Chapter Eleven


Peter Robinson : September 1939
It was quiet in the little cottage we had rented. I climbed the stairs to the single bedroom. Victoria was still asleep. This was unusual, for the five days we had been together in the Scottish Highlands, she had been up at dawn every day to go for her first run. I had got up a couple of mornings and tried to keep up with her. But by the Wednesday, I had decided to stay in bed a little longer and then have breakfast ready when she came back. I liked to keep fit, but five or ten miles before breakfast is carrying things a little far.
Last night had been different. For a change, we had gone to a little restaurant a couple of miles away, instead of the local pub. After dinner, when the moment felt right, I took a deep breath and made my marriage proposal to her. Victoria's answer had taken me totally by surprise. Without hesitation she crushed all my hopes with a single caustic, ‘NO!’
I didn't understand at all. For the three months after we met we had been conducting a passionate affair. We had spent every moment I could sneak away from the airfield, together. We had done everything we could together, shows in London, art galleries, museums, walks in the country. And sex, we seemed to fit together perfectly. I was by no means a virgin before Victoria, but our lovemaking was wonderful beyond anything I had ever experienced.
Yet, most of all, our relationship was a meeting of minds. We talked for hours about anything and everything. In no time at all, I had fallen very deeply in love with her. Perhaps because of her beauty, perhaps because of the quirks of her personality, but mostly because it just felt right to be with her.
Most of our walk back to the cottage was in a silence stonier than the path we were walking. I couldn't understand her position at all. Finally, back at the cottage I had asked, ‘Why?’
‘You need to find someone else. You need to find someone uncomplicated, and unspoiled by the world.’
‘You are the most flawless person I have ever known.’
‘No I am not! If I stay with you, in the end I would only ruin everything we have.’
I am afraid to say we fought, both of us ranted at each other. Then, somehow, we found ourselves in each other's arms. We made love fiercely, passionately, but finally when we finished, Victoria burst into racking sobs. She cried wordlessly for I don't know how long. I didn't know what to do so I simply held her as she shook. Then finally she fell into a deep sleep.
For a change, it was I who rose in the dawn mist. I walked to a nearby loch and found a kind of peace, skipping stones across the still, dark, water. But all diversions run their course and now I was back in the bedroom, looking at the mysterious girl who had stolen my heart.
The morning sunlight played over Victoria's sleeping form. She had thrown back the sheet as she slept, exposing her breast. No sculptor could have captured the beauty of her form, but it was her face that really caught my attention. In her sleep she was perfectly relaxed and her face was like that of a serene angel. I felt my breath catch in my throat, maybe she was right. How could I ever expect to capture such a heavenly creature? Surely she must be an angel come to earth.
I sat on edge of the bed and brushed a golden wisp from her face, then I bent to kiss her cheek. She stirred and opened her eyes. ‘Peter?’
‘Yes, my sweet, it is getting late.’
She rolled away from me. In a fluid motion she was out of the bed and standing naked. Without any kind of shame, she stood looking out of the window. A moment passed as she leant on the frame looking away towards the loch.
I stayed on the bed, I must admit, admiring her slim waist and firm bottom, and at the same time dreading what she would say. ‘I am sorry Peter. I never meant to hurt you.’
‘Does that mean…?’
She turned, her face wore an imploring look, ‘It is not that I do not feel affection, no even love, love, for you, but I am confused und frightened. I have been desired for what I look like.’
I am sure I blushed, and I dropped my eyes. ‘And for my wealth, und I have been hurt before, and so I fear your motivation. I fear why you want me. I have seen the worst that men can be, und I do not know how to trust any more.’
I was crushed. All I could utter was. ‘I don't understand.’
‘Please, do not hate me. I am… I do not even know if I can trust myself. And I loved, love another, and whatever I feel for you, my heart is still broken.’
‘So you will not marry me?’
‘No, not now, maybe not ever.’
No, such a little word, but striking with the force of a bludgeon. I felt like my heart was crushed to a useless pulp. I slumped onto the bed and repeated. ‘I don't understand.’
‘Don't hate me.’
‘I don't hate you, I love you.’
‘Ach, Peter,’ Victoria crossed over to me and hugged my face to her chest, ‘I do love you. But I need to first understand myself, to be sure of myself. Somehow I must let go of my grief. Until I do that, I am not able, not fit, to be your wife.’

It was mid day as we entered the village pub. Victoria and I had made a truce. I had been terrified she would reject me entirely, but for now we would go on as we had been. I only partially understood her inner turmoil, but I made it plain that I would wait forever if necessary.
The pub was a typical country affair. We entered a small dark room stained with smoke from the large open fireplace set in one wall. As we had found, on our previous visits, the innkeeper was not the almost obligatory plump, jolly, man. He was a tall, thin, middle-aged fellow, who limped around the pub with a sour expression. He looked as if he had been badly let down by the world. Yet, we had found him pleasant enough over the time we had been coming there.
Today if anything, his air was even more forbidding than usual. He stood behind the bar scowling and wiping glasses. There was a small group of locals talking in subdued voices. They also had been politely tolerant of the Sassenach strangers over the past week.
But on that morning, as we entered, you could have cut the air with a knife. Baleful stares were directed at us. A big man stepped towards us. ‘You lot aren't welcome here any longer.’
I was taken aback, ‘I'm sorry, I don't understand.’
The man scowled. ‘They've done it, your girlfriend’s lot, those bastards have done it.’
‘The Germans, they've invaded Poland.’
Victoria swayed, grabbing my shoulder. ‘When?’ I asked.
‘Just this morning, before first light.’
Victoria grabbed my shirt almost frantically, ‘Verdammung! Ist es die Tschechoslowakei wieder? Nicht Tschechoslowakei wieder!.’
I turned to her ignoring the locals, ‘No, it will not be Czechoslovakia all over again.’
Würden nicht England zwischen zwei stühlen sitzen wieder?’
All eyes in the room seemed to be boring into Victoria. Seeing some thunderous looks on the faces of the customers, I said nervously. ‘Speak English.’
Abruptly, I was pushed aside. A fat, red faced, man bawled at Victoria, ‘Get out of here, you bloody Hun! Your sort aren’t welcome here!’
Victoria looked startled, almost frightened. I prepared to have to fight to get her out. Suddenly, there was a crash as the innkeeper slammed a glass down on the bar. ‘I'll not have that in here, Andrew McLeod.’
The fat man turned, a surprised look on his face. The innkeeper went on, ‘I've more reason to hate Germans than any here. Leave the lass alone!’
He paused, frowning at his customers, daring them to disagree with him. The fat man stepped back looking sheepish. The publican turned to Victoria. ‘If you don't like the company in here, lass, you can take your boyfriend round into the lounge. I'll be in to serve you in a moment.’
We sat ourselves in the lounge. I must say, I was more than half inclined to simply run for it. After a moment, the Innkeeper came in with his usual pronounced limp. He tapped his leg. ‘This is a tin affair. Left my leg on the Somme in 1916.’
Victoria stood and to my surprise she kissed him on the cheek. ‘Thank you, you do not know how much your kindness means to me.’
The Innkeeper blushed, ‘There lass, you'll be getting Mrs. MacDougal down on me. I've talked to you and your young man enough to know you are no Nazi.’
‘No, not a Nazi.’
‘Nonetheless lass, if there is going to be a war you might find it safer at home. Some nasty things happened to Germans here in the last war.’

With the help of the Innkeeper, we managed to get a car that took us back to the cottage to pack our gear, and then to the nearest station. Getting a train to Edinburgh from there was not difficult. But from Edinburgh there were no tickets to be had on any trains going south.
It was not until the following morning we finally caught a train. We spent a tense night in a hotel. Victoria paced the floor for most of the night. She was terrified by the possibility that Britain and France would turn their backs on Poland, like they had done to Czechoslovakia only a few months before. Once on the train she finally slept, leaning on my shoulder for much of the trip.
We parted at Kings Cross Station. Victoria had to go across to Paddington to catch a train for Oxford, while I had to make my way back to my Squadron. I found it very hard putting her in the taxi. Her distraught face looked very pale, through the window of the cab, as it disappeared into the London traffic.

Chapter Ten


Ebert Gausel: September 1939
We were at our start lines well before first light. The men were keen to begin our crusade, to regain German land and honor. Though, of course there were plenty of nerves. That would soon become routine before going into combat. Personally, I did not feel much anxiety, as I was too busy to think about myself.
In the quiet before first light, when all was ready, I had a few moments to think. Then, as all too often, my thoughts turned to Katharina. I wondered if the action we were about to start would precipitate war between Germany and England. Where would she stand? How could she possibly choose, between loyalty for home and her father's country? I hoped she was somewhere safe. Especially away from London, which would soon enough become a target in a more general war.
The Polish campaign was an exhilarating experience for me. I commanded a company of motorized infantry. We were in the vanguard of the advance, in direct support of the panzers. It was wonderful to see everything work so well, all the training of the months before paying off. The panzers would smash open position after position, and we would be there winkling out resistance, or more directly assaulting positions the tanks could not approach.
The regiment, we were attached to, advanced over twenty five kilometers in the first day alone. The Poles fought bravely, but they had no chance against our forces. My company alone took hundreds of prisoners and captured or destroyed dozens of artillery pieces. The men behaved in every way as the elite soldiers they were. As for myself, I believe I led them well. I was always near the front and I would never ask my men to do anything I was not prepared to do myself.
To my relief, the actual experience of combat did not frighten me at all. Partly, because I was always so busy with command, I did not have time to dwell on the possibility of the worst. Also, I was always too preoccupied with setting a good example to be afraid.
The only disquieting factor was the treatment of some prisoners; on several occasions some were shot out of hand. The usual excuse was they were an inconvenience. I stepped on this hard in my company. The Poles might not be Aryans, but they had fought well enough to be shown some respect. Also, they were so demoralized that one or two men were sufficient to escort even hundreds of them to the rear. So they were in reality little trouble.

Heinrich Lange: September 1939
I first meet Herr Gausel on the second day of the Polish campaign. I am posted to Sturmbannführer Gausel's company, as his driver. My initial impression of him is very favorable. Herr Gausel is, as are all SS, a tall man. He is very handsome, and obviously concerned for his appearance. But he is not a dandy, there is something more about him, I believe any man will follow him into hell if he leads them.
I am posted to him because his last driver is killed the day before. I soon find out how. Herr Gausel leads from the front. He and hence I, are in the thick of the fighting all day. It is always so with Herr Gausel. It is horrible and exhilarating at the same time. Most of the time we drive forwards, the Poles are giving way, with a fight, but giving.
During those first few days we pass burning buildings and bodies everywhere. More often than we would like, the advance is slowed by a strong point, or some rearguard action. The Poles are not cowards, they fight like tigers for their land. At one point, two of the Panzers are destroyed in less than a minute, by a gun hidden in some farm buildings. It is supported by machine guns and our squad that go in first are cut down. I watch with horror as our comrades are butchered.
Their bodies lie contorted in the open field. Herr Gausel personally leads the second squad that creeps up to deal with the Poles. There is a lot of open ground between us and the Poles, but we manage to follow a fold in the ground to within a few meters. Then Herr Gausel and another man throw grenades. We leap up and charge over the last bit of ground.
A machine gun nest is just in front of us, but the grenades see them off. Three Poles lie in impossible positions in a shallow pit. Another gun fires on us from the right, but we just go on. For the first time in my life I am sprayed with another's blood as the man beside me folds up as we run. I try to forget the metal flying through the air at us.
The canon is hidden in a barn. Herr Gausel charges in, firing his machine pistol from the hip. Two men go down. The rest of the Poles, not so brave now, try to surrender. But our blood is hot and we cut them down with a couple of bursts.
Then it is quiet. I look around. The twisted bodies disturb me more than I expect. One man in particular, is nearly cut in two, his entrails spill across the floor. I remember I want to be sick, but I do not reveal my weakness to my comrades.
That night, we rest for a few hours while the Panzers are maintained. I am pleased to say I am brave enough on my first day in combat. I think it is easier with the example of Herr Gausel to follow. With him in front any man can be courageous. Whatever else he may be, he is a true hero. I would follow him again tomorrow through anything. I just wish I could forget or even ignore the dead, as the others seem to.

Jena Schiller: September 1939
Shock, that is what it was; a shock. We did not really expect it would happen. It was little Benjamin who woke me that first morning. ‘Wake up, Jena.’
I rolled over, ‘Go away Benjamin, it's hardly light.’
‘Wake up Jena, Mama and Papa are sad.’
This pierced the fog in my mind. ‘What?’
‘Mama is crying. She says you should make me some breakfast.’
I sat up bewildered, ‘Mama is crying?’
‘So is Aunt Anya.’
This was strange enough to get me out of bed. Little Benjamin stood watching me solemnly, with his big blue eyes, as I pulled on my dressing gown.
Mama, Papa and the Kalinowskis, were all in our sitting room. The National Anthem was playing on the radio. Papa looked sick with worry, and Mama, and Anya had indeed been crying. ‘Papa, what is wrong?’
‘The Germans have invaded.’
Mama cut him off, ‘Hans, now is not the time! Jena, take Benjamin into the kitchen and get him breakfast. Then he might like to feed the ducks at the river.’
Mama always looked for ways to protect my innocence. Even then it seemed futile to me. This world is no place for the naïve.

I was fourteen years old when the Germans invaded Poland. I lived in Drosdow, an Eastern Polish village, with my parents; my Papa Hans Schiller, my Mama Gilda; and my two brothers, David who was three years older than I, and Benjamin who was ten years younger.
My Papa was born in Austria in 1892. He studied medicine in Vienna before World War I and served as a surgeon throughout the war. Perhaps because of this experience, he was a very thoughtful and gentle man. It was as if he had seen enough aggression to last a lifetime.
As a small child I always thought my Papa a very handsome and distinguished man. This was in spite of my Mama continually saying he had the largest nose in the world. As I grew up I came to agree with my Mama's assessment of my Papa's nose. However I still thought of him as one of the wisest, kindest, people in the world.
My Mama was nearly ten years younger than Papa. Mama had been considered a beauty in her day. Mama like Papa, came from a middle-class family, although she insisted until her dying day that she was a distant relative of the Rothschilds. While I believe she genuinely loved my Papa, I think she was also always disappointed that she had married a mere doctor.
As a newly married couple after the end of the war, my parents scraped a living in the chaos that was post-war Austria. Finally, in 1923, with their baby, my elder brother David, they moved to Poland. My father joined a practice with a friend of his from medical school days, Paul Kalinowski. In spite of the move to Poland, my Mama continued to regard us as an Austrian family. She insisted all of us were Austrian, even though I was born in Poland, as was Benjamin. Due to my Mama's insistence of our nationality, we spoke German in the home. In that, as with other things, we were very different from our neighbors.
Drosdow, as did many places, had a mixed population of Christian and Jewish Poles. Hence, in public we spoke either Polish, or Yiddish, depending on who we were talking to. My older brother David and I were truly trilingual, speaking each language fluently. My Papa was fluent in Yiddish, which is very similar to his native German and had a functional grasp of Polish. My little brother, Benjamin, was at this stage promising to be multilingual as well. In contrast my poor Mama, after sixteen years in Poland, could barely make herself understood in Polish.
This was a real problem for my Mama as she could converse with the Yiddish speaking members of the community. But they, as Jewish in rural Poland, were virtually all from the poorer segments of society. This did not suit my Mama at all. It was all right for my father to look after their health as a doctor, but to meet them as social equals was out of the question.
The Christian community was of little use to her either. She could barely communicate with them, due to her inability to learn Polish. But more than that, once it became known that we were Jewish in origin, their innate prejudice erected a social barrier in any case. Hence my Mama was almost entirely socially isolated.
My Mama's only real friend was Anya Kalinowski, the wife of my father's partner, Dr Paul Kalinowski. Paul, like my Papa, had served as a doctor during the war. Like my Papa he had wanted nothing but the peace of a rural practice following the war. Anya, unlike my Mama, was on the whole very content with her lot. The Kalinowskis both spoke very good German. So as we were neighbors Mama and Anya spent a lot of time together. The Kalinowskis never had children, so my brothers and I became surrogate children for them as well. We would happily wander between the two houses as if both were our home.

It is about a kilometer walk from our house down to the river's bank. The river there is very sedate, snaking back and forth in a sandy bed, overhung by cool shady willows. It should have been very peaceful by the river. For Benjamin it still was. He stood on the bank and called. ‘Duck, duck!’
The village's flock of ducks were used to being fed, and quickly assembled, gently quacking. Benjamin laughed as the ducks chased each other back and forth for the scraps we had brought with us. He had soon fed them the few morsels, and they lost interest and drifted off. Benjamin then busied himself looking for pebbles to throw in the water. Normally I would have enjoyed helping with his search, but on this morning I was too preoccupied about the future to relax. So I sat on the sand and broke a series of small twigs into ever-smaller pieces out of sheer frustration. I wanted to go home, to find out what was happening, but I knew better than to arrive home too early. If Mama had told me to take Benjamin out, she did not want us back until much later.
After some time, I heard the rattle of a bicycle coming down the path towards the river. I stood up to see who was coming. It was David. He dropped his bike with a clatter, on the path, and strode over to me. Even though he was my brother, I had to admit that at seventeen, David was a good looking boy. He had been afflicted by a slightly smaller version of my papa's nose, otherwise he would properly have been truly handsome. Benjamin too, looked as if he would grow a version of the Schiller nose. Every time I looked in a mirror, I breathed a sigh of relief that I had inherited my Mama's petite nose.
David frowned at me, not out of ill will, but out of frustration. He was a clever young man, always thinking deep thoughts. His favorite pastime was to engage Papa and Paul Kalinowski in long conversations as they played chess or cards. ‘So little sister, you've been sent out for your own good.’
Papa, despite my being his daughter, treated me as if I had a growing mind that would one day be his equal. As a result of his example David did as well. He showed none of the arrogance many boys show to their sisters. Mama, in contrast, was more traditional. She was always criticizing Papa for encouraging my mind, arguing all I would ever do was marry. In addition, she always attempted to shield us, and me in particular, from knowledge of the world's evils. I sighed, ‘It seems so.’
‘She'll never stop treating us as children.’
‘David, what is going to happen?’
‘It will be very bad. They will defeat us sooner or later.’
‘What about the British? Won't the British help us?’
‘They let the Czechs go. But even if they elect to help what can they really do? Germany is between us and them.’
‘What will they do to us?’
‘It will be appalling. If they only do what they have done in Germany and Austria, they will stop Papa being a doctor, and take our house away, make us move into the village.’
‘Because we have Jewish ancestors? We don't even believe!’
Papa had brought home a strong belief in the absurdity of religion from the carnage of war. It was a result of his loss of faith that saw us raised as atheists. ‘It makes no difference to them. For them it is race that matters.’
‘Race? Look at us, we are fair, we all have blue eyes, I am blonde, we probably have more Germanic ancestors than Hitler.’
‘To them it doesn't matter, our parents and grandparents worshiped in a synagogue not a church. That is enough to poison us forever.’
‘Oh, David, if they stop Papa practicing, they'll stop you going to medical school.’
He looked miserable. All my life David had said he would be a doctor, like Papa. He sighed, ‘If that is all we loose in the coming years, we will be fortunate.’
He looked at our little brother foraging for stones in the sand. ‘At least it should all be over in time for Benjamin, no matter what happens. The world will come back to its senses eventually.’

Chapter Nine


Ebert Gausel: July 1939
It was nearly eight months after Katharina left home, that I finally went to England. I had saved every pfennig I could, but in the end I had to sell my car to ensure I had enough money for the fares and to search properly.
The first three months, that winter of '38-'39 were the most bleak in my life. My work, my purpose before I met Katharina, became a dull routine, a torment to be endured day by day. On the whole it was as if a shining light had gone from me, leaving me to fumble in the dark. Adalheid helped, not by being sympathetic, she wasn't, but simply by being a distraction, as did the innocent pleasure her children Frieda and Johan took from my company when I visited.
Then, I transferred back from the General SS to the SS-VT and the hard work of building and training a fighting unit began to lift me from my despondency. Also, somehow, I managed to hold onto a hope that if I could just see my darling, she would see reason. Surely it was her father keeping us apart. It could not simply be her innocent misunderstanding about Inge. I had written letter after letter, with no reply of any kind. I guessed Katharina was not even getting mail from me. No, he was definitely preventing our reunion.
I arrived by ferry at Southampton and immediately ran into my first problems: my English was so poor, I found it very difficult to make myself understood; and the currency was fiendishly obscure, twelve pennies to the shilling and twenty shillings to the pound, totally bizarre.
I made my way to London. Once there, I watched a mansion in Mayfair that Jan Bock had told me was owned by the Chesterfield Family. On that first day I saw the father coming and going, but of Katharina I saw no sign. It was a bitter disappointment. I did not dare to reveal myself to the father. What chance would I have if he spirited her away?
Not knowing what else to do, I went back to the Mayfair house the next day. About mid-morning I had some luck. I saw a girl called Anna, who had been Katharina's lady's maid at the Brunnenpalast.
With hope rekindled I went around to the servant's entrance and asked for the girl. For an anxious five minutes I stood near the back door of that grand residence. Finally the girl came out, a curious expression on her face. ‘Sturmbannführer Gausel, what a surprise to see you here.’
‘Anna, is the Princess here?’
‘No she isn't,’ she cheerily went on, ‘what a surprise, you are the last person I expected to see here.’
I fought to maintain my patience, ‘Anna, I need to find the Princess.’
‘Oh, of course. Um, I think she is staying with her cousin in Oxford.’
‘Oxford? Do you know the address?’
‘No, I haven't been there, but I expect I can ask for you.’
‘Anna, it is important you don't tell anyone why you are asking.’
‘Mister Chesterfield is trying to keep us apart.’
‘I see. I always wondered why she called off your wedding. That would also explain why she was so unhappy for so long.’
I felt a surge of hope. If Katharina had been miserable she must still want me. ‘She was unhappy?’
‘Yes terribly, she hardly ate for weeks. In the end her father took her to see a doctor, he was so worried.’
‘Well hopefully I can make it right now. Could you get that address? And please don't tell anyone why.’

I fought to control my shaking. I brought my hand up and making a fist, knocked on the door. I stood nervously waiting, desperate that everything would go alright. The door popped open and my heart fluttered like a butterfly, it was her! Then for an instant, I wondered what she had done to her hair, for it was dark, almost black.
Finally, the crushing realization that the amazing eyes staring questioningly at me were, not Katharina's vivid blue. Rather they were the grey of the clouds, or the sea on a stormy day. ‘Yes? Can I help you?’
For an instant, I stood stupidly unable to answer the girl's question. It was uncanny how alike the girl was to Katharina, obviously she was the cousin. I heard my voice as if from a distance, ‘Is Katharina here?’
‘No, I’m sorry, there’s no Katharina here.’

Penny Chesterfield: July 1939
I recall, that it was after lunch, that the doorbell rang. When I answered, I found a tall blonde man in a European-cut suit, at the door.
Initially, when he saw me he broke into a smile, but as he looked more closely his face fell. He asked in very heavily accented English. ‘Is Katharina here?’
I must confess, I had no idea who he was talking about, and then he asked ‘Ach, I mean Fictoria, Fictoria Chesterfield.’
Suddenly, it clicked into place and I realized who he was. I had not met Ebert before. He certainly was a handsome devil. But also, I thought, very dangerous. He seemed as tense as a leopard about to spring. Looking at him I could see why Victoria had been miserable for so long. Apart from his sheer physical beauty, he seemed to burst with energy. I suspect being with him would be continually exciting.
But for whatever reason, I was sure Vick would not want to see this handsome stranger. I didn't know what had happened between them. Both Vick and Uncle John had remained silent, despite my best efforts. However, I knew enough to know Vick was even now devastated after their rift. ‘She is away, at the moment.’
I went to shut the door, but he pushed on it from the other side. I had to step aside to avoid being trampled. In an attempt to salvage some dignity, I parodied welcoming him in with a curtsy. I am afraid my irony was wasted on him. He went storming through the whole flat.
I found him sitting on Vick's bed. He was holding one of her scarves to his cheek and actually sobbing. I firmly told him, ‘As you can see she is not here. Now I insist that you leave!’
He looked like he was going to explode. But with an apparent effort, he controlled himself, and he made his way to the door. In the threshold, he turned and asked, ‘Ven vill Fictoria here kom?’
He was shaking, and looked physically ill. Had I not been more concerned for Vick, I would have almost felt sorry for him. ‘She will not be back until late next week. Now please, leave!’
He stepped out and with great relief, I locked the door behind him.

Chapter Eight

The Party

Peter Robinson: June 1939

‘Hurry up Pete,’ complained Danny Parnell, ‘we haven't got all day.’

We were crossing the quaint, arched, Hythe Bridge, over the River Isis on the outskirts of Oxford. ‘Well, actually Danny,’ I said teasingly ‘we have all weekend.’

He looked at me with disgust and did not deign to answer. Danny had been growing more and more impatient, on a slow train up from London, until he was almost bursting with excitement. He had met a girl and in his own words was, ‘rather falling for her.’

He had gone out dancing with the girl a number of times. For weeks, following these nocturnal forays, he hadn't stopped raving about her beauty and poise.

None of the other lads from the squadron had met her. There were several stories doing the rounds to explain this fact: she was a real beauty and he wanted to keep her to himself, lest someone else steal her; she didn't actually exist, that was she was a figment of his imagination; or, she was actually ugly and he didn't want anyone else to know.

I did not know what to think and then she had apparently gone back to Oxford, where she had a flat. Danny hadn't seen her for about three weeks. He had moped terribly, his flying had suffered, and worst of all, he had driven us to distraction, even more than usual.

So when she telephoned and suggested to him he come to a party, he had leapt at the opportunity. Apparently, as an afterthought, she suggested that he should bring a friend for the weekend.

As I was the only person in the squadron who qualified as a friend, Danny had invited me. I had almost refused, as I hoped to log a few hours on one of the Spitfires that our sister squadron had converted to just recently. I itched to compare the new star aircraft with our trusty Hurricanes.

However, on inquiring, I had found that the aircraft would be grounded for maintenance over the weekend. That disappointment, coupled with an intense curiosity at meeting Danny's erstwhile love, swung me over to agreement.

So here I was, following a lovesick Danny through the cobbled streets of Oxford. I actually wished he would slow down a little, as I hadn't been to Oxford for many years, and the mellow stone and spires of the university town were beautiful in the evening light.

But love it seemed, was not to be denied and so we were hurrying as fast as Danny could make me go. We passed Worcester College and went on a bit before turning into a side street. Finally, we ended up in front of a Victorian monstrosity of a house. All of a sudden and quite by surprise, Danny seemed hesitant, as if he were entering a dragon's lair. ‘She said her flat is upstairs at the back,’ he muttered nervously, ‘do you think that means we should just go in?’

I looked at his anxious face impassively, ‘As a superior officer, I will not tolerate you displaying a lack of moral fiber. Of course you should.’

I had earned the rank of flight officer some three months before Danny and was thus technically entitled to claim seniority, but I certainly hadn't come all the way to Oxford to simply catch the first train back. I pushed past him and opened the front door, ‘Nothing ventured, and nothing gained. Come on.’

We found ourselves standing in a timber-paneled hallway. A set of stairs on the left led up towards a landing. ‘This way’ I said, starting up the stairs.

Danny followed me almost reluctantly; I virtually had to drag him. Two imposing doors led off the landing, each with a brass number screwed onto the paneling. Danny followed me towards the rear door, it was labeled with the number four. I paused at the entrance, the sound of a gramophone, and the hubbub of chatting voices penetrated the solid timber of the door. I half turned towards my companion. Strangely, after all his eagerness to get here, he looked as if he was about to make a run for it. I clearly had to show some initiative, or we would still be forced to take the train back to London.

The thought of another slow trip with a lovesick Danny nearly curdled my blood. Clearly someone had to show some spine, I sighed and knocked on the door. Nothing happened, the noise inside continued. I waited a moment and knocked again, this time louder. We waited a little longer, I was just about to knock a third time, when the door opened.

A tall, slim, dark-haired girl stood just inside the threshold. If she was the girl in question, I could certainly see why Danny was so smitten. She was a beauty, cool grey eyes looked me up and down. She had a neutral, almost disinterested look on her face. I wondered briefly, if I came up to scratch, then her eyes flicked past me and fell on Danny.

A radiant smile lit the girl's face and even more I could see why Danny had been so desperate to get here. She was clearly, nearly as silly about him, as he was about her. I found that more than a little odd. Danny was by no stretch of imagination handsome, and often seemed more like a pathetic schoolboy, rather than a dashing fighter pilot. Still there is no accounting for taste, maybe his helpless air encouraged some nurturing instinct.

The girl stepped past me and, throwing her arms around him, gave Danny a passionate kiss. When he got his breath back, Danny made a clumsy introduction; it seemed she went by the name of Penny.

Formalities apparently concluded, they disappeared inside leaving me standing on the mat. Somewhat bemused, I followed them into the living room that lay beyond the door. It was a large room, as far as I could tell, tastefully furnished. There were about twenty people there, all apparently trying to talk over the gramophone that bravely soldiered on in the corner.

Liberating a flute of champagne from a tray, I began moving around the room, trying, without much luck, to enter one of the many conversations. It seemed most of the guests were reading politics, literature, or history, at the various university colleges scattered around the town. I had some interest in both politics and history, but the subjects that were on discussion went right over my head. I held my own for a moment in one group as they talked about recent fighting in Spain. But then the conversation switched, to the implications of Franco's victory on worldwide attitudes towards socialism. I fear my eyes must have glazed over, and I moved along.

Eventually after an hour or so, I found myself trapped in the kitchen by an intense young woman with thick glasses. She insisted that the indoctrination of the capitalist system had blinded me to the inevitability of worldwide revolution. After listening with growing confusion, for about ten minutes, to a lecture on the benefits of the coming Marxist revolution, I made an excuse about needing another drink and pushed past her out of the kitchen.

During my sojourn in the kitchen the focus of the party had, incredibly, shifted to Danny. He was in front of the mantelpiece, laughing and joking, his nerves of an hour before apparently totally forgotten. Penny sat nearby obviously enchanted. What a different picture of Old Parnell!

I, on the other hand, still felt out of my depth. I pushed over towards Danny and Penny. ‘I have a beastly headache, I'm going out to get some air.’

Penny deigned to smile sympathetically at me, ‘I’ve some Aspirin in the bathroom.’

‘Honestly, I think a breath of fresh air will do the trick.’

‘Why don't you go out on the balcony? It will be quieter out there.’

‘Excellent idea. How do I find the balcony?’

‘You just go out through the window, in either of the bedrooms.’

I pointed ‘Through there?’

‘Yes, either of those doors. You just lift the window and you can step through.’

With some trepidation I entered the bedroom on the left. A lot of alcohol was being consumed at this party, and in my experience, bedrooms are often best avoided in such situations. Unless, of course, one has some sort of extra-curricular activity in mind. To my relief nothing occupied the bed, other than some coats. There were two windows, one looking straight out onto the street, and the other opening onto the balcony. The window out onto the balcony was already open a couple of inches, and it easily swung up the rest of the way.

I ducked through onto the balcony. The sun had set, half blind in the dim light I lent on the balustrade and looked out. It had been worth coming out just for the view. The balcony looked out over Oxford town. The towers and spires of the city stood darkly silhouetted against the rich twilight of a summer evening, which dimly lit the western sky. Where the shadows stood deeper, dozens of lights twinkled at me. It was one of those moments when I was in danger of being poetic.

As beautiful as the view was, I was still feeling I had made a wasted trip. Yes, it was almost worth coming to meet the beautiful Penny, but other than that it seemed very like a washed out cricket match. I sighed, give me a pub with a piano and few RAF mates and I would be happy. I consider my self a canny chap, but this bash was decidedly not my cup of tea. I pulled out my cigarette case. Shaking a single cigarette from the case I patted my pockets. No luck, I'd come out matchless. I sighed again, I needed a cigarette but the idea of enduring Penny's odd friends, even only to beg a match, seemed just too much.

Reluctantly I slipped the cigarette back into its home, and the case back into my pocket. I leant on the rail looking back out over the vista. Then I had a brainwave, this was a superior establishment, there was bound to be a table on the balcony. There might even be an ashtray and, if I was really lucky, a table lighter as well.

Abandoning the view, I turned away from Oxford to search the balcony. In the dim light I saw that there was a table and some chairs. Then with a start, I realized I was not alone; I dimly perceived the outline of a woman, sitting on one of the chairs. Apparently she had sat there the whole time, quietly watching me. I almost jumped out of my skin with surprise, ‘I am sorry.’

It was a soft voice that replied, with a notable accent. ‘For what are you sorry?’

‘For intruding.’

‘You do not intrude. This is not my balcony.’

A Bavarian accent, for that is unmistakably what it was, can often make its user sound almost whining. But this girl had a delightful voice, all the more interesting for her accent. Yet she sounded impatient, or irritated, I ignored this and went on. ‘But like me, you were probably trying to get away from the crowd.’

‘You also find Penny's friends trying?’

It seemed I had a way in. At least we might have something in common. ‘If I am to be diplomatic, I would just say, I don't share their views.’

‘Ja, Ja, but this is just being polite. They are intelligent, sophisticated people, who have no idea of the real world.’

I laughed, ‘Yes, their conversation is all above my head. Marx and Keynes and all the rest.’

‘You are more practical?’

‘I suppose so, I am a pilot in the RAF. It's a technical, not theoretical occupation.’

Her voice seemed to suddenly become cold. ‘So you are a military man?’

I sought a way to sidestep the question. I had no desire to defend myself from the fevered attack of some pacifist. ‘I am sorry, I have to ask, from your accent you're German.’

The woman laughed, ‘Is my accent so strong?’

I switched to German. ‘I can even place your accent. I would guess you are Bavarian. My mother, my aunt and my cousins all sound exactly like you when they speak English.’

The girl stayed with English, ‘Your German is very gut, good. Ach, German relations and their poorly spoken English. I am Penny's cousin, and my English is lacking also.’

I switched back to my native tongue, ‘Your English is fine.’

‘Now you patronize. My vocabulary is gut, GOOD, but my grammar is poor, and my accent… terrible!’

I had to laugh, ‘It is rather noticeable, but terrible? Never!’

‘Again you are condescending, but I will forgive you. You said your mutter and cousin are German?’

‘Yes, my mother is from Bavaria, South-East of Munich.’

‘Not so far from my home. Let me see you. There is a light switch by the window.’

I stepped over to the window and fumbled for the switch. As I found it, the balcony was suddenly bathed with light. I blinked a couple of times, at the sudden flood of illumination. As my eyes adjusted, I got my first good look at her. I could see a strong resemblance to Penny; they looked more like sisters than cousins. But where Penny was pretty, even beautiful, this girl took my breath away.

Penny's features were pleasing, but this girl's were exquisite. She had an almost oval face framed by thick flowing blonde hair. Delicate cheekbones and graceful brows framed her vivid blue eyes. What eyes they were, they sparkled with reflected light like deep blue sapphires. Her perfectly sculpted nose, and full, elegant, lips completed the package. She sat lightly on the chair, her long legs casually crossed and draped in simple slacks, yet her bearing was as if she owned the world. However despite her apparent poise, I felt an air of sadness about her.

I felt quite breathless, excited by her exotic presence. Yet I had a strange feeling, I knew her, or had at least seen her before. Surely, I should be able to think where; I didn't run into such unforgettable individuals on a daily basis.

I guessed at first I had seen her in the theatre. Then I realized who she was. It was her vivid eyes that reminded me. I had thought she was pretty when I last saw her, but either I had been wrong, or the intervening years had matured and subtly changed her face, so now she was truly striking. Perhaps it was her hair. When I had seen her before it had been pulled severely back, but now it gently framed her face in all its golden glory.

‘I know who you are.’

She looked startled ‘Vot?’

‘I met you once, in thirty-six, in Berlin, at the Games. My cousins and I watched your final, because they said you were a Bavarian like them. We found you in the Olympic Village afterwards. You signed autographs for Gerda and Karl. I have never forgotten that day. My cousins called you. Let me think, 'The Mad Princess', but your name was.’ I paused for a moment recalling, ‘Die Prinzessin von Brunnenstadt. You are Katharina von Brunnenstadt.’

Her confidence seemed to drain away. It was as if suddenly she was bearing the weight of the world. I wasn't sure what I had done, so I shut up. She spoke quietly, ‘Now it is for me to be sorry. I do not remember you.’

‘We weren’t introduced, you were signing dozens of autographs. I remember you shook my hand and kissed Karl on the cheek.’

She paused before she spoke again, ‘I only use my other names now, Victoria Chesterfield.’

‘I have upset you. Perhaps you would like to be alone.’

I made as if to leave. ‘Wait, you have not told me your name.’

I hesitantly turned back towards her, ‘I'm Peter, Peter Robinson.’

‘No, I would not like to be alone, Peter. Please, stay and talk.’

The weight seemed to vanish from her shoulders and she laughed, a magical sound. ‘Besides, no doubt Penny has sent you out here as a test. Believe me, we do not wish to disappoint Penny.’

So I stayed. We talked for I don't know how long. First we talked about the Bavarian countryside. She was clearly homesick for the mountains and wooded slopes of her country.

Later, our conversation switched to the situation on the continent and the inevitability of war. She was obviously a passionate hater of the Nazis and all they stood for. I had always been reserved about the effect the Nazis were having on Germany. However, I had not formed a deep animosity towards them. Rather, I had seen them as a quirk of German politics. Victoria's burning passion made me revisit my views, and question whether I had taken the Nazis seriously enough. If half of her conclusions were soundly based, they were an evil that had to be fought with all possible means.

Still later, we talked of more personal things. Victoria was staying with her cousin Penny because her father had felt she should, ‘Meet people her own age.’

It had proved a failure, because while she liked her cousin, she had detested all Penny's friends. ‘Also I do not understand Penny, she has all these friends she does not really like. It is like, like she is a chemist mixing them together and watching the results.’

Finally we talked about the RAF. To my surprise, she seemed to understand my passion for flying like no other person. Then I realized she shared an equal obsession in her running. It seemed she derived something like the same euphoria, from pushing herself physically, to that I gained by throwing a high-powered aircraft around the sky.

I wished that night could last forever, but suddenly, in the early hours of the morning, we were interrupted by the arrival of Penny on the balcony. I hastily stood, knocking over my chair. She looked at us speculatively and half smiled, and then she became more serious. ‘I need some help with Danny. I am afraid, he has had rather too much to drink.’

I turned to Victoria. ‘I am sorry, I must see to my friend.’

‘Oh, of course.’

I followed Penny back to the living room. Most of the guests had by now departed and the room was almost quiet. Danny had reverted to type. He was slumped across a chair, snoring loudly. I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with him. We had booked rooms at a hotel, but I was unsure how welcoming they would be to a drunk at this time of the morning. ‘Er, what do you think I should do with him?’

Penny replied, ‘Where are you staying.’

‘The King's Head Inn.’

‘They will be alright, they're used to students coming in at all hours.’

I grabbed Danny and hauled him to his feet. ‘Come on old man.’

With his arm over my shoulder we staggered towards the door, which Penny held open for us. ‘I must apologize for this lout. He never could hold his drink.’

Penny smiled, ‘Never mind,’ she frowned thoughtfully, ‘look, if Danny is up to it why don't you both come for tea tomorrow... I mean this afternoon.’

I smiled gratefully, ‘Thank you, I'll make sure we're here.’

I half carried, half dragged, Danny down the stairs and out through the front door. As I tried to get my bearings in the street, I realized that we were not alone. Victoria had come up behind me. I turned, almost dropping Danny in the process.

She was at least as tall as Penny. Her eyes, a much deeper blue in the dim light of the lamppost, were almost level with mine. ‘I will be on the canal tow path, soon after dawn for my run. Would you like to come?’

‘I would love to. But, I don't know how to find it.’

‘Go to the Hythe Street bridge. Follow the path to the north, the canal branches off the river a little way along. Keep going north along the canal towards Lower Heyford. Keep walking and I will find you along there.’

She leant towards me and kissed me lightly on the cheek. The silken touch of her lips on my face sent a tingle shooting through me. Then she turned and was gone, lightly leaping up the stairs. She moved as gracefully as a dancer. I stood staring up after her entranced. But my mood was spoiled as Danny grunted, and I came back to earth.

Chapter Seven

Broken Dreams

Deutsche Geheime Staatspolizei

Prinzalbrechtstrasse 8, Berlin

2 9 November 1938

My dear Ebert,

I can unfortunately confirm what you were told in Bavaria.

1. Victoria Chesterfield, the Princess von Brunnenstadt, did indeed come to Berlin on the 10th of November. Specifically, she checked into the Adlon Hotel at 14:00 during the afternoon of the 10th of November. She checked out again at 06:00 on the morning of the 11th.

2. John Chesterfield, together with his daughter, crossed the Swiss border at Konstanz at 11:45 am on the 13th of November.

Unfortunately, I have not as yet been able to confirm the current whereabouts of either.

Further to this I have some additional information about Fräulein von Brunnenstadt's actions in Berlin.

1. Berlin police arrested her at 02:15 on the morning of the 11th of November for the crime of attempted suicide.

2. She was released into the custody of her chauffeur, Gerhard Wilhelmsen, at 05:30 of the same morning. The file was marked ‘No further action.’

For your reference I include a copy of the police report.

If you have any further questions, or if I can help in any other way, please do not hesitate in contacting me.

Heil Hitler,

Jan Bock

Berlin Ordnungspolizei

Incident Report: 11/11/38

Officer: Sergeant Emil Muller. 86587

At approximately 02:05 I was approaching the Kaiserhalter foot bridge over the river Spree. In the poor light available I noticed what appeared to be a young woman sitting on the railing. I hailed the individual. This did not have any apparent effect. I continued my approach. The individual toppled forwards into the river and disappeared from my sight. I hurried to the parapet of the bridge and shone my flashlight on the water. I could not immediately see anything other than disturbed water. Then after approximately ten seconds a head appeared in the water. The woman began swimming with some apparent difficulty probably due to the extreme cold, towards the western bank. I hurried off the bridge. At this point the bank is comprised of a high brick wall. The young woman reached the wall but was not able to make any purchase on the bricks due to their slippery condition. The river current was pulling her downstream. I attempted to reach her hand a number of times. But although on one occasion I managed to touch her fingertips I was not able to grasp her hand. Finally, due to exhaustion and the extreme cold of the water the woman slipped under the surface of the water. I made the decision to enter the water in an attempt to effect a rescue. This I did and despite the almost paralyzing cold was able to bring the woman to the surface. Fortunately by this time the current had carried us far enough downstream to be adjacent to some steps that come down to the water’s edge. With considerable effort I was able to pull the young woman out of the water onto the steps.

Initially I believed her to be deceased however after a moment she heaved and coughed and brought up a great deal of water.

Once she finished coughing she uttered one word ‘thank you’ and began sobbing. I asked a citizen who had by now arrived on the scene to summon a vehicle while I remained with the prisoner. When the car arrived I conveyed her to the police station. I now observed the prisoner was a young woman of 18 or 20, blonde hair, blue eyes, slim build and tall, 175 cm. Ensuring the prisoner was provided with a blanket and a warm drink I left her in the charge of Constable Schaefer and went to change my uniform. When I returned I ascertained that Constable Schaefer was behaving inappropriately and reprimanded him. I questioned the prisoner; after some prompting she revealed her identity. She is Victoria Chesterfield, the Princess von Brunnenstadt. After further questioning she admitted attempting suicide. When pressed, she was not very clear, breaking into tears. I finally ascertained that on the previous evening she had arrived unexpectedly in Berlin and had seen her fiance, an SS Sturmbannführer, in compromising circumstances. She said he had betrayed everything their relationship stood for. After deliberation I decided that no good purpose would be served by charging the Princess. It would cause public embarrassment out of proportion with the severity of the crime. Further, a prosecution may also cause embarrassment to the SS due to the misconduct of an officer. Accordingly the Princess was released into the supervision of her chauffeur - Gerard Wilhelmsen, at 05:30.

Chapter Six


Peter Robinson: November 1938

I cursed silently, in spite of the bright moon above I could see nothing below. Mind you, at 1500 feet, in a single seat aircraft, silent cursing was optional. Even if someone had been sharing the cockpit, they wouldn't have heard much over the throb of the 1000 horsepower Merlin engine that bellowed just in front of me.

Above, it was a glorious night, the stars shone like beacons in the crystal clear air. The moon traced out every ripple in the cloud below. If I had been feeling poetic, I would have called it a winter wonderland. But at the end of an hour long, night navigation exercise, the low cloud that had rolled in from the channel was a nightmare. No matter how beautiful it was, poetry was a long way from my mind.

The rigors of the OTCU were long behind me. From then it was flying training (which I loved) and on graduating, at the top of my class, I was appointed to 701 Squadron as an overconfident pilot officer. I was lucky, I flew in one of the first units to be equipped with the latest and best.

The Hawker Hurricane Mark 1 was a beautiful aircraft to fly. In the daytime I loved nothing more than throwing the powerful machine around the air. But night flying was, at that stage, still largely alien to me.

Equipped with night-flying instrumentation, the Hurricane wasn't a bad aircraft to fly after dark, but it did have problems. In particular, the exhaust manifolds that protruded from both sides of the engine cowling. These both glowed red and emitted flames. Put together, these could and did play merry hell with one's night vision.

A mere two months before this night, we had assumed that war was about to start. Then Chamberlain had returned from Munich with his ‘piece of paper’ and political tensions had eased. But if anything, our preparations in the RAF increased. Every moment possible was spent on improving our skills in every aspect of flying. So here I was on a horrendous night risking life and limb for King and country.

My real problem was still the cloud. By dead reckoning, I was pretty sure I was near an auxiliary field of Biggin Hill RAF base, which was my destination for the night. But although a flare path was sure to be lit I could glimpse no hint of it, or the ground below.

I pondered my quandary for a moment. It seemed I had two choices. Either, I could drop down into the cloud, hoping it was a shallow band and that I could find the bottom before I ran out of sky, or, I could get on the radio and ask for help to find my way to the airstrip.

Neither option was particularly pleasing. The first might mean that I fly into the ground or into a church steeple. Difficult to explain, assuming I survived. The second option would surely cost me points, in what was a competitive exercise and I was young and silly enough to care who won.

Youth won out and I opted for the independent approach. Nervously watching my instruments, I dipped the nose of the Hurricane. As I cautiously dropped into the cloud I expected to be enveloped in blackness.

To my surprise my cockpit was flooded with a bright red glow. My first horrified thought was that I had caught fire, but glancing up from my instruments, I realized that the red hot exhaust manifolds had lit the cloud around me with flame colored radiance.

Adopting correct night flying procedure, I managed to return my main focus to the instruments. I watched the bank and roll indicator and the artificial horizon, and in particular focused on the altimeter. If I was careful, I should be able to avoid flying into the ground, even if the cloud went all the way to the floor.

That descent was one of the most nerve-racking experiences of my life. Easing down through the cloud, with no real idea of what was below me was really frightening. If I was miles off course, which was possible, I could easily fly into a hill, or some other equally unforgiving part of the landscape. At 500 feet I could still see nothing. I now had to choose again, either keep descending with a real risk of crashing, or climb above the cloud and call for help. Stupidity won again and I decided to push down another 100 feet and see what happened.

At 400 feet, for a moment I could still see nothing but the eerie red glow. Then suddenly I flew into clear air. I breathed a sigh of relief. Lady Luck was really with me that night, for there, right in my path a couple of hundred feet below, only a mile or two ahead, glowed the flare path.

I pressed the microphone button on my radio set, ‘This is red two requesting permission to land.’

Almost immediately my headset crackled with a reply ‘Red two landing ground is clear, come on in.’

From this point it was a textbook landing. I eased the throttle back and lowered the flaps. Lining up with the flare path I lowered the undercarriage. I drifted over a hedge that lined the perimeter of the airfield, touching the throttle briefly to lift the nose, I eased the throttle and the Hurricane rolled across the grass strip gradually slowing. A perfect landing!

Then it was a simple matter to taxi over to the dispersal area, which consisted of a concrete apron beside a small wooden building. Although mine was the third aircraft of my flight of six to take off, I was the first to come in. After shutting down the engine, a ground crewman helped disconnect me from the aircraft.

I climbed out of the cockpit and slid down the wing, before dropping to the ground. I crossed to the dispersal hut and submitted my logbook to a duty officer. I then went outside to listen for my comrades as they found their way in. Standing on the grass just on the other side of the apron was our squadron commander, Wing Commander David Patterson. I politely approached, saluting as I drew close. He was perhaps ten years older than I, and already graying at the temples. I must say I have never had a better or more approachable CO. ‘Very good landing, Peter. Your navigation was spot on.’

‘Thank you, sir.’

He turned away looking out into the dark sky. ‘I find these night exercises always make me nervous. Did you know that 703 Squadron damaged five aircraft in one night last month?’

‘They can't have been very happy about that.’

He laughed, ‘That’s something of an understatement, but no, I imagine they were not happy.’

We stood quietly waiting. It was another ten minutes before the next Hurricane was heard circling overhead. Clearly the pilot was nervous about coming down through the murk. He went around twice before making his final approach. He came in to make a bumpy but safe landing.

The third aircraft arrived in another five minutes, and also landed safely. Number four followed a few minutes later, coming in very low. I held my breath as he approached the perimeter hedge. But he scraped over with not more than a few inches to spare. A wind got up and the mist then began to break up, so number five had a relatively easy landing. Where was the sixth plane?

Then we waited. Another twenty minutes went by. Danny Parnell, now a lowly pilot officer like myself, muttered, ‘He must be running low on fuel.’

Patterson hesitated before replying. ‘Yes, he can't have more than a few minutes left.’

More time ticked by, a sense of gloom descended on us. Finally it became clear that unless the last pilot of the flight, our Flight Leader Paul Frost, had landed elsewhere he must have come to grief. But still we waited. In the dispersal hut a phone rang, the orderly came to a window. ‘Wing commander, it’s for you.’

Patterson hurried inside, the five of us crowded by the open window, craning our necks to hear. Patterson took the phone from the orderly; we struggled to hear what he was saying. ‘Patterson here...’ he paused, listening, ‘yes, I see. Thank you for letting me know.’

He placed the handset on its cradle, his lips pursed. Turning to us he said frowning, ‘You will be pleased to know, Frost is safe at Hornchurch, but he has unfortunately pranged his aeroplane.’

I didn't know whether to be sympathetic or scornful. Patterson spoke again. ‘Right Gentlemen, that’s all for tonight.’

The five of us left together, chatting incredulously about Frost's disaster. Patterson remained, no doubt to begin the innumerable reports that would be needed by the air ministry. In the day, having a couple of years experience over us, Frost could fly rings around us. It seemed incredible that he had failed where we succeeded.

I found later that while experience certainly improved one's chances, it guaranteed nothing. I set an unbeatable squadron record on that night, a perfect score. Frost on the other hand had to face an enquiry into the loss of an aircraft, but in the blink of an eye our positions might have been reversed. Life and death are just a breath apart.

Ebert Gausel: November 1938

It is amazing that a day can dawn with hope and joy and end with the taste of ashes. I remember so clearly my elation, as I went to Berlin's Adlon Hotel. I walked with a bounce in my step, I had not a doubt, or a care. I was on my way to meet Katharina and after not seeing her for nearly a month, I was invincible; nothing could slow me down. Even the damp cold Berlin weather of late autumn did not cast a shadow across my mood.

I strode into the foyer of the hotel, the doorman snapping out a Nazi salute at my uniform. I was not going to delay seeing Katharina by going back to the barracks to change. The man at the desk was one I had seen many times. He proudly wore a party badge on his lapel. ‘Good evening, Alfred, is the Princess in her usual suite?’

‘I am sorry Sturmbannführer, the Princess checked out this morning.’

‘I know, which suite is she in?’

‘I am sorry Sturmbannführer, you misunderstood me, the Princess checked out this morning.’

‘She what?’

He looked at me patiently before repeating, ‘The Princess checked out this morning.’

‘I heard but I don't understand. She wasn't due in Berlin until today.’

He turned the register towards me, ‘As you can see she arrived at two pm yesterday. Her chauffeur checked her in and took up her baggage, although I didn't see her myself. Then she has signed the register herself as she checked out at six this morning, I wasn't on the desk then.’

‘Who was? Did she leave a message?’

‘No, there doesn't seem to be a message. Grant Schmidt was on this morning, he may not have left yet. I can check if you like.’

‘Do so.’

Schmidt was a calm, fastidious, looking fellow. ‘It was very strange Sturmbannführer. The Princess came in just before six. She had a blanket wrapped around her. Her hair was a mess and she looked very upset. She was with a police sergeant, so naturally I immediately offered my assistance. The policeman said the princess would be checking out immediately and could I send two housemaids up to her suite to help her to change and with her packing. She was in her car and gone in around ten minutes.’

I brought my little Opel to a sliding halt in the gravel outside the gamekeeper's cottage. I was out and hammering on the door in an instant. ‘Martin, Martin, open up!’

A moment passed and I hammered again. The door opened, Martin stood in the doorway, bleary eyed. ‘What do you want?’

I am not ashamed to say I was close to tears, ‘They said at the palace she's not home, but they wouldn't talk to me, or let me in.’

Martin looked at me impassively, before turning and going down the hallway, ‘Close the door behind you.’

I followed him down the hallway, to a warm little kitchen. I expected a mess, but everything was immaculately scrubbed. The only concessions to Martin's trade were a well-oiled shotgun lying on the table and a pair of muddy boots, sitting on some folded newspaper by the back door.

Martin busied himself stirring up fire in the grate. ‘What do you want from me, Gausel?’

I slumped into one of his two kitchen chairs, ‘I... Katharina... Katharina left Berlin in a rush, before I even saw her on Thursday. I don't know what has happened.’

Martin filled the kettle from a pail and set it on the stove. ‘That's simple. Victoria and John have gone to Switzerland. I believe they will go on to France and England afterwards. I expect John will not be back while Hitler is in power. As to Victoria I don't know.’

I fought to hold back my tears, ‘But why?’

‘You probably know better than me.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘She came here to say goodbye, last night before they left, but she didn't talk to me about it. What ever you did she was really overwrought.’

‘But I didn't even see her!’

He stared at me, clearly not believing, ‘I should kick you out now, how she worshiped you, I expect you've been especially shitty.’

‘But I haven't seen her for weeks.’

He looked at me under his brows. ‘You know Gausel, I've never had any time for you, or understood what she sees in you. Somehow though, I think you're being honest with me. In that case, then the obvious question is what did she see you do? Or find out you'd done?’

‘What did she see?’ I suddenly felt sick, ‘Inge, oh my god, she saw me with Inge.’

‘Inge? Been visiting more than one bed Gausel?’

‘But I haven't, I wouldn't.’

‘You wouldn't be the first.’

I snapped angrily, ‘Do you think any man in his right mind would risk loosing Katharina?’

‘Are you in your right mind? Perhaps, I don't know about that. Katharina's bewitching enough though, so what is your story then?’

‘On Wednesday evening, I was on the Kurfürstendamm. I stumbled across Inge Hofstadter, an old girlfriend of mine. Inge was very upset because she had broken up with her latest boyfriend. She's like that, nice enough, but always carrying on with histrionics. So I sat with her at a café and cheered her up.’

‘Hardly a reason for Katharina to run away.’

‘No, but when we said goodbye, out on the street Inge not only hugged me, but she gave me a passionate kiss. We were right there in plain view, Katharina would have been in Berlin by then, she must have seen us.’

‘Perhaps, but it doesn't make sense. I can imagine Victoria laying into you both on the street. But I can't see her tucking her tail between her legs and running away.’

‘I don't know, I just don't know, I don't see what else it could be.’

Half an hour later I drove away from the cottage, Martin couldn't or wouldn't tell me where in Switzerland Katharina had gone. He simply suggested I write to her at the palace. Mail would surely be forwarded, and so in the end it would be up to her. I drove less than five kilometers, of the hundreds I had to cover on my way back to Berlin, before I had to pull over.

I sat in my little car on the side of the road, and cried like I have never cried before. As I sat there, on the lip of the Brunnen Valley, in the same place we had watched the sunrise those months before. A dark cloud drifted across the hills blocking out the light. While the first snow began to fall I continued to cry, the sun that Katharina had brought into my life was gone, and my despair was darker than the cold embrace of the storm that enveloped me.

Chapter Five


Martin Kruppe: January 1938

There were four people in the automobile, when the crash took Victoria's mother. Victoria's mother, Princess Marie and her brother Prince Reimund were in the front. Victoria, only a small child, and her nursemaid were in the rear. No one knows why, but the auto left the road and struck a tree.

Prince Reimund, who was driving, was killed outright. Princess Marie was hurt, hurt very bad. The nursemaid, she was an English girl called Betty, was hurt too. Victoria, asleep on the back seat, was only bruised and scratched. It was her, a child of seven, who went running to a nearby farmhouse to call for help.

There was no helping Reimund and for Marie, the best help was not enough. John Chesterfield, Victoria's father, went with his wife to the hospital in Munich. Princess Marie, the darling of Bavaria, lingered for a week before slipping away.

And what of the brave little girl who went running for help? Her nursemaid was too unwell to take care of her and the girl who was given charge of Victoria, an idiot called Lottie, was more interested in gossip than watching a child. Who knows why, but even in that week as her mother lingered, the little Princess began disappearing for hours at a time. I doubt if Lottie even noticed. She was useless that girl.

It was me, under-gamekeeper to my father, who found the little Princess in the forest. She was sitting in a glade, sobbing her tiny heart out. Wanting to cheer her, I took her in hand and began showing her all the little creatures in our forest. She kept running away and found me on every day subsequent, until after her mother's death. Shirking my work, I did my best to cheer her, with the wonders of our country.

John Chesterfield returned to Brunnenstadt grief stricken. Of course he went to seek out his daughter. She was not to be found anywhere around the Palace. Lottie, of course, had no idea where the child was. There was panic for some time until, some hours later, I returned her home.

John Chesterfield was a very clever man. Even in his grief he recognized the quiet his little Princess had found in the forest would help her heal. I was part of that place, and John Chesterfield understood that. So he used me to help bring his Victoria back to him. Along the way I came inside with her and in a way I remained.

John came close to taking his daughter back to his home in England. Two things swayed him to remain, an understanding that Victoria needed no more change and a desire to stay in the country his wife had loved so.

Unusually, once she had learned her junior schooling with a governess, Victoria was not sent away to boarding school. John could not bear to be parted from his daughter. Nor she from him, or I guess by then, from me.

This choice, probably shaped her life as much as her mother's death. It was in school carnivals that Victoria discovered her love of running, of competing and of winning. It went in natural steps, from ribbons at school, to ribbons in the regional competition, to medals in the state competition at Munich, to a win at national level in Berlin. Once she had it under her skin there was no stopping her and it all led, a few years later, to gold and glory at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

Into the middle of all this marched the Nazis. From this distant time, it is hard to understand the effect they had on the country, in particular Bavaria. From the doom and gloom of the depression, to the promise of glory, almost everyone was carried along by the excitement of a better future. And of course, the young were carried along more than others.

Even John Chesterfield, an Englishman, thought at first the Nazis were a force for positive change. They were good for business and were a rampart against the Communists. His first doubts were raised by how they swayed his daughter’s young mind. Her unquestioning devotion to the dream made him wonder. Then of course the Nazis began rearming. Germany began to flex her muscle.

Step by step, John’s concern grew, he began making plans to leave well before the Czechoslovakian crisis, but by then of course, he had all but lost his daughter to her Aryan Superman. John and Victoria had already been slowly getting more strained in their dealings. They loved each other dearly, but could not see eye to eye on almost anything. It was in January 1938 that it finally came to a head.

John did not stand on ceremony as Victoria's uncle and grandfather did. As I was their friend, I was often invited to sit with them, servant though I was. Particularly at breakfasts, John liked to hear what was happening on the estate and I could tell him what I had seen on my early morning rounds.

So, I happened to be there on that morning. I remember Victoria played with the food on her plate, as if she were not really hungry. She was always hungry, she ate like a horse, but not that day. I remember she kept looking across at her father, who was buried in his most recent copy of The Times.

After close to twenty years in Germany, he still insisted on reading the London papers at breakfast, even though they were usually four or five days late by the time they reached him.

That morning she had something to say and was unsure how her father would take it. By now they had been fighting for six months about Gausel. They were tiptoeing around each other, like a pair of hounds that have scented a bitch, each of them injured by the fight, neither willing to give way.

Finally, she screwed up her courage enough to speak. ‘I talked to Ebert on the phone last night.’

Her father grunted a noncommittal reply, but she went on. ‘He says they’re promoting him to Sturmbannführer.’

John Chesterfield sighed, no doubt he simply wished the viper would disappear. He hated talking about the man. When they did it usually ended in blazing rows over what he thought was Victoria's scandalous behavior. It was plain to everyone with half a brain, she had been sleeping with Gausel for months. If they did not fight, it went to what seemed to be inane prattle about how wonderful her SS hero was. John said to me, on more than one occasion, ‘Love does not seem to have improved Victoria's cognitive skills.’

John carefully folded his paper and sat it on the breakfast table. ‘I am sorry, my dear, I was not paying attention, you must repeat yourself.’

‘I said Ebert is being promoted to Sturmbannführer.’

‘He must be pleased.’

‘Yes, he is.’

She paused, I saw her bite her lip. This was going to be the hard part. ‘It will mean that he will be posted to Berlin.’

Her father seemed to shrink visibly. Clearly there was more coming, ‘And?’

‘He has asked me to marry him. He is coming tonight to ask for your permission.’

Not since the death of her mother, had I seen John look so grief stricken, as I saw him look then. And she saw it too.

‘Daddy, can't you just be happy for me? I love Ebi.’

‘I wish it was so simple, child,’ he stood up abruptly, ‘I cannot talk about this now, I will speak with you later.’

He turned away and strode from the room. Victoria looked at me as if for sympathy, but I was with her father on this. She jumped up, knocking her chair over and ran out of the room.

I was in the house all day. In the winter damp, the gunroom needed plenty of attention. And in any case no self-respecting poacher would be out in such weather.

Besides, that gunroom did get damp in the cold. Victoria attempted talking to her father several times during the day, but he was not willing to speak. She tried to distract herself, first with books and then with the gramophone but gave up in disgust. In the end she came into the gunroom and sat in the window. I suppose she didn't want to be entirely alone. But she would not talk to me when I tried to chat.

She also had a view of the road from there. Finally in the distance Gausel's little Opel appeared over the rise in the drive. It came on at a snail's pace. The Viper was a cautious driver and the slippery conditions made him drive very slowly.

Not like her. I hated being in a car she was driving, I dreaded she would end like her mother. As Gausel got near she jumped like a scalded cat and ran out of the room. A moment later I could see her crossing the forecourt. It was bitterly cold. The fountains were frozen solid, and the silly thing was out there without a coat. Maybe John was right, when he said love had addled her brains. One of the footmen followed her out with a coat, but she shook him off. She met the car at the far side of the courtyard. It stopped and she climbed in. It turned and disappeared around the corner of the building heading towards the coach house.

The rest of the afternoon it was like the storm had come in the house. But after dark, all of a sudden, it all changed. I suppose John felt he had to choose, between accepting his daughter with Gausel and losing her altogether.

Anyway, I was sitting in the kitchen eating my dinner, when I was called up to the small library that John used as a study. Victoria was standing looking towards the door, behind her were both John Chesterfield and Gausel. Both men held brandy glasses. As I entered Victoria stepped up to me, with tears in her eyes. She threw her arms around my neck and pulled my head down and kissed my cheek. John smiled at me, ‘Victoria wanted you to be the first to know...’

She interrupted, ‘Ebert and I are going to be married.’

John smiled reassuringly, but it seemed to me that smile was simply a cover for a spring of repressed grief. ‘Now my dear, I must give Major Gausel a tour. When your mother welcomed me into the family she introduced me to all your forbears. If we are welcoming a new son into the family, he too must understand the meaning of tradition.’

‘Oh Daddy, you have made me so happy.’

John seemed on the verge of weeping, ‘That is enough my dear, I need to save my tears for the wedding.’

The only concession John had gained was the insistence that the engagement should be at least twelve months. And that was that, the Viper had won.

Adalheid Mehler: May 1938

Ebert came back to Berlin in March '38. Over the next while he visited us almost every weekend. I remember he took the children out several times to places such as the zoo, parks and the lakes. The children loved their Uncle Ebert, and they were certainly very dear to him as well. Then, when the children were safe home in bed, he would sit chatting with August and myself late into the night.

We then met Katharina for the first time in April '38, which was the first occasion she visited Ebert in Berlin. Ebert had rambled continuously about her during his visits to us. He was very keen to have her meet us, while I was curious to meet the girl who had such a profound effect on my brother.

It was our maid Hetti who showed them into our sitting room. I remember well, Ebert's huge smile as he introduced us. I recalled from my glimpse of her at the ball and knew from the photographs I had been sent that she was beautiful, but Ebert was correct, the photographs did not do Katharina justice.

In the flesh she was a remarkable presence. Not only did she possess exceptional beauty, but she had an amazing appeal. She projected total self-assurance, a calm certainty of her own worth. I think most people came under her spell, perhaps especially men. My August certainly fell all over himself in an attempt to impress her, and Ebert was clearly bewitched. Superficially, she was absolutely charming, her smile was warm and friendly, yet I quickly formed reservations as to her character.

To be fair, there were things I did like about her, even at this early stage. She clearly liked my children, Johan and Frieda. She seemed completely comfortable with them. She also appeared to feel great affection for Ebert, whether it was more I cannot say.

But she was also very young.

When I met her she was just eighteen. I hate to say it, but in many ways, she behaved like a spoiled child. This no doubt stemmed from an absolute belief that anyone, or even everyone, would bend over backwards to grant her every wish. Katharina also appeared to believe she was above any norm of acceptable behavior, even above the law.

There was an example of this on that first visit to us. Katharina and Ebert arrived in a flashy white Mercedes sports car. I remember August was very impressed, calling it a ‘540’, or something like that. Katharina was laughing that she had wanted a car like that since she saw one at the Olympics in '36. She happily told us, how she had badgered her father continually since then, until he had consented to her buying one. Then came the truly shocking part. Ebert asked her when she had applied for her driving license.

She laughed she had not yet taken her test, she had driven all the way from Bavaria without a license! I asked her if she was not afraid of getting into trouble. She replied entirely without concern that she was already a good driver, and that she had plenty of money to pay fines at any rate. I tried to insist she was being terribly irresponsible, but she simply would not accept my point of view.

I expected Ebert to support me in pointing out how serious her behavior was; I was disappointed. He preferred to see it as a big joke. I am afraid to say he had entirely lost his sense of judgment when it came to her. At least August backed me up. He held that getting in trouble with the law was not something that any person should risk. Katharina simply ignored us, stating that she would get her license when she was ready.