Jinnie had remembered her promise to the staff of the Trattoria Trevi and had booked a table for the family for Christmas Eve. When they arrived for their 8 o’clock booking, Jinnie was delighted to see the restaurant was very nearly full. The people of Potters Bar obviously appreciated Italian home cooking. The waiters remembered her speaking to them in their own language and bustled around the Walsh family’s table much to their embarrassment and the consternation of other customers.
Over the excellent food Penny related tales of her driving lessons and was proud to tell Jinnie that she had passed her theory that afternoon and that she had a booking for the test itself in January. Jinnie joked that she had better check her bank balance. Penny said she didn’t want anything flashy a new Nissan Micra would make the other girls in her class green with envy. For the third or fourth time Mrs Walsh asked about Jinnie’s trip to the palace and in particular the royal children, Penny was more interested in what the Queen was wearing while her dad was interested in what she thought about the Prime Minister.
When the coffee and liquors arrived Jinnie decided that she needed to break it to the family that she was going on a secret mission over the new year. Mrs Walsh said what a pity she had been planning a party and had invited neighbours. She wanted to know where Jinnie was going and was it dangerous as she thought that now she was at uni she had finished with the resistance. Jinnie had to admit that she had no idea where she was going or what she was going to do, but even if she had known she wouldn’t be able to tell them! Back home, after Mum and Dad had gone to bed, Penny wanted to know if Jinnie was still working for the ERA. Jinnie said no the ERA had been disbanded, there was no need for them anymore. Penny thought about that for a while and asked, “Well who are you working for then?” Jinnie said nothing except good night, and went to bed.
It was mid-morning on the 27th when the courier turned up with a packet for Jinnie. There was really not much information in the bundle. It was simply a note, a pass for her and another for her car. The note said she was to report to the main gate at Portsmouth Naval Base at noon the next day. She should wear civilian clothes. She did not need to bring anything with her, everything needed would be supplied. She should be prepared to be away for around 10 days. Jinnie scratched her head and read the note again but there was no clue in it as to what the mission was.
Just before noon, Jinnie arrived at the main gate to the naval base. The Royal Marines guards had clearly been expecting her and on checking both her and the car’s passes she was directed to a parking space and told to wait in the car and she would be contacted very shortly. She had been there for less than a minute when a Wren arrived, told her to lock the car and escorted her to a meeting room. Across the table sat two RN officers, she was no good at recognising naval ranks and an army major with no unit badges. She knew what that meant, SAS.
The older of the naval officers told her to sit down and started to explain the mission. She was to be inserted into the South of France where she was to assassinate an SS officer who had been positively identified as being responsible for the deaths of many people in concentration camps. They had chosen her for several reasons, her fluent French, her ability with a rifle and her friendship with the French resistance contact. Jinnie’s heart skipped a beat, she could only think of her Berlin flatmate Simone Beaufort, who she knew came from Nice and that was the South of France.
The younger naval officer took over. He explained she was to go in “clean”. Her clothing and all her possessions were to be of Third Reich manufacture, her paperwork would all indicate she had been born and lived in Paris and was visiting a friend in Nice for the New Year. Her handbag and all its contents would be French, she would appear to be more French than a genuine French woman. The SAS officer then jumped in explaining that until they had seen her shoot at Larkhill a month ago there had been doubts as to whether the plan would work, but having seen her shoot over 1500 metres at a static target all doubts had subsided. He then told her that a sniper rifle was already in position and that the target would be attending a ceremony to lay a stone at a new building and a shooting spot was already in place. The details would be shown to her before the day of the ceremony.
The older naval officer then spoke again, asking if Jinnie suffered from claustrophobia because the plan was to insert her and extract her by submarine. Jinnie was then taken to a large warehouse filled with racks of clothing, hats, shoes, tights, handbags, suitcases and many other items. The two Wrens in change fussed around her like mother hens. They first asked her sizes and soon were back with armfuls of stuff, very little of which was brand new but it was all in good condition, clean and recently pressed. The Wrens explained that it was all things abandoned when the Germans were forced to withdraw from Britain. Some was the possession of female officers, some officers wife’s, some from officials and most of the new things came from special stores reserved for the occupiers. Jinnie was asked if she would prefer a suitcase or a hold-all and when Jinnie said a hold-all every day, a slightly used one appeared. Jinnie was shown to a cubicle and given a box to put her clothing into. The Wrens told her to put everything into the box that included underwear and jewellery, even the engraved pendant from Paolo. Jinnie objected to that saying it had been bought in Berlin, but they pointed out the engraved message was in English.
Jinnie tried on all sorts of things, many she accepted, but some either didn’t fit or were not to her taste and were rejected. The Wrens soon got to understand her taste and more items went on the keep pile rather than the reject pile. Some of the items she really liked, especially the stylishly cut French jeans. Then they turned to accessories, earrings, rings, necklaces and the like. Her hold-all was rapidly filling up. The Wrens then had a little discussion and one disappeared returning very quickly with several formal dresses. One of them said, “You are going to Nice to celebrate the New Year you will need something special to wear.” Jinnie picked out what her friends would have called a ‘little black dress’ that she looked good in and fitted perfectly. Another discussion and fancy black matching underwear, stockings and suspenders arrived. Jinnie decided these Wrens had impeccable taste.
Finally, it was the contents of her handbag and a makeup bag. These girls forgot nothing, from a French pocket pack of tissues, which they opened and took one out of, to a pack of Bayer aspirins. The cosmetics in her makeup bag were carefully chosen to match her skin type and colour and she was encouraged to remove her own make-up and replace it with the new. If anything Jinnie preferred the new stuff and wondered if there was any way she could get to keep some of these things when she got back, particularly the jeans and the black dress. Just when she thought there could be nothing else one of the Wrens asked her if she was on the pill, when Jinnie said “Yes” she asked what brand and strength. Before she realised what was happening she was handed a pack that she was told was the equivalent available in France. Before handing them over they popped out some so it looked like the pack was in use and the next available pill was for tomorrow. Jinnie thought the letter had been right they are supplying everything. Wearing a pair of the new jeans, a pullover and with her nearly full hold-all and an elegant shoulder bag, Jinnie’s next stop was back in the meeting room where another naval officer had joined them. He was introduced as Commander Dobiecki, the captain of the submarine she was to sail on. Jinnie was handed identity papers, tickets, letters and other items in the name of Elise Fontaine. The final person into the room was an electronic warfare officer who handed over a small German-made laptop and an ebook loaded with a number of current and classic French novels some of which were shown as read. The computer was set up in the name of Elise Fontaine and the password was easily remembered. Various accounts had been set up on it including one on Rhine and entry to a Paris based bank account with several thousand Reich Marks in it together with a history of in payments and debits.
Finally, the SAS Officer shook Jinnie’s hand and wished her good hunting and before she realised it she was on her way. Commander Dobiecki led her across the dockyard to a quay where a powerful seagoing launch was waiting with its engines burbling. It was dark and cold as the launch edged away from the dockside. Jinnie was glad she was in the boat’s cabin and had added a pea coat over her sweater. She had also been handed and shown how to wear a bright yellow life jacket. The commander explained that for secrecy they were going to transfer to the submarine at sea, you just never knew who was watching the naval docks.
The submarine appeared out of the dark and a rope ladder was slung over the side for the boat’s captain and Jinnie to climb. Submariners quickly helped them on board and down into the accommodation. Her hold-all followed close behind. Jinnie was allocated one of the 11 spare bunks for passengers and a few minutes later felt the power surge as the boat accelerated and dived under the surface for its trip to the Mediterranean.
Three days later Jinnie found herself once again on the slippery hull being guided by a crewman to the ladder down to a French fishing boat. She couldn’t help thinking it was the reverse of Dirk’s journey and wondering how many times it had been undertaken previously. It was still dark as the fishing boat chugged into Menton harbour and she was sneaked to a taxi that took her to the station. By the time her train pulled into Gare de Nice-Ville, it was light. She had been told her contact would meet her at the ticket barrier and she was not to worry as the contact would recognise her. Jinnie made her way through the early morning commuters and through the barrier into the arms of Simone who started to greet her by name. Jinnie quickly stopped her and said to use Elise.
Simone was delighted to see her friend and couldn’t believe that she had been sent. She hadn’t known who to expect and had only been told that the visitor would know her. As they walked out of the station to the bus stop Simone spoke to Jinnie in German as they had often done in Berlin. Jinnie stopped and said, “I am your friend from Paris, we must talk French.” The wait for the bus was quite short and fortunately they were heading in the opposite direction to the majority of commuters who were heading into town. They were heading for Simone’s parent’s townhouse in the northern suburbs where she was to be accommodated. Simone had told her parents that she had met ‘Elise’ in Berlin and she was staying over New Year because of the better weather in the South.
The house was empty when they got there as both of Simone’s parents worked in the centre of town. ‘Elise’ was shown her room and while she unpacked and hung up her clothes they talked about events and friends. Jinnie was desperate for news of Paolo. Simone said he was fit and well and missing her dreadfully. When the ceasefire had come into force the resistance had vastly reduced their activities. Consequently, Paolo had thrown himself into his college work and was heading for a first in the summer. She and Jan had been spending a lot of time together and he had proposed. Of course she had accepted and there was to be an engagement party at a hotel in Nice on the evening of New Year’s Day, which was tomorrow. With a huge grin, she told Jinnie that Jan and his parents were arriving tomorrow on a flight from Warsaw and we’re staying at the hotel. But the most important news as far a Jinnie was concerned was that Paolo was coming to the party and was arriving on the overnight TGV from Milan and was also booked into the hotel.
Jinnie couldn’t believe that her arriving on a mission at the same time as the engagement party was a coincidence and asked Simone who knew of the engagement party. Did anyone in the resistance know? Simone said only their new group leader. After Dirk’s accident and Jinnie being lost, their group had been considered too small on its own and had been merged with the neighbouring group run by Hanna Brant. As soon as she heard that name she knew that this was Dirk pulling strings and playing matchmaker. Jinnie told Simone, Dirk’s story about how he had been smuggled out of the country and how he was now her German professor at Cambridge. Simone told Jinnie that after Dirk disappeared from the Menton seafront a search had been made for him. The authorities had found a badly damaged body in the sea a week or so after his disappearance. It was pulled out by fishermen but there were no recognisable features and identification was done using DNA. Jinnie said she wondered who the body had been and just how many people were in on the scam. Simone said they would never know but for the safety of everyone it would be better if the story of Dirk’s escape went no further.
Simone’s parents were lovely and fully bought into the good friend from university story, asking her what course she was taking (German of course), what did think of Jan (a great bloke), and a whole raft of questions about Paris. Fortunately, Jinnie had spent the three days underwater reading ‘Elise’s’ résumé and she thought she had answered everything accurately. That evening Simone cooked a New Years Eve dinner for the four of them, she was anxious to show Jinnie just how much she had learnt at cookery club. They started with onion soup, then had chicken breasts in a creamy white wine sauce and finished up with crêpes Suzette served flambé in Grand Marnier and orange sauce. Jan was never going to starve.
New Year’s Day offered a bit of a problem. Simone needed to get to both Jan and Paolo and warn them that Jinnie was now Elise from Paris before either of them used her real name. M. Beaufort had volunteered to drive the girls to the station and the airport then taxi the groups to the hotel. Paolo’s overnight train was due to arrive in the early morning and fortunately M. Beaufort said he would wait in the car while the girls met him at the ticket barrier. Simone suggested that ‘Elise’ should hang back by the booking office where she was hidden by the queues and let her greet him and explain what was happening. That worked perfectly and it was an excited Paolo who grabbed hugged and kissed ‘Elise’ before heading for the car. The flight from Poland was not due until just after noon so ‘Elise’ suggested that she should remain at the hotel with Paolo while Simone went to the airport otherwise the car would be overfull. M. Beaufort saw the logic in this and said when they got back with Jan’s family he would be able to drive her home within plenty of time to get ready for the party.
While Paolo checked in and took his bag to his room M.Beaufort went to see the hotel manager just to ensure that everything was in order for the party in the hotel ballroom. Jinnie and Simone headed for the bar for a coffee. It was only just after ten and M.Beaufort had said he has going to leave for the airport at 11 so that he had plenty of time to find a spot in the short term car park and accompany this daughter to the exit to meet her future husband and in-laws. The coffee had only just arrived when Paolo slid into the booth next to Jinnie and grabbed her hand. Jinnie told him to be careful M. Beaufort could be back anytime. He moved away a little, but said in his stilted French, “How would he know we were not close?” Paolo was just ordering a coffee for himself when M. Beaufort joined them and added one for himself. There then followed an awkward three-quarters of an hour while Jinnie made polite conversation while really wanting to hug Paolo.
As soon as Simone and her father were out of sight Jinnie grabbed Paolo and said, “Let’s go to your room.” It was only going up in the lift that Paolo suddenly stepped back and looked at her and said, “When did you learn to speak Italian with a Roman accent?” Jinnie laughed and said, “It’s a long story, I’ll tell you later.” As they entered the bedroom Paolo checked his phone and said, “The plane’s late, we’ve got at least two hours.” Jinnie was thinking, “Thank goodness that Wren remembered the pill.”
In Chapter 15 – The untimely exit of one senior SS Officer.
© WoorthingGooner 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file