David and Maria sat with Evelyn and Edith enjoying tea and conversation and catching up on details of the past four months. The prisoner of war exchanges were going smoothly in a programme coordinated by the Swiss Federal Council, the Red Cross and the Vatican.
"Hospital trains are now regularly crossing Switzerland between Lyon and Constance," Edith said. "Unfortunately, the convention allows this only for soldiers who've lost limbs, have been blinded or paralysed and those with severe head injuries. We're working on allowing those who've suffered less debilitating injuries and the thousands who've contracted tuberculosis."
"That's a huge additional burden on the countries. Not only caring for their own injured but also their enemy's." David shook his head and blew out a loud breath. "I still shudder at my memory of the instructions I overheard in Belgium, telling the German soldiers to slit the throats of the wounded. They had too many of their own to care for." He shook his head again.
"That's why we're working so hard to expand this programme," Edith said. "We've heard many similar reports. We're hoping to set up sanatoriums here. Tuberculosis is spreading rapidly through the camps in both France and Germany. The afflicted are a growing burden."
"Our own injured seem overwhelming. Both times I passed through Boulogne there were long lines of ambulances loading the Channel ferry. Many of the college buildings in Oxford have been transformed into chronic care hospitals. I'm sure that has happened at other universities throughout. Most of the students and teachers have left for the trenches or the ships."
"I hadn't thought of that," Evelyn said. "But, yes, the teachers and students were a large initial source of recruits. The colleges must be nearly empty."
"Filled now with officer training programmes and care facilities for the wounded." David drew a circle in the air. "The full cycle. Train them, send them off, then attempt to repair them when they return."
Monday 18 October 1915
Mid-afternoon on Monday David greeted the Daimler agent at the Embassy, then went out into the courtyard with him to examine the new van. "I'm familiar with the 1912 model. What changes are there from it?"
"Mostly mechanical improvements, the engine is five and a half kilowatts stronger, but otherwise, there's little that's obvious. The side curtains are now better in the wind and rain." The agent motioned to them, then pointed to the crank. "Let me start it and we'll take a test drive to show you how everything works."
"Allow me to start the engine. See if I remember. You can correct me if I do anything wrong." David flipped the magneto switch, advanced the spark, adjusted the throttle and the choke, then turned the crank and released the spring. He pushed in the choke, retarded the spark and soon had the engine running smoothly.
The agent nodded and smiled. "Do you wish to drive now, or shall I demonstrate?"
David looked at the pedals and levers in the cab. "I'm certain I still remember." He climbed in behind the wheel, and the agent walked around to the other side and climbed aboard. As he drove out through the gate, he said, "Not as smooth with the hard rubber tires, rather than inflated ones, but no worry about punctures."
"Yes, we don't often have requests for hard rubber on the front wheels. Our standard is pneumatic on the front and hard on the rear, but many now ask for inflated on all four."
David followed the agent's directions and pulled the van to a stop in the yard of the Daimler garage and shut down the engine. He lifted the seat cushion and checked the contents of the box, then laughed. "Tire irons and puncture repair kit."
"They're standard, Sir. Also, in case you later wish to change to pneumatic."
After he had noted the instruction manual and the tool kit, David lowered the seat cushion, then followed the agent into the office to sign the acceptance form.
"When you've operated the engine for fifty hours, bring the vehicle to us so we can adjust the valves, clean and re-gap the plugs, change the filters and examine the drive train."
"Does it have to be here in Bern?"
"No, any Daimler agency."
"Is there one in Schaffhausen?"
"Our closest at the moment is in Zürich, but we're opening one soon in Winterthur. About a month, I'm told."
David signed the papers and thanked the agent, then after shaking hands, he headed back to the van. One more piece of the puzzle in place. How many more are there?
Givrins, Switzerland — Tuesday 19 October 1915
David and Maria left the residence at eight on Tuesday morning, and after dropping her off at the University Hospital, he drove to Lausanne and along the shores of Lac Leman, through villages and towns to Gland. He stopped on its north side and looked at his watch. Eleven twenty. A little over three hours for a hundred and ten kilometres. A little over six kilometres left to Givrins. He looked at the map. Bit of a hill at the end. Better get going.
He drove up onto the knoll at the foot of the Jura Mountains and into the village, then out the other side. Down a gentle slope and around a wide switchback, he stopped on the broad shoulder and switched off the engine.
Eleven thirty-five. He breathed a sigh as he looked out at the view of the lake and at the mountains on its other side. Mont Blanc, the highest in the Alps. Have to do that one sometime. Love to take Maria up there. I'm sure she...
His thoughts were interrupted by an Australian accent. "Hoy! G'day mate, can me and my buds bum a ride to Bern?"
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...