The Mercedes stopped at the barrier to the airport and unloaded Jinnie and Penny. Simone hugged them both and said her goodbyes. Jinnie kissed little Juliette and said she would see her soon. Juliette said, “Bye-bye Auntie Jinnie” and Jinnie realised that Simone must have been teaching her her real name. Penny reminded Simone that the boot was full of rifles and ammunition that needed returning to the armourer and that there were Glocks behind the bathroom tiles.
The sisters were escorted to the RAF transport office and gave the clerk on the desk their names and told him they had been told to report to Wing Commander Waterman. The clerk told them to take a seat as the Wing Commander had people with him at the moment. Although they couldn’t hear what was being said, the girls could hear raised voices coming from the office. Eventually, the office door opened and Steven and his Captain came out, neither looked very happy. Steven said, “Hello Jinnie, are you waiting to see this arse? I hope you get more inter-service cooperation out of him than we have.” The Captain said, “He has no imagination. It has to be done by the book. Our Land Rovers are stuck on a transport ship in the bay. We need them for our next mission but he will not authorise a couple of lifts by Chinooks to get them here. He prefers to see the helicopters sit here doing nothing.”
A clearly embarrassed clerk ushered the sisters into the office and it immediately became clear that the Wing Commander was a jobs worth, demanding to see their paperwork. The girls explained that as SIS agents they were not in the habit of carrying their documents when on a mission. This stumped him, until Jinnie said, “I can offer you three ways of confirming our identity, you can call those SAS men who were in here a few minutes ago back. We have been working with them and the Resistance. You can phone London and talk to Vauxhall Cross, I’m sure that ‘C’ will confirm our I.D.s. But if you don’t value your rank you can contact the PM as he is a friend and he can confirm our I.D.s.
Jinnie could hear the clerk trying not to laugh in the corner of the room, while Waterman decided that he didn’t need to take it any further and told them that he had orders from London to put them on the first possible flight back to the U.K. and handed them a sealed envelope which he said contained orders which were only to be opened when the plane had taken off. They were on a Voyager that was due to leave at noon taking injured soldiers back to RAF Brize Norton.
The flight back to the U.K. was not exactly luxury but it was wartime. The plane flew out over the sea, then round over northern Spain and the Bay of Biscay. Jinnie was aware of a fighter escort every so often. The injured soldiers on board were all walking wounded who were only too happy to be heading home. The sealed order said transport was waiting for them at Brize Norton to take them home. They were to report back to Vauxhall Cross the next morning and that they and ‘C’ were expected at No 10 the following afternoon at 3pm.
An MOD car met them at the Brize Norton Terminal Building and dropped them in Potters Bar. As usual Larry was sitting in the front window waiting for them and rubbed himself around Jinnie’s legs as her mother let them in. Having been hugged so hard they could hardly breathe, the girls were allowed to sit down whilst Mrs Walsh went to make them her cure for everything, mugs of tea. The sisters wanted to know how the war was going on the home front and their mum said she only knew what she heard on the radio or saw on the TV and she was sure it was highly censored. She said the reports were that things were going well with the Allies advancing on all fronts with only pockets of defence. The Germans had, apparently, been caught by surprise, hadn’t learnt from the ‘War of Liberation’ that conscripts were reluctant to fight, were extremely short of fuel and were severely stretched by having to fight on multiple fronts with the French Resistance and the various Special Forces harassing the rear area and cities at every opportunity.
Jinnie was worried about Paolo, she had not heard any news of him and only hoped he was OK. So she decided to watch the six o’clock TV news and see if she could pick up any little titbits or read between the lines. The lead story was the Allied troops taking over Paris which had already fallen to the Resistance aided by detachments of the SAS. The reporter stood with the Eiffel Tower in the background for his report. In the south east, the Italian and British forces were on the outskirts of Grenoble and the British armour had pushed north up the N102. In the south west, the US Army with the Spanish we’re pushing to link up with the US and Portuguese who had landed near Bordeaux. The embedded reporter with the Spanish force said there was a race on to see who could be the first to reach Toulouse. The TV newsreader said that there would be a special message from the PM following the news at 6:30 but did not speculate as to what was to be said.
The whole Walsh family sat down together to watch the PM, even Larry joined them sitting on Jinnie’s lap. Larry meowed loudly when he saw Mr Farage on the screen. The PM said that the war was going better that expected and that the troops were ahead of their timetable. However, they were deliberately advancing more slowly than the lead units wanted so as not to out run their supply lines. He then got down to the main purpose of his broadcast. He announced that, although it wasn’t originally planned, units had been diverted into Belgium and had secured Ostend and were already in the suburbs of Bruges. The reason the decision had been made to venture away from the original plan was because the Belgian Resistance had risen up in many parts of the nation and urgently needed assistance. He thanked everyone for their help and promised to keep them informed wherever possible.
When the sisters entered the reception at Vauxhall Cross they were asked to go straight up to ‘C’s office before going to their own offices. This was nothing unusual for Jinnie but for Penny, who was technically still a trainee, it was a huge experience meeting the head of the SIS. Jinnie told her that if she was offered a cup of coffee she should say yes as it would probably be the best coffee she had ever tasted. Emma was ready with the bosses coffee when they arrived and they sat down for a chin-wag before “C” got in. Emma said she shouldn’t really tell them but their allies were delighted with the progress. She understood more than half of France was already free and the Germans were retreating on all fronts.
“C” bustled in and waved them to sit down while he logged on to his PC and Emma poured him a mug of coffee. Looking up from his messages he said, “Good news overnight, the Germans are so short of fuel they are having to abandon their vehicles and surrender everywhere. Still, I didn’t invite you here to hear that. Firstly, I want to thank you both for your work in the South of France. That landing went like a dream. But I really wanted to ask if you have any idea what the PM wants of us this afternoon, I know he talks to you.” Jinnie said, “Sorry Sir, I have no idea what he is up to this time, I haven’t spoken to him since we went to France.”
When ‘C’s car dropped them in Downing Street, ‘C’ said to the girls, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much TV and press. They all know me but not you. So keep your heads down and walk a few paces behind me, like a couple of assistants, and hopefully you won’t feature in any photos.” As “C” approached the black door several reporters shouted questions to him, but he ignored them, only pausing to turn and wave on the doorstep as it opened. The girls stood well back and only entered No 10 well after their boss. Jinnie looked around for Winston, Larry’s replacement, but he was nowhere to be seen. They were ushered straight up to the PM’s office and greeted by Mr Farage.
Nigel got right down to business, thanking the girls for their efforts in the South of France. He explained to Jinnie that her manual on how to disable an oil from coal plant had proved invaluable. It had been issued to the national Resistance groups all over the Reich and to the Allies Special Forces units with the instruction that plants were to be attacked as the initial landings occurred. At the same time as the plants are being incapacitated every known fuel dump was attacked, some by Special Forces and Resistance but in France also by cruise missile and from the air by bombers. The inability of the Germans to get fuel to their army and air force had been an essential part of the plan succeeding. For the Allied Air Force it had been easy to gain control of the skies when the Germans were unable to get their aircraft off the ground.
The PM admitted that the war was progressing far better than he had dreamed possible. Far better even than the reports on the TV and in the papers which were deliberately up to 24 hours behind reporting events. To illustrate this he said that while the news of the taking of Ostend was filling the media that morning, the advance in Belgium had moved on apace and the British had already taken Zeebrugge and Bruges. If fact he said he expected to hear that Brussels was in Allied hands at any moment.
The Germans were in full retreat everywhere throughout France and Belgium and the PM said that they had approached Sweden to act as an intermediary to try to negotiate a peace treaty. The Germans initial suggestion was that they would withdraw completely from France and Belgium. The PM said that he had agreed to secret talks via the Swedes, but while the Germans were on the ropes he was minded to explore the possibility of getting them to withdraw from other occupied territories possibly Holland and Denmark. This information was of course top secret and was only being mentioned because he wanted Jinnie’s view on it, he trusted her opinions. He continued saying that he had no current intention of expanding the fighting beyond France and Belgium but if he could take advantage of circumstances he felt he should. Jinnie thought for a moment and said she would play it exactly as he was, he had nothing to lose and much to gain. She suggested he should initially be asking for the German withdrawal from as much territory as possible only conceding some countries in the discussions to win the freedom of others. Nigel sat back and thought for a moment, then smiled and nodded.
The PM then said he expected that Jinnie was anxious to learn of events in the South of France as that was where she had friends. He explained that it was all now firmly in Allied hands and life was returning to normal in most of the Southern cities, the utilities were being reinstated, power and gas were back on in Nice and the mobile signal was expected to be switched on later that day. A civil administration was being set up under the area military commander and he understood Simone was to play a major role.
The PM then got down to the real reason he wanted to talk to the sisters. As expected the media had pushed him hard to let them interview individuals who had been on the front line of the invasion. He had already given them access to an aircraft carrier captain and an RAF commander. But the media didn’t think these people were close enough to the actual fighting. His thoughts had turned to who he could trust to give an interview that would satisfy the media but would be discrete enough not to let slip any sensitive material. Then he had read in a report that the sisters were returning to the U.K. and he had his answer. He had already warned them that they would probably be asked to do interviews, well this was it.
The plan was to allow the media a pool interview with the sisters. The interview would be pre-recorded for TV with a single interviewer chosen by the media. Before broadcast it would be “viewed” by the Ministry of Information. Jinnie thought ‘he means censored’. A transcript would be made available to newspapers and the whole thing embargoed until cleared by the Ministry of Information. Would the sisters agree to take part? Jinnie thought a moment and said, “Yes, provided I can’t be identified. If my identity became known I would never be able to undertake another mission.” Nigel smiled and replied, “Absolutely, I have already told the media that if you agreed you were to be interviewed from behind, in shadow and, on review, if we thought anything said or done could identify you it would be removed from the broadcast.”
The media held a draw as to whom was to conduct the interview, the BBC won and nominated Emily Maitlis who they thought had done a fine job interviewing the ERA veterans. The interview was conducted in a BBC studio in central London and Maitlis had been told that she would be interviewing two experienced SIS agents. The sisters were ushered into a studio, seated while the cameras set up and the lighting and sound checked. Jinnie could hear Maitlis somewhere behind her complaining bitterly that she had been stitched up, moaning that the SIS had clearly sent two office girls. While the producer told her that they had been assured that these where indeed two active agents who had recently returned from France.
A slightly placated Maitlis eventually sat down opposite them and did a scripted piece to camera explaining that the two women she was about to interview had been put up by the SIS as representatives of the service. Jinnie thought, ‘This is going to be tough, she has made her mind up we are frauds.’ Turning to the girls Maitlis said, “I am told you have just returned from active service in the South of France. Can you explain how two girls as young as you happen to be there?” Penny looked at Jinnie and then replied, “Because as fluent French speakers we were chosen to work with the local French Resistance and help prepare for the invasion forces.” “But,” continued Maitlis, “You are two young women why did the SIS select you over the many experienced agents they must have?” Jinnie couldn’t help but laugh and replied, “I suppose by that you mean men. Well, perhaps I should explain that I have been employed by the SIS for around six years now and have been on missions in France, Germany Poland and Italy. My sister has served in France several times so we are both ‘experienced’.
For a moment Maitlis appeared surprised but she quickly recovered saying, “You must have been very young when you started working for the SIS.” Jinnie said, “I was. I was originally recruited into the English Resistance Army as a schoolgirl. You might remember interviewing several of their members who told you about Ethel Jennings, well I was her last recruit.” Maitlis was now thinking perhaps these girls are more than I expected. She said, “Yes, I remember the story of Ethel, you knew her?” Jinnie said “Yes, quite well, I’m sorry I can’t tell you how I came to know her as that could identify me. But she and her colleagues were responsible for my joining the ERA, educating me in what was happening in Britain under the Nazis. You probably know the ERA were run by the SIS and they took advantage of my undertaking a degree in German to manipulate me onto a course at a German university where I became associated up with the German Resistance and we undertook numerous sabotage missions.”
Maitlis asked, “I assume then that you were in Germany when the War of Liberation broke out.” Jinnie replied, “No, I was in England, it was during the university Christmas holiday.” “So you took part in the War of Liberation?” asked Maitlis. “A little,” replied Jinnie, “There was not a lot of fighting in the area I lived in but I did take part in a few actions and it was there that I first saw a sniper in use and realised just how effective they could be.” Turning to Penny, Maitlis asked, “Were you in the ERA?” Penny replied, “Of course not, I was still at school. But I was always aware that my sister was involved in something and badgered her to get involved. I suppose you could call me a trainee still as my university course is sponsored by the SIS. But they had already teamed me up on a couple of missions with my big sister where our language and shooting skills can be used.”
Maitlis paused then said, “You both mentioned shooting skills, how good are you?” Penny said, “Well, I’m only a sharpshooter but my sister is a trained sniper and her pistol skills are marvellous.” Once again Maitlis appeared a little dumbfounded and decided to change the line of questioning. Turning to Jinnie, Maitlis asked if she could talk about any of the missions she had been on. Again Jinnie thought before answering then said, “Yes, but you must realise that I cannot give any details, for security reasons I only talk in generalities.” She went on to talk about the attack on the prototype jet fighter, the attack on the gas works, the derailing of a troop train, the attack on the train carrying prisoners to a execution and concentration camps and finally the rescue mission for the Italian P.M. Maitlis was listening spellbound, occasionally nodding and interjecting with a “Yes” or “Please go on.” When Jinnie finally stopped her story Maitlis said, “But you didn’t mention the South of France. Perhaps your sister would like to talk a little about that.”
Penny said, “OK we were inserted in to France some weeks before D-Day and teamed up with the local Resistance. We were tasked with selecting and planning targets and training the Resistance to shoot. By the time the SAS arrived a couple of days before D-Day we had identified targets, reorganised the Resistance into fighters and support workers and they were ready to go. When the beach lookouts were taken out just before the landings we knew the forces were going to get ashore safely. We were rather disappointed to be withdrawn before the end of the fighting in France but I understand the PM had arranged this interview and had us in mind.”
Jinnie was driving home from the studio when her phone rang. The message “Unknown Caller” popped up on the console in her Mini. Pressing the button on the steering wheel to answer the call Jinnie said, “Good evening Nigel.” The PM said “Good evening Jinnie, I take it Penny is with you. I just wanted to say I watched the interview on a live feed with the Home Secretary, the Health Secretary and “C”. Can I tell you we were delighted with how it went, I don’t think we are going to have to edit very much at all. The BBC, ITV and Sky are begging us to release them to broadcast the tape. They have pencilled in tomorrow evening at eight o’clock if we clear it for broadcast and I think we can do that. The press and radio stations will be given the embargoed transcripts and copies of the tape an hour before it’s due to go out, so it should be all over the following morning’s papers. Oh, and one other thing, I hear from the Italian Ambassador that Paolo is on his way home so you should be able to watch the programme together.”
Paolo was dropped off in Potters Bar mid-afternoon the next day, Thursday, and immediately rang Jinnie’s mobile to tell her he was home but due to the SIS house rules Jinnie was unable to answer the call. However, Jinnie recognised the number on the phone’s display and guessed Paolo was home and, just as soon as she was on the platform at Finsbury Park waiting for the Potters Bar train, she rang him.
The family and Larry gathered around the TV just before eight that evening to watch the special programme that the TV and radio had been trailing all day. Half way through the programme Jinnie looked at her mother to see she had tears streaming down her face. She looked at her children and said, “I knew you were doing secret things, but I didn’t realise just what risks you were taking.”
The following morning the press was packed with the news of the interview and Jinnie was thrilled to be able to sit on the train into London with her husband and sister and watch all the passengers devouring the news. “C” rang her on a scrambled line as soon as she arrived in the office and congratulated her on her performance and how well it was going down with the press and more importantly the public. He said he had never seen Emily Maitlis change her attitude so conclusively.
At lunch time Jinnie headed for the canteen for her lunch, she had selected an egg and tomato sandwich on white bread, a large iced Bakewell tart and a mug of tea. It was Friday and it would be fish and chips for tea tonight so she didn’t want anything too filling. She was in the queue to pay when her mobile rang. Not having a spare hand she decided not to answer it straight away but to wait until she had joined Emma at their usual table.
With a mouthful of sandwich she checked the caller list and found the call she had missed was labelled ‘International’ so she had no idea who had called her. Jinnie enjoyed her lunchtime chats with Emma, they talked about anything and everything and tried to avoid work. Jinnie was just saying to Emma that she was going to try to get Paolo to start house hunting the next day when her mobile rang again. This time she answered it and a little voice said in French, “Hello Auntie Jinnie, we have just seen you on the TV”. Instantly Jinnie realised that what she wanted more than anything was a baby.
© WorthingGooner 2022