Blitzed

By Mickey S.

 


This is a fictional story. Most of the characters and events are figments of the author's imagination. However, some of the fictional characters take part in real events and some real characters take part in fictional events. In spite of that, this is a fictional story. My thanks to Tim and Drew for all of their help. The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at NJMcMick@yahoo.com.



Chapter Twenty-Two

 


I said nothing to Terrence about what I'd overheard, mainly because I couldn't decide just how to say it. I wanted to warn him about Betty, but I'd been eavesdropping and I couldn't admit to that. So as we lay in bed before falling asleep we talked about the wedding and the upcoming invasion. Terrence said he wasn't sure how the invasion, whenever it came, would affect him.  The past few weeks he'd been flying more than usual and now he'd just been reassigned to a Spitfire fighter group.

 
I hadn't heard anything about dogfights over the Channel so I assumed he was flying some type of patrol or reconnaissance, but I knew better than to ask. He'd long ago made it clear his missions were secret and it made him uncomfortable to have to refuse to answer my questions. So he would tell me what he could and we left it at that.

He left early Sunday morning and I had to leave in the afternoon. I didn't get to see TR and Sarah again as they had spent their wedding night in a suite at Claridge's. TR had to be back in the office that morning, even though it was Sunday. The invasion wouldn't wait for something as mundane as a lowly captain's honeymoon.

As soon as I returned to Pirbright, I had to say goodbye to Peter and John. Peter took it especially hard, seeing me leave for battle without him.

"You've never invaded a country without me to watch over you. Who's going to watch out for you now?"

"I suppose I'll just have to look after myself."

"The last time you did that you got shot."

"Let's hope I learned something from that experience. I promise I'll keep my head down, along with the rest of me."

"You'd better. I want you to come back in one piece."

I had been assigned to the First Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment which was stationed near Pirbright on their way to Southampton. The regiment had seen some early action in France and had been one of those evacuated from Dunkirk four years earlier. I hoped my battle experiences in Africa and Italy would help me fit in. I'd been impressed when I found that many of them had fought the blitzkrieg but it turned out my experiences impressed them even more. They weren't proud of their performance in Belgium and France and were itching for a chance to make up for that. And since the campaigns I'd been involved in were successful, they envied me.

And so on June 3, less than two weeks after the festive wedding, I was part of one of those military convoys heading south to the Channel. We still didn't know where we were going, but we were on our way.

A few days before, I had sent a carefully worded letter to Terrence, trying to warn him about Betty's plans. I tried to be as vague as possible, while encouraging him to be careful. I hated even thinking about him being with her in that way, but I wanted to make sure he took precautions.

Dear Terrence,
I wish we had had more time to talk after the wedding. We see so little of each other these days and there is never enough time. Now that the wedding is over, I have something I want to tell you. I promised TR I would keep it a secret, but I can't keep secrets from you. So, if you promise not to tell anyone, here goes. TR and Sarah are expecting. That's the real reason they moved up the wedding. Isn't that exciting? I'm going to be an uncle!
Of course, it's only good news because they were in love and planning to get married, anyway. If they hadn't been, it could have been a disaster. Can you imagine?  The only honorable thing to do would be to get married, of course, but that could end in two ruined lives, three when you count the baby, if they weren't ready for it. Fortunately, TR and Sarah were ready.
So many couples are rushing into marriage these days, mainly due to the uncertainty of the war, but an unplanned pregnancy is not a good way to start a life together. Thank God the military makes protection readily available. I'm not saying either one of us is doing anything that needs protection, but in case the need arises, it's good to be prepared. We're both too young to be husbands or fathers.
Yours,
Woody
 
I'd also sent a letter to TR, letting him know I was going to reveal his secret to Terrence, and why. I was a little more open with him about what I'd overheard, hoping that he would keep an eye on Betty. If ever there was a time I didn't want to leave England, this was it.

We put to sea on the fifth of June. The weather had been terrible for the previous twenty-four hours, but it was easing up a bit. Even so, the seas were rougher than they'd been on my earlier invasions. Men did just about anything to kill time on the ship. Some attended impromptu church services, some read, some gambled. I sat and wrote in my journal, trying to organize my thoughts.

Once we were at sea we were finally given our destination Normandy. Our assignment was taking a beach called Sword. It was the easternmost of five beaches involved in the invasion. Just to our west the Canadians were landing on Gold beach and on the other side of them would be more British on Juno beach. The two westernmost beaches, Omaha and Utah, were the responsibility of the Americans. Our sector of Sword, Queen, was right in the middle. We were expected to not only take the beach the first day but to move nearly ten miles inland and capture the city of Caen.

Not long after midnight we were given breakfast corned beef sandwiches and a tot of rum, which was apparently an old naval tradition. Spirits were high as we got into our landing craft, but after being tossed about in very rough waters for a few hours, the men were feeling more impatient and less optimistic. Many were getting sick, losing their breakfast. The rum hadn't been a good choice.

The experience of my youthful summers sailing on Long Island Sound helped keep my stomach calm but I was feeling claustrophobic crammed into such a small space with so many men. As it grew lighter, I was overwhelmed by the sight before me. There were literally thousands of ships of all kinds as far as the eye could see. Except for right around my own landing craft I couldn't see any water at all. It looked like it would be possible to walk back to England stepping from ship to ship.

But that's not the direction we were going. There weren't as many craft between us and the French shoreline, but it was still quite a sight. We were in the first wave of the invasion but not right at the front. Those ahead of us reached land at about 7:30 and were met with moderate fire by the sounds that came across the water. About half an hour later we made it to the beach. There were quite a number of wounded, but it wasn't the massacre I was imagining. In fact, the men at the front had already pushed off the beach and most of the fighting was inland.

The men from my company concentrated on securing the beach while I helped what wounded I could. We soon moved inland as well, although we didn't go very far. Our battalion was given the task of capturing two heavily fortified German strongpoints, codenamed Morris and Hillman. Morris fell after only an hour or so, but the fighting for Hillman was fierce. We had to cross minefields and barbed wire under heavy artillery fire. We suffered many casualties, which kept me busy, and we didn't make much progress until we got tank support and an extra squadron came to help us. And in the meantime no one could get past, so it soon became clear we weren't going to take Caen the first day. As usual, I lost track of the battle completely as I moved from one wounded soldier to the next.

It was after ten when we'd finally secured Hillman and settled in for the night. It had been a long, long day. Two days, actually, as we'd been up all night before the invasion had even started. My last thought as I dropped off to sleep was that it wasn't quite over as we'd have to take Caen in the morning.  

But that wasn't to be. We tried, but although we initially made some progress and reached the outskirts of the city, a Panzer division pushed us back. We tried another approach later in the week with the same results. We weren't gaining any ground but the casualties kept on coming.

Over the next six weeks I learned a little of what soldiers in the Great War must have felt. We repeatedly pushed forward toward Caen, only to hit a brick wall and be knocked back. It was a stalemate. We weren't stuck in trenches, but we weren't going anywhere either. I'd experienced some of that back-and-forth action in Tunisia, but even when we were retreating there we were on the move. In Normandy, we were stuck in one spot. And we were so close to the coast that there wasn't enough room to bring in more troops and supplies behind us, at least not as many as we would have liked.

The last week of June following a three day monsoon-like storm, another operation was launched to take Caen, this time from the west. Our job was to capture a German-held chateau, de la Londe. We were led to believe it wasn't well-defended, but it took two days of heavy fighting and scores of casualties before we were successful. I spent two full days and the night in between repairing wounds, applying tourniquets, numbing pain and watching young men die. Surrounded by gaping wounds and bloody stumps, it was getting harder and harder for me to work impersonally, concentrating on the job and not the patient.

After the battle was over, as exhausted as I was, I couldn't fall asleep. The bloody images of the past two days, and the three weeks before, kept whirling through my head. I tried to will myself to sleep, lying still, thinking of my family back in London, even those back in New York, listening to the rhythmic breathing of the men around me, anything to take my mind off the bloodshed of the past month. After a while I heard what sounded like soft sobbing coming from not far away. I sat up and looked around in the dark. After a moment my eyes adjusted and I could make out the shapes of sleeping soldiers. The sobbing was coming from one not too far to my right. I crawled over to him.

"Are you hurt?" I whispered as I put my hand on what I thought was his shoulder. He jumped at my touch and pulled away.

"N-no, I'm fine."

"It didn't sound like it. Are you sure you're all right?"

"You're that Yank medic, aren't you?" He sat up and squinted at me, trying to see in the dark.
"Yes, Sergeant Cooper. And you are ...?"

"Private Edward Demarest. I just got here a few days ago."

"I thought so. I don't know many of the men well, but I at least recognize most of the faces. I only joined the regiment last month, so I'm somewhat new myself."

The small talk seemed to calm him down and it took my mind off the battle as well.

"So you're not used to battle, either. How do you stand it? I don't mind that I might die at any moment. Well, I do, actually, but I've accepted that that might happen. But it's all so terrible out here, the blood, the gore, the pain. It's like a horror story that never ends."

"Actually, I've been through plenty of fighting before this. It doesn't get any easier, though. And you're right, it's the terrible things that are happening all around you that are worse than anything happening to you."

I gave him a brief rundown of my experiences in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.

"What I went through after getting shot was no picnic, but it wasn't any worse than what I saw all the time happening to others on the battlefield."

"You've been in the army a long time. How old are you?"

"I'm ... You don't happen to know today's date, do you?"

"It's the twenty-eighth."

"Then I'm twenty-one. Today was my birthday."

"Not a very happy one. I'm 18."

"That's how old I was when I joined up. Let's hope that by the time you're 21 the war will be over."

"How did a Yank end up in the British Army?"

I told him an abbreviated version of my story. He told me about his family in Suffolk. After a while he began to yawn. I was feeling drowsy myself. When he dozed off I went back to my place and was finally able to fall asleep.

The only advantage I could think of to being stuck in one place for over a month was good mail service. Normally when there was heavy fighting the mail was delayed. But since we weren't moving much, each time the fighting ended the mail resumed pretty quickly. I filled all of the time I wasn't tending to the wounded writing letters. My parents, grandparents, TR, Terrence, Mrs. Atkins, Alice, Peggy, Peter and John all heard from me that first month in Normandy. I couldn't tell them much, like where I was or what I was doing, but I could let them know I was alive. I mostly asked how they were doing.

I'd seen Peggy once on her return to England in March. The next time she came back was the week after TR's wedding, so I missed her then. By now she was probably back in Italy although she couldn't tell me that. From what we'd been told things were going well on that front. While there had been a lot of heavy fighting there all spring, the Allies had liberated Rome right about the time we were invading Normandy.  

By mid-July I'd heard back from everyone except Terrence and his mother. I'd received a brief note from Alice but she didn't have much to say. Her letters were usually all about Terence's last letter to her, or his last visit, but she didn't even mention him. I supposed with the invasion he was probably too busy to write and most assuredly not able to get leave.

Even so, I was anxious at not getting a letter from him. I was afraid that maybe the warning in my letter had been too blunt, that maybe he was annoyed that I was prying into his sex life. I'd written him again just before the assault on Chateau de la Londe, not even hinting at sex at all, but still I got no reply. I was concerned enough to ask about him in my next letter to TR, thinking he might have heard from him.  

The second week of July we finally took the part of Caen north of the Orne River, not that there was much of the city left by then. The RAF had launched a massive bombing campaign a few days before that left the city in ruins. Unfortunately, it didn't do much to weaken the German defenses north of the city, so we ran into the fiercest fighting yet as we made our way toward Caen. The injuries were gruesome, even worse than I'd seen in the minefield near Hillman.

I made a point of keeping an eye on Private Demarest when we were in battle. He handled himself quite well, showing courage I wouldn't have expected from our brief conversation. Every now and then I caught his eye and gave him a reassuring smile. He responded with a nod of his head and a smile back.

In the middle of July we took part in a huge tank battle sweeping around to the east of Caen. In two days of terrible fighting we finally gained the southern half of the city and about seven miles beyond.

Over the next few weeks we slowly moved westward toward the American sector, helping to capture the town of Vire. We then pushed southeast toward Flers. I had no idea what the strategy was. Apparently the heaviest buildup of German tanks and troops was east of Caen, so we were going around them. In any event, we were finally capturing territory, though quite slowly, and that was important.

But it had taken over a month to move the ten miles from the Channel to Caen, then another month to move about the same distance to the south and west. Two months of heavy fighting and we were further from Germany than when we'd landed. At that rate I estimated that even if we started heading in the right direction we wouldn't make it to Berlin until my twenty-fifth birthday - if our manpower held out. We had casualties in the thousands. We were losing men much faster than we had in Africa and Italy.

Our eastward push brought us together with the main part of the British army, the Canadians and the US 1st army near Argentan. I assumed that once we'd joined up with the American armies we'd have some time to rest up a bit. We were now in firm control of northwestern France, had taken tens of thousands of prisoners, and the Germans were in full retreat. But although the heavy fighting was over, we had only begun to move. The American armies took off to the east, heading toward Paris. The British and Canadians went northeast to the Seine.

Now there was almost no fighting and we moved as fast as an army could. We only stopped once, in early September near the border of Belgium, and that was because we'd outrun our supplies. There we camped for nearly three days waiting for convoys of trucks to bring in supplies.

One day I was playing cards with Private Demarest when a convoy arrived. There were six trucks, three of them tankers of petrol, three with food and ammunition. They were escorted by two jeeps. It was only nine in the morning and it was the third convoy of the day. Our supplies had finally caught up. The trucks were behind me and I didn't pay much attention to them, but after a few minutes Pvt. Demarest jumped to attention and saluted, so I stood and turned around. I already had my hand up to salute the American captain approaching us when I realized it was TR!

I completed my salute and he returned it, then we shook hands warmly. I wanted so much to hug him but I restrained myself and introduced him to Edward.

"You're a full-fledged Yank, I see."

"Half and half, just like Woody. But I was on the other side of the pond when the war started."

"What are you doing here, TR?"

"Checking out this damned supply nightmare. You know we haven't got a real harbor we can use yet, so everything is still coming through the beaches at Normandy. That was fine when all of the fighting was around there, but now the armies are spread out over hundreds of miles. Patton's yelling so loud we can practically hear him in London, so they sent me over to make sure the Red Ball Express is working out."

"We were moving really well but now we've been sitting here two days waiting for supplies."

"The Red Ball Express is doing a better job than we'd hoped but you guys are getting too far away from Normandy for it to be of much use for long. It takes too much time and fuel just to deliver the supplies."

"Well, it's a wonderful coincidence that you ended up here."

"It's not a coincidence at all. When I learned I'd be traveling around with the supplies I made sure I'd get to your division. I wanted to see you."

"How's everyone back home? Is Sarah doing all right?"

"She's just fine and getting bigger every day. Our secret is out. The doctor says she's due the first week of January."

"And Mother and Dad?"

"Why don't we get some coffee? I've been on the road all night."

"After you've tasted British army coffee you might want to switch to tea," I said as I led him toward the mess tent. Edward excused himself, leaving us to catch up on family news.

"The family's fine, but they've been worried about you." TR took a sip of coffee and grimaced slightly. "The fighting was so fierce in the beginning it was good that we got so many letters from you to reassure us you were all right, but now that you're on the move your letters have slowed. Have you heard that London is being bombed again?"

"No. How is that possible? I thought the Allies had complete superiority in the air."

"We do, but the Germans have developed rockets, flying bombs, that they launch from various locations here on the Continent. They're not very accurate so the bombing is somewhat random, but there's no warning at all when they are going to hit. In London they call them doodlebugs but I think that makes them sound cute and they're anything but. They're horrible. You hear a buzzing and five seconds later they go off."

"Isn't there any way to stop them?"

"We're getting better at shooting them down, but the best way to stop them is to capture the launching sites. They're near the Channel, so as we advance we put them out of business."

"So everyone back home is all right so far?"

"The family is fine."

"How's Terrence? I haven't heard from him at all since I've been here."

"I know you've been concerned about not hearing from him. That's the main reason I wanted to see you in person." He hesitated and took a deep breath. "Terrence was shot down over Normandy the day of the invasion. He got pretty banged up when he bailed out, but he survived and he's been taken prisoner."

"Prisoner? Banged up? How bad is he?" My heart was in my throat and I could barely talk.

"He broke his leg and dislocated his shoulder, but other than that `banged up' pretty much covers it."

"How long have you known this?"

"I knew he was shot down almost immediately. Working at headquarters I have some good connections and I try to keep pretty close tabs on both of you guys. But I didn't know any more until Mrs. Atkins got a card from him in late June. She and I have kept in close touch since then. Mother helped her put together a nice parcel for him last month. He's allowed one of those every three months."

"And when were you going to tell me?"

"I wanted to make sure he was all right before I said anything. Once I knew I was coming over here I decided I'd rather talk to you in person than write you about it."

"Can I write to him?"

"Yes, I have the address for you. He's allowed to send three letters a month and four postcards. He'll send any replies to you to the house in London, not your army address, and I think it might be better if you sent all of your correspondence to him through me at home. The Germans probably don't want their prisoners communicating with enemy soldiers." He grinned. "I brought along a letter we received for you last week."

He pulled an envelope from his pocket and smiled.

"Give it to me! What were you waiting for?" I grabbed the envelope from him and ripped it open.


Woody,
I suppose you've heard the news by now. It looks like I'm not as good a fighter pilot as I thought. There were two Messerschmitts after me and I only saw one. Don't let anyone tell you that parachuting out of a burning plane is the same as in practice. My landing wasn't by the book but I survived broke my left ankle and dislocated my right shoulder. It's a good thing it worked out that way or I wouldn't be able to use a crutch.
So I get to sit out the rest of the war. Don't worry about me. Things are all right here.  At least I won't need the protection you talked about in your last letter. I'll write when I can but outgoing mail is limited and Mum comes first, you know. But I'm sure she'll pass along whatever news she has, now that she knows you know where I am. She was trying to keep it from you so you wouldn't worry.  
Take care of yourself and I'll see you in Somerset before you know it.
Yours,
Terrence


I read it through a second time and then handed it to TR. As he read it I thought about what Terrence might be going through. The letter made it sound as though he was doing fine. I knew it couldn't be as good as he made it sound, but he probably didn't want me to worry.

"Sounds like he's okay and there's nothing to worry about." TR handed the letter back to me.

"Yeah, he makes it sound more like he's gone to spend the summer at Brighton than the rest of the war as a prisoner, but I think we can assume he's all right."

"Don't worry too much, Woody. From what we've been able to tell, the Germans are abiding by the Geneva Convention in their treatment of prisoners. Besides, I don't think the war will last all that much longer."

"Why? Do you know something I don't?"

"I know a lot of things you don't, little brother, but I think it's pretty common knowledge that we've finally got the upper hand now. The fighting's not over by a long shot, but I can't imagine the war going on for another year."

"I hear some of the men saying we'll be in Berlin before the winter's over."

"I'm not quite that optimistic, but the end is getting closer."

Just then several American soldiers, most of them Negroes, approached us. They got coffee and TR introduced them as drivers from his convoy. The men sat down and talked about their trip from Normandy. They told tales of the fighting that I had not seen or heard much about, the American landings at Utah and Omaha beaches. I'd heard about Gold and Juno from other British and Canadian troops we'd encountered, but the American sector had been further west. Apparently the Omaha landing had been the worst by far. And, as bad as our own battles to take Caen had been, the Americans had had just as much trouble in the hedgerows around St. Lo.

The others took consolation in the fact that the Germans had lost so many more men than we had, but that didn't comfort me. A dead body of any nationality was still someone's son, brother, father or husband. And I'd seen too many wounded, maimed men of all nationalities in so much pain. Once they were out of action their nationality made no difference to me. And while these men, TR included, had an arduous and somewhat dangerous task driving supplies across a not-quite fully liberated France, they hadn't seen the battle casualties I had up close.

But I still wanted to hear their news, although as much as I tried, I couldn't keep my mind completely on what the men were talking about. I kept thinking about my Terrence, wounded and trapped in a prison camp. I'd worried about him all through the war, knowing how dangerous his flying missions were. But at least then he was free. Now he wasn't in danger any longer, but he was a captive. And, as always, there was nothing I could do about it.


To Be Continued