8 July 2022

Dunkirk Fails – fifteen years later

Another snippet from the world where Dunkirk failed, set this time in 1963, some fifteen years later, when Germany controls much of England but resistance continues in Scotland.

It was beautiful as long as it lasted
The journey of my life.
I have no regrets whatsoever
save the pain I’ll leave behind.

(Rabindrath Tagore)

The Girl, Morpeth

She sits in a tiny hut next to the abandoned railway line. These days, no trains run north of Newcastle. She pulls the ragged sacking tighter round her shoulders. She is crying, but as always makes no sound. The tears course down her stained cheeks, her thin body shakes with terror, grief and anger.

She looks through a gap in the wooden cladding of the hut. The snow falls, as it has for the last three days. Only the hut’s location under a larger corrugated iron canopy prevents it from being completely buried. Even so, it looks unlikely that she can escape any time soon. Even the security patrols, normally forced by their officers to work through all weathers, have had to give up. It is too dark to see now, but she knows that she will be unable to continue her journey. She is too weak to struggle through the snow.

She is cold, colder than she has ever been, colder even than the nights she spent in the open on her walk north from the Bensham ghetto. Her thin, worn clothes offer no protection against the wind whipping through the gaps in the planking. She looks outside again. No one will be here until morning, even if the snow stops. She decides to risk a small fire in the stove. Any smoke will be invisible and no one will see any faint light in these conditions. She scrabbles in her rough cloth bag for her matches. The tin has gone! She sobs uncontrollably. She is, literally, starving, but she knows also that without some warmth she will not survive the night.

Lying back against the rough wall of the hut, she drifts into unconsciousness.

*

Eternal Father strong to save,

Whose arm has bound the restless wave,

Who bids the mighty ocean deep,

Its own appointed limits, keep.

O hear us when we cry to Thee,

For those in Peril on the sea

Fishing boat “Rebekah” – North Sea.

Ken Sand peers into the night as the waves crash over the bow. This is the tricky part. Against the odds, they have got to the rendezvous point, but they still have to find the other boat and make the
transfer. Weather like this is their best chance of doing so unobserved, but it also makes everything doubly difficult. Fortunately, the Party officer is drunk as usual and dead to the world in his
bunk, so presents no problems.

“There”. The First Mate George Ramsay, also Ken’s brother-in-law, points ahead to a tiny glimmer of light. Ken sees it at the same time and grabbing a lantern leaves the wheelhouse to run it up the short mast. Meanwhile George begins the difficult task of manoeuvring the little trawler towards the other vessel. Eventually they get close enough for Ken to get a line across, followed rapidly by a breeches buoy. Only George’s seamanship, matched by his counterpart in the other vessel, keeps them on station so that the various packages can be transferred to the “Rebekah” without mishap. As each package lands on the deck it is rapidly stowed in the hold by the crew and the buoy whipped rapidly back.

As the last package is being stowed Ken looks up at the wheelhouse. To his horror he sees Harry Allen, the Party officer, step out behind George, staring in disbelief at the other vessel and at the breeches buoy between them. It is obvious something ‘unofficial’ was going on. Allen steps forward, shouting at George. George turns and seeing Allen behind him acts without hesitation. Abandoning the wheel, he grabs a heavy wrench from a rack beside him and smashes Allen directly in the face. He drops immediately to the deck. Ken hurries aft, and wordlessly takes the wheel as George drags Allen’s limp body to the side and pitches him over. Even if he has survived the blow, he is as good as dead in seas like this.

George comes back into the wheelhouse. “One of us will have to go back with them,” he says, nodding at the other boat alongside. “They will accept losing men overboard, but if the Party spy is the only one, they will be suspicious. Two they should accept though.”

“We can’t ask any of the lads, they all have family” says Ken, “and so do you. I’ll go – take care of Mum for me, – and Rebekah if she comes back.”

The two men quickly embrace before Ken goes back outside and in dumb show indicates to those manning the breeches buoy on the other vessel that he is coming across. As rapidly as possible, they pull him across, and he disappears below decks with only a single backward glance. Dropping the lines, the two boats part, the “Rebekah” sailing on to its fishing grounds and then back to North Shields, the other heading back north to whichever Scottish fishing port they had set out from.

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