|HMS Audax By David O'Neil|
John Macklin looked at the sky to the east as he walked down the dock, wondering if the forecast of sunny weather would actually happen. As he approached the gangway, the duty Petty Officer stepped forward and recognised him. He saluted â€œMorning. Sir, Captain is on board. Three new officers have reported in. No men on report.â€
John returned the salute. â€œThank you, Rogers. We can go through the list when the skipper finishes his rounds.â€
John boarded the destroyer lying alongside the quay, automatically saluting the Sub-Lieutenant standing on deck, and then the quarterdeck aft. Down in his cabin he threw his cap on to the door hook, stripped his wet raincoat off and hung it in in the shower to drip dry.
He took the packet of charts and orders and stepped along to the captainâ€™s cabin. He knocked on the door and opened it as he heard the word, â€œEnterâ€.
â€œMorning, sir. I have the mail, the charts and the by-hand orders. He placed them on the desk and stood back.
Commander Michael Warrender DSO RN was stocky and fair-haired, thinning on top, his grey eyes seemingly designed to gaze at distant horizons. In fact, he was starting to use reading glasses for close work. He took the package of orders, mail and the new charts and waved to the only other chair in the cabin. â€œTake a pew, while I run through the awkward bits.â€
â€œHow was your run ashore?â€ He said as he flipped through the signals and then opened the orders. â€œHello! What have we here?â€ He picked out the section which obviously contained a matter of interest. He read the instructions carefully, and then he read them again. Looking up, he said. â€œThis will interest you, number one, we have been ordered to collect a seriously important group from Le Havre.â€ He passed the order over to Macklin.
The orders read. â€˜To Officer i/c HMS Audax: Being in all respects ready for sea, you are to proceed forthwith, with dispatch, to the port of Le Havre. There to collect a party for repatriation to the United Kingdom. Your priority is the safe return of the people nominated regardless of costs.â€™
Signed: J. Howard CBE, DSC, Rear Admiral. Portsmouth.
Macklin read the order. â€œThat is pretty explicit. We are in all respects ready for sea. That list looks a bit like Debrett to me. Iâ€™d better get things started,, since itâ€™s â€˜with all dispatch.â€™â€
â€œIâ€™ll see you on the bridge when we are singled up. Carry on, John.â€
â€œAye, aye sir.â€ John made his way to the bridge. The Coxâ€™n met him there.
â€œCall all hands. Stations for leaving harbour.â€
â€œAye Aye, sir.â€ The Coxâ€™n clicked on the P/A. â€œAll hands stand by. Stations for leaving harbour.â€ A rush of feet on decks and ladders followed the order.
On the bridge John Macklin gave further orders. â€œEngines to stand by. Single-up bow and stern ropes.â€
The calls went out as the Captain reached the bridge.
Macklin reported,. â€œShip is ready to cast off and all systems ready for leaving harbour.â€
â€œThank you, Number one. Port engine slow ahead. Starboard engine stand by. Five degrees starboard wheel, Coxâ€™n. Cast off bow line.â€ Then, as the bow swung clear of the vessel moored ahead, â€œStarboard engine slow ahead. Cast off stern line. Helm amid-ships.â€
The destroyer moved steadily out along the channel between the moored ships toward the open sea. She gathered speed through the grey waters into the Solent until she was moving at twenty five knots and heading almost due south to the Port of Le Havre.
Further up the channel, the evacuation of Dunkirk was over. HMS Audax had been part of that operation, though further down channel, working the port of Dieppe.
In the Captainâ€™s day cabin behind the bridge, the skipper sat reading some of the other information he had received with the new orders. The calendar on the bulkhead was crossed off up to the 19th of June 1940, today. Europe was in turmoil already. The French were in disarray.
John Macklin knocked and entered the room. â€œYou called, skipper?â€
â€œI did. Sit!â€
John sat on the bunk.
Commander Peter Warrender was reading one of the documents. â€œI notice here that you know Dr Amy Martin?â€
â€œWho? Doctor Amy Martin?â€ He thought for a few moments. â€œDid you say Amy Martin?â€
â€œI certainly did. Why? Do you know her or not?â€
â€œI do recall a gawky girl when I was at Oxford. She was called Amy Martin, I believe. Why do I have to remember the girl in question? I swear I had nothing to do with her fatherless child. So what is up?â€
â€œDr Amy Martin, PhD, is in charge of the party we are commanded to collect when we reach Le Havre. The spooks think that the Germans may try to infiltrate an agent into the party. Apparently, this female Doctor has assembled a group of people who were left out of the last evacuation collection. They think, if you recognise the lady, there will be less chance of any infiltration.â€
â€œI thought the evacuation of Le Havre was over. How the devil am I supposed to know her after four years? She was a year behind me anyway. I only knew her because we were both in the debating society. I do recall she was pretty good at that. But I was reading English and Maths. She was sciences, I think, Physics, Chemistry, I believe.â€
â€œWell, youâ€™ll soon get to find out. We will be there in about three hours. They should be in the harbour office.â€
As John made to get up and return to the bridge, Warrender stopped him. â€œBy the way, when we have dropped the party off, we are due to report to Western approaches, Liverpool, for convoy duties.â€
â€œThat will please most of the crew. At least half of them come from â€˜oop northâ€™.â€ John grinned. He left the cabin and returned to his post on the bridge.
â€œWell, Mid, did you lose us while I was away?â€
â€œFat chance of that, sir. You were only gone for five minutes.â€ The hostilities/only midshipman, Tom Murray, had been left in charge while the first lieutenant was away from the bridge.
John smiled, thinking that Murray would be alright. The h/o tag meant hostilities only â€“ so he was not making a career of the navy. It did mean he would be with the Royal Navy until the war was over. So far\ he had showed the right sort of aptitude and attitude. He also got on with the POâ€™s. The other Middy, Martin Offord, was not so open a character, more difficult to assess. John reserved judgement on him.
He heard Murray check the helmsman, â€œWatch her head, Jackson.â€ The response was immediate. Reassured that they were all awake and answering to the shipâ€™s needs, he strolled over to the bridge wing to check the compass and engine repeaters mounted there. All was in order, so he looked over the side at the water racing past, lifting his eyes to the horizon. There was little to see but the white caps of the waves and the low line of land in view. He guessed at this rate they would be at Le Havre sooner than the three hour prediction given by the Skipper.
Two hours later with the skipper on the bridge, HMS Audax entered the French harbour at Le Havre. The quays were mostly empty, so they made their way to the main quay.
â€œThis is a touch and go trip, so just single bow and stern lines, engines on stand-by.â€ John appeared in blue battledress with webbing belt and pistol holster. His .38 Webley revolver, with the lanyard attached, in place at his side. He was carrying a sten gun with a stick magazine in his hand.
â€œAll ready to go, Number One?â€ The skipper did not sound too worried. â€œThe marines are at the gangway. Do not take any risks.â€
â€œRight, sir. Iâ€™ll be off.â€ John saluted and descended the ladder to the main deck. He crossed the gangway already in place, waiting. Four Marines plus the sergeant were armed and standing by as he stepped on to the quay. They made their way to the Port offices. Several people were on the quay watching the destroyer arrive, but no one made any approach to the ship. At the office a naval officer was waiting.
John saluted him and asked, â€œWhere is the party awaiting collection?â€
The naval Commander shrugged his shoulders, â€œI regret Lieutenant, the English lady and her party have been taken to the police station to await the Germans.â€
â€œHave you transport?â€
The Commander looked startled. â€œOf course. I have a truck.â€
â€œTake us to the police station please, Sir.â€ John raised the sten-gun. â€œSergeant! Send a man to the ship. Tell them I have to collect the party from the police station.â€ He turned to the French Officer. â€œYour truck Commander?â€
â€œCertainment, Lieutenant. First perhaps...â€ He pointed to the unloaded Sten gun, the magazine stuck behind Johnâ€™s belt.
John hurriedly clipped the magazine into the gun and cocked it, then set the safety catch.
The Frenchman, now satisfied, led the way to a Citroen truck parked on the quay.
The Marine sergeant returned with the boâ€™sun and two leading seamen, all armed. â€œSkipper thought you might need us, sir.â€ The boâ€™sun gasped.
â€œRight. All aboard the truck. Load and secure your weapons, safety catches on.â€
The truck drove up the Rue de Paris to the Police Municipal building on the Rue Jules Lecesne across the road from the Marie.
In the reception area of the police station there was a collection of people, all speaking at the same time, in English and French. John stepped into the throng with the Commander. He called for silence, without result. He called, â€œBoâ€™sun!â€
The boâ€™sun raised his call. The shriek of the whistle cut through the noise like a knife through butter. John stepped in immediately. â€œDoctor Amy Martin, please step forward with your party. â€œ
â€œThank goodness!â€ A female voice said. â€œMy people to the doorway, please. Assemble where that naval officer is standing.â€
There was a mass movement to the doorway as people sorted themselves out as members of the party and others.
A large French policeman arrived and said something. The Commander translated. â€œHe says, â€˜You cannot take the English people. They are under arrest, to be held until the Germans arriveâ€™.â€
John said. â€œOn whose orders?â€
â€œThe policeman says. â€˜Orders of the German high command for the Normandy areaâ€™.â€
John turned to the doctor. â€œPlease get your people onto the truck.â€
â€œOf course. Thank you, John. You are a sight for sore eyes.â€
He turned back to the Commander. â€œThanks, Commander. Tell him I took them away by force.â€
â€œOf course you did.â€ He spoke rapidly to the policeman, then dashed out to the truck with John. They rode down to the quay and lined the people up to board the HMS Audax.
For the first time John really looked at the doctor. He realised that it was the girl he had argued with in the debating society, but not in the same state as he had last seen her. She came over and spoke to him directly, for the first time since they met at the police station.
â€œRemember me?â€ She said with a smile.
â€œI do, and I have to say that, though you have changed, you havenâ€™t really. I recognised you straight away.â€
â€œWell, I have to say I recognised you also. It has been some time since we were at Oxford. I must say that you came just in time. It was beginning to look as if the French were going to hand us over to the Germans.â€
John stood back a little and looked Amy in the eye. â€œNow, why would the Germans ask to have you detained for them specifically?â€
â€œI really have no idea what you are talking about.â€Amy declared.
John took her by the arm and led her out of the crowd, into the wardroom currently empty. â€œI have just threatened to shoot the Chief of Police in Le Havre on your behalf. Now why do they want you in particular? What are you a doctor of?â€
â€œPhysics! And if I tell you any more, I will have to shoot you.â€ She looked up at him, a small smile on her face.
Baffled, he looked back at her, and then leaned forward and kissed her. After a startled second she kissed him back. His arms went round her, holding her close and she wrapped her arms round his neck. They stood like that for what seemed an eternity. Then they broke apart.
â€œWhat brought that on?â€ Amy asked, a little breathlessly.
A red-faced John admitted, â€œEver since we met in debate, I wondered what it would be like to kiss that mouth which, so annoyingly, always had an answer. Now I know.â€ He looked like a schoolboy on the carpet in front of the headmaster.
â€œWell. Was it worth it?â€
For a moment. John was confused. Then he realised what she had said. â€œIt certainly was,â€ he answered enthusiastically.
â€œYou could have done that at any time when we were at Oxford. She stepped forward, â€œJust in case it doesnâ€™t happen again.â€ She grabbed him, brought his head down and kissed him again. As she went to release him he had gathered himself and joined in with enthusiasm, so the release took longer than either expected.
It was the voice of Peter Warrender which broke the spell. â€œI suppose that means you do recognise Dr Martin then, Number One.â€
The couple broke apart hurriedly. â€œWe were just completing some unfinished business,â€ the doctor said with an embarrassed giggle. Completely unaffectedly, she took out her handkerchief and cleaned lipstick from Johnâ€™s face.
John hastily introduced his captain. â€œAmy, this is Commander Peter Warrender, the captain of this ship, and my boss. Skipper, this is Doctor Amy Martin.â€
The Captain held out his hand and shook Amy by the hand. â€œHow do you do, Doctor. I am pleased we were able to be of assistance. Do you know all of the people in your party?â€
â€œI do not know the French Naval Commander. Otherwise, I know them all.â€
Warrender looked up at John the question in his eye.
John said, â€œWhen I went ashore he was on the quay. He was able to tell me that the doctor and her party had been arrested, and taken to the police station. He also provided the van for us to go to, and return from, the police station. Since he is a naval officer, I invited him to come to England with us.â€
â€œGood. Welcome aboard, Doctor. Iâ€™ll leave you two to renew your acquaintance.â€ He turned and left them alone once more.
John looked at Amy. â€œIf you are not involved at the moment. I would like to renew our acquaintance once we get back to England.â€
She looked at him, a small smile on her face. She held her hand out and he took it into his. â€œAgreed. I think it would be interesting. We are different people now, of course. So, yes. Letâ€™s see how it works out.â€
For the rest of the trip they saw nothing of each other. On her voyage across the channel the ship was strafed by two Messerschmitt 109â€™s in passing. They kept John pretty busy as a result, until they finally entered Portsmouth harbour and came alongside. He was at the gangway when the passengers went ashore. As Amy came down the gangway, she had a wicked look in her eye as she came to where John was standing. She darted up and kissed him, pushing a piece of paper into his hand. â€œCall me.â€ She breathed.
The ratings assisting the passengers ashore watched, with obvious approval, at the sight of their Number One getting kissed.
The next day was spent getting the ship fuelled and ammunitioned. There were a few other preparations to be done. A period of leave had been granted before the ship sailed to Liverpool for her convoy duties in the North Atlantic. John rang the number he had been given by Amy. The voice at the other end of the telephone was not Amy. It was female, however. â€œI am calling to speak to Amy Martin,â€ he said.
â€œWho is calling?â€ The voice asked.
â€œMy name is John Macklin,â€ he said hopefully.
â€œAha! The mysterious Naval Lieutenant. She said to tell you she will be home in Chichester by six this evening.â€
â€œWhere is home in Chichester?â€
â€œSorry. I forgot you met in Oxford, didnâ€™t you. Home is the Old Mill House. She is fond of claret, by the way. Good luck!â€
The voice rang off before he could ask who it was he was talking to.
He went and sorted out the Morgan three wheeler, removing the cover to check the plugs and the oil levels. There was petrol in it already. The tank held ample fuel for the ten mile journey. He put his bag in the car, guessing that he would probably stay in a local pub while he was there. Hopefully, he would be able to spend more than just the evening with Amy. He was still trying to get over the change in her appearance. She had always had an appealing face with lovely dark eyes. But, in the past, she had been like a string bean. Now she was delightfully curved in all the right places, something that he had not failed to notice when she was pressed up against her as they kissed the first and second time. Her hair was now cut short, and framed her face, rather than covering it as it once had, the short tumbled mop topping her five-foot, seven inch figure.
John felt some nervous anticipation as he drove the short distance to Chichester. The picturesque small town, so favoured by the yachting fraternity in peacetime, was not as busy as he had known it in the past. He drove through the centre and sought out the Old Mill House on the banks of the river.
He pulled up outside, relieved to see the figure waiting to greet him. He climbed out of the small car and grabbed the bag with the bottle of claret. â€œHow long have you got?â€ Amy asked him.
â€œThree days, if Iâ€™m lucky,â€ he said a little breathlessly.
â€œDid you bring a bag?â€ She asked.
â€œItâ€™s in the car,â€ he said surprised.
They were walking along the path to the front door. â€œIâ€™ll pop back and get it while you go in and make yourself comfortable.
She was gone before he could protest. So, with a shrug, he continued through the front door where he took off his hat and hung it on the hallstand.
He wandered through to the kitchen. The Aga stove had created a warm cosy zone after the cooler air of the evening. He placed the claret on the worktop and stood with his back to the stove, enjoying the warmth.
Amy appeared, his overnight bag in her hand. â€œThere is a fire on in the lounge where there are places to sit in comfort. Iâ€™ll join you in a minute.
She disappeared again. He wandered through to the comfortable room overlooking the river. The mill wheel was gone but the garden, mainly lawn sloped down to the dancing waters of the river.
John looked around and removed his uniform jacket and black tie. He slung them across the back of an upright chair and sat back on the long settee, wondering what would happen next, still a little apprehensive, but looking forward to whatever came along.
Amy Martin was as nervous as John. She could see him sitting relaxed through the open door of the lounge. As things were, her experience with men at university had been minimal. Actually zero. Since then, her experience had broadened considerably through contact with her colleagues within the service. Training on the SOE was explicit when dealing with possible interrogation techniques. It had led to experimentation among the trainees especially those who had no previous experience to draw upon.
In her own case, she had discovered a hidden side that she had not been aware of. She was convinced that her guest was not experienced in the relations between men and women, and, since she liked John, she decided to let things take a natural course, rather than take the initiative. Since her mother was coming to dinner that night, perhaps it would clear the air a little.
She walked into the lounge. â€œDrink?â€ She managed.
He leapt to his feet and said, â€œCan I help? What would you like?â€
Amy produced the wine and a corkscrew, and passed them on to him. While he did the honours, she asked him about his life since they had last met at Oxford.
â€œI always intended to join the Navy.â€ He sounded quite shy to her surprise. In his own environment, on board the ship, he was decisive and very much the shipâ€™s officer. Here, he was not so sure. â€œOne thing led to another. My mother and father were supportive, so I had no problems there.â€
â€œI seem to recall you and a girl, Georgie. I believe were a big item in Oxford. What happened to her?â€ Amy had been jealous. Georgie Simmonds had been the envy of every other girl of the college with her figure, her skin, and her long blonde hair.
John smiled ruefully. â€œShe was using me as camouflage, and I was daft enough to think she really liked me.â€ He shrugged. â€œJust goes to show what a fool I was then. She is married to Harry Adams, of the famous butcherâ€™s chain of shops. I liked Harry, so I was put out when it all came out. There was a scandal they kept between the few of us involved.â€
â€œScandal?â€ Amy said surprised.
â€œGeorgie became pregnant. I was supposed to be the reason. Only I was not the man she was after. She tearfully explained that, after a drunken party, she and Harry had accidently fallen into bed together and bingo?â€
â€œBingo?â€ Amy giggled.
John laughed. â€œSomething like that.â€
They were both still laughing when the front door opened and a voice called, â€œItâ€™s only me, darling. I brought one or two things with me.â€
â€œOops, thatâ€™s mother. She will be with us tonight, off again tomorrow. Do you mind?â€
John was relieved. â€œNo, of course not. Iâ€™m just a guest remember.â€
The face that poked around the door was an older version of Amy but with black hair.â€Hullo, John Macklin, that name is a blast from the past. Nice to meet you after all this time. Iâ€™m Amyâ€™s mum. You can call me Bella.â€
â€œHello, Bella. Call me John. I am pleased to meet you after all this time.â€
â€œEnough, you two. Come on through. We can talk in the kitchen while I get dinner.â€ Amy took charge before things got out of hand.
The evening passed off pretty well, though John discovered that his reputation as a student had been a regular topic of conversation in the Martin household several years ago.
Bella went to bed early after a long day travelling and shopping.
Seated with Amy alone at last, John did not find it awkward. He gathered that Amy had no intention to rush any romantic encounter and, while it was almost inevitable something would happen between them, it was just going to happen naturally, or not at all.
He guessed they would work it out between them.
One common agreement seemed that, whatever did happen, it would not be while Bella was asleep in the third bedroom.
They saw Bella off the following morning and, by mutual consent, went walking in the Sussex countryside, conveniently finding a pub, where they stopped for lunch, before returning to the Mill.
John settled down in the comfort of the lounge while Amy prepared something to eat, and the long evening faded into night.
The bow of the destroyer dipped and lifted, bringing a wave of cold water with it as it washed over the forward deck, smashing against â€˜Aâ€™ gun before finding its way back through the scuppers to the grey Atlantic Ocean. John wiped the lens of his binoculars and lifted them to scan the area of sea surrounding the ship. The long line of merchantmen stretched against the skyline. The regular wave-motion making them rise into view in turn, and then drop from sight.
Forward, the lead destroyer was plunging and rising, almost disappearing into the cloud of spray she created as she ploughed through the rough sea. The tell-tale from the Asdic flashed with a report of a contact. A light from the lead ship ordered Audax to keep contact while the lead destroyer made an attack run. John called to the signalman to acknowledge the order, and spoke to the asdic operator to maintain contact with the submarine, and warning him that HMS Seraphim would be dropping charges.
Across the convoy in the far line of ships there was an explosion. A column of smoke and debris rose dark against the bright sky. It was the responsibility of the escorts on the other side of the convoy. Though he felt for the plight of the men from that ship, John ignored it from a practical point of view. His attention was needed on this side of the columns of ships.
He turned to Sub-Lieutenant Fordyce, who was standing watch with him. â€œBest call the skipper, Jim. Things are getting busy.â€
He watched Jim Fordyce as he went to the day cabin to arouse the skipper. He was not surprised when the cabin door opened as the Sub raised his hand to knock.
Peter Warrender is looking tired, John thought. It was not unexpected in the circumstances. The U boats had been keeping all of the escorts on the hop ever since they had left Liverpool. They had lost four ships so far. Counting this morning, make that five, John thought.
This was their second convoy. In the first one they had made it to Halifax virtually unscathed. The return trip to Liverpool had been a bloodbath. It had seemed at the time that every U boat in the German Navy had congregated to attack their convoy. Twelve ships sunk out of twenty left the escorts reeling. For the Audax it was a baptism of fire and the entire crew were on edge. The loss of so many of the ships from what had been a fast convoy had shaken them considerably, especially as the crew were still trying to settle to their task.
The Seraphim made a run out to port of the convoy line and dropped a pattern of depth charges. The mountains of yellow-tinged water were impressive, but there was no sign of the U boat, presumably underneath.
John called the Asdic office, â€œHave you still got the sub?â€
â€œStill got her sir, bearing? 038 degrees sir.
â€œBunts!â€ The signals man responded. â€œSend to Seraphim, â€˜Sub now bears 038 degrees from us.â€™â€
The clatter of the Aldis signal lamp seemed loud in the morning air.
The swift response from Seraphim testified to the efficiency of her crew. As she swung onto a new course, deck-mounted charges were already spilling from her stern while the Y mounts on deck shot others in a widening pattern.
John did not hold out much hope for the success of the attack. He had a healthy respect for the abilities of the U boat commanders they had encountered up to now.
There was no sign of the U boat being killed so the Seraphim returned to her place in the line, satisfied that they had perhaps driven it away to a point where it would be hard put to keep track of the convoy. Once again, he did not really believe that the sub had been chased off, but he lived in hopes. They received no more attacks that day, but it did not relieve the tension.
In the wardroom the two sub-lieutenants were arguing about the U boat, and its survival or demise. The Midshipman Tom Murray was listening warily to the argument.
â€œHave I interrupted something?â€ John asked.
.â€We, we... weâ€™re working out if we got the U boat or not,â€ Jim Fordyce offered.
â€œWho has the duty?â€ John replied.
Owen Jones looked at his watch, and sprang to his feet. â€œBugger! I will be late if I donâ€™t leave now.â€ He dashed off, grabbing his oilskin hanging dripping in the corner.
â€œWell, Tom, how are you settling in to life on the ocean wave?â€ John asked.
â€œQuite nicely, sir. the beds are a bit lumpy, or maybe itâ€™s the sea. Iâ€™m not sure yet. Otherwise I am pleased I joined.â€
The messman came with a bowl of stew for John. It was hot and spicy, and it came with a piece of bread. He tucked in with the appetite of a man who had just spent four hours on watch on a cold and wet bridge.
The Middy sat and watched John eat, waiting until he finished before asking the question that was bothering him. â€œSir, are we likely to continue to encounter U boat attacks all the way back across to Liverpool?â€
â€œIâ€™m afraid so. They know we will have ships loaded with provisions of all sorts for delivery to UK, so they will try to stop them coming. That is really what they are there for. I expect we will spend a lot of our time at action stations. Is it worrying you?â€
â€œNot really, though I do get scared. You all seem to keep calm and collected throughout the action. Donâ€™t you ever get scared?â€
John laughed. â€œOf course. The thing is, when you have things to do, it helps keep the fear where it belongs, to one side. Normally, during an attack there is no time to be scared. Iâ€™m too busy keeping up the pressure on the U boats to worry too much about things.â€
The weather did not improve over the next few days and, though there were three U boat alerts, none resulted in any usable contacts and no other ships were lost.
Cruelly, the convoy was attacked as it approached the port of Liverpool. A torpedo attack came from a submerged U boat from the direction of the Irish Sea. The Port Arthur carrying flour and rice, took the full force of the attack and literally exploded over the surrounding sea. Her nearest companions in the next line of ships were coated in flour, and took numerous wounds from the metal debris scattered about the killing zone. Two men died and two others received injuries from the hundreds of small pieces of shrapnel from the shattered freighter. When the air cleared the ship was gone, completely. Of the thirteen man crew, none survived. By the time the nearest escort reached the area the attacker was well clear.
The convoy docked in the port, releasing the much needed cargo to be distributed around the country.
John had been given leave when the ship entered the dock for repair. A week which could be spent doing whatever he pleased meant a call to London in hope of contacting Amy.
The number she shared with her colleague was busy when he rang in the first place. He eventually got through to hear that Amy was away at present, though expected back, in two days time.
He made arrangements to stay at the RAC club. His father had enrolled him into the club as a reward for obtaining his degree. The lifetime membership had been useful on several other occasions when he had been stuck in London.
From the club, he rang Amy again and this time he received an answer. Her friend, Marion, was expecting Amy any moment, and she promised to have her contact John as soon as she got in.
Within ten minutes of his replacing the telephone, the steward brought the telephone back to him with a breathless Amy at the other end. â€œJohn, Marion has gone off for the weekend, so why not grab your gear and come and join me here. Then we can save time coming and going to two different places.
John did not question the implication in her words. He picked up his gear and called the doorman for a taxi.
Here, was Dolphin Court, west of Sloane Square. John was in a taxi on his way within ten minutes of the call.
Vouched for by Amy in person, he was allowed through the reception area. When Amy closed the door of the apartment behind her, he dropped his bags to the floor, swept her into his arms and kissed her, an action she contributed to with no hesitation.
As he released her, he realised what he had just done without thinking. â€œI....I am sorry. I just did not ......â€
â€œSorry? Was it not what you expected?â€
â€œI got carried away. I am not normally so impulsive. It was just that I looked forward to this ......â€ His voice trailed off as he realised he was digging himself into a hole.
She rescued him. â€œWas it so bad then?â€
â€œN..No it was great, but....â€
â€œWould you rather we had not kissed?â€ She was teasing him, but she was still anxious about his answer.
â€œOf course not. I meant I had been looking forward to doing that while I was away and I just got carried away. I was worried I might have ruined things, in case you didnâ€™t feel the same way,â€ he said lamely.
She smiled. â€œI donâ€™t actually make a habit of inviting people I dislike to my private residence,, making sure the coast is clear first.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t mean that. Iâ€™ll shut up and we can start again if you like.â€
â€œYes, please.â€ Amy said, slipped into his arms again. She held her head waiting for the kiss which he had finally realised was welcomed.
The rest of the week passed too quickly for both of them, and it seemed that he was leaving far too soon.
His train to Liverpool was crowded. Even the first class carriages were full, though there were seats for everyone, which was more than the other passengers could claim. Johnâ€™s memories of the week were still uppermost in his mind. His experience of lovemaking had been limited to amateurish fumbling in the back seat of his fatherâ€™s car. The result had been disappointing to both the girl and John. With Amy it had been incredible. They had just seemed to combine with no real problem. John did not consider that it was unusual, since he had no experience to compare it with. The warm glow of the week stayed with him for the entire journey.
There was an air raid on when the train pulled in, and John was lucky to get a taxi. The driver commented, â€œI just carry on now, even if there is a raid on. The buggers donâ€™t give us much peace anyway, and half the time they are on the other side of town.â€
He got John to the dock gates without a problem, though John could see that the raids were having an effect on Liverpool. Damaged buildings and blocked off streets were evidence of that. He paid the driver, collected his bag, and made his way to his ship, HMS Audax was now alongside the quay, still being worked upon by the dockyard men.
John reported to the captain and was told that this time they would not be leaving with a convoy. New orders specified a rendezvous off the Calf of Man in the Irish Sea, escort for coastal party south. â€œIt seems there is a bit of a panic about getting some experimental gear south as soon as possible. There is talk that the enemy may have found out. We are there to stop them interfering. We take them south, then stand by to escort them into action on the French coast somewhere. I do not know where or when but no chat in the wardroom, please.â€
â€œWhen do we move off?â€
â€œIâ€™m told we will receive a signal.â€
For the next few days John chased up the dockworkers and concentrated on clearing up the mess they left behind. There was time for work to be done on the paintwork, though it was patchwork mainly.
Finally, the orders came through. HMS Audax finally got rid of the dock workers, and made its way to the Isle of Man. There, opposite the Calf of Man, they picked up a sleek modern, coastal cargo ship, about three thousand tons. She was named the Mavis, and was clean and smart, not to be compared with the scruffy ships on the North Atlantic. Her appearance was matched by her performance. She made an easy 20 knots for most of the way, and the officers on HMS Audax got the impression that she was definitely holding back to allow the escort to keep up. Since the destroyer could still raise 36 knots there was little fear of that, but there was no doubt that Mavis was a fast, well-found ship
At Milford Haven the mad rush down the Irish Sea ended. The two ships moored in the outer reach of the enclosed waters, far from prying eyes. There the Mavis dropped a power boat towing a raft behind it, which raced away across the waters. An opening appeared, a previously unseen panel in Mavisâ€™s forward side. From it dropped what looked like a torpedo, which shot off after the power boat and her tow. From the bridge of the destroyer it was possible to see that the torpedo matched every twist and turn made by the madly-driven power boat. They could clearly see the wake of both the pursued and the torpedo.
When the torpedo caught the target, there was a brief flash of low-level blue light. At that point the power boat obviously became the recovery craft. It returned to the moored Mavis, towing both the target and the torpedo.
On Audax John exchanged glances with Peter Warrender. â€œNow we have some idea of what the panic was about. I wonder how it finds its target.â€
â€œI do not think we are supposed to know what we already know.â€ John said quietly. My guess would be that our future is going to be fewer convoys and more cloak and dagger.â€
Peter replied, â€œI have a feeling that you are right. I think that, whatever happens, it might be more interesting than the Atlantic.â€
The Admiralâ€™s Barge appeared and came alongside Audax in the dark of the evening. It carried a Rear Admiral, his Aide and a WRNS 2nd Officer. The Admiral was Paul Harrington and he was responsible for Special Services. The aide was more efficient than he seemed, and the WRNS officer was drop-dead gorgeous. Her looks belied the fact that she was employed for her brain as much, probably more, than her appearance.
Her presence on the ship lifted moral the moment she stepped aboard.
Peter Warrender looked at John who seemed stunned. A nudge from Peter was all that saved him from being a complete fool. Amyâ€™s influence should have been enough to keep his balance, but somehow it wasnâ€™t. Their family homes were facing across the Beaulieu River just north of Bucklers Hard. John had known Chloe since he was a boy, at first just as a figure across the river, then when he learned to swim they had met in the river, and on it when both learned to sail. They had been friends ever since, and only lost contact when each went to a different boarding school. But had re-established their friendship at University, where they had shared several courses.
As they saw the Admiral to Peterâ€™s cabin, Peter managed to whisper to John. â€œDo you know the lady?â€
John whispered back, â€œShe is my cousin and she has influenced every attempt Iâ€™ve made to find a girl ever since I was fourteen. I thought Amy had done it, now Iâ€™m not so sure.â€
â€œJust look at her. I compare every woman I meet with her and they all fall short.â€
Peter Warrender smiled widely, understanding John completely.
In the cabin, the Admiral accepted a gin and settled down in the chair. Second Officer Chloe Shepherd, seated herself on the berth. The other three men stood.
Admiral Harrington grunted at the lack of seats. â€œForgot how cramped these cabins can be. Iâ€™ll be brief.â€ He looked at Peter. â€œDo you know Chloe? John does, of course. My other aide is Michael Jackson. We are here to brief you on your duties.â€
He sipped the gin and said, â€œChloe, have you a copy of the orders there?â€
â€œYes, Sir.â€ She reached for the brief case she carried, but stopped when the Admiral lifted his finger. â€œLater. Iâ€™m sure you saw something today you have never seen before. You will appreciate that what you saw cannot be allowed to reach enemy ears. There will be other things equally mind-bending in the future. Under no circumstances can they be discussed and I suggest you extend that to members of your crew.â€
The aide looked at his watch and then the Admiral. The Admiral responded, â€œVery well, Michael. We will leave Chloe here and collect her after our visit to Mavis. She will go through your orders with you, Peter. I presume she will be safe with you. She is Johnâ€™s cousin, I believe.â€ He grinned. â€œCome on, Michael. The boat awaits. We will stop by in an hour, give you time to catch up on the family news.â€ The two officers left the cabin with Peter to see them off the ship.
Chloe looked at John. â€œHe is always like this. He seems to have a perennial wish to see me carried off by a dashing naval officer.â€
John grinned. â€œI reckon you must be spoilt for choice itâ€™s great to see you. Itâ€™s been so long.â€ To his surprise, she stepped forward, slipped her arms round his neck and kissed him on the lips. He took a moment to respond, finding his arms slipping naturally around her slim waist. The kiss did not just stop. It seemed to go on and on. When they finally came up for air, Chloe said, â€œI have been waiting so long to do that. Ever since we were kids together.â€ She looked anxiously at him. He realised that his arms were still around her waist. â€œI didnâ€™t quite get that. Can we do it again?â€ He leaned forward and kissed her, accepting the complete cooperation of the other party.
â€œI have also waited all my life for that to happen,â€ John said seriously. â€œThank goodness it has happened at last. Maybe we can get on with our lives now.â€
â€œYou realise that you have compromised my reputation now. You will have to marry me.â€ Chloe said seriously.
â€œAs a gentleman, I would have it no other way.â€
Chloe looked hard at him. â€œYou made life difficult for me. We have always been such good friends, and there has been no one else in my life.â€ She blushed. â€œIâ€™m afraid all the others sort of pale by comparison. You never seemed to see me at all.â€ She shrugged and started sorting papers.
John said, â€œDid you mean that?â€
â€œWhat? Did I mean what?â€
â€œWhat you said about me.â€
â€œYes, I did. Why?â€
â€œBecause I always thought exactly the same thing, only the other way round.â€
Chloe looked confused. â€œYou mean you fancied me?â€
â€œTo put it mildly, I have always been besotted with you. But, being me, I could never believe you might feel the same way. I thought Amy Martin would do the trick, but it seems I will have to tell her somehow.â€ There was the sound of feet outside the cabin. â€œPeter is just coming back, Iâ€™ll leave you to it.â€ He intended leaving the cabin before Peter came in, but Chloe held him and kissed him again.
Peter came in at that point. He looked at them still in each otherâ€™s arms. â€œThank goodness thatâ€™s over. Can I be best man, and the first to congratulate you?â€
Chloe released John and turned to Peter. She smiled and kissed him. â€œThank you, Peter. You allowed it to happen.â€
Peter looked puzzled, â€œWhat did ...?â€
Chloe took his arm. â€œSort it out later. I have your orders here. She laid out the sheets of a chart and the papers with the orders. Between them, they established the next action set for the ship, to be accomplished over the next three days.
â€œWow, you havenâ€™t allowed us much time.â€ John said.
â€œWe have no option. The Dortmund will be entering the dock at Brest in four days, and Mavis must be in position to attack by that time. I presume Dortmund will be returning from the Atlantic, and, as she is one of the Pocket Battleships, your presence would not really help Mavis if she is spotted by the target. But there are other hazards which you could protect her from: E boats and enemy destroyers.â€
Chloe stood back and let the two officers get their heads together over the chart. She had been amazed at her audacity, but, looking at John, it was quite evident that her instincts had been correct. Both she and John had been unaware that they shared similar feelings. In each case it had affected their relations with others over the years.
â€œThe Admiral has returned.â€ PO Rogers knocked and reported to the Captain. He was almost immediately followed by the man himself. The Admiral took one look at Chloe and a smile crossed his face. â€œAll tidied up, Chloe?â€
â€œAll orders passed and everything arranged, Sir.â€
â€œVery good. We will leave you to it, Captain. Good luck. Iâ€™ll be in touch.â€
The Captain and his Number One saw the Admiral and his party back into the barge and stood side by side watching the wake disappear as it returned to the shore.
â€œNow, Sir, I believe I deserve an explanation.â€
Peter grinned, â€œAll I know is that I left you two alone for five minutes and when I came back you were busy contravening KRâ€™s and AIâ€™s by kissing a WRNS officer on a Kingâ€™s ship. Anyway, all I did was give you the time to sort things out between you.â€
The Pocket Battleship was a looming shadow against the horizon. The two Allied ships were approaching from well astern, as the Dortmund passed through the boom at the entrance to the Naval Dockyard. Mavis stopped and John made out the faint flash of foam as the torpedo entered the water.
The two ships withdrew from the area. A single blip from Mavis acknowledged that the torpedo had acquired a target. The speed of the torpedo was controlled after it had passed the boom while it was still open, but did not reach the target until it was entering the dry dock. The explosion, following a flash of light from the base, was a confirmation that the torpedo had hit something at least.
The single Mosquito bomber over the target at that time was able to confirm the hit, and misled the German Navy into thinking it was a bomb from the aircraft, rather than the seeker torpedo. The stern of the Dortmund and dry-dock gates had both been seriously damaged.
By dawn, both Allied ships were well on their way back to Portsmouth.
Tied up side by side, the two ships rocked with the passing of a cruiser leaving harbour. Lieutenant John Macklin RN, stepped ashore and strode off along the quay. The weather was cooperating. It was not raining and he had things to do and places to go. The first call was to the admin office, in response to a summons from Operations.
He passed between the sentries at the entrance producing his ID for inspection, and entered the outer office of the operations section. A tall. willowy WRNS 2nd Officer, Chloe, greeted him with a smile and clicked the office intercom to announce his presence to the Admiral
Delighted to see her, John kept cool, still a little unsure, despite the revelations of their last meeting,. He said, â€œHullo, Chloe. Howâ€™s life?â€
â€œFine thank you. I hear things went quite well with the torpedo trial.â€ The intercom buzzed. â€œThatâ€™s your cue. Iâ€™ll bring the coffee in after you.â€
John knocked and entered the office, where the Admiral stood behind his desk, stretching his back. He waved to the chair in front of the desk. â€œGlad to see you survived the trial successfully. Take a pew.â€
John sat and waited while the Admiral finally rolled his shoulders before seating himself. â€œWeâ€™ll hang on until Chloe brings the coffee. Meanwhile how are things personally with you?â€
John relaxed and said, â€œLife is pretty good at the moment, sir. Iâ€™m on a good ship with a great skipper, so I donâ€™t have any real problems.â€
Chloe entered at that moment, saving any further social comment while the coffee was being served. After Chloe had finished pouring and assumed her seat beside the desk, the Admiral raised the reason for the meeting.
â€œAs you may have guessed, we have been developing items like the seeker torpedo as fast as we can. Over the past year we have produced several things designed to shorten the war. We were so far behind when we started that, up to now, we have been on the back foot, pushed by an enemy outnumbering us in men and equipped with superior weaponry. That is being addressed as fast as possible. The Spitfires and Hurricanes have made a difference, and, given time, will stop the Luftwaffe in their tracks, Iâ€™m sure. Even so, time is the one thing we do not have. The operation at Dunkirk was successful as far as men were concerned. In fact, it was an achievement that the enemy did not expect us to make. Equipment is still short, however.â€
He leaned forward. â€œCommander Warrender has been promoted Captain and will take command of a flotilla of escorts. Your promotion to Lieutenant Commander has been approved. You will take over command of HMS Audax with immediate effect. From now on, your ship will be part of the test flotilla for experimental equipment.â€ He held up his hand to stop the immediate protest that John was about to make. â€œHear me out. We will discuss the matter when I have finished.â€ He paused, sipped his cooling coffee and then continued. â€œYou may be under the impression that this will take the ship out of the firing line and consign it to some obscure safe region where you will be wasted as a fighting unit. So, before I go any further, I would point out that so far you have been placed very much in dangerous waters, and that situation will continue, I am assured.
â€œThe fact is that testing will be done initially in sheltered waters, probably the West Coast and Islands of Scotland.
â€œHowever, all the final testing will be carried out in active service conditions, which will require strict security at all times, with skilled observation to monitor the effectiveness of whatever device is being tested. It means you will be carrying scientists at all times, and that is one of the reasons Audax was selected. Designed as a flotilla leader, there is extra accommodation built in for the senior officer and his staff. That will be converted whilst you are alongside here, to make accommodation for the two scientists and their four assistants. They travel with you from now on. Your first task will be to fly up to Loch Ewe and do a course to learn about the organisation that is building there as we speak. When you return you will find the two scientists and their staff will have taken their place on the ship. I stress this is an important, essential part of our strategy. Your job will include extreme danger and extreme boredom. If you are up to it, HMS Audax will be a name nobody will remember. That is, if we are successful. Meanwhile, we three are the only people allowed to discuss what I have just told you. I know you two are old friends. That should allow you to meet socially without suspicion of anything other than the possible suggestion of a romantic connection.â€ He looked keenly at them both smiled and added. â€œWar can be hell sometimes.â€
Correctly taking that as dismissal, John rose to his feet as Chloe gathered the cups and coffee pot. He held the door for her and followed her into her outer office.
Chloe put the tray down and unlocked her desk drawer. She removed a document ordering the promotion of Lieutenant John Hervey Macklin RN to the rank of Lieutenant Commander RN. She also found two lapel loops with the two and a half gold rings of his new rank.
She stepped around the desk and faced him with a smile. Reaching up she undid the lapels on the blue battledress jacket and slipped off the loops with two gold rings of his former rank and replaced them with his new rank. â€œThere!â€ She said, â€œAll done and dusted. She stretched up and kissed him on the lips. â€œCongratulations, Commander.â€
â€œThanks, Chloe. By the way how is your love life?â€
â€œCharles is wafting about in the clouds in his beloved Spitfire, I am informed. I donâ€™t get to see much of him these days. What about you?â€
â€œDo you remember Amy Martin from Uni?â€
â€œThe mouse that roared?â€
â€œThatâ€™s her. Well, she has matured and we were getting to know each other again. She is Doctor Martin now and based in Whitehall somewhere. â€œDid I understand that we will be going north in three days?â€
â€œI hope so, so you should get back to your ship and start the takeover.â€ She grinned. Iâ€™m glad we are working together. Iâ€™ll send on the travel docsâ€™ as soon as they are finalised.â€ She kissed him again, this time lightly on the lips, then turned back to her desk all business once more.
The small aircraft rocked and swayed as they progressed northward. The Percival Proctor was a cabin monoplane designed for the luxury market, but currently used as a communication aircraft by the RAF. The pilot was a small, smiling man whose casual attitude to the gyrations of his aeroplane was both re-assuring and mildly alarming. The weather was not good as far as the midland airfield at Ansty where the plane refuelled. It did improve as they progressed northward. At Glasgow the sun was shining. The green countryside giving way to the mountains of the western highlands was an extension of the surprising number of green areas within the city itself. The final leg of the flight went over and through the mountains, with its glens and snow patches still a reminder of the winter past.
They landed in the flatland alongside Loch Broom. The small town of Ullapool was visible in the distance. Chloe dressed in slacks, rather than the skirt that went with her uniform, clambered out of the aircraft, to be helped down by the cheerful pilot. John followed. Two ratings emptied the luggage locker, and brought their bags to the waiting car.
The Petty Officer who met them was stocky and weather-beaten. He saluted and introduced himself as PO Berry. He drove them to Ullapool and there saw them into the ML lying alongside the quay. The two travellers were seated in the wardroom while the boat left the shelter of the sea loch and out past the entrance to Little Loch Broom, the speed rapidly building as the ML rounded the headlands and turned into Loch Ewe. In the loch there was a Naval presence, including a refuelling point. The travellers were taken ashore and once more by car to the research base in an isolated glen in the hills beside the loch.
There they were greeted by the chief scientist, Professor Edwin Connor PhD, who was in fact an administrator rather than an innovator. His secretary was with him. The visitors were shown to their berths, two side by side rooms in a row of wooden buildings.
They were self-contained with en-suite shower/toilet room, and studio type bed-sitting area. Connor suggested they settle in, then meet for dinner in the mess, further down the row of buildings. They would tackle the briefing the following day.
Twenty minutes later there was a knock at the door of Johnâ€™s room and Chloe announced she was ready to go and eat.
John called out for her to come in, and continued dressing. The knot of his tie was being a nuisance. Two hands came round his neck from behind him and he felt a soft bosom against his back. He relaxed and allowed the deft fingers to adjust the knot of his tie for him. When she had finished he felt her slip away with some regret. Then he turned to thank her. To his surprise it was not Chloe it was Amy Martin.
He leaned forward and kissed her, â€œWhat ?â€...... she put her finger to his lips stopping him from asking.
â€œWait until Chloe joins us. I can then say it once, instead of twice.â€
He nodded and kissed her again.â€I missed you,â€ he said. It was true. He did miss her. Especially. When he was on his own, though at the moment he also wondered how his relationship with Chloe would survive this encounter.
Then Chloe appeared at the door. He let Amy loose and went to accompany the two important women in his life to the Mess.
Seated with the two women eyeing each other, weighing up the situation with John between them, was not Johnâ€™s idea of fun. â€œI know you both met at University because I was there as well. I have known Chloe since I was seven. Amy and I crossed debating swords there on several occasions, though we renewed our acquaintance in Le Havre a few months ago and since then have met in London. Chloe has a pilot flying Spitfires, named Charles, to look after her interests. Meanwhile, she is a good friend and currently Aide to an Admiral, who happens to be my current boss.â€
Amy said, â€œI am here because you have been nominated for a project my department is running over the next few weeks, possibly months.â€ She sat back looking pleased with herself.
John and Chloe looked at her, surprised. â€œWe are here to do a specialised course for the project we are on at present. I think it could be difficult to shelve the work we are doing currently.â€ Chloe explained.
â€œActually, it has been discussed and your people decided that there was no immediate rush as the results of the last tests need to be correlated with previous results and the new developments will take some time to become available. So I think you will be available for my departmentâ€™s project.
â€œWhat project do you have in mind?â€ John asked.
Amy looked around the Mess. The table they were using was not private in the sense that it was in the middle of the dining room. But there were no other occupants close enough to overhear what they were saying. Nonetheless, she leant forward to speak, causing both the others to lean forward in turn. Quietly, she explained.
â€œWhen we met in France I was on my way home from an excursion on behalf of my boss. The affair with the collection of Brits and misfits involving the police, which you and your French friend managed to sort out, was unforeseen, but it did help camouflage the real purpose of my French visit. We are now ready for the second part of the operation. The organisation I was tasked to help organise was a secret army able to operate in an occupied country. It was quite obvious that we are not ready to drive the Germans out of France at this time. The formation I am helping organise would be in place to upset and annoy the enemy and, where possible, sabotage their efforts to keep control over the population. Our next task is to get weapons to them, so that they have the ability to inflict great harm. The weapons will include explosives and grenades, as well as rifles, pistols, and machine guns, where possible. The French are recruiting returning soldiers and police personnel, as well as bringing in Boy Scouts as messengers and watchers, though it is still very much at the planning stage.
â€œMy boss managed to obtain an ML. It was damaged at Dunkirk and cast adrift, recovered later by another ML and towed back to Folkestone.
â€œIt had been written off, so my boss grabbed it for undercover operations, and had the boat overhauled and modified. It is lying at Bucklers Hard at present. Your course here will be over in two weeks. You will both be given leave for the following week. When you return home the boat will be on the doorstep, ready loaded. You will need to arrange the rendezvous yourselves.
â€œA quick trip cross-channel and the boat will be ready for another excursion when needed. It will be part of your command, John, as Captain of HMS Audax, from now on, and there will be additions to your crew to man her. Your Admiral, Chloe, will be responsible for all operations, though you will appreciate that my boss is the source of most of them anyway.â€ She stopped and the other two at the table sat silent for a moment, then both started to say something.
John stopped and nodded to Chloe. â€œYou first,â€ he said.
Chloe did not hesitate.â€Where do I come in? I am not part of the crew of HMS Audax.?â€
â€œYou speak French and I am not always available to do the deliveries with the ML. You would work in conjunction with me in that capacity. In addition, it will be up to you to organise the loads for delivery, and the places for landings and pickups.â€
Turning to John, she said, â€œFor security reasons the boat will be kept in the Beaulieu River. Loads can be despatched to the quayside below your house, to be loaded into the boat either alongside, or out at the anchorage if necessary.â€
â€œWhy?â€ Said John.â€œWhy not load up in the dockyard?â€
â€œThe fewer people are aware of this the better,â€ was the blunt reply. â€œUnfortunately, there are eyes and ears everywhere these days, and the less seen the better.â€
That seemed to close the conversation. The trio split up to go to their separate cabins to mull over the tasks ahead.
Doctor Amy Martin was going south the following day. She and John were able to spend time together alone that evening. She said, â€œJohn, I noticed that Chloe and you have a connection?â€
â€œWe have been friends since we were kids.â€ John said.
Amy looked at him and grinned. â€œThat has all changed, I suggest.â€
John looked uncomfortable. â€œIt never occurred to me. Iâ€™m sorry....â€
Her raised hand stopped him. â€œJohn! Itâ€™s been fun. For me that was all it ever was, a fun interlude. Forget the guilt and get together. You obviously belong with Chloe.â€ She leaned forward and kissed him lingeringly on the lips. â€œIâ€™m off!â€ She said. â€œMy carriage awaits. Go get your girl, and good luck. Iâ€™ll see you on our next excursion.â€ Then she was gone.
The next few days were tiring, sweaty and freezing, sometimes all at once. John and Chloe suffered bruises on their bruises, with unarmed combat lessons followed by trekking over the surrounding mountains.
The diving was exciting, using basic re-breather units developed from submarine escape suits.
John was impressed by Chloeâ€™s resilience, as she and the other two women on the course not only endured, but enjoyed the challenges.
At the end of the fortnight, the course members gathered together and enjoyed an end-of-course party, while went on until the early hours.
They left the party and Chloe ended up in Johnâ€™s room. There were no words spoken just the urgent removal of clothing and the delight of the long overdue meeting of their two willing bodies.
John and Chloe made the train to London, having been dropped off at Mallaig by the ML. They collapsed in the first class carriage, and slept for the entire trip, cuddled together for warmth, as the trainâ€™s heating system failed before leaving Glasgow. They could have stayed over in London but elected to carry on to their respective homes, separating to their own sides of the river at Beaulieu.
The ML was moored in the middle of the river, no particular overt signs of her proposed activities; the crew members kept themselves to themselves, using the facilities in Portsmouth rather than the local places.
John and Chloe sailed his boat down to the mooring, quietly boarding the ML in the dusk. Chloe in her official capacity, as stand-in for Doctor Martin.
They set off for the shakedown passage into the dark waters of the channel, and for two hours, well out of sight of the land, the boat performed high and low speed manoeuvring with pick-up and drop off in and out of dinghies.
They returned to the mooring before sunrise and quietly made their way back to Johnâ€™s house. His parents were away in the London home maintained by his father whilst he was on business. They spent the rest of the week together, just as they had when they were kids.
Johnâ€™s mother was delighted to see them relaxed and having fun, she had already figured out the situation. Though John pointed out that Chloe had her pilot, Charles, and he had not mentioned his last conversation with Doctor Amy, she just nodded sagely and said privately to Johnâ€™s father. â€œI always knew that those two were destined to be together. Just mark my words.â€
Johnâ€™s father of course refrained from commenting, knowing from experience it would make no difference anyway.
As the week drew to an end, John and Chloe went out to New Forest in his fatherâ€™s car for a picnic lunch. car. The weather was fine and the sky was patterned with the vapour trails from the fighter planes, Spitfires and Messerschmitts, Hurricanes and Heinkels. The sound of the odd patter of gunfire mixed with the hum of the bees going about their work among the plants. It seemed to highlight the peace and quiet of the summer countryside below.
Chloe lay on her back on the blanket, her red summer dress a splash of colour in the greens of the forest around them. â€œI could get used to this way of life,â€ she said with a smile. â€œI have enjoyed this week immensely.â€
John was leaning against the hamper with a stem of feather-ended grass in his mouth. He bent over and brushed the frond over Chloeâ€™s cheek. â€œYou should be eager to get back to the office and the war. I bet Charlie is up there now knocking hell out of some poor Luftwaffe pilot as we speak. Shame on you, girl!â€
He flicked away the grass and found himself face to face with his beautiful companion. They kissed. He told himself afterwards there was nothing else to do, and the kiss went on and on. And from that moment the other people in their lives did not matter. There was just the two of them.
When they finally broke apart, John rolled onto his back and they lay side by side, saying nothing, their bodies touching at shoulder and hip. Otherwise they just lay. Until almost inevitably, Chloe rolled over to John and the kiss was renewed, as if she were checking to see if the first kiss was a one of. This time Johnâ€™s arms were around her, holding her close, responding to the contact of her body against his.
* * *