by Writer345 ©* * *
Chapter Thirteen: May 1945 — The Road to Temple Farm.
It had been during the crossing from Antwerp to Southampton that Virginia had made her final decision as to their destination. Doktor Elsa Bergen had advised her that all they needed initially was something the size of a large house that was well away from prying eyes. “What we do is easily misinterpreted and I believe that you Britisch have a saying, What the eyes don’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve about’? So It would perhaps be best if you were to set things up somewhere lacking close neighbours.”
Virginia Howard had given her a perfunctory nod. “Will we need medical or laboratory facilities?”
Bergman had considered this for a moment but hadn’t answered immediately as one of the British soldiers who was supposed to be guarding the prisoners on their journey back to England had suddenly appeared from behind one of the ambulances, a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
“I thought that smoking was banned around vehicles on these ships, private.” Virginia had said reverting to her military persona.
The soldier, who was no more than a lad, had grinned sheepishly and shrugged. “Sorry, ma’am.” He muttered but made no attempt to get rid of the offending cigarette.
“Look, if you need a smoke, slope off somewhere out of the way, I can keep my eye on things here.”
“Thanks, ma’am. You sure you’ll be alright?” He said sounding grateful.
Virginia had nodded, chuckled and ordered him to. “Carry on.”
When he had disappeared in the general direction of the stern of the ship Howard turned back to Bergman, who continued. “You will not need these laboratory facilities immediately but they will be necessary once things are established, yes.”
Howard gazed out to sea and remained silent for several minutes before saying “A farm would be ideal, wouldn’t it?”
Once they had landed in Southampton and her vehicles and prisoners, had been unloaded, they drove out of the port and headed for the nearest military establishment as per instructions receive en-route . The port and city showed signs of bomb damage, but nothing as extensive as what Howard had seen in Belgium and Western Germany and because of this she hardly noticed it.
Suddenly, while the little convoy was halted at a road junction, Doctor Bergen drew her attention to the destruction that was suddenly all around her. “You Englanders have had it easy.” She almost spat.
Howard glared at her. “What the Hell do you mean by that?” She had snapped.
They were seated side by side in the back of the jeep that had brought them from Germany—not exactly the world’s most comfortable means of transport, although the canvass top did keep out some of the persistent drizzle. Lieutenant Weaver, who was seated at the front beside the driver half turned to show that she was listening.
“Look at this city: like Hamburg it is an important port, yet it is hardly touched by war,” she muttered disparagingly, “while Hamburg has been all but levelled by your RAF.”
“You Germans started this war, so what do you expect?” Virginia said, her voice sounding both annoyed and tired at the same time.
“It’s over now, fucking good job too!” Weaver said quietly. “Both sides did things that they’ll regret in the years to come.”
The convoy was moving again, passing bomb-damaged factories as it headed out towards the RAF airfield at Swathling. “I suppose the aircrews that caused that will come too regret it.” Bergen conceded reluctantly. “And you, Leutnant, is there anything that you regret?”
The near-six foot blonde suddenly looked haunted and seemed to fold in on herself. “Two years in France—what do you think?”
“I—I didn’t know.” Howard said.
“Yeah, two years of living on my nerves and not knowing just whose side the bloody French were actually on. Two years of having to kill everybody that got in my way: Germans; French traitors; ‘innocent’ Frenchmen and women—oh, and before you ask—they were all innocent: the bastards!”
She paused, giving Howard a piercing stare, before turning the same gaze on Bergman while asking. “Have either of you ladies ever had to kill an injured comrade because you were on the run and there was absolutely nothing that you could do for them. What would you do? You couldn’t take them with you because they would slow you down too much and you couldn’t leave them behind because they would fall into the hands of the Sicherheitsdienst if you did.”
Suddenly Weaver turned away to stare blankly out through the wind-shield, her face wooden and her eyes expressionless.
“Sicherheitsdienst?” Virginia Howard asked, not expecting a reply.
Bergen, however, did answer her. “Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS: Heinrich Himler’s Security Service.” Her voice was emotionless as she added. “One of our, er, more enthusiastic security police organisations.”
It was a late afternoon two days later when the little convoy finally rolled into the compound surrounding the main buildings of Temple Farm somewhere in the wilds of rural Derbyshire. The personnel remaining were expecting Howard’s party but were at a loss as to what they were expected to do. The Colonel had been in touch with Brigadier Martingale at MI16’s London Headquarters several times during their journey north—mainly to report progress and to request assistance when progress had been halted by suspicious or obstructive functionaries.
Even though the war in Europe was all but over, Howard’s magic letter, grubby as it now was, still carried weight and was enough to secure the cooperation of the handful of soldiers and civilians remaining at Temple Farm. Most of them remembered Howard from the time that she had worked there and this had helped too.
“Look, Virginia,” Martingale had said the last time that she had phoned him, “we’re shifting our focus to the far east, seems that the Japs are working on highly technical stuff too, so I’m going to have to leave you to your own devices for a bit. I’ve pulled a few strings and Temple Farm’s yours for as long as you need it: let the office know if you need anything at all—the staff here have been instructed to give you whatever support that you need during my absence. I’m off to set up a section in Calcutta so I’ll be a little pre-occupied for the foreseeable future.” And that had been that.
The farm had just about been stripped of anything remotely related to the various clandestine biological warfare projects that it had previously housed, much to Virginia’s relief, The bunker had been decontaminated too. She was able to stop them from stripping out the remainder of the laboratory facilities, although there didn’t seem to be a great deal left. Still that could be remedied at some time in the future as there was plenty of surplus kit available for the asking as this wasn’t the only secret scientific facility that was being dismantled. She had made a mental note to get Bergen to draw up a list of anything that they might conceivably need.
The senior British officer, a Medical Corps Major named Michael Fowler had been dubious about the presence of German personnel in general and of Elsa Bergen in particular. “They are the enemy, for Christ’s sake Ma’am, we can’t let them have free run of the place!”
“Look, Mike, they are my responsibility and Doctor Bergman is working for MI16: if you are unhappy about it then I suggest that you contact Brigadier Martingale’s office in Knightsbridge they will confirm what I have told you.”
Fowler had excused himself only to return about ten minutes later looking slightly sheepish. Apparently everything checked out. However he still insisted on his people keeping guard. “Just in case of unforeseen circumstances, don’t y’ know?”
Virginia had nodded her agreement—if it kept him out of her hair then so much the better. The Two German nurses, together with the pair of SS women were locked in one of the dormitory rooms for the night with a sentry seated outside and their status as POW’s was thus maintained. Actually this suited Howard as it meant that the soldiers who had escorted them from Southampton, acting as guards and drivers, could be sent back to their units. The only ones to be retained were Lieutenant Weaver and Annie Holt, the FANY sergeant who had originally been Virginia’s driver on the trip into Germany. Again this suited the colonel as she had got to know both woman and she felt that they could be trusted.
All in all it was a good start and tomorrow would bring what tomorrow would bring: and that was when Howard and Bergen planned to start work in earnest.