Joey’s Challenger 2 trundled down Potters Bar High Street followed by the other two tanks of his troop and the mixed bag of APCs and IFVs. Quite a lot of people were lining the pavements cheering and he even saw a few Union Flags that must have had been dragged out of deep storage. As he passed the bus garage all hell broke out. Just about every bus driver joined in, leaning on their horns and the cars parked on either side of the road joined in. He checked his GPS which showed the special forces should be meeting him in a couple of hundred yards, at the junction with Mutton Lane. He wondered if the smoke he could still see, but was dying down, was anything to do with them and realised he would probably never know.
As he approached the junction a corporal in unbadged battle fatigues climbed out of a nondescript grubby white van and saluted. Joey called a brief halt. The corporal quickly pointed out several vans in gas company markings and one in water company colours and said they would join at the rear. He warned that other members of his squadron would be joining further on the planned route the first ones being at Barnet Church. He also told C/S Jones that he was only about an hour behind the last German units, but the road across Hadley Common and up to Barnet Church was reported clear and he hoped the troopers joining them there would be able to update them further.
Joey Jones pressed the mixed band on as fast as the slowest members could travel. As the road took them through Monken Hadley and the edge of Hadley Common, Joey reflected on what a lovely area it would be to live in, much nicer than Liverpool, and then thought I could never afford it on my money! The word that they were coming had clearly proceeded them and from the occasional person at the side of the road in the country areas they had passed through, the people were out in force now they were entering the outskirts of London. At Barnet Church, they were joined by a couple more vans and a Barnet Council dustcart. The newcomers reported that the road to the “county boundary” was undefended. Joey wondered aloud what the “county boundary” was and was told it was an imaginary line where the old county of Middlesex had met the county of Hertfordshire. Down Barnet Hill and under the tube bridge the every growing ragtag convoy continued. They were waved done by more special forces close to the “county boundary”. This time the report was the road was clear as far as the Totteridge Lane junction in Whetstone.
After Whetstone, it was onto another pickup outside the Tally Ho pub at North Finchley. The road branched here and a decision had to be made whether to carry on down the A1000 to Archway, Holloway and the City or to head past Finchley Central Station, Temple Fortune, Golders Green, Swiss Cottage, Lords Cricket Ground, Marble Arch and approach Buckingham Palace from the gardens at the rear. The SAS squadron wanted to go via the city as their next mission was to support fellow SAS men who had grabbed Tower, London, Southwark, Blackfriars road and rail and Waterloo Bridges. Joey’s preference was via the other route as it led more directly to the palace.
The radio made the decision for them, the Germans had declared London an open city and were continuing their helter-skelter retreat into Kent and Surrey, where they were desperate to halt the allies advance. The tankers with the Yorkshire’s went down their preferred route while the SAS in their odd collection of vehicles took theirs, but with not quite so much urgency now.
In Potters Bar it was rather like after the Lord Mayor’s Show. The advance guard had passed through now people were drifting back home and waiting out for the main body of troops to arrive. Everyone was talking about freedom, but nobody could think what it would be like. Jinnie had dragged the old radio in again from the greenhouse thinking at least I can safely keep it in the house now. All the German radio and TV stations had gone off air and she was desperate for news. It was already dark and reception to the Birmingham based mediumwave station, she recently had been relying on, was becoming difficult as it was low power. Jinnie found a new BBC radio station broadcasting out of Bedford. She was astonished how quickly radio stations were being established in recaptured territory. I suppose it makes sense, she thought, the population needs to know what is happening.
The station was relaying a network music programme featuring mostly music she had never heard before. Then the DJ started to trail important “breaking news” that would follow on the hour after the next record. Jinnie wondered just how important this news could be that they didn’t break into the programme with it. Her mum, dad and sister joined her, and they sat around the radio to listen to the “important” news. The newsreader led straight in with the news that the Germans had declared London an open city, that special forces had already taken strategic bridges and were checking for demolition charges, the main body of the Army would be in the city tomorrow but lead elements were nearing the city centre. The population was encouraged to stay calm, stay home, to keep off the roads tonight and tomorrow to allow free movement for the Army. Troops would soon be on the ground in every area and a new local civil administration would be established just as soon as possible, but until then martial law applied. Jinnie looked around at her family and they were all grinning ear to ear.
HMS Agamemnon had loaded her full complement of torpedoes and cruise missiles during the night and was due to sail on the 5am high tide. The crew to a man were back on board and around two-thirds were moaning about the prospect of having to hot bunk for a few days. The SBS men came on board at 4am stowed their kit and promptly got their heads down. The crew moaning had quickly stopped, no one wanted to tangle with the tough-looking men of the SBS. One CPO was heard saying, “There’s not much scares me, but they do”. The boat sailed on schedule and slid through the waters of Gare Loch, just before reaching the open sea she slid below the surface and performed a number of seemingly random underwater sprints, sharp turns and dead stops to shake off any possible follower. Commander Peter Dobiecki took the boat south of Sanda Island and then north of the island of Ireland and into the Atlantic, again making manoeuvres designed to throw off a watching submarine. After sailing west for a while the XO reported that the boat’s sensors had picked nothing up, so the order was given to head for Beauport Beach on Jersey.
Joey was really enjoying his race through London, he was seeing places he had only read about in books and seen pictures of. People were generally obeying the repeated radio requests and staying indoors and there was no traffic on the road. The city was much bigger than he could have imagined, he thought of Glasgow and Edinburgh as big cities but this was on a different scale.
He had driven through Temple Fortune and Golders Green which were infamous in British history and every school child in the British areas were taught about what had happened there. They had gone past the Swiss Cottage, actually a pub, which for some reason he had heard of. Lords Cricket Ground, the home of Middlesex County Cricket Club, he had seen pictures of but many of the stands looked like they had been modernised. They drove down Baker Street and he would have loved to have stopped to look for the flat of Sherlock Holmes, but they were in too much of a rush. Coming around Marble Arch he glanced down Oxford Street that he knew was one of the cities major shopping street.
On the small convoy hurried, down Park Lane, famous for its hotels. Always alert after being shot at, Joey was watching out to either side when he spied someone on the roof of the Dorchester Hotel. Quickly he realised it was no threat but a man taking down the row of Swastika flags and replacing them with Union Flags. Joey wondered where they had been hidden all these years. He suddenly called the column to a halt, jumped down to the ground, ran into the hotel and spoke with the receptionist. A few minutes later he returned clutching a large Union Flag, that he had scrounged.
Joey’s journey was nearly over, at the end of Park Lane he came to Hyde Park Corner and went round the Wellington Arch. Halfway around he saw the road signs and suddenly realised that he was driving on the left when the Germans had switched England to driving on the right. Not that it mattered, if there had been any traffic around who was going to argue with a seventy-five-ton tank? On to Constitutional Hill which divided Green Park from Buckingham Place Gardens, the King’s private park at the rear of the Palace. He saw the Victoria Memorial at the top of the Mall in front of him and knew he had arrived. There was no one to be seen, no Germans, no civilians and certainly no one from the Royal Tank Regiment.
Joey crashed his tank through the locked Palace gates followed by the other two tanks and the infantry transports. They charged across the parade ground and into the deserted inner courtyard. The infantrymen dismounted and raced into the building through numerous entrances. Within minutes they were reporting the building was empty and as far as they could tell it was not bobby trapped or rigged with demolition charges, but documents had been thrown about everywhere in the Germans rush to leave. Joey dismounted and carrying his Union Flag found his way to the roof. He made his way to the flag pole over the balcony where he had seen pre-war pictures of the old King standing with the old Queen and two, then young, Princesses. Joey, just like the maintenance man at the Dorchester, hauled down the Swastika and replaced it with the Union Flag. He stepped back and proudly saluted the flag.
C/S Jones got on the radio net and declared himself the winner and after a quick survey of his tank crews he had a message passed to the Colonel suggesting that the beer should be Tennants, it was what they were used to. The main body had finally reached Hendon and was making much better progress now the defenders were withdrawing and leaving London an open city. The main body arrived an hour or so later to find Joey’s troop parked on the parade ground under the balcony, with their main guns pointing down the Mall. The Yorkshire’s vehicles were parked up left and right and had guards out all around the place including guard on the main gates who demanded the Colonel’s ID before letting him in. The Colonel found Joey and his crews in the Palace staff kitchen, tucking into thickly buttered egg and bacon sandwiches, big slabs of cheese with more thickly buttered bread and mugs of sweet tea with fresh Milk.
Around the same time, Bristol fell to the allies and with it Avonmouth Docks. Although not exactly the south coast port they hoped for, the High Command decided to launch the Channel Island invasion from there. Many of the required submarines and warships were already gathering, so the landing ships were quickly docked, loaded and sailed.
Three nights after sailing, at one in the morning, HMS Agamemnon was laying, drifting slightly, off Beauport Beach. The boat was blacked out and the SBS were on the hull readying their inflatables. The beach and surrounding area had been scanned and scanned again, but no major defences had been discovered. The plan was for the inflatables to be paddled in close and swimmers dropped off, to creep ashore and take care of the identified guards before signalling in the inflatables. Once the full section was ashore they were to split into parties each with a target to neutralise before the full invasion force hit the beaches and the Paras dropped at first light.
Commander Dobiecki shook hands with the SBS Officer, wished him good hunting and watched as they paddled off disappearing into the darkness. Closing up the access hatch the boat slid beneath the water and withdrew to a designated point where it was to loiter in case required to protect the invasion fleet. Dobiecki pondered just how many other British, US and Canadian boats were dropping special forces off on the various Channel Islands tonight. He gave up thinking and walked though the boat watching the crew reclaiming their bunks. Back in his captain’s chair in the boat’s control room, the sensors were detecting numerous surface ships that the computers wasted no time in identifying from their noise signatures as friendly. So far not a single enemy was on or under the water in the zone he was allocated to watch.
Bang on 6am the Paras started landing and the Marines hit the beaches. The invasion of the Channel Islands was virtually unopposed. The Germans just gave up. The vast majority were aware of what was happening in England and had been waiting for the invasion and weren’t prepared to fight for nothing. By midday, the islands were firmly back in British control and the Military were busy making sure all the islands facilities were operating as normally as possible.
Jinnie was at a loose end. She obviously couldn’t go back to AHU with a war going on. The resistance didn’t need her as the fighting had moved down south of London and appeared to be nearly over. Reports on the latest BBC radio station to come on the air, broadcasting from the old ZDF radio broadcast facility at Brookmans Park, were reporting the Germans wanted a cease-fire and safe passage to withdraw troop to continental Europe. The sticking point was the Allies were saying yes, but only if all armaments were left behind and the Germans were reluctant to comply. While discussions went on there was a lull in the fighting. The BBC radio was promising that that TV in London would be back on the air within a few days. The retreating Germans had damaged quite a lot of equipment and it needed replacing, however, much of it was of German design and manufacture and consequently replacing it was proving difficult. Penny was back at school and working hard for the first year of her A-level course. Dad was back teaching at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield and Mum had taken up a temporary post at Hadley Wood Primary School.
The Skewbald mare and her foal were back in the field. The grass had benefited from not being grazed for a couple of weeks and with the longer warmer days of early summer was starting to grow more. Anne said the mare and foal had been spoiled something rotten at the Royal Veterinary College. Like many things, names were changing, and Royal was making a come back, hence English had become Royal in a number of cases and the Veterinary College was one. Jinnie grabbed a couple of apples from the fruit bowl and made her way to the end of the garden, up to the fence separating it from the field. The mare saw her coming and trotted over in anticipation, the foal followed. I really must stop thinking of it as a foal, it’s a yearling now she thought. They both popped their heads over the barbed wire fence and gratefully accepted their apples. Jinnie looked past the horses at the scarred wood. It had taken 3 days for a work party from a PoW camp to remove the charred bodies and the burnt-out vehicles. Thank goodness some of the tree and undergrowth were beginning to regrow and soften the view.
Jinnie thought that she would go and visit Ethel and seek her advice, she had a wise old head. Penny had continued volunteering at the retirement home. She enjoyed what she was doing and thought that it might help with her university applications. She had reported that Ethel wasn’t feeling too bright last night. Jinnie decided to buy her some flowers to cheer her up. She walked across the green and got the minibus down to Darkes Lane. She got off the bus at the bus station and bought a bunch of spring flowers from the stall outside the railway station entrance. Jinnie strolled past the shops and wandered into the retirement home. The good part of having volunteered there was that everybody there knew her and just waved her in. She made her way up to Ethel’s first floor flat, pressed the door buzzer and walked in (Ethel never locked her front door during the day). Ethel was lying on the floor in the middle of the sitting room. Jinnie found she wasn’t breathing and when she checked for a pulse there was none and she was cold. Jinnie pulled the alarm call cord.
In Chapter 22 – Epilogue.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file