Jinnie called back to Penny, “I’ve been called in as well. Can you use the downstairs shower room?” Years ago, when the girls were younger, Mr Walsh had realised that he would soon be living in a house with three women, two of whom would shortly be teenagers, and a single bathroom was never going to work. He had knocked the downstairs toilet through into an adjacent unused coal store. He had blocked up the coal store door creating a window, insulated the walls, installed a new WC, a shower cubicle, a vanity unit, a radiator and at the request of Mrs Walsh a bidet. He had done an excellent job and it was much admired by the neighbours.
Mr Walsh stuck his head around the bedroom door and called, “What’s all the noise? Don’t you know it’s an extra bank holiday today?” Christmas Day had fallen on a Sunday. Through the door, Jinnie heard her sister telling their father that they had been called into work, there was a panic on. No, she didn’t know what it was, just that they both had to get into work as soon as possible and to be prepared for some long days.
By the time Jinnie got downstairs, Mrs Walsh had mugs of tea on the table and was just about ready with eggs and bacon for the girls. Mr Walsh was preparing turkey sandwiches with sliced up pigs in blankets. He explained, “I don’t think they will have called in the restaurant staff so you will need these.” He continued, “You know there are no trains to London this week, there’s maintenance work.” Between bites of an egg and bacon sandwich that both the girls had constructed they decided that Jinnie would drive them in as she had a full tank of petrol and they had no idea if filling stations would be open. Dad told them that parking and congestion charges were suspended until after the New Year so they shouldn’t have a problem.
Paolo arrived in the kitchen, just before the girls left, dressed in a work suit. He explained that he had been called into the embassy, something big must be happening in Europe. Mr Walsh put the radio on but despite trying several stations they learnt absolutely nothing. Jinnie kissed Paolo and her parents goodbye and said she would try to ring when she could. Poor Larry just sat watching them, knowing something serious was happening but, unlike his days in No 10, he now had no inside knowledge. However, he was delighted when before the girls left they both stroked him and told him not to worry, mother Walsh would look after him.
Moments after setting off, Penny was on her mobile to Daniel, they were supposed to be spending the day together and she needed to cancel. She explained to him that she had been called into work and wouldn’t be able to meet him. He said, “I didn’t realise you had a job.” She replied that her employer sponsored her Cambridge course. To which he replied, “What kind of employer calls people in on a bank holiday?” Thinking quickly Penny said, “The government, I am officially a civil servant.” Daniel seemed to accept that and Penny continued, “I haven’t got time to tell you about it at the moment. I promise I will explain when I next see you.” After ringing off, she turned to Penny and said, “Now I will have to think up a convincing cover story.”
Jinnie found a free parking meter in a side street near the Cross and they headed into the office. Something was definitely happening, there was increased security on the main entrance and two receptionists were on the main desk. Jennie knew one of the girls on the desk who said, “Good morning Mrs De Luca,” and visually checking Penny’s pass which was around her neck continued, “Everyone is assembling in the big fourth-floor meeting room. Your security privileges will allow you and your sister access.” Jinnie asked if she knew what was going on and she replied, “Sorry, no idea only that it’s big, most of the department heads and a number of specialists have been called in, plus, look at the extra security, I hear the SAS is on the way.”
Jinnie’s fingerprint allowed the two girls to use the lift to the fourth floor. When the lift doors opened on the top floor they were greeted by several armed guards on the meeting room door. They were allowed in only after having their IDs checked against photos on the computer monitor set up by the door and again passing a fingerprint check. The room was already busy and several thermos jugs of coffee were on a side table already almost empty. The sisters filled paper cups with the brew that clearly was hastily made instant and not up to the normal SIS standard. Jinnie said to Penny, “It looks like dad was right, no catering staff, I think we might be glad of those sandwiches.”
More people were entering the room, Jinnie recognised many of them but there were several she didn’t know. Penny spotted her current boss and wandered over to say hello leaving Jinnie with her coffee. She was surprised when the door opened and Dirk and Willie walked in. Jinnie waved and they walked over to her. They had been summoned by a duty officer, had driven in from Cambridge and were in the dark just as much as Jinnie. As they chatted, Emma appeared at her elbow. Again Jinnie asked what was going on. Emma said, “Sorry I can’t tell you but all will become clear as soon as the PM arrives. I understand it should only be a few more minutes, his additional SAS protection has arrived at No 10 and the bank holiday traffic is extremely light. ‘C’ is in the underground car park waiting for him.
Suddenly the meeting was called to attention and everyone was asked to take a seat in the cinema seating layout. Penny rejoined Jinnie and they sat down with Willie and Dirk while Emma took a reserved seat on the end of the front row. The meeting room door opened and ‘C’ entered with the PM, the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary and two of the biggest SAS men Jinnie had ever seen, both of whom were armed with C8 CBQ carbines and sidearms. Jinnie recognised the short barrel CBQ and knew it was favoured for close protection work. The top brass took seats on the slightly raised stage and ‘C’ stood to address them.
He thanked everyone for giving up their holidays and explained that the previous day the Gestapo had raided resistance groups in France, Poland, Yugoslavia and Germany. Many people had been arrested and among them were several who were party to the plans for the invasion of France. A murmur went around the room. ‘C’ continued saying that it was top secret and had been planned for the coming summer, but obviously that would now have to be cancelled.
The PM stood up and carried on saying that the worry was that someone in the meeting had leaked information to the Germans. There were one or two who were under suspicion, their homes were currently being searched and by the time the meeting was over the domestic security forces were confident they would have identified the culprit. Jinnie did what nearly everyone was doing and looked at those around her to see if anyone looked shifty. The PM continued saying the reason for this meeting was that the senior military had recommended that the invasion be brought forward to the spring and that meant that the carefully constructed timetable that they had intended to work to had to be advanced and would begin immediately.
The Defence Secretary took over and explained that every effort was to be made to free those arrested and to that end, every French, German, Polish and Yugoslav speaker in the service had been called in and many would be inserted into the Continent to free those arrested. Because so many senior resistance people had been detained it would be necessary for SIS operatives to temporarily assume those roles. As the Defence Secretary spoke a man handed ‘C’ a note and Jinnie watched as he nodded to the two SAS men. They had obviously been briefed beforehand as in unison they stepped forward, grabbed a man sitting in the front row and frog marched him out. In the resulting kerfuffle, Penny asked Jinnie, “Who is that?” Jinnie shrugged and replied, “No idea.”
A little later the meeting broke up and, as everyone milled around, Emma whispered to Jinnie a follow me and led her to ‘C’s’ office. The PM and the Foreign Secretary were sitting chatting with ‘C’ and he said hello and somewhat surprised ‘C’ by asking after Larry. Jinnie explained he was at her parent’s in Potters Bar for Christmas and had been happy when she had left this morning. The PM smiled and said, “Good, he deserves a happy retirement.”
Nigel then said, “As someone I trust implicitly I would like you and your sister to try to rescue the head of the Marseille area resistance. We understand he and a number of other leaders from the South of France have been transferred to a Gestapo facility on the outskirts of Cannes. I can tell you that the Nice cell is untouched and I am certain you can depend on your old friend Simone for help. But I must insist on one thing and it must not leave this room. He knows too much and if you cannot rescue him he must not be able to tell the Gestapo anything. For this mission you will have double O status.”
‘C’ added, “We need to coordinate these releases, we cannot afford to tip off the Germans by one going off early. The current target is one week from today. I am afraid your department is going to be under pressure, but not only sorting out your mission but because we are calling in anyone and everyone. We will be activating your friends Dirk and Willie for a mission in Hamburg. While you were on the way here we were calling in, amongst others, your team. They should be downstairs waiting for you. Just about every department will be fully staffed by the morning. There will be a few exceptions where people are on overseas holidays. I suppose it’s fortunate that you choose Potters Bar this year and not Italy.”
As she was leaving ‘C’s’ office, Jinnie turned and asked, “Who was the spy?” The PM replied, “The Deputy Head of Printing”. We found a radio transmitter hidden in his greenhouse. We suspected him, but until we raided the house had no proof. Now we know and hopefully will soon know if he has betrayed any more resistance operatives.”
Jinnie’s little team were waiting for her in the department’s offices along with Willie and Dirk. They were going to be busy, Jinnie and Penny needed a mission to the South of France while Dirk and Willie were heading for a similar mission in Northern Germany. Penny had never been involved in mission planning, she wanted to learn and be involved in everything. Dirk had been involved before and immediately got down to helping, but Willie was a little worried about standing out in a crowd because of his height. Jinnie suggested a slight change of appearance. They had a department that specialised in that sort of thing and proposed he should visit them as something as simple as a change of hair colour could make a huge difference when someone was scanning a crowd.
In fact, Jinnie decided that she too might have to change her appearance as she had previously visited the South of France with long blonde hair. The Camouflage Group, as they were known, suggested she have her hair cut into a bob and dyed light brown. The change of colour was accepted but she had taken years growing her hair long and didn’t fancy it being cut short. In the end it was jointly decided to style it in a bun. Jinnie’s first reaction on seeing the end result was that it made her look like an infant school headmistress. The stylist working on her agreed and found her some glasses with plain glass lenses which completed the change.
Willie already had dark brown hair so the opposite course was taken with him, his hair was lightened and restyled. He hated the suggestion of glasses but was convinced to wear tinted contact lenses that turned his brown eyes blue. Jinnie told him that his own mother wouldn’t recognise him. He replied he hoped not she had been dead 11 years! When they arrived back at Jinnie’s little department everyone was doing double takes and Penny started calling her sister ‘Miss’.
With so many missions into the Third Reich being undertaken every support department was under huge pressure and working every possible hour. The department had booked every possible hotel room in the locality and Jinnie and Penny would either have to travel to Potters Bar to sleep or sleep in the office. Penny phoned Paolo to let him know she would be sleeping in the office such was the pressure of work. He grunted and said it was the same in the Embassy but he had been allocated a suite on the top floor. As the Embassy was only ten minutes from the Vauxhall he suggested she join him there. Even saying, “I have a double bed.” Jinnie said she didn’t think it fair on Penny to leave her in the office to which Paolo replied, “There is a big sofa in the lounge she can make use of and besides the Ambassador’s chef has pulled out all the stops and is organising a cooked meal for everyone tonight. I’m sure that the First Secretary will have no objections to two MI6 agents sleeping here for a few nights. We are all on the same side.”
The sisters arrived at the Italian Embassy just before 9 o’clock and were greeted by Paolo who Jinnie had warned they were on their way. To say the least he was surprised by her appearance. “What have you done to your beautiful hair?” he asked. She took off her French beret and he exclaimed, “I am so glad you haven’t cut it off.” He continued, “We must hurry, the Ambassador dines at nine and we are invited to eat with him. He remembers the wedding and how nice everyone was to him and the First Secretary.”
Despite being tired and ready for bed, the girls followed Paolo into the ornate dining room and were relieved to see that apart from the Ambassador, First Secretary and their spouses they were the only guests. The Ambassador explained that the meal was only going to be light as he intended to go back to work saying, “Like you we have lost several resistance agents and we are coordinating with your PM so as not to duplicate our release efforts.” The meal started with minestra d’orzo soup which Paolo explained was made with barley. It was followed by a veal escalope served with delicious crisp sauté potatoes and dessert was a trio of ice cream. As promised, not a heavy meal but delicious and far better than a stale turkey sandwich and a Mars bar from the vending machine that Jinnie had been anticipating.
Over the meal the Ambassador asked Jinnie if the restaurant she had her reception in was still in business. She told him how it was thriving but struggling to find backing from British banks to expand. She thought for a moment and then said, “I would appreciate it if you keep this secret but I came into a legacy a little while ago and provided everything works I intend to invest in the business.” The Ambassador smiled and said, “What a pity they didn’t come to the Embassy and discuss it with our commercial attaché. We can offer Italian citizens loan funding for just that sort of thing. Please tell them of the facility, it might be useful in the future.” Jinnie thanked him and said that of course she would. He then continued, “Please let me know when the extension is ready for the grand opening, I would love to come and cut the ribbon, it is a great story of friendship between our two nations and I know the food is excellent.”
Jinnie woke early the following morning, it was the delivery of a breakfast tray that awoke her. She and Penny quickly dressed and ate. Paolo suggested that as it was officially a normal working day in London they should leave Jinnie’s Mini in the Embassy underground car park and take a cab back to Vauxhall, it would be safe there for however long was necessary and they were expected back that evening but the meal with the Ambassador was a one-off.
As the taxi drove them to work, Jinnie rang Potters Bar just to confirm they were OK. She asked after Larry and was told he had slept on her bed last night. Her father said he had read the business plan twice. Once briefly and then again more thoroughly. To his untrained eye he thought it was an excellent investment opportunity. He proposed getting a business studies lecturer colleague of his to have a forensic look at it and, if he thought it ok, to get a lawyer to draw up an agreement. Jinnie said she would be delighted if he took over as she would be out of circulation for a couple of weeks. If he could set it all up she would sign the papers as soon as she could get there. She also told him about the Ambassador’s offer and suggested he tell the manager at the Trattoria.
The next few days at the Cross were bedlam. It soon became apparent that MI6, even with assistance of embedded agents and the remaining resistance fighters, simply did not have sufficient manpower for the planned raids on Gestapo facilities. The PM decreed that all the security services should help where possible. MI5, the SAS, SBS, RAF, Royal Navy and even Border Force were called in but with the growing numbers involved the worry was something would leak. Several of the newspapers were sniffing around so Mr Farage called in all the editors. He explained that this was a highly secret and sensitive exercise, he said he was placing it under a ‘D’ notice and that he wouldn’t hesitate to jail any and every person who even hinted at breaking the ‘D’ notice. In return, he promised them full access to the story once the action was over. The editor of The Guardian, who felt he had the bones of the story, objected and immediately found himself in Wandsworth prison. The other editors quickly complied.
By late Friday night Jinnie’s party were ready to go. It was considered that even with the assistance of Simone’s Nice cell they just didn’t have the manpower to attack the Cannes facility. They were to be joined by half a troop of SAS men under a sergeant. The plan was for them all to be flown to Genoa on the Saturday before the coordinated attacks that were scheduled to take place at 2 o’clock CET on Monday morning. Jinnie and her sister were to fly out on a morning BA flight while the seven SAS men were split between the morning and afternoon Alitalia flight. The parties were to be met and transported to the naval base where the group would assemble and be joined by six Gruppo Operativo Incursori (GOI), the Italian equivalent of the SBS, for a briefing before the Italian Navy would transport by land to Ventimiglia and then in high speed launches to a beach near Menton. Simone’s group were arranging transport from there.
Jinnie and Penny were playing spot the SAS man in the departure lounge at Gatwick and failing miserably, no one looked anything at all like her conception of an SAS trooper. She and Penny sat on the balcony overlooking the lounge and had just decided that the group traveling on the morning Alitalia flight weren’t there yet when a voice from behind them said, “Good Morning, Ma’am.” Penny turned and half recognised the man in the business suit standing behind them, but it was Jinnie who said, “Good Morning, Steven. Are you part of our party or are you involved elsewhere?” He replied quietly, in a voice that could not be overheard, “I’m the Sergeant in charge of your party, Ma’am.” Jinnie said, “Sergeant! Congratulations on your promotion and on your stealth. We hadn’t spotted you or your men.” “Good,” he said, “That’s just the way it should be.” Before disappearing into the crowd.
In Chapter 19 – Cannes.
© WorthingGooner 2022