by Writer345 ©* * *
Chapter Five: January 1945 — FANY.
Doctor Virginia Howard had found herself in the British Army when she was conscripted back in the dark days of 1941. Things did not go smoothly however and when they discovered just how highly qualified she was, the army didn’t quite know how what to do with her. That plus the fact that, despite being a very attractive twenty-nine year old, she spurned the advances of every amorous male colleague. Needless to say his made her rather unpopular—well unpopular with the men, that is!
When it was noticed that she was very popular with certain of the women, the army suddenly decided to get rid of her. So, like all other embarrassing members of her gender that they discovered within their ranks—such as the highly intelligent ones, the strange ones, the ones who refused to become stereotypes and the out-and-out lesbians: she was quietly transferred to a totally independent unit known as FANY.
FANY, or The First Aid and Nursing Yeomanry, dates from 1908 and although it has never been a part of the British Army, members of that Corps legally wear army uniforms and had served with distinction in both World Wars. Every one who knows them refers to them with friendly familiarity as ‘Fanny’ and are always impressed by their professionalism.
By 1941 Fanny had ceased to be solely medical in nature and had become a good place to hide some of the shadier aspects of women’s involvement in the war effort. At this time, British law forbade women in the British Army to bear arms but, not being legally part of the army, the FANY’s did not fall under this ban. This legal nicety was quickly seized upon by the Special Operations Executive and other shadowy organisations. So while many of her colleagues became spies, saboteurs and assassins, Doctor Virginia Howard was hived-off to yet another of the secret organisations, one carrying out rather unethical biological weapons research. This is how she came to spend most of her war years ensconced within a hidden bunker at a secret base known as ‘Temple Farm’, tucked away as it was, somewhere in the wilds of rural Derbyshire.
By early 1945, it was clear that the war was coming to an end and thought was being given to what would come next—not peace exactly but whatever it was that would replace the fighting. Virginia Howard knew that something was in the wind: first of all there came the order to wind-down her part in the biological weapons program, no, it wasn’t being ended, just relocated to somewhere else: Porton Down being hinted at by those who claimed to be ‘in the know’. The bunker where she worked would be decommissioned when the war ended so the doctor naturally anticipated a transfer to the Wiltshire establishment.
The second development was a sudden promotion to the rank of lieutenant-colonel which came as somewhat of a surprise. She had been a captain and that was what she had expected to remain. Clearly there was something big happening...
And happen it did! On January 25th 1945, three days after her thirty-third birthday, a courier brought her sealed orders and with some trepidation, she opened them.
She read them and gasped in surprise: The envelope contained just two items: a sheet of paper ordering her to report, with full kit, to an address in Knightsbridge, London no later than midnight on the 29th. The second sheet being a rail warrant. Puzzled, she began clearing the decks and planing her journey.
“Ah, glad to meet you, Colonel Howard... Virginia!” The Brigadier said warmly as he walked around his desk and gently took her hand in his. She surprised him by squeezing, hard!
“Ah.” He chuckled after the handshake. “Welcome to MI16, which is Scientific Intelligence, by the way.”
The Brigadier, whose name turned out to be Martingale, had clearly seen some action: the fact that his left hand and right eye were missing were a bit of a give-away. “Ah!” He said as he sat down again behind his desk and waved his stump in the general direction of a fairly comfortable chair. “Please be seated, colonel.”
He shuffled papers, largely for effect before speaking again. “Ah, no doubt you are wondering why you’re here?”
Virginia nodded, having mentally noted that the man seemed to start every sentence with, ‘Ah’.
He looked quizzically at her. “Ah, Germany is collapsing on all fronts, its only a matter of time... Months at the most before the war in Europe ends. Now you may have noticed that technically they are streets ahead of us in certain areas: jet and rocket powered aircraft, flying bombs and the like. And some of their new submarines that we’re getting wind of could still give the navy a major headache!”
“Sir?” The lieutenant-colonel asked. “What’s this to do with me: I’m a biologist, my knowledge of physics and engineering is rather limited.”
He blinked, although it could have been a wink as his right eye socket was covered by a large black eye-patch from which a network of angry red scars radiated. “Ah, er, colonel: that is precisely why you are here. If their technical prowess is so advanced then there is a good chance that they have made similar strides in chemical and medical research... New weapons... New surgical techniques... New knowledge.
“When this infernal war does come to an end there is going to be a mad scramble to get hold of those very scientists and their work. We know that the Americans are going to implement a highly secret project called ‘Operation Paperclip’ and that they aim to scoop up as many of these Johnnies as they possibly can. Similarly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Russians weren’t planning the same thing!”
Virginia sighed for she could see where this was leading, although her foresight did not keep the irony out of her voice. “And I suppose that we at MI16 are going to launch ourselves into the wreckage of Germany and try to beat them too it?”
The Brigadier positively beamed at her, in fact he was so pleased that he forgot to say ‘Ah.’. “That is precisely it, Doctor Howard! We already have a team of aviation experts and physicists and the like but no one had considered the Medical and Biological side of things until I mentioned it to Winston last week and you know what he’s like?”
Virginia didn’t, but she nodded anyway.”
“Ah, precisely! As far as our Prime Minister is concerned, everything has got to be done immediately, if not sooner. Anyway, he told me to get someone in and to get them started on identifying anyone and anything that might be of use.” He smiled again and the woman noticed even more scars: the Brigadier had certainly been up the sharp end somewhere.
She frowned. “Do we actually have any idea as to what they’ve been up to, Sir?”
Instead of answering, he picked up his phone. “Pot of tea for two, my office, now! Ah, better make it the good stuff!”
The conversation moved into the realms of small-talk where it remained until a couple of white-coated orderlies had served tea and a couple of slabs of plain cake.
After they had left the old soldier looked stern. “Well we know that the Hun have been carrying out medical experiments in a prison camp at Dachau and also in at least a couple of big camps in Poland. Unfortunately Dachau’s in Bavaria which will be in the American-controlled zone and the Russians are about to over-run Poland so we’ll be hard-pressed to get our hands on anything first hand from any of those places, should we even want too.”
He must have seen the look of distaste on the woman’s face because his tone became much more gentle, fatherly even. “Look, Virginia, I know that its a rum-do and that carrying out medical experiments on people is too horrific to even contemplate. But think of it this way: what’s done is done! If they’ve found out anything that might help us save lives in future then I say we go all out to get hold of it and Winston thinks the same.
“Anyway who knows? We might be able to use what we discover to bring the bastards responsible up before the courts... After they’ve been thoroughly de-briefed, naturally!”
The lieutenant-colonel thought about what he had said and nodded. “Okay, I’m in! When and how do I start.”
“Ha-ha!” He chuckled. “That’s the ticket, old girl! Now the odds are that they’ve been doing something monstrous at other camps all over that infernal Reich of theirs, and believe me, they seem to have hundreds; some massive and some really tiny and just about everything in between.
“What I’d like you to do is to comb through the mountain of intelligence reports and signal intercepts that we’ve been accumulating since that bounder, Hitler, came to power... Look for anything, any hints that might put you onto something. You’re the scientist, you know what to look for—us soldiers just don’t understand about this sort of thing.”
Suddenly he looked grim. “You are going to need a really strong stomach, Old Girl!”
...and so it started.