By the time Jinnie had reached Potters Bar Station to travel to Vauxhall Cross, she had recovered her composure. It was just the sheer relief of knowing that Paolo was OK that had overwhelmed her. But she couldn’t hide everything from her sister, her instinct told her something had happened but she was struggling to get Jinnie to tell her just what. As usual, the sisters were in their normal spot on the platform five minutes before the train was due and Gretel hadn’t yet arrived when Jinnie’s mobile rang.
Penny tried to hear who was calling but all she got was a lot of “Yes Sirs” and “No Sirs”. Jinnie slipped the phone back in her pocket and laughed at her sister who was clearly bursting to know who was on phone. As the train came into sight and Gretel came puffing along the platform, Jinnie decided to put her sister out of her agony and whispered in her ear, “I am to see the PM at ten.”
Jinnie’s head of department had clearly been told that Jinnie was required on official business as he made a sarcastic comment about never getting a full days work out of her. A ministerial Jaguar picked her up outside Vauxhall Cross at 09:45 and took her to Downing Street where she walked past the photographers and reporters who had no idea who she was. The front door to No 10 opened as she approached it and the policeman at the door saluted her. In the lobby, a black and white cat, which she assumed was Larry’s successor, watched her suspiciously from its position sitting on a rug in front of the fireplace. Before she had a chance to say hello to the cat, a secretary arrived and told her that the PM was ready for her.
Jinnie was shown into the PM’s private office where he and Silvio Berlusconi where enjoying morning coffee and biscuits. The PM told her to sit down on the sofa, poured her a coffee and offered her the plate of biscuits. Taking a Garribaldi Jinnie thought, “Someone in the No 10 kitchen has a sense of humour.” Mr Farage got straight down to business. Things in Italy were going far better than anyone had dared hope. There had been very little actual fighting, where there had been it had mostly been with retreating German units. The country was pretty calm and people had been turning up for work as usual. Mr Berlusconi was anxious to get back to Rome and pick up the reins of government but the military considered it was still a little early and wanted to leave it a couple more days in case the Germans mounted a counter attack.
Nigel got to the point. Mr Berlusconi had been very impressed by Jinnie and the calm, collected way in which she had got him out of France and into the UK, how she had kept him informed and her excellent command of Italian. He had requested that she be allowed to travel to Rome with her to act as an interpreter/advisor/bodyguard and direct contact with the PM, who they could both trust. Nigel said he thought it a wonderful idea and winked at her saying, “You never know you might meet someone nice.” The PM suggested she pack a bag for a few weeks and that she should take her dress uniform just in case it came in handy. He would clear it with the SIS and she could tell her parents and sister as it was possible they would see her on the TV. He than said the ministerial car would take her back to Vauxhall Cross and she would be told before they were due to travel to Rome.
That same day Commander Dobiecki got the order to proceed west as intelligence was reporting that the German warships in Genoa were to make a run in convoy to Toulon as Genoa was not considered safe from land attack. The idea was to lay off the South of France and pick off anything that came within range. In Genoa there was a general panic in the Kreigsmarine, the order that had come through from Berlin said that with Genoa being un-defendable all serviceable ships were to sail for Toulon, that evening, under cover of darkness and that all unserviceable ships were to be scuttled.
The flotilla that slipped out of Genoa just before midnight was comprised of two frigates and a corvette, two minehunters and an ocean going tug. Timed charges were left on a harbour tug and a minesweeper whose engines had been in pieces for maintenance. The flotilla moved at the speed of the slowest ship, the tug, allowing the faster moving HMS Agamemnon to be in position off Nice. Dobiecki understood his wasn’t the only submarine waiting for the little convoy, from the signals he guessed there was at least one other sub waiting a bit further on.
The boat’s sensors picked up the engine noise miles away, the minehunters were quite noisy but the tug was extremely noisy. The two frigates were Dobieckis’ main targets but he was worried that this close to the French coast and away from Spain and free parts of Italy they might be getting little air protection, so he had to be careful. This time the computers told him that these were older frigates and lacked the sophisticated electronics that displayed a ghost image so he could trust the computer-generated firing solutions. So the boat lay at depth, waiting for the flotilla to present itself to him. Just when he was ready to upload the firing solution to a brace of torpedoes he was warned that the sensors were picking up engine noise of a French Atlantique 2 ASW aircraft. As old and due to be replaced as the aircraft was, it could still pack a punch and if it had reason to drop active sonar buoys it could well detect them. Commander Dobiecki decided that in this case he would play it safe, continue to lay dead quiet in deep water and let the flotilla pass. Maybe the next sub down the line would have more luck.
Joey Jones was a little disappointed that not only him, but from what he had gathered, his whole regiment was yet to fire a shot in anger. Everywhere they went the Resistance had got there first and all the Army were doing was taking over the holding of targets from them. The only fighting he had heard of on the radio net was to the North of Milan and that was with units covering the German retreat. The Germans seemed to have been caught completely flatfooted and were falling back to French, Austrian and Slovenia borders. His regiment and the attached infantry received new orders. From their positions in central and east Milan they were to push further east to Brescia, south of Lake Garda, Verona, Padua and then Venice. Joey couldn’t help thinking that in better times it would make an interesting tour or Shakespeare play settings.
As before, the regiment raced down major roads that had been grabbed by the Resistance and cleared by the pathfinders moving ahead of them. He had seen nothing yet of the Luftwaffe, only aircraft he’d seen were allied planes flying top cover.This was even easier than the War of Liberation, the only thing that was holding them up was regular stops to refuel the tanks thirsty diesel engines.
On the 5th day after the invasion, the word came over the net that the Germans had requested a cease fire, under which they would withdraw all troop still on Italian soil to other countries in the Third Reich. This had been agreed by the politicians and Allied forces were ordered only to fire if fired upon. Joey’s squadron was already on the outskirts of Venice and at the time the message was received they were busy draining the last drops of diesel from an Agip filling station, it being quicker to requisition it than to wait for the fuel bowsers to catch up!
5 days after her chat with Mr Farage and 6 days after the start of hostilities, a BAe 146 of the Royal Squadron banked over the port of Civitavecchia and lined up for it approach to Rome’s Leonardo De Vinci airport. At least Jinnie assumed it was Civitavecchia as it was the only port she knew of in the area and it was swarming with military shipping. The VIP transport was by far the most luxurious plane she had ever flown on, the RAF stewardesses the most attentive and the food the best. The little plane had made a big sweep out over the Atlantic to avoid German occupied France and had refuelled in Madrid before flying on to Rome. All the way Jinnie had kept catching sight of Allied fighter aircraft escorting them. She had seen planes from Britain, Portugal and Spain and now while approaching Rome it looked like the USAF had taken over for the final stint. While in Madrid the Spanish PM had come on board and chatted with the Italian PM. The conversation had been in English so Jinnie had listened in and had gleaned that they were talking about Italian troops joining an effort to free France.
Mr Berlusconi was first down the air-stairs onto the apron and into the scrummage of baying reporters and Italian officials easily distinguishable by the acres of gold braid on their uniforms. Suddenly the crowd parted as a ramrod straight man in British combat dress wearing a Cambridge blue beret and surrounded by six of the burliest Red Caps Jinnie had ever seen, marched up to the Italian PM and snapping a crisp salute said, “Welcome back to Rome, Sir.” Jinnie knew from her briefing that this was the Allied Supreme Commander Major General William Bramble who had put back his retirement to take on this last mission. A proud ex Royal Artillery Regiment man he still wore their colour beret.
Before leaving the airport the Italian PM said a few words to the cameras, saying how delighted he was to be back in Rome and how grateful he was to the Allies in general and the British in particular for helping to free Italy. He said the Allies were to stay, not as an invader but as a friend helping defend the nation until the Italian armed forces were in a position to take over. He then said he was going to his official residence, the Chigi Palace, and would be working on plans, with the president, to organise free and fair elections. Jinnie was ushered into a car in the convoy to the palace.
Over the next few weeks Jinnie was kept very busy. She acted as an official interpreter at daily liaison meetings between the Allied military, the Italian civil servants and the politicians sorting out the rules for the election. She was regularly invited to brief Berlusconi on the meetings progress as he didn’t trust some of the civil servants and many of the politicians. She reported back to the British PM and passed messages between the two PMs that were free from the eyes and ears of both country’s civil servants. She was often to be found close to the Italian PM when he appeared in public with her hand on a Glock 17 hidden in the pocket of one of the several stylish Italian jackets that had been especially tailored for her.
Three weeks after landing in Rome the details of the election were finalised, the Italian armed forces had been purged of Nazi sympathisers and it was agreed that many of the Allied troops could be withdrawn but a permanent “tripwire” force was to remain close to the borders with Third Reich nations, as were several squadrons of RAF and USAF fighters jets, ready to aid the infant Italian Air Force. Allied naval bases were to be established in Genoa and Bari with the natural harbour at Taranto becoming an allied submarine base. Berlusconi had plans to purge the civil service but he needed them in place until after the election and then, if elected, which as victorious war leader he was sure would happen, he would slowly force into retirement those he considered the worst collaborators.
With plans for the return to a democratic administration agreed Jinnie began to think of returning home as her jobs were virtually over. She discussed the situation with Berlusconi and told him that her final year at university was due to start very soon and she would like to get some time at home before the academic year started. Besides, despite messages, she was missing her parents, her sister and her cat. Berlusconi agreed that as much as he had enjoyed her company and advice, she had to return home soon, but he would like her to stay until after the weekend when there was a large party for heroes of the “salvation”.
Jinnie had brought the “Little Black Dress”, that she had worn to Simone’s engagement party with her, just in case she needed something special. She slipped it on remembering with pleasure the last time she had worn it. The party was spread over several adjacent large meeting rooms that had been cleared of all furniture. A string quartet was playing in the corner of one and white jacketed waiters were passing through the guests with trays of drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Jinnie had been told that she was off duty and to enjoy herself. Silvio Berlusconi would have several trusted close protection officers in attendance, which was a good thing as Jinnie’s dress gave her nowhere to conceal a pistol. Given the attendees at the party it was classified as safe and low risk.
Jinnie stood nursing a glass of sparkling white wine, she guessed a good Asti Spumante, listening to the quartet who she had decided were really very good. Her thoughts were wandering, she wanted to go home, but she felt that she had missed out on a reunion with Paolo, being in Italy was so near but yet so far. Suddenly a voice from behind her said, “I thought I recognised that dress.” Spinning quickly Jinnie came face to face with Paolo. They stood gazing at each other for a few moments before throwing their arms around each other and were kissing deeply.
In Chapter 27 – Graduation.
© WorthingGooner 2021