On Friday morning, David, Herman and Georg joined the men in their mess for breakfast. After the dishes had been cleared away, David began explaining the planned activities for the following few days. "Down the slope from here is a field of potatoes. Actually, two fields. One ready to harvest and the other two or three weeks away. They're part of our cover in Germany."
He looked around at the bemused expressions, then continued. "With so many men away fighting, those left behind haven't been able to grow sufficient to feed both the troops and themselves. Food is scarce, so we'll be helping to feed them." He held up his hand and waved it in a dismissive way.
"I know what you're thinking, we'll be aiding the enemy. But, think of an easier way for us to repeatedly drive across the border." He watched the nods. "Those of us with Swiss papers will become potato merchants at the town markets up the valleys near the rail lines. Three of us will cross into Germany each trip, and two will come back."
Seeing the knowing expressions around the table, he continued. "The plan is to establish three reconnaissance posts, one on each line. As we get Swiss documents for the rest of you, we can rotate the groups. Within a few weeks, you should all be familiar with the areas." He scanned their faces. "Discussion. Have you questions or comments?"
"Won't it seem strange to the border guards? Neutral Swiss aiding Germans?"
"No, Fred, remember your briefings on the politics here. We're in the Germanic portion of Switzerland. There's a common language and a common culture across the border. Many here are sympathetic with the Germans."
David looked around for further questions, and seeing none, he continued the briefing. "The purpose of the reconnaissance teams is to learn what security there is on the rail lines and to look for targets for our explosives."
"And where do we get explosives in Germany?" Greg asked.
"We'll get them here and take them across." He looked out the window. "The rain appears to have stopped now. Let's take a walk and we'll show you the broader aspect of this."
He led them down the slopes through the vineyard, then paused at the beginning of the pasture and pointed to two stone huts about half a kilometre away. "Those two tool huts straddle the border, both on Mrs Eberhardt's land. She owns this field and wishes to plant it to vines to link with her vineyards here with the two plots at the border."
Picking up a piece of creamy white rock, he continued. "This is a form of limestone, like chalk, and it's a superb soil for her chosen vines, and it's also easy to tunnel through. On Monday morning, a team of Sappers will rendezvous with Marcel, and I'll have them here on Wednesday. The huts are less than fifty yards apart, and they'll make great terminal points for a tunnel."
David smiled at their signs of comprehension. "Across there, that pair of white buildings, that's the border crossing. We'll be working less than half a kilometre, five hundred yards from them."
"Won't the tunnelling be obvious to the guards? So close."
"That's another of our jobs, Hans. We'll be preparing this field for planting vines, removing the layer of sod and breaking the surface. The Sappers' tailings should blend inconspicuously with that."
He pointed up the slopes. "Does anyone here have experience with harvesting potatoes?"
Rick put up his hand. "My family grows them in New Brunswick. I grew up planting, cultivating and harvesting them."
"Great, you can give us some ideas on how to do it." He motioned up the hill. "Let's give it a go."
"Soil's a bit damp yet from the rain. Best to wait a bit." Rick prodded the earth with his boot, then looked up at the sky. "Appears we'll have sun shortly. Mid-afternoon should be better for digging. When were the plants cut?"
"Don't know. Let's go find out." David led the way through the vineyard. "Is the timing important?"
"We cut the plants off ten days before harvest to give the skins a chance to set. Some do a week, some two. What tools have we?"
"What are normally used?"
"Most use spade forks, but I prefer a four-pronged rake."
After lunch, Rick accompanied David in the lorry, pausing at a hardware store in Schaffhausen to purchase forks and rakes before they picked up the two cooks at the train station. As they waited for the train, David asked, "So, your explosives background? That's from clearing land for potatoes."
"Yes, blasting tree stumps and throwing boulders." Rick chuckled. "My brother and I made a game of it; drawing targets and trying to hit them. We got pretty darned good at it." He shook his head and smiled. "Never thought I'd be using dynamite and potatoes to fight the Germans."
"I'll have you tell the team all about potatoes, present us with ideas on how to describe and promote them in the markets. It's best we appear knowledgeable so not to raise suspicion."
"Do you know what varieties were planted?"
"Tante Bethia, Mrs Eberhardt told me she cut up the ones in the root cellar left over from the previous owners."
Rick pursed his lips and nodded. "Let's hope they were disease-free. Once a potato is stricken, it should never be used for the next crop. That will only spread its disease."
"They appeared and tasted fine to me. We had them often this spring before I left for Oxford."
"They should be alright, then. I'll have to see if I can identify their variety by appearance."
David pointed to the train pulling into the station. "Let's pick up the cooks and head back. I'm curious about the potatoes." He laughed. "My father's family left Ireland three generations ago because of diseased potatoes."
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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...