Wednesday 3 November 1915
As soon as the Sappers had gone back to work following lunch on Wednesday, David had two of the mess tables placed side-by-side, then he laid out map sheets and gathered the saboteurs around. "Time to become potato merchants." He pointed to chinagraph marks on the acetate sheet covering the overview map. "We'll start with the market in Titisee tomorrow, then Triberg on Friday and Blumberg on Saturday."
He nodded at the smiling faces. "Looks like you're pleased to be finally moving from construction and working fields to some actual field work." Pointing to Second Lieutenant Moberly, he continued. "Tomorrow we'll leave Herman behind to scout the pass of the Höllentalbahn. There are seven tunnels and one huge bridge." He tapped his stick on each.
"The grade is so steep through this section that it is necessary to use rack and pinion locomotives for the four and a half miles. We need to find out what security is being used along the route, look for possibilities of damaging the line, and also find places for a small team to comfortably hide."
David handed Herman a portfolio. "Here are the pertinent photos and engineering drawings of the section. You'll take Hans and study these after we've finished here. You'll meet us at next week's market so we can debrief, then Hans will join you."
Turning to Corporal Hardt, he handed him a folder. "Franz, you'll do the market in Triberg on Friday, then reconnoitre the central section of the Schwarzwaldbahn." David ran his pointer along the route on the map. "This section has twenty-five tunnels in ten miles so there should be a few vulnerable spots. Fred will join you at the following week's market."
He pointed across the tables to Sergeant Heiss. "Georg will be doing the market in Blumberg. It's a very different terrain compared to the other two. Rolling hills, open fields and high pastures, rather than forest-covered, steep-sided valleys and gorges. You can see why this is called the Pigtail Line. Four full switchbacks and a spiral tunnel." He ran his stick along the squiggly route.
"This was built as a strategic railway with a gentle grade for very heavy loads. It's their most important line in the entire region, so I'm sure it's very well guarded." He opened the portfolio of photos and drawings. "Many huge viaducts, but they're all so open and visible. We need to find the vulnerabilities. Greg will join you the following week." He scanned the faces. "Questions? Discussion?"
"What of the rest of us?"
"We're still waiting on forged documents, Sam. Last I heard is there's a problem in making the paper appear appropriately aged. They've reproduced the watermarks, though, so there's progress. Without Swiss papers, it's not wise for you to be involved in the initial reconnaissances. You'll remain here to continue disguising the tunnelling, finishing the tool shed, and harvesting the other field of potatoes. These aren't as exciting, I know, but they're essential to the mission. I'll be playing lorry driver and potato pedlar."
Titisee, Germany — Thursday 4 November 1915
At zero six fifty on Wednesday morning, David had driven the lorry down the lane from Sonnenhang with Herman and Hans beside him in the cab. In the back were twenty large bins of potatoes. They arrived at the Swiss Customs post just as it was being opened and had been quickly let through.
After David had explained their plans to help feed the people, the German guard had inspected the cargo, then issued a circulation permit for the lorry and thanked them for their assistance.
The market was bustling when they arrived in the square in front of the church in Titisee shortly past eight. "Herman, you go check the prices of potatoes at the other vendors. Hans, you direct me as I back the lorry into place."
David manoeuvred into position with the back doors facing the square, set the brake and shut off the engine and climbed from the cab. He stood for a while surveying the scene, then walked to the rear doors as Herman returned with his observations. "The prices I saw ranged from eight to fifteen Pfennig the kilo. The most expensive ones don't appear as nice as ours."
Nodding and pursing his lips, David said, "I suggest we start with sixteen Pfennig on the signs. We don't want to appear suspicious by underpricing. We can quickly adjust the price if we need to maintain a good selling rate." He opened the doors and lifted out the sandwich-board sign while Hans climbed in to pass the table and the balance out to Herman. David sorted through the plaques, found the two that read 16Pf, and hung them on the pegs, then he stood back and looked at the sign.
Aus der Schweiz
He smiled to He smiled to himself. That should attract attention, lots of catch words: From Switzerland, Best Quality, Fresh.
While Herman assembled the balance, David and Hans lifted four bins of potatoes from the lorry and set them on the table, and when they looked up, there was a small gathering checking the quality. They quickly made their first sale and enjoyed a steady trade until they ran out of potatoes at eleven twenty.
"Wir werden eine größere Menge nächste Woche bringen... We'll bring a larger quantity next week," David explained to the disappointed.
The three of them loaded the sign, the table, the balance, and the empty bins into the back of the lorry, then after he had closed and locked the doors, David nodded across the square to the gasthaus. "Let's stroll through the market and see what there is, and more importantly, what there isn't, then pause on the patio over there for a debrief and an early lunch."
They sat watching the activity in the market and quietly discussing their observations as they sipped their beer and waited for their food. "The striking thing to me is all the women and children. Other than the infirm, all the men appear to be fifty and older."
David nodded at Hans. "That's because of the requirement for all healthy men from seventeen to forty-five to serve. Unless they've exemptions, they're either soldiers or working in munitions and war materials production or in agricultural production for the troops." He chuckled. "Unless they're hiding or have fled."
"Before the war, Germany depended on imports to feed its population." Herman took another sip of beer, then continued. "Since the beginning of hostilities, our naval blockade has stopped their major access to imports. The whole country is short of food, but I'm sure the Army takes the best quality and leaves the rest for the people back home."
"That explains all the culls we saw. The people are left with the dregs," Hans said. "I would think by now many have their own gardens. They would have planted in the spring when they realised this wasn't to be the short war that had been predicted."
"The sad thing is until recently, propaganda had continued telling them it's nearly over. Most would have believed this and few would have started a garden. They'll surely look at it differently next..." David paused as their lunches were served. After the fraülein had left, he continued. "Even if they plant next spring, they've eight or nine months until that's ready to harvest. Looking at their meagre supply now, and its poor quality, I shudder to think what it will be like over the winter."
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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...