A Wing and a Prayer

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Chapter 22

The news of an unconditional surrender by Germany in May 1945 was celebrated with a street party in Whiting Bay, which made the Christmas and New Year celebrations look like Free Church fetes by comparison! All over the town, the atmosphere was light and happy and everyone was looking forward to a bright new future, full of new hope and optimism. The war in the pacific was still active, and the Japanese were still active in the East, but even Klein was looking forward to returning home at last, despite having reservations about leaving the land and the people that he’d grown so attached to. For their part, everyone who knew Klein were also dreading the day when he would leave as they, too, had grown accustomed to having the young German airman around. Mags and Andy, in particular were certainly not looking forward to bidding him farewell. As they watched the celebrations, Mags turned to Andy and said, meekly,

“What are we going to do?”

“Well, I guess we can do anything we like, now, what with the money and . . .”

Mags, interrupted with a minor scowl directed at Andy and said,

“No, I don’t mean that - I mean, what are WE going to do?”

“What do you mean?” replied Andy.

Still slightly irritated at Andy’s lack of seeing the obvious sometimes, she retorted,

“What are we going to do when Jorgen has to go?” she replied.

Andy looked down for a minute and said,

“Oh, I see.”

Mags sighed deeply and said,

“I’m already dreading it. I’ve tried and tried not to get too attached to him, but I haven’t been able to do it. I think of him as family now.”

Andy looked up again and stared over at the relaxed and happy airman, laughing and joking with their neighbours.

“I know, love. I’ve been dreading this too. It’s bad enough losing a son to a war, but to get another one and then have to say goodbye to him because of peace, is something I was never prepared for.”

Mags turned to Andy and said,

“Is that really how you think of Jorgen – like another son?”

Andy smiled and replied,

“Aye. He’s been a good lad. And as you once said, the similarities were all there. I guess I was just in denial. I couldn’t see how an enemy could turn out to be just like us.”

Mags turned away again and said,

“When we said goodbye to Jim, we were all looking into the unknown. Saying goodbye to Jorgen may be even harder as we know that he has a hard journey ahead, perhaps with some very bad news at the end of it.”

Mags started to sob.

“I just don’t know what I’m going to do without him as well. It’s not fair!”

“Come on, love,” Andy tried to reassure her, as Mags started to cry into Andy’s shoulder.

“He’ll be fine. He is tough, smart and he has money, now. And he has his whole life ahead of him. You saw to that.”

Mags dried her tears and said,

“I know he’ll be alright. I’m rather selfishly worried about us, though and how we’ll manage. I’ll never forget him.”

Andy hugged Mags and replied,

“Aye. I know what you mean.”

One day, early in June, Iain Menzies, over in Ayr, alerted George and Beverley that the Police and the military were conducting enquiries all over the West coast. They had apparently uncovered an elaborately run black market and linked it to a series of bank frauds on the mainland and were investigating the source of it all. In particular, their trail had led them to interview one of the directors of Harkiss and

Woodleigh, serving his jail term for the ‘irregularities’ in trading that brought about the collapse of the company. For Iain, this was too close to home and warned George that it wouldn’t be long before someone was over there, asking questions. Iain advised he was on his way over on the next boat available. When George relayed Iain’s message and arranged to have everyone meet in McCulloch’s pub, the Police were already arranging to get over to Arran to investigate there, since, for them, it could be seen as an ideal place for black market activity to take place. There would be plenty of places to hide goods and a reliable transport network of small boats to move it around.

Iain Menzies arrived at McCulloch’s pub not long after the others in a very tidy looking Singer car, which was as big as it was stylish, it’s dark green paint shining in the sunlight.

McCulloch went out to meet him.

“I thought we said no bloody flash cars? You’ll get us all in the slammer, silly bastard!”

Iain scowled as he approached McCulloch and replied,

“It’s not mine, it’s a cousin’s. The van’s up on the ramps and he’s doing the brakes. Anyway, it doesn’t look as suspicious, since no copper would be looking for me in a car like that!”

“Ah, well – fair enough,” conceded McCulloch as they went inside.

The drinks on the bar were left passive and half-drunk as each person was absorbed in their own thoughts. Eventually the accidental rattle of a wedding ring against a glass prompted the question no-one had so far suggested an answer for.

“So, what are we going to do?” asked Mags, as they all sat around the bar.

Her question was met by stoney silence by the rest for a few seconds before McCulloch’s knowledge of police procedures offered some suggestions,

“Whatever you do don’t let them into your house! They can’t go in unless you invite them, or if they have a warrant, which I doubt they will have, so don’t let them in. When they arrive, make sure you are out in a field, or under the tractor, or something, when you talk to them. We’ll know exactly when they are coming – so they can’t exactly sneak up on us!”

Anne then added,

“They are looking for bootleg booze and things like that, I’m sure. They are more likely to come to us, and only us. And of course, we’re fine – they would certainly need a warrant to dig up the garden if they suspected the fuel tank. All the booze in the pub is legitimate, and we have the records to prove it, so they shouldn’t hang around.”

“Aye, maybe you’re right,” said Sandy,

“Although, I don’t know how you are going to explain him,” he said, nodding towards Klein.

They all looked at Klein and realised that his presence was a complication they could well do without! Klein realised the dilemma he was putting everyone in. If the police so much as asked him one question, the German accent would put all their futures in jeapordy.

“Then my date of departure has been set for me,” Klein said,

“I must leave before, or if not, soon after anyone comes over.”

Mags and Andy looked at each other ruefully. This was the day they had been dreading, and it looked as if it would have to be dealt with in a hurry.

They all sat in silence for a few minutes, pondering the next crucial stage in Klein’s enforced stay, before George suggested a way of getting back to Germany via one of the ports in Dover or Folkstone,

“Listening to all the traffic around, there appears to be a rush of European ex-pats, desperate to get back to their respective countries, in a similar situation to the boy, here – the only difference is they were legally here.”

George shuffled his chair in to the table closer and continued,

“There were even German nationals on holiday here, or on business, back in ’39, that were basically stuck because they couldn’t safely go back. These people are now desperate to get home, so I reckon if we can smuggle the lad in among these people, get him on a ferry over to Belgium, or somewhere, then he can get a train back to Germany. I’m not saying it will be easy, or straightforward, but at least he can ‘hide’ in among the refugees.”

The group all looked around at each other, looking for alternatives. There were none.

“What about identification papers, and things like that, though?” questioned McCulloch.

George immediately replied,

“There will be thousands of displaced people with no formal identification moving around, and of course the processing will be a shambles. I think he could sneak through. He has a better chance sneaking back to the West, where our boys are in charge now, at least.”

“Alright,” said, Andy with a big sigh,

“It looks like this is the best chance we’ve got.” He then looked over at Klein and said,

“Jorgen, we’d better get you organised and out of here fast. Tomorrow is as good a chance as we’ll get. I’m sure we can get you off the island without too much hassle.”

Mags was looking particularly uneasy at the prospect of Klein having to leave so soon, and said as much,

“Why can’t we wait? I mean, the Police will probably just ask a few questions and then leave. Why does Jorgen have to go so soon? He can just keep out of the way until they leave and then take his time.”

Andy, knowing that this moment was never going to be easy, but tried to keep a strong and objective view on it replied,

“This may be the best chance we get to send the boy home to his family, without getting found out. We may not have much time to take advantage of the mess over there.”

He then put his arm around Mags and said,

“We can deal with the contra-band thing easy enough. If they suspected anything about the ’plane then they would have been over here by now – Woodleigh’s directors must have kept their mouths shut on that one right enough.”

Iain then added,

“There’s no way they would have told anyone about the scrap metal. That would jail them for bloody life!”

Andy nodded in agreement and continued,

“I know they can’t prove anything, but what we can’t explain to them is why we have hidden an enemy fugitive and what we have done with the ’plane. We would all be in deep shit for that.”

Then with a much softer tone in his voice, Andy added,

“And, anyway, he needs to be with his family now more than ever.”

Mags’ eyes began to show signs of tears as she replied,

“I know, but I don’t want him to go, I just don’t want him to go!” and buried her face into Andy’s shoulder.

“Aye, have a greet. Let it all out, love,” Andy said to her softly.

Klein, ever curious for language, again, broke the atmosphere by enquiring,

“What is ‘greet’?”

Andy simply moved his eyes in Klein’s direction and motioned with his finger drawing it down his cheek from the eye.

“Oh, I see,” Klein, replied, just as Mags lifted her head off Andy’s shoulder and dabbed away the tears and added, with a smile,

“Greetin’ like a bairn, indeed!” and sat up straight, wiping away the tears with the crook of her wrist,

“To think that not so long ago, I was horrified at the sight of you being here, and now look at me.”

Klein thought back to his first encounter with Mags,

“Ah, yes, you had a shotgun,” and smiled, at the memory.

McCulloch then brought them back to the present problem,

“I suggest we get him on an early boat tomorrow. Iain can take him back to the mainland, on the earliest boat possible, and we can arrange to get him down to Dover, or somewhere.”

He then turned to Klein and asked,

“How much money do you still have here, in cash?”

Klein thought for a second and replied,

“I think I have nearly £400.”

“Bloody hell,” replied McCulloch,

“Right, well it’s a tidy sum, so don’t keep it in the one place on you. You should be able to easily bribe or pay your way over to France.”

Sandy then added,

“Aye, and don’t forget, the rest of the money you have in the Irish account is safe. You may not be able to get it for a while, mind, but at least it will grow nicely while you are waiting! I made sure of that!”

“Thank you, Sandy,” said, Klein,

“Of course, thank you all, for all you have done for me and for all your kindness. I have learned a lot during my time here, and I shall never forget you.”

Anne McCulloch was wiping tears away when she announced,

“Right. We can do all the crying stuff later, but for now, let’s give Jorgen a good send off on his last night! A round of ’B17’s for old time’s sake! It may be an endangered recipe soon!”

“Good!” laughed Klein, recalling the memory of the fierce hangovers they could induce.

That night, the McCulloch’s pub became the scene of Klein’s last night of exile in an alien land. They made sure that everyone in the village who was close to them, was there, and while Klein was anxious to get back to his homeland and to news of his family, there were two people who were equally anxious that he was leaving. Mags and Andy watched in silence from the side of the pub, each with their own thoughts, memories and recollections of the time that their substitute son literally dropped in on them. Whether it was fate, or just a unique set of events, was not for them to know, but they felt that history was about to repeat itself and that saying goodbye to a son would have to happen all over again. The uncertainty of his safe arrival, was also too similar to events passed. Klein too was feeling a sense of impending loss. He didn’t know who he was going back to, if indeed there was anyone to go back to, and he had grown very fond of Mags and Andy, and thought of them as family now. Tomorrow could be very hard indeed.

That morning, they all arranged to meet in the pub again to send Klein off. Mags and Andy made sure he had a good breakfast in him and before they headed down for McCulloch’s, they decided that all the tears would be shed before they arrived. Klein’s smart new suit looked the perfect attire for the travelling

gentleman and he couldn’t have looked less German if he tried – much to Mags and Andy’s relief!

As the dreaded time came, Andy opened up one of the kitchen drawers and brought out a small, copper model of an ME 109 ’plane. It was about four inches long, brightly polished and underneath, on the wings, was inscribed the words:

‘Gustav - October 5 1944’.

Andy gave it to Klein and said,

“We want you to have this as a little memento. Clarky cast it for me when we were dismantling your ’plane. We wanted to salvage something as a keepsake.”

Klein took the ’plane and looked at the inscription,

“Thank you, Andy. I promise I will look after it well, just as the real thing did for me.”

He then looked over at Mags, who was desperately trying not to cry,

“Although I can never tell you how much your kindness has meant to me. I think of you both like parents, you have been so kind . . .”

It was too much for Mags, who cut him off by hugging him so tight, he was unable to finish what he wanted to say, and she burst into tears.

“And we think of you like a son, Jorgen. You’ve given us a new focus while we mourn Jim. Thank you.”

When she eventually let him go, Mags dusted down Klein’s lapels as if he were going somewhere formal and said,

“You take great care, now. And we want a Christmas card every year from you, you hear?”

Klein smiled and nodded, and replied,

“Of course.” He then turned to Andy, who was also fighting back tears and said,

“Keep positive, son. You can only grieve if you know you have something to grieve over.” He then held out his hand to Andy who took it in a strong grip and pulled Klein towards him for another rib-crushing hug. Andy too, burst into tears, to be joined by Mags, and eventually Klein, himself could not keep the emotion in any longer. They stood for about five minutes, locked in the heartache of a long, silent goodbye.

The little Austin van trundled into the front drive of McCulloch’s pub where the crew from the previous night were all waiting to say their goodbye’s to Klein. The young airman spent five minutes or so with each person, always ending it with a hug and a smile, and a million thanks. When it was time to go, Mags and Andy had released enough of their emotions that the final wave goodbye would be a near -tearless affair. It was however, Andy and Mags, who were deliberately left alone in the middle of the road, with Klein, as the rest of the group slipped silently away from a moment where, for once, they were not wanted. They watched in silence, as the Singer pulled away and fixed their gaze on the hand waving lethargically from the window. They stood entranced, to get the last glimpse of Iain Menzies’ car as it disappeared down the hill and away, taking their substitute son with them to an unknown future.

Mags and Andy turned around, alone, and hand in hand began to walk slowly up the middle of the road back towards the farm.

“So now all we have to do is explain the new fence to the Police,” Andy said,

“And the tarmac driveway,” added, Mags.

“And the new slate on the roof,” replied Andy.

“ . . .And the windows,”

“ . . .And the new heating stove . . . ”

Long after the last of the exhaust odours of Iain Menzies’ car had blown in the mild wind, the residents of this idyllic part of Arran were busy tending vegetable plots, repairing fences, hanging out washing and a host of other mundane and routine jobs. The Police officers who were dispatched over the Clyde Estuary to investigate any black market activity had been less than impressed with their assignment. While others were celebrating the end of the war and being given some well-earned leave, they were chasing a case with the vaguest of evidence pointing to a quiet island. To say that their enthusiasm for their job, right now, was rock bottom would be an understatement. Sergent James Fielding was brought in from the Borders Police,

based in Dumfries, where he presided over the petrol-smuggling soldiers case, a while back. This time, his resources were being used to look for contra-band stemming from the ripples made from the investigations into Harkiss and Woodleigh. Fielding was slightly resentful that the Harkiss and Woodleigh investigation itself was conducted by bigger Police forces as it would have been good for his career to have played a major part in that. Instead he was stuck with nothing more than a beaureaucratic ‘box ticking’ exercise.

Brodick was the first stop for Fielding and his four officers, and it was investigated with a tardiness that only McCulloch would have recognised, and by the time they got to Whiting Bay, the Police officers were completely fed up and had no motivation to carry out their task. There would soon be a ferry leaving for home, and they intended to be on it, whether it was the last one of the day or not! They didn’t believe for one minute that an island of farmers would have any means to get involved with a huge black market racket such as had been happening on the mainland, and they felt they were on a totally futile mission. One of the first ports of call was McCulloch’s pub. Being a licensed premises, it was the most likely place to find bootleg alcohol, and therefore the place most likely to yield a result. Fielding and his officers found Anne and Gordon helpful and pleasant and their co-operation most amiable! The accounts and ledgers were all poured over and found to be correct and up to date. The McCulloch’s made sure that the officers were all kept busy and time was wasted to keep their visit as long as possible in the pub. By the time they left, they only had an hour or so to check out the rest of the village, so they simply drove along the main street and looked for anything unusual. Wherever they went, all the inhabitants of the houses were outside – either repairing cars or tractors, digging gardens, repairing fences, etc. Fielding commented on this to the four officers in the car with him,

“Bloody hardy lot!” he said,

“I couldn’t stand the outdoor life!”

One of the younger officers then replied,

“It seems as if the whole place is outside, today. I didn’t think the weather was that great for everyone to be spontaneously in their gardens.”

Fielding’s suspicious mind kicked in as he realised that it did seem strange that every inhabitant was outside their house today! He frowned and weighed up the consequences of anything illegal going on, and compared it to the hassle and the effort required to follow it up, and without letting on his thoughts to the other officers, simply sighed and replied,

“That’s island folk for you. Come on - let’s get to hell out of here.” Then, still peering at the odd sight, he muttered,

“Who in their right mind would come all the way over here to run a black market . . .”

August 12 1945:

The first sign Andy had that the knock at the door might not be one of the villagers was the efficient and steady rap of four even knocks. Even as he approached the door, he had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that told him he shouldn’t open it. He stood behind it and as he cautiously reached out for the handle, the knocking started again. This time the person on the other side only got to the third precise strike when Andy pulled the door open to see a uniformed Policeman and two RAF military Policemen standing almost to attention.

“Oh, shit,” Andy thought. This could only be one of two things: Jorgen has turned up and his story hasn’t checked out and we’ve been traced, or they’ve traced the Harkiss and Woodleigh money back.

“Andrew MacLaren?” the Policeman asked, as Andy’s shoulders drooped slightly,

“Aye,” he confirmed, “That’s me.”

One of the RAF Police then took over.

“Can you confirm some details on your son, James MacLaren, of 5 Group, 28 Squadron, for us, please?”

Andy felt instant relief that they didn’t seem to have come for Jorgen, or have discovered their little scams for now, but was despondent that the old wound of Jim’s demise was being re-opened. Andy invited them into the kitchen and lounge area of the farmhouse, and called out to Mags. When Mags appeared her face turned white when she saw who the guests were.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, trying to hide her startled expression, as she got a reassuring wink from Andy.

“They need us to verify some details about Jim,” he said.

Mags and Andy sat down at the table with the three visitors and one of the RAF Police confirmed that Jim was reported as shot down on a raid to the German town of Darmstadt on September 11, 1944.

They confirmed details such as date of birth, and photographic ID, etc, and then one of the RAF Police pulled out some documents and said,

“Well it looks like we’ve got him, right enough, then.”

Just as Mags was beginning to think that they had found Jim’s body, the other RAF Policemen said,

“One of our Units, based in Leipzig, was sent in to a Russian barracks at their request to ‘collect’ some airmen who had been arrested by them for refusing to be debriefed and insisting on making their own way back to Berlin, and being generally very unco-operative. There were about fifteen of them, and because they were causing a bit of a stir, the Russians arrested them and kept them where they were until they secured Leipzig. The Russian unit weren’t exactly the most organised crew in the Red Army and they weren’t equipped to deal with a bunch of mutinous guests of the Luftwaffe!”

The other RAF Policeman smiled and added, in a broad Yorkshire accent,

“They were bad for the morale of the advancing Russians, apparently, especially the mouthy Jocks!”

The civilian Policeman then added,

“So, I’m very pleased to be able to tell you that your son was not killed in his last bombing raid, but was captured by the Luftwaffe, moved around several times, found by the liberating

Russians and has been in limbo ever since. He is currently in Berlin awaiting transportation back along with a number of other displaced airmen.”

Mags gasped out a muffled cry and hugged Andy, tearfully.

“Jorgen was right!”, Mags cried out excitedly, as Andy gave her a concerning glare.

“Jorgen?” enquired one of the RAF Policemen.

Andy, lamely answered,

“Eh. . . . it’s George, actually. We nicknamed him ‘Jorgen’ because he hates Germans. It kind of winds him up, you know?”

The Policeman didn’t respond as Andy hoped that someone would change the subject – fast!

“We just had to make sure that we had all the details correct before giving you the good news. It wouldn’t do to get it wrong in times like this,” the civilian Policeman added.

Mags then turned and hugged the three Policemen one by one, not just for the relief of finding out that Jim was alive, but also that Jorgen must have made it to Europe.

“Thank you, oh, thank you, you’ve no idea . . .oh, thank you!”

The three of them then got up and turned towards the door, and just as they were about to leave, the civilian Policeman ran an admiring hand over the brand new stove and boiler that Andy and Mags had in the kitchen and remarked,

“I love the stove. These were expensive and rare to get even before the war. You’ve restored it beautifully . . .”

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