After his last morning class, David arrived in his quarters at twenty past noon. He was surprised to see the table set for three. I'm sure I told Tompkins it was for two. Why three? Five minutes later, there was a knock on his door, and he got up to open it.
"Good afternoon, David. I'm Herman, one of your lunch guests."
David shook hands with the cadet, then directed him to the table and said, "Looks like we'll be three."
"Yes, the third should be here any minute now."
David was about to speak, when there was a knock. "There he is now."
He opened the door to Tompkins saluting from behind a loaded tea trolley. "Good afternoon, Sir."
"Good afternoon, Tompkins. Please, come in and set up."
Tompkins wheeled the cart in, closed the door and locked it.
David heard the extra click and thought, Is Tompkins part of this also? Probably.
"It's best you continue to call me Tompkins, and for me to continue calling you sir. Otherwise, we may slip at an inappropriate time. Let me put lunch on the table, then we'll begin. Seems the cooks had too many potatoes; the choice was shepherd's pie or bangers and mash. The pudding looks good, though, and I copped a big wedge of Stilton, some biscuits and a carafe of tawny Port."
"Wine might not be good before my afternoon. We've a route march."
"You've been excused the remainder of the day. There are better things for you to do than marching sixteen miles." Tompkins pointed to the binders on the floor in the corner. "We've a lot of material to cover. We'll save the port and cheese as our reward when we've finished, hopefully by tea time." He smiled and pointed to his plate. "We should begin before this cools much more."
As they ate, Tompkins confirmed David's suggestion he was G. "I actually had been with Hawkes before the War, but I was their accountant and administrator. I had been through OTC during university, was commissioned during the first weeks of the War and sent to Belgium. The story about the shakes was part of my cover to you."
David laughed. "You make a fine batman."
"I understand what an officer looks for in one, having had my own in the muck and mayhem of Flanders." He nodded toward Herman, who had remained silent. "Herman was born in Switzerland, but his grandfather's illness brought the family back here a dozen years ago, and they never went back. He grew up speaking German and still has his Swiss papers."
"Von welchem Kanton?... From which canton?"
"Aargau. Ist das Thurgau oder Schaffhausen Sie sprechen?... Aargau. Is that Thurgau or Schaffhausen you speak?"
"Schaffhausen, obwohl es Hinweise noch der Wiener Österreicher... Schaffhausen, though there's still hints of Viennese Austrian."
"Great, you two can practice later." Tompkins laughed, then continued, "I don't understand a word you're saying. Herman is two courses ahead of you, David, fifteen oh eight. We've been holding off doing anything with him until now. We should finish lunch, then get started."
When they had finished, they cleared the table onto the tea trolley, and Tompkins picked up the first binder, laid it on the table and opened it. "We've been building a file of soldiers with fluency in German and conducting security screening on them. We were initially surprised to find most of them are colonials."
"That makes sense to me," David nodded. "Many more would have emigrated to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, even India, than to Britain. The opportunities and the freedom..." He paused and looked at Tompkins. "Sad to say, but from what I've seen in England and what I've heard from the British, there's much more opportunity overseas."
"Yes, I said initially. We quickly saw that. We have ninety-two sets of service records and background data here, which we need to sort through. These are the ones with clean security checks. Our thinking is we need a dozen for this, three squads of four. There are now two of you, so we need ten more."
"Easier if they're Swiss-born, like me," Herman said. "Won't need to sneak in that way."
"Ideally, yes, but there are only nine in the dossier. Most of them come from German or Austrian backgrounds, and unless we can find them usable papers, they'll have to sneak into Switzerland and keep low profiles. Ideally, we want those with explosives or demolition experience, either in the Army or before. Climbing and wilderness living are other major assets, as are demonstrations of fitness and endurance, such as excellence in sporting endeavour."
Tompkins pointed to the files. "We need to sort these into three piles: Definite, Possible and No. Mark the back of each folder with either D, P or N. We have a network of recruiters to approach each of the candidates, assess them and look for interest. Any questions?"
He paused and looked back and forth between them. "Let's have at it, then, so we can move on to the afternoon's next step."
For the next three and a quarter hours, they each read through every file and marked them. When they finished, they sorted into piles those with three identical marks, then they analysed and discussed the ones with mixed marks and assigned them to the piles.
Shortly after five, they completed the task and totalled the stacks. "Seventeen are Definite, eleven are Possible." Tompkins shook his head. "Not good odds. Twenty-eight to find ten."
"It would be great if all ten came from the definite pile." David pointed to it. "There are some outstanding ones in there. What's the average recruitment ratio from this point?"
"I was told that twenty-five percent is considered good."
"So we're likely to fall short, then?"
"We'll see. We're still waiting for submissions of records transcripts from a few regiments." He looked at his watch. "Well beyond tea time. Let's set the files aside and relax our minds." Tompkins stood and drew the lower curtain aside on the tea trolley and lifted out a basket of biscuits, a decanter of tawny Port, three glasses and a board with three cheese knives and a glass bell covering a large wedge of Stilton.
He set them on the table, then turned to David. "I want you to give us the full picture of the Baden railways, a précis of what you've learned of them and all you've seen through the area. Then give us your ideas on how to proceed. By the time you've finished, this should have loosened our minds for a creative discussion." He poured the Port.
YOU ARE READING
Back In ActionHistorical Fiction
In the early months of the First World War, a young Canadian soldier uses quick thinking and ingenuity to evade capture after being wounded fighting in Flanders. While escaping through Germany to the Swiss border, he becomes intimately entwined with...