It was an unusually perfect summer morning in wartime Cambridgeshire, England. ... sunny and warm with a slight breeze, and dry, not a cloud in the sky. You had to appreciate days like this; they didn't come along that often. Rain and fog were almost a daily occurrence.
This part of Cambridgeshire, the northeast, was populated mostly by farms, and for as far as you could see, in almost any direction, there were fields of wheat ready for harvesting. Because of the war, however, there was a great shortage of farm labor. Most of the men had been called up for military service, and the labor gap was being filled by 'Land Girls' of the Women's Land Army, women who volunteered to work on the farms. ... and by Prisoners of War.
Due to gas rationing, there was hardly any traffic on the highways, only military and government vehicles going about their wartime business. The vehicle travelling down the A11 now was an American Army staff car carrying Brigadier General Frank Savage back from a meeting at RAF Bodwell, Norfolk, to his base near Archbury, a small village in the South of Cambridgeshire.
Savage was the Commander of the 918th Bomb Group, 1st Bombardment Wing, VIII Bomber Command, 8th Air Force. He was six foot tall and well built, with brown hair and steely blue eyes. Savage was young for a general officer, and at thirty-seven, one of the youngest generals in the Army Air Force. But he was an experienced wartime officer. He was there at the birth of VIII Bomber Command and had piloted one of the twelve B-17s - a 'maximum effort' at the time - to Rouen, France, the AAF's first mission of the air war. Before he had taken command of the 918th, he had served his time as an Assistant Chief of Staff (S3, Operations) at 8th Air Force Headquarters (code name 'Widewing'), at Bushy Park, London, and before that, prior to the War, had commanded a Fighter Group.
Sitting back in his seat, and gazing out the window at the swaying fields of wheat, Savage could almost forget there was a war on.... almost, but not quite, as he focused on yesterday's meeting, the details of which were safely locked in the briefcase on the seat beside him.
The meeting with the 112th Fighter Group had been the culmination of months of work; its purpose, to plan and coordinate the first mission in which heavy bombers, would be escorted by P-47's fighters equipped with the new external 75 gallon belly tank that would greatly extend the fighter's operational radius. The meeting had been a long time coming, and the wait had been costly in terms of bomber losses.
The original strategy for the B-17 'Flying Fortress' - that a tight formation of 'Forts' would create a crossfire of machine guns sufficiently lethal to fend off enemy fighters - had not proven as effective as originally envisioned. It had been a hard and costly lesson that regardless how many guns your formation had - and a formation of three full squadrons fairly bristled with over four hundred .50-caliber Browning machine guns - hitting a fast-moving fighter with guns in a turret, or stanchion-mounted in a gun port, was extremely difficult, and had poor results; whereas hitting a slow-moving bomber from a fighter with a gun sight was much easier and resulted in heavy losses.
Those unacceptably high losses had demanded a closer look at strategy, and the conclusion had been that fighter escort for the bombers was critical. But the current generation of fighters, like the P-47, didn't have the range to escort the bombers all the way to their targets, especially those deep into Germany. The Germans knew this, and their fighters would wait until the bombers' escort had to turn back, then attack...... with devastating results.
Overall Savage was pleased with the results of the meeting. It had run longer than expected, and he had had to spend the night, but it had been worth it. Within the next few weeks, with approval from the Old Man, Lieutenant General Patrick Pritchard, Commander VIII Bomber Command - and weather permitting, of course - the 918th, with other Groups of the 1st Bombardment Wing, would lead a mission, operation 'Spoil Sport', against industrial targets deep in the heart of Germany, and they would be escorted all the way to the target, and back, by the modified P-47s of the 112th Fighter Group.
What he was not happy about, what stuck in his craw, was the fact that even though this mission was his 'baby', and he had worked with Air Staff for months to make it happen, he would not be leading the mission.
The problem was, he was grounded. Almost three months earlier, he had been seriously wounded on a mission over Hamburg and had only been released from the hospital a few weeks ago. His release had been conditional, however, he was DNIF, duty not to include flying.
On longer trips such as this, Savage would normally pass the time talking with his clerk and driver, Corporal Ross. Ernie Ross was a short, stocky twenty-year-old UCLA engineering student with blond hair and blue eyes. He had a penchant for jalopy racing, and the two would often compare the merits of flying versus that of dirt track racing, with neither convincing the other of their point of view. These genial debates generally relaxed him, and took his mind off the war for a while. But today Savage had been thinking about the mission and lost in his own thoughts for almost the entire trip.
Glancing in his rear view mirror, Corporal Ross saw a vehicle coming up fast behind them. As it got closer, he saw it was a British military truck, or 'lorry' as the Brits called them, and as it crossed into the right lane and began to pass, he could see it was filled with German Prisoners of War.
Breaking the silence, Ross said, "You know, General, when the war started, I enlisted to fight the 'Krauts', but it looks like the Germans in that truck," indicating the POWs as the truck passed by, "are probably as close as I'll ever come to seeing any Germans, much less fighting them."
Savage hadn't noticed the truck until Ross had called it to his attention, and seeing the men in the back with the letters 'PW' painted on their backs, asked, "Is there a Prisoner of War Camp around here, Corporal?"
"Yes, sir. Camp Barton, over in Ely, a few miles from here. It has a couple of hundred PWs. They're mainly low risk prisoners, ones with no particular loyalty to the Nazis.
They let the 'good conduct' prisoners out to work on the local farms .... transport them to work each day, then pick them up and take them back. I've heard some prisoners are even allowed to live on the farms where they work."
"How do you know all this, Ernie?"
"My girl, sir. She lives around here in Exning, and her parents have several POWs working on their farm. She says......."
Just then they heard a loud explosive 'bang', and looking ahead, saw the British truck begin to swerve over the highway. It looked like they had blown a tire.
When the front passenger tire burst, the truck suddenly veered to the left, and the driver, Sergeant Bill Douglas, fought the steering wheel, attempting to straighten the truck out. The brakes screeched as he floored the pedal trying to slow the truck down, and it seemed for a moment that he had regained control. But then he overcorrected, and the truck swerved back right, crossing the highway toward the opposite side where its front wheels ran over the edge and angled down a slight embankment.
Slowed, but still moving, the truck leaned precariously to the downhill side, and with this sudden tilt, the men in the back toppled from their benches, the extra weight causing the truck to lean even further until it rolled over onto the driver's side and slid down the embankment coming to a rest on its roof.
The truck was packed with Prisoners of War, and their guards, on their way to work in the fields. Most of those riding in the back were thrown clear, but several were pinned under the truck bed, including one of the guards; and Sergeant Douglas was trapped in the cab.
Smoke was rising from the engine, and it was only a matter of minutes before it caught fire and exploded. The men who had been thrown clear quickly began to help the others and drag them away from the smoking vehicle.
Corporal Ross, anticipating General Savage's command, sped toward the accident then braked to a stop opposite, but several yards back from the overturned truck; he knew from his racing days not to stop too close to a smoking vehicle.
Jumping from the car, Savage and Ross ran toward the injured men. Yelling to Ross to help the men in the back, Savage ran toward the cab where he heard someone calling for help. "Hilfe! (help!) Hier! (Over Here!) Ich brauche Hilfe mit dem Fahrer. (I need help with the driver.)" Savage only knew a few words of German, but he recognized a cry for help when he heard it.
Reaching the overturned cab, Savage saw a man with a 'PW' painted on his back, trying to pull open the door to the cab. The frame was bent, and the door wouldn't budge. Savage grabbed hold of the door, and began to pull. The German looked up to say something, but seeing Savage froze. For a second they just stared, each instantly recognizing the other. Then the moment passed, and the German said, "I will push the top of the truck to free the door; when I do, you pull it open and get him out."
As the German put his weight into relieving pressure on the door, Savage put everything he had into hauling it open. The door groaned and scraped as it slowly inched open until it was enough to reach the driver who was slumped unconscious against the roof of the upturned cab. Grabbing him by the shoulders, Savage began to pull him free.
Dragging him out of the cab, he heard voices yelling in German, "Passauf! (Look Out!)" .... "Es wird sprengen! (It's going to explode!)" ...... "Lauf! Lauf! (Run! Run!)"
Seeing the smoke had turned to flames and was creeping toward the gas tank, Savage shouted, "Get away from the truck! It's gonna blow!"
The two of them ran, dragging the unconscious driver between them. Then a tremendous blast propelled them several feet into the air. The German and the driver landed on the grass at the edge of highway; Savage hit the pavement, face down and unconscious.
Savage woke with a bright light shining in his eyes. He blinked, pushing the flashlight aside, trying to orient himself. He had a terrible headache, and when he was finally able to focus, he saw Doctor Donald Kaiser, his chief medical officer, standing over him.
"Doc? What .....? .... the truck!" Wincing, he propped himself up on an elbowand looked around the unfamiliar room, "Where am I?"
"Camp Barton, a Prisoner of War Camp in Ely. You're in their Medical Unit. You've been out for a while, General. How's your head?"
"Splitting." he said as he tenderly probed the bandage on his forehead. Then lowering his hand, felt a bandage on the side of his face.
"I'm not surprised." Kaiser said. "Judging by the size of that lump, your head hit the pavement pretty hard when the truck went up. You also have some abrasions on the left side of your face. Your leather jacket saved you from more serious damage."
Then grinning, added, "May I suggest that the next time the General is compelled to run from an exploding vehicle, you run away from the pavement, not towards it. .... it'll be a lot easier on you, and your uniform."
"Thanks. I'll try to keep that in mind." Savage said, observing his ruined flight jacket and pant legs. Then giving Kaiser one of his best glares, "Doc, have I ever mentioned that I'm getting really tired of waking up and finding you standing over me?"
"All you have to do, General, is stop flying."
"I wasn't flying today!"
"No, I guess you have me there." Kaiser said with a laugh. Then serious again, "I'll want to do a full examination and get some x-rays when I get you back to the Base, sir, but other than that bump on your head, and those scrapes and bruises, I haven't found any serious injuries."
"Here, take these." He handed Savage a couple of aspirin and a glass of water. "They'll help reduce the pounding. I don't want to give you anything stronger until I've had a chance to look at some x-rays."
Savage sat up and leaned against the back of the bed, then swallowed the pills and washed them down with the water. "How did I get HERE?" he asked. ".....For that matter, how did YOU get here?"
"There was another truck following behind the one that blew up." Kaiser explained. "They arrived just minutes after the explosion, and brought everyone back to the Camp.
As soon as he could, Corporal Ross called back to the Base to report the accident. Harvey Stovall got the call. Ross told him what happened. ... that you were unconscious, and they'd brought you here. He also told Harvey they only had a small clinic with one doctor and a medical orderly, and with all the injured from the accident, he thought they might need help.
Harvey filled me in, and since I was going to come with the ambulance anyway, I decided to bring along a nurse and a couple of orderlies and some supplies...."
"Thanks, Doc. You did the right thing." Then looking around, "Where IS Corporal Ross, by the way?"
"He's over there." pointing to a bed down the row to Savage's left. "Just before the truck exploded, one of the prisoners' clothes caught fire; Ross dragged the man away from the truck and beat the fire out with his hands. He has some first and second degree burns, but he'll be all right. I've given him something for the pain, and he's sleeping."
Savage frowned suddenly, and sat straight up, "Doc, where's my car? I had a briefcase ....."
"It's alright, General." Kaiser said, motioning him back down. "Ross - burned hands and all - rescued your briefcase. Doctor Harrod, that's the camp doctor, said no one could take it from him; said he guarded it like it contained the crown jewels, and wouldn't let anyone near it until it was locked up in his office."
"That's a relief. I had forgotten all about it until just now. ...Take good care of Ross, Doc. He earned his pay today .... in more ways than one."
Savage took a more studied look around him. The 'Medical Unit was a Nissen Hut, the British version of an American Quonset Hut, but bigger. It had an open floor plan with an entrance and some rooms in the end to his left, and more rooms at the end to his right; the rest of the area in between was taken up by two rows of beds, each bed with a chair and separated by about three feet. Providing light, there were windows along each wall, spaced every second bed; and down the middle was a wide aisle with several wood stoves vented through the roof. Most of the beds, he saw, were occupied.
"Doctor Harrod is over there." Kaiser said, indicating an officer in a white coat treating a patient across the room to his right. "We got here about an hour ago, and he immediately put us to work. It's quieted down now, but it was pretty hectic for a while."
"What about the others?" Savage asked.
Before Kaiser could reply, they saw the doctor coming slowly toward them. Savage studied the man as he approached. He looked about thirty-five, medium height with a slight build, blue eyes, blonde hair, and skin almost as dark as his hair was light, probably, he thought, due to long exposure to the sun. Savage also noted that he was walking with a pronounced limp, supporting his left leg with a cane.
Harrod noticed the General watching him, and as he stopped at the foot of his bed, tapped his left leg with the cane, "Souvenir of North Africa, I'm afraid. Land mine." Motioning around the room, "Quite a few of our 'guests' here are Afrika Corps, and I sometimes wonder if one of them is the sapper who laid that mine. Pointless, I suppose... but, well, there you are........."
Then turning back, "General Savage...... Major Charles Harrod, sir. Camp Medical Officer, and at the moment, Senior Officer in charge. Leftenant Colonel Smythe, Officer Commanding, and his deputy, Major Howard, are attending meetings in London this week. He has been notified of the accident, and your presence, sir, and sends his apologies that he is unable to return. He has instructed me to provide you every courtesy and assistance."
"Now that I have satisfied protocol....." he continued, "I hope you're feeling better, sir. You took a rather nasty knock on the head."
"I'll be fine, Doctor. Thank you for your hospitality."
"Least we could do, sir, for your assistance at the accident. From what I've been told, Sergeant Douglas over there," indicating the man he had just been treating, "wouldn't be with us if you and one of the Jerries hadn't pulled him out of the cab just in time. As it is, he only has some bruising and a broken radius in his left forearm."
"How are the other injured doing, Doctor?"
"All things considered, sir, much better than they could have done. We were lucky that there were no fatalities. The truck was carrying ten PWs and three guards. Most, including yourself and your driver, have only minor injuries .... assorted broken bones, cuts, bruises and the like. Only three, our Corporal Sims and two of the Germans, had serious injuries, and I've sent them off to district military hospital.
We have almost 200 prisoners here, sir, plus administrative personnel and a guard compliment of fifty, but my medical staff consists of myself, one medical orderly, and a prisoner field medic who also acts as a translator. I am woefully understaffed, and I'd still be sorting this lot out, but for Doctor Kaiser's timely arrival with personnel and supplies. Thanks to them, most of the injured have already been seen to."
"But, before I forget." he suddenly said, "One of the injured prisoners, the one who helped you with Sergeant Douglas, is rather keen to speak to you, General. He also took a crack on the head, but I'm afraid he's not responding as well as I would like. I wouldn't normally entertain such a request, but he's a decent enough chap and has always been a good influence on the younger prisoners. ... If you are willing, sir ... and feel up to it, of course."
"Certainly, Doctor, lead the way." Savage got up from the bed, and with a steadying hand from Kaiser, followed Harrod across the aisle toward a bed down the row to his right.
As they neared the bed, Kaiser observed a man in his mid-forties. He had dark hair cropped short with a sprinkling with gray, and had a scar that ran from the left side of his temple down past the top of his ear. His face was weathered and worn, like a man who had spent most of his life outdoors, and his eyes were a bright bluish grey, but as he got closer, Kaiser noted his pupils were uneven and constricted. His face was almost as gray as his hair and reflected a great deal of pain.
Savage smiled as he stopped at the side of the bed. "Sergeant Müller." he said. "I thought that was you."
"We meet again, Herr General," Müller replied, his face wearing a weak smile, "This time, I am YOUR prisoner."
"It looks like you're the one banged up this time, too. Are you all right?"
"Just a little thump on the head, sir." he said. "I have had worse." But his discomfort was clearly visible.
Both doctors were dumbfounded by this exchange, but Kaiser was the one to react first and ask, "Do you know this man, General?"
"Yes. Do you remember last year, Doc, when I crashed near Metz? ... This is 'Sergeant Müller'."
"The German who gave you the aspirin?"
Savage nodded, "The very same."
Kaiser was trying to process this information, when Müller asked, "If it is permitted, may I ask the Herr General, how is it he is here? ... and alive?"
"Excuse me?" Savage asked, and still a little unsteady on his feet, pulled over a chair to sit down.
"No disrespect, sir, but a few days after we left you, it was reported that you had been taken by the Gestapo. Prisoners of the Gestapo are very often never seen again, and we thought....
I am glad this is not so. But, I am very ...'neugierig' ... ah, curious, ...very curious ... how you come to be here."
Savage laughed slightly as he replied, "Well, the short version, Sergeant, is that the 'Gestapo' were not Gestapo; they were British agents, there to free the French prisoners. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. They had a plane waiting, and I was back in England by the next morning."
Müller slowly shook his head and laughed softly. "Unglaublich! Unbelievable!"
Kaiser knew the story behind General Savage's brief acquaintance with Sergeant Müller, and while they continued to talk about his escape from France, Kaiser took Harrod aside and related to him the story of how Savage had been shot down on a mission over France the previous year and captured by Sergeant Müller's patrol. Apparently neither the officer or Müller were Nazis and had treated the General decently.
He'd had a head wound and concussion from the crash, and Müller had taken care of him and doctored him with the only thing he had, his own aspirin. During the two days he was with them, he and Müller developed some sort of relationship. A short time later, he escaped with the help of some your Special Operations Executive agents.
"As the General said," he finished, "it was just luck that he made it back."
"That's quite a story." said Harrod as they returned their attention to Savage and Müller.
Savage was saying, ".....Now let me ask you a question. There was no military activity, no resistance, in that area. How in the world did you end up here?"
"Because of you, Herr General ..... at least partly."
"Me?" Savage said taken aback. "What did I have to do with it?"
"As a reward for capturing you - ein Amerikanische Luftwaffengeneral - we were all given leave. I took mine with an old comrade from the last war who had married and remained in France. He lived in a village on the coast near Calais. The night before I was to return to my unit, I was out for a walk and suddenly found myself surrounded by British Commandos. It was a raid. The next thing I knew, I was on a boat headed for England. ... Unlike you, I was at the wrong place, at the wrong time. ... Although, in truth, I am not that discontent to be out of this war."
Müller paused for a moment, then went on, and Savage noted the change, as his smile faded, and his voice took on a stronger tone.
"Do not mistake what I say, Herr General. I am no 'Feigling'... no coward. I fought for my country in the First War, and I would fight again .... but not for these Nazis. This is a bad war. Its purpose is evil and our leaders are morally corrupt. Even should Germany win, and I pray not, there would be no honor in it.
I have no family left to worry about, or to worry about me, so I am content to be a prisoner until this war is lost, as it must be, and we" ...indicating the other prisoners..."can go home and rebuild."
Savage was taken by the resolve in Müller's voice, and was at a loss as to how to reply, when Kaiser, who had been watching Müller, interrupted. "Do you still get those headaches, Sergeant?"
"General Savage said the reason you carried the aspirin you gave him was because you had frequent headaches. Do you still get them?"
"Yes, sir. I was wounded, here," he said, tracing his finger over the scar on his forehead, "by a grenade at Arras in 1940. The surgeons were not able to remove all the fragments. When I recovered, the doctors said it was a miracle that I had survived. They said I would always have headaches."
"Have you seen any doctors about this since then?"
"No, Herr Doktor. Why would I?"
"There have been a lot of advances in brain surgery since 1940, Sergeant. It's possible those fragments could be removed now. Do you mind if I examine your eyes?"
Kaiser took a penlight from his pocket and flashed the beam back and forth from one pupil to the other, observing the size of the pupils and their reaction to the light and its removal. As he had noted earlier, Müller's pupils were uneven and constricted and slow to respond to the light stimulus.
To Harrod he said, "Are you seeing this, Doctor?"
"Yes. I had noted it when I examined him earlier. I was waiting to see if there was any improvement with rest, but I didn't know about his prior history."
Kaiser continued. "I'm sure the blow to the head he received this afternoon hasn't helped his condition any, probably worsened it. I think x-rays and a complete examination would be in order."
"I tend to agree. But my x-ray is an old machine from the First War. It is fine for identifying broken bones and foreign objects, but I doubt it would be very useful for neurological purposes." Harrod replied. "What did you have in mind?"
"My hospital is well equipped. I would like to take Sergeant Müller back to the Base with me, take some x-rays, perform a complete examination, and possibly consult with a neurosurgeon I know."
Turning to Savage, Kaiser asked, "General?"
"It's fine with me, Doc, but I'm not the one you have to convince. Sergeant Müller is a British prisoner. I don't know that they'd let him out of their custody. You'll need their approval."
"You are correct, General." Harrod said, conflicted. "Ordinarily I would request authorization from Colonel Smythe for a prisoner to receive medical treatment, other than for an emergency, outside of the camp. I am temporarily in charge, yes, but I know Colonel Smythe would not authorize the release of a prisoner out of British custody, even for a short time. The Colonel is a strict, by the book officer, and I can't in good conscience authorize what I know he would not .... even though I would like to."
At this point, Sergeant Douglas, who had been listening from the next bed, spoke up, "Doctor Harrod, sir! I could guard the Jerry....."
"The 'Jerry's' name, Sergeant," Savage put in, tersely, "is Müller.... Sergeant Karl Müller. Under the circumstances, you might want to remember it."
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I meant no disrespect. I just meant.... well, the Jer... Sergeant Müller, .... and you, sir.... saved my life, and I would like to do something to repay the favor."
Addressing Harrod, Douglas continued, "If a camp guard escorted Sergeant Müller, sir, he would still be in British custody. With my broken arm, I will be 'Excused Duty' for at least a couple of weeks, and, well, if it will help, sir, I volunteer."
Harrod thought for a moment, then said nodding. "Thank you, Sergeant. That may just be the solution to our problem."
Then turning to Kaiser, said, "As I said, Doctor, Colonel Smythe goes by the book, but he is a fair man. Under the circumstances ... Sergeant Müller WAS injured saving one of our own, after all, and with Sergeant Douglas as escort, I think even the Colonel might allow it ... at least, I'm willing to take that chance."
"Is this alright with you, Sergeant?" Kaiser asked. "You understand that you need a complete examination?"
"Herr Doktor, I am a prisoner. I do what I am told. But if it matters, I have no objection."
"That settles it." Harrod said. "When would you want to leave?"
"As soon as possible." Kaiser said, relieved. "If Sergeant Müller is fit to travel, and we can get the necessary paperwork out of the way, I'd like to get everyone back to the Base tonight."
Harrod nodded in agreement, "Archbury is less than an hour away. The Sergeant should stand the ride in the ambulance, and it would be better to get him into hospital tonight." Checking his watch, he thought for a moment, then said, "It's half two. I think we can have them both ready to go within the hour."
"I'll give you a chit authorizing you to transport him, with escort, to your base for medical treatment. If anything more is required, I'll bring it down to you tomorrow; I shall want to check on him anyway."
With the decision made, Harrod quickly instructed his medical orderly to help Douglas get his things together for the trip, then called his German orderly to put together a kit for Müller.
While Harrod was preparing the paperwork, Kaiser called the Hospital and arranged for a bed for Corporal Ross, and instructed a room with an extra bed be prepared for Sergeants Müller and Douglas, and another room for General Savage .... just in case he wanted to keep him overnight for observation.
Savage and Kaiser rode in the staff car driven by one of the medical orderlies, leading the way with the ambulance carrying everyone else following. The two vehicles made the drive back to the Base in good time.
The Base, located a few miles outside Archbury, covered almost a square mile of former farmland and private property. At the beginning of the war, it, along with other parcels of acreage around the country, had been purchased by the English Government and leased to the Americans for military bases.
The greater part of the 918th's acreage was taken up by runways, hangers, hardstand parking areas, fuel dumps, munitions bunkers, and other fight line facilities necessary to operate and maintain a heavy bomber group. Only a small portion of the land contained the heart of the base: headquarters, operations, hospital, mess hall, barracks and crew quarters, officer and enlisted clubs, and the numerous other services that made a military base of almost eighteen hundred personnel function. These buildings were all centrally located, and clustered together within walking distance from each other.
The 'convoy' stopped at the Base main gate, and Savage showed his AGO card to the sentry, vouched for both vehicles, and left instructions for the Provost Marshal to meet him at the Hospital.
Verifying Savage's identity was merely a formality; there wasn't anybody on that base who didn't know General Savage by sight or sound, so his ID wasn't really necessary .... except that on his first day in command, a sentry had made the mistake of waving him through without checking his identification or a salute .... it was a mistake that had NOT been repeated.
As the ambulance backed up to the hospital receiving doors, two gurneys and several medical orderlies were waiting. Ross was carried from the ambulance first. He was still out from the painkillers he had been given, and probably would be until morning, and they moved him quickly inside to settle him into his bed in the Burn Ward. Then they carried Müller, awake and curiously looking around, to the second gurney. As they rolled him through the hospital doors, Kaiser went with them to see him settled into his room.
Savage had remained out of the way to let the medical personnel do their jobs, and as he waited, he was approached by Major Don Henderson, the Provost Marshal.
Don Henderson was a six foot four lanky kid with red hair and, for a redhead, unusually brown eyes. Before he was called up, he had been studying Law at the University of Nebraska and had been a starting forward on the 'Cornhuskers' Basketball team. He was young, at twenty, for a majority, but he had earned it.
"You wanted to see me, General?" Henderson said saluting.
"Yes, Major." said Savage, and quickly explained about the accident and the presence of a German Prisoner of War on the Base. Then seeing Sergeant Douglas standing off to the side, his left arm in a sling and looking somewhat lost, he beckoned him over.
"SAH!" shouted Douglas, stamping to attention and saluting as only a British NCO could.
"Major, this is Sergeant Douglas. He is prisoner escort for Sergeant Müller, and will remain with him throughout his stay."
"Sergeant." said Henderson.
"SAH!" shouted Douglas, stamping again.
Savage resisted a smile, then said to Henderson, "I'm sure Sergeant Douglas is extremely capable, but he can't watch his charge twenty-four/seven, so I want a detail of MPs to report to him and follow his direction as regards Sergeant Müller."
"Yes, sir. said Henderson. I'll set up a schedule immediately. One of my men will report to him within the hour."
"Is that acceptable to you, Sergeant?" asked Savage.
"Very acceptable, SAH!" bellowed the Sergeant.
"Okay. That's settled then."
"And, Major," continued Savage. "Camp Barton's Medical Officer, Major Charles Harrod, will visit periodically as long as Sergeant Müller is with us, so I want you to leave a pass for him at the gate. After he presents his identification, he is to be passed through."
"Yes, sir. I'll see to that first thing tomorrow."
"One more thing.... there's a briefcase in the backseat of my staff car. Please take it to my office, and ask Major Stovall to lock it up."
"Yes, sir." said Henderson, then saluted and went to retrieve the briefcase.
Turning to Douglas, and indicating a waiting orderly, Savage said, "The orderly here will give you a quick tour of the hospital, Sergeant ... so you can find your way around ... then take you to Sergeant Müller's room. If you need anything, let Doctor Kaiser or myself know."
"Very Good, SAH!"
"Oh, and Sergeant..... While you're with us, a simple 'sir' will do."
"SA.... Sir." replied the Sergeant, then stiffened to attention, saluted again and followed the orderly into the hospital.
Alone now, Savage lit a cigarette and reflected on the day's happenings. 'Well, it certainly wasn't a dull day.' he thought, as most of his days behind a desk were. 'and Müller..... what were the odds!'
Savage put out his cigarette, and turned to go into the hospital, but as he reached the door, he met Kaiser coming out.
"Sergeant Müller is settled in his room," he said, "and I've given him something to help him sleep. I'd like him well rested when I examine him in the morning. Now, I'd like to get those x-rays, General, if you're ready."
"Okay, Doc." he said. "Let's get this over with."
While Savage was being X-rayed, The medical orderly, Sergeant Dunn, gave Douglas a tour of the hospital. It was like many he'd been in before; he'd have no trouble finding his way around. But what really amazed him was the informality among the American hospital staff. He heard officers of different ranks call each other by first name, and there was an almost unmilitary informality with the Other Ranks. He stiffened to attention as an officer approached, but he walked by without notice. Affronted, Douglas thought to himself, 'Bloody Yanks have no military discipline. This was going to take some getting used to'.
And Müller. He didn't know what to make of the German. He was an enemy soldier, but he didn't seem to bear any animosity towards his captors, the guards or other British personnel, and accepted his captivity with a calm dignity that he didn't think he could have. And why had Müller risked his life to safe his? He was grateful, certainly, but didn't know had the situation been reversed, that he would have done the same. He hoped he would have done, but....
Finally Dunn led him to the room he would share with Müller. Douglas was surprised that they would have a private room. In the British army, rooms were reserved for officers, the critically wounded, and the dying. Other Ranks had to settle for a bed in a ward with a privacy curtain, if they were lucky. 'The Yanks do alright for themselves'.
When they entered, they found Müller already asleep. Looking around, Douglas observed a large room with a window. There were two beds, one occupied by Müller; a table and chairs; a wardrobe for personal belongings; and opening a door, he was amazed to find a private bathroom. There was even a pair of hospital pajamas, a robe and slippers neatly laid out for him on the second bed. 'All the bloody comforts of home'.
Dunn helped Douglas, with his broken arm, put away his things; then, his curiosity getting the better of him, asked, "I heard about the accident, but" nodding his head at the sleeping Müller, "what's the story with the German?"
"John Dunn, by the way." offering his hand to Douglas, "My friends call me 'Jack'."
Douglas took his hand and shook it. "Cheers, mate. I'm Bill Douglas .... as to Müller, I don't know the whole story, but from what I heard back at Camp, your General knows him. He apparently was Müller's prisoner once......"
"You're kidding!" Dunn interrupted. "He's THAT Sergeant Müller!? 'Aspirin Müller'?"
"Everyone keeps calling him that. What's that all about then?"
"Everybody knows the story .... Savage crash landed in France and was captured by Müller's patrol. The General had a head injury, and Müller doctored him with aspirin; practically saved his life.
The General managed to escape later with the help of some of your SOE guys. No one could believe it when he turned up in a small plane three days later."
"The story was all over the base in no time. After a while, everyone started referring to him" indicating the sleeping Müller, "as 'Aspirin Müller'..... even though he's a German, he's kind of a 'good guy' around here because of how he treated the General."
"Well, I better get going, ... Bill, is it? ... before they come looking for me. Fred will be by in a bit with dinner. If you need anything, just ask anyone for Jack Dunn. I'll get the word."
"There is something, if you could....." Douglas quickly put in. "It's going to be dead boring around here having to stay with Müller all day. If I could have something to read, and possibly, some playing cards?"
"Sure thing, pal. I'll round some up, and bring 'em by later."
Just then, the door opened and another orderly appeared pushing a cart carrying several dinner trays. "Hey, Jack. I've got dinner trays for..." checking his clipboard, ".... Sergeants Douglas and Miller?"
"This is Bill Douglas, Fred. He's a Brit." Dunn said, taking a tray and handing it to his new friend. "and that.... is Sergeant Müller," emphasizing the German pronunciation and indicating the sleeping patient, "...not Miller. Just leave the tray. He may want it later."
Then to Douglas, "Bill, this is Fred Freyberg. He delivers the meals and medication and whatever else needs delivering, so you'll probably see a lot of him while you're here."
"Nice to meet you, Bill." Freyberg put in. "Like Jack here says, I get the meals from the mess hall, so if there's anything special you'd like, just let me know."
"Thank you, Private." Douglas said, not comfortable with the familiarity displayed by the Other Ranks here.
Then Dunn said, "Come on, Fred, let's leave the man in peace so he can settle in. He's going to be here a while."
Closing the door behind them in the hall, Dunn asked, "Do you know who that was, Fred?"
"Who, the Brit?"
"No, you idiot. The patient, Müller."
"I think he's a German."
"Of course he's German! That's 'Sergeant Müller' ..... 'Aspirin Müller'?!"
"Holy Cow! How'd he get here? Does anybody know?" Fred asked.
"Not yet," he said, grinning. "But they will." and Dunn set off down the hall to find some magazines and books and playing cards.
Savage's x-rays had been clear, but Kaiser had insisted on a complete examination, so it was after eighteen hundred, when Savage finally left the hospital and headed across the road to his Headquarters. In his outer office, he found his adjutant, Major Harvey Stovall, still at his desk.
Stovall was a forty-nine year old WWI retread, a reserve officer, who had until a couple of years ago been a successful practicing attorney ..... and a grandfather. He was also Savage's right hand and managed all the administrative details for the Group.
"Don't you know what time it is, Harvey? Why don't you call it a day? Whatever it is, will still be there tomorrow."
"I've been waiting for you, General." Stovall replied. "Don Henderson brought your briefcase over a couple of hours ago. I put it in the safe, then went looking for you at the hospital, but Nurse Kelly said Kaiser had you in an examination room, and you'd probably be there a while, so I came back here to wait. I knew you'd head here as soon as Doc Kaiser turned you loose."
"How'd the meeting go?
"Good. It's FINALLY coming together, Harvey. I'm hoping we'll get the go-ahead in the next ten days ... weather permitting, of course. I'll go over the details with everybody tomorrow."
"Henderson said you looked pretty beat-up." Stovall said looking him over. "How's the head? I hope your face feels better than it looks. It looks like you tried to scrape half of it off."
"The head hurts like hell, thank you very much, and let's just not discuss the face."
Heading into his inner office, he called back over his shoulder, "If there's any coffee left out there, bring me a cup, will you, and join me in my office."
Savage sat down at his desk and found it covered with the day's strike photos and mission reports. He hadn't been gone that long, but his in-basket was overflowing. That could wait until tomorrow, he decided. Then he carefully ran a hand over his face, rubbing his eyes. It had been a long day; his head hurt, his face hurt, and he was tired.
As Stovall came in with the coffee and set the hot cup in front of him, "Pinetree was notified of the accident, sir. General Crowe said to tell you that he was glad you weren't badly injured, but to remind you that your job ... and I quote, 'is to bomb the Germans, not get killed saving them'. He also said he'd come down when he could get away to discuss the Bodwell meeting."
Major General Wiley Crowe, Commander of the 1st Bombardment Wing, VIII Bomber Command, 8th Air Force, was Savage's immediate superior and long time friend. His headquarters, code name 'Pinetree', was located in Wycombe Abbey, a former exclusive girls' school, located just outside London.
"Thanks, Harvey. I'll call Wiley tomorrow and smooth his feathers." Taking a drink of the coffee, he breathed a deep sigh of satisfaction and leaned back in his chair, "I needed this. It's been one of those days." Then glancing through the strike photos, asked, "How'd today's mission go?"
"Good. Intelligence reports over ninety percent destruction of the Minerva factories. The Germans will have to look elsewhere for fighter parts for some time."
'That's great, Harvey. .... What was the count?"
"We put up twenty-six; twenty-four came back. We lost one on takeoff and one over the target. Wade on takeoff. He blew a tire, ran off the runway and exploded; no survivors. Williams went down over the target; everyone got out. The Resistance has been notified to look for them. We'll hear from the International Red Cross, eventually, if they're captured, or killed, but the IRC is very slow, as you know, so it could be months before we hear anything."
"Nine wounded, though none critical ... and none from the Lily's crew. Seven of the planes have damage, however, including the Lily." The 'Piccadilly Lily' was Savage's plane.
Savage nodded acknowledgement, then closed his eyes for a moment and tried to picture the faces of the crews he'd lost today. But he found he couldn't. There had been so many since he took command; now the faces were all a blur.
"We alerted for tomorrow?"
"Yes, sir. Bordeaux sub pens, again. Mission briefing is at zero-five-hundred; will you be attending?
"Yes. How many can we put up, and who's leading?"
"Sergeant Nero says he can have twenty, maybe twenty-one, ready by morning ... if he works through the night. Major Cobb will lead again."
Savage nodded in approval, then said wearily, "You know, Harvey, there are times when I get really tired of this stinking war." and staring down into his coffee, he went on, "I don't have enough men, enough aircraft, enough fighter protection ... and I'm losing what I do have faster than I can replace them. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it; if we're making any difference at all."
Seeing the General was heading down a dark path, Stovall changed the subject, "Henderson said you brought an injured German POW back with you."
Looking up, Savage asked, seemingly out of context, "Harvey, have you ever heard of 'Déjà Vu'?"
"Yes, sir. Isn't that when you think that something you're experiencing has happened before?"
"Something like that, yes."
"That accident this morning, with the German prisoners." Savage said, taking an old beat-up flask and a bottle of aspirin from a bottom drawer and setting them on the desk. "One of them was Sergeant Müller, the German who captured me last year in France."
"The one with the aspirin?" Harvey asked, doubting he'd heard correctly.
"That's the one. I haven't thought about that for months, Harvey; then today, at that accident, there he was, right in front of me, and it all came rushing back." He related to Stovall everything that had happened at the accident and at Camp Barton, and the reason Müller was at the Base Hospital.
"I don't know why, Harvey, but I feel like I owe the man something. We were enemies, and I was his prisoner, but by the time we got there, to the compound, it was like there was this.... I don't know .... some unspoken connection between us. I can't explain it. ... you had to be there."
Savage picked up the flask, and staring at it, remembered. ... He'd been in severe pain from a concussion when he was captured. Müller had given him his aspirin, and at night, schnapps from his flask to help him sleep. Then when they left him, Müller had stuffed both the aspirin and the flask into his jacket pocket.
He hadn't even remembered he had the flask until he found it in his pocket days after his return to the Base. He'd never really looked at it; he had just put it in his desk drawer and hadn't thought about it again. ... until now.
The flask was dented and badly tarnished, almost black with age. Examining it, he saw some scratches, and rubbing over them with his thumb, discovered it was engraving.
Stovall brought him a towel, and after a few moments, he had removed enough of the tarnish to make out the words,
'Unteroffizier Karl Müller, über die Vergabe der Eisernes Kreuz 1. Klasse, mit Dankbarkeit, Oberleutnant Erwin Johannes Rommel, Königlich Württembergisches Gebirgsbataillon, Karfreit 1917'
"How's your German, Harvey?"
"Not that great, General. But I have a German/English Dictionary in my desk."
Stovall quickly fetched his dictionary, and between them they translated the inscription. It read,
'Sergeant Karl Müller, on the award of the Iron Cross, First Class, with gratitude, First Lieutenant Erwin Johannes Rommel, Royal Wurttemberg Mountain Battalion, Caporetto, 1917'
"Well I'll be!" Stovall said, amazed. "Rommel! He served under Rommel in the First War. What do you suppose he did to earn an engraved silver flask?"
"Caporetto......" Savage said. "If I remember my Military History from 'The Point', the Germans and the Austrians decimated the Italian line at Caporetto. It was a full scale breakthrough, forcing the Italian armies to retreat from near the Austrian frontier to within twenty miles of Venice. That battle was one of the most crushing German victories during the Italian Campaign.
And, I believe, it was at Caporetto that Rommel was awarded the 'Pour le Mérite', the German equivalent of our Medal of Honor, for capturing a key mountain strongpoint, and it's 7,000 defenders, with only 100 men. And he was just a young officer then."
Handing Stovall the flask, "Harvey, get this cleaned up for me, will you? I think I'd like to give this back to its rightful owner."
"Yes, sir." Stovall said, taking the flask, and started to leave. Then, he turned and said, "Frank, is it wise to become more personally involved with this man. I know you feel some sort of a connection with him, but he IS the enemy, and I don't think......."
"I'm NOT getting involved, Major." Savage said defensively. "I just want to satisfy my curiosity about that inscription."
"Yes, sir .... If you don't have anything else, I think I'll take your advice and call it a day." Stovall said and continued out the door.
"Have a good night, Harvey." Savage called after him. "I'll see you in the morning."
Savage continued to sit there for a while, drinking his coffee, lost in thought. Then rubbing his tired eyes again, checked his watch; it was almost nineteen-hundred. It was time he called it a day, too. Turning out the lights, he closed the outer door, and headed down the road toward his quarters and a good night's sleep. He'd have to be up early tomorrow.