“Nah!” replied Andy,

“They simply radioed into the coastguard to say they were having a bit of trouble with the engine and would head into Brodick to check it out. The coastguard even advised them to keep to these waters if they were fishing because there was less chance of submarine activity!”

“It sounds dangerous to me,” said Klein.

“Aye, I guess it is,” replied Andy,

“But fishing in peacetime is dangerous, as well, so I guess they don’t think too much about it. I can’t imagine any U-Boat Captain risking his boat and his crew by giving himself away sinking a small trawler, though. There are much bigger and better targets out there.”

Klein glanced out towards the open estuary and replied,

“I don’t think there can be many raids by U-Boats, now.” said Klein,

“If all the radio broadcasts about Germany retreating that we hear are true.”

Andy looked forlornly at Klein and said,

“I guess they are son,” before leaning down to haul at another box.

“There are too many sources saying the same thing. The writing was on the wall, even as you arrived here. German soldiers had surrendered at Aachen, and Paris had already been liberated last August. I just hope it isn’t too long before it’s all over for good, with the least cost to humanity. You were right about the Russians, though. It looks like they are moving in to the East and intend to stay. I never thought the Russki’s would ever be a problem to us.”

Once the boxes were loaded, they all set about hiding the trawler net again, and ensuring that there was no evidence left of their visit. Then, one after the other, they all trundled up the track and headed back to their respective houses with the spoils, while Mags continued to scan the landscape and the estuary with the field glasses.

Once the little van was loaded, Klein struggled to squeeze himself in among the boxes as the van’s suspension sank on to it’s bump-stops with the weight. The loaded trailer presented some problems as there was no way the little van was going to get back up the ramp! In the end they decided to send Andy away with the van, unload it and come back for the trailer, Mags and Klein. While Andy was away, Mags and Klein helped the rest load up their boxes and crates and just as they were preparing to leave, Andy appeared at the top of the ramp and tentatively reversed the overworked van down towards the pier. With only one large crate left for them, it was a matter of minutes before the pier was empty once again. McCulloch hid the net back in behind the rocks and suggested a night in their pub.

“Good idea, Gordon!” exclaimed Andy,

“Sandy – did your pals think to leave you some fish?”

Sandy grinned and pointed to a large parcel of newspaper on top of a large can of cooking oil,

“Aye, they sure did. These will fry up a treat for tonight.”

“Good lad!” McCulloch said, rubbing his hands together,

“Right, then – we’ll see you lot later, then,” said Andy as they all turned towards their vans.

Andy started the little Austin up and after a good rev of the engine and some smoke from the protesting clutch, the battered van lurched up the ramp from the pier to sniggers and laughs from the rest of their friends. When they arrived at the farm, they unloaded the boxes into the barn which, not long before, had held the spoils of their new-found wealth! The first one to be opened contained a cooking range, which had to be built and installed in the kitchen.

“It’s a cracker, isn’t it Mag’s!” exclaimed Andy, running his dirty hand over the black stove enamelled top.

“It is that” Mags agreed,

“Although I don’t fancy cleaning it! It’s about half again the size of the one in there already!”

Klein was already busy at work with the crowbar on another crate which revealed a gleaming Perkins diesel engine and an electric generator. Andy turned around in time to see the last part of the crate fall away and said,

“And that is the free electricity we’ve wanted for so long !”

“Fuelled by cooking oil, I presume?” enquired Klein.

“Absolutely!” exclaimed Andy excitedly.

The rest of the shipment consisted of wiring for fences along with the wooden posts to hold it, kitchen utensils, plates and dishes, a camera and darkroom equipment for Mags, and tools for Andy. By the time they retired to bed that night, the new stove was in place and the old one was in the barn awaiting Iain Menzies to come and collect it for scrap.

That night, they all sat around in McCulloch’s pub, eating Sandy’s fish and chips accompanied by some of McCulloch’s wine and ‘B17’ beers, listening to the radio and chatting endlessly. The music on the radio was occasionally interrupted by news bulletins giving the latest news on the Allied advance into Germany, and most poignant was the news that Bomber Command the American air force had carried out

successful raids on synthetic oil plants and cities like Stuttgart and Manneheim. While the news was worthy of rowdy celebration, their eagerness to do so was tempered by respect for Klein, who was hearing about his homeland being destroyed. Instead of celebrating, they simply acknowledged the end of the war being that bit closer.

Every week, for the next six weeks, Sandy’s friends made the journey back and forth, loaded up with all sorts of goods and equipment, which enabled the islanders to spend their new found wealth, discreetly. The routine of loading up, hiding the nets and preparing for the next shipment became as routine as dismantling the ’plane had been, and Klein was, again, impressed by the islanders resourcefulness organisation and logistical skill. The last cargo to be delivered by Sandy via the innocuous looking Irish boat though, was much lighter, but the most valuable. The last delivery was of several shiny new bank books, each with a considerable sum of money deposited in various Irish banks.

Walking through Whiting Bay and the surrounding countryside, there was little to set the place apart from how it looked before the war. Those few old and worn vehicles that were on the island still sat forlornly in front of modest properties, where their owners had carelessly left them last. From the outside, there were some tell- tale signs of new prosperity, though – to the keen eye, there were a few signs that life on the island had taken an upturn. The new fencing around the houses and fields, the freshly painted houses, roofs that had been ‘patched up’ in the past now had complete sections replaced, even the roads were in excellent condition, now, thanks to some well-laid tarmac where once there was a dirt track. If one was to pour something down a drain, it would vanish efficiently, thanks to new pipes and sewage works. When darkness fell, street lights would magically light up and show the way, although they wouldn’t actually be able to use them until after the war and the blackout was lifted! If there was a power cut from the mainland, house lights would continue to shine, a bit brighter than if candles were being used, accompanied by the distant clatter of a diesel engine. The

untrained eye would never notice that some hoses and pipes on tractors were oversize and had German writing on and strange German serial numbers, nor would they notice various other parts that were of aircraft origin! From inside the houses, though, was a much less discreet display of wealth! There were new cookers, kitchen units, radio’s, heating systems, utensils, carpets, furniture, inside toilets and baths, familiar looking yellowy-white silk curtains adorned every house and in some cases, even extensions had been built, or barns replaced. In the run up to the end of the war, the village of Whiting Bay took on the look of a prosperous new village, and it’s inhabitants enjoyed a lifestyle, relatively speaking, that would compare with the best!

By the end of March, most of the villagers had laundered the money from the scrap value of Klein’s ’plane in exchange for all the goods from Ireland, and spirited the rest away in their various bank accounts in small amounts. Every so often, Sandy and McCulloch, or one of the other members of the ‘consortium’ would travel over to Ireland to have the bank books marked up. Andy and Mags had been grateful to Beverley’s idea of entrusting Sandy with opening the Irish bank accounts for them, with Klein’s holding the vast majority of cash. It was this money that Klein would use to get back to Germany after the war, the money that would help Klein and his parents start their new life in West Germany, and it was the majority of Andy and Mags’ share that Jim would inherit after his parents died.

They all sat around the radio, one night, counting up what was left and started making plans for Klein to return to Germany. For all his desperation to get away from here back in October, Klein wasn’t that enthusiastic about the idea.

“It may be some time before I can go back, even when the war is finished,” he said,

“How do you mean?” asked Mags.

“It would be better for me to wait until the allies have left and Germany is allowed to run itself again.”

Mags looked at Klein warily and replied,

“That could be years, though, son. According to the radio and the papers, Germany will need completely rebuilt.”

“This is all the more good reason for me to get back later.”

Andy sighed and said,

“You could be right. But let’s wait until the surrender is finalised, and then we’ll see about getting you back. I think the best way is to go via Ireland. Maybe we could get you over there with Sandy’s pals, and from there, down to France, and then overland back to Germany?”

Mags had been thinking about this problem from the beginning,

“He will have to be smuggled back in to Germany. He can’t exactly take a ’plane or a boat. He has no documents, no passport. That could be difficult. He can’t just walk back in as if he’s been away on holiday.”

Andy pondered the situation, looking for an answer in the glowing valves of the radio,

“Aye, it could be difficult, right enough. We don’t have any contacts who could get him over there, officially.”

Neither Mags , nor Klein seemed to be bought into the idea of sneaking Klein down to Dover and stowing away on a boat that much, but agreed that it was probably the only way. They had been talking about all sorts of possibilities when a break in the radio programme, one evening, by a BBC announcer silenced them. They sat in stunned silence as they heard the voice announce that the Russians had overpowered a unit in Berlin and reported that Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in a bunker.

Andy and Mags couldn’t help but smile and turned to Klein and said,

“You’re free! At last we can seriously prepare for your return home!”

Mags went over to Klein and gave him a hug, and she noticed that although Klein was smiling, he didn’t seem to be as enthusiastic about this news as they had been. They began to worry in case this test of any hidden Nazi sympathies was too much for him.

Klein noticed their curbed demeanour and simply said,

“Yes, this is good news, however, Berlin seems to have suffered like Dresden, and all the other great cities of Germany. I fear that there really will be nothing to go back to, and of course, I do not know if my family have survived it all, now.”

Mags and Andy sat on either side of Klein and Andy said,

“Think positive, son. Remember all the hope you said that I should have, when you first came here, when I was sure that Jim was dead? Well, now you have to show it, and don’t give up until you know for sure.”

“Does this mean that you are not so sure now, as to your son’s fate?” Klein asked.

Andy looked at Mags, and she could tell he was not convinced, but not wanting to destroy any hope for Klein, replied,

“Well, you never know. I mean, a telegramme isn’t exactly proof, now is it? I mean, a few airmen have turned up in time for their own memorial service, back home, after all!”

Klein smiled again, straightened himself up and said,

“Yes, I think you are right. They will be alright. We will all be alright – will we not?”

Andy and Mags decided to leave the question as rhetorical and just smiled at Klein, meekly.

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