Jinnie’s Story – Book Four, Chapter Thirty

D-Day Evening

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
A huge RFA ship unloading.
FRA Lyme Bay and HMS Mersey,
Andrew R Abbott
Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Maya dropped Penny and Irena at a port gate and they approached one of the British soldiers at the gatehouse who asked for her papers. Both the girls presented their identical German ID cards, Irena’s real and Penny’s a perfect forgery. He listened to Penny’s story and called his sergeant over. As usual, the military was on the ball and both their names were on a list. The sergeant whistled up a Land Rover and they were delivered to a huge RFA ship unloading thousands of those ubiquitous military containers. Once again their names were on a list that the gangplank guard checked before allowing them to climb it.

At the top of the gangplank there was yet another check, but this time they had their pictures taken and were given photo ID cards that allowed them to move around the ship, and acted as a cabin key. They were shown to a twin-berth cabin with a porthole and told lunch would be served in the wardroom at 13:00 sharp. They didn’t bother unpacking as once they sailed the journey was only around six hours but headed to the open deck to see what was happening. Numerous sailors were hanging over the handrail watching as the queue of DROPS trucks got shorter and the containers coming off the ship fewer. The last container came off and was replaced by half a dozen Land Rover ambulances and ten walking wounded made their way up the gangplank which was quickly withdrawn. The rope handlers cast the hawsers free. Then came one long blast from the ship’s horn to say the RFA was about to sail, followed shortly after by three short blasts to warn that the ship was going astern out of its berth.

Jinnie had the TV on for the MoD announcement at noon. The spokesman was very sombre but informative. With the aid of a huge map he explained that the main British forces had landed at Trieste before dawn and quickly taken the port, town and the airport. The Italians had crossed the border and moved east and south until they had met up with the British forces moving north. In the east, the British had taken Ljubljana and its airport and were pushing on towards Maribor and the Hungarian border adding the Germans were retreating on all British fronts. The RAF, with the assistance of the Fleet Air Arm’s carrier-borne aircraft, had established air superiority over the battlefield.

The spokesman continued, saying the French and Americans had crossed the Italian border into Austria but had hit stiffer resistance than the British had in Slovenia. The Americans had sent airborne forces into a number of airports and military airfields but had yet to establish air superiority, partly due to Austria’s proximity to Germany. Consequently, some of the British forces had been diverted to head north and crossed into Austria at several points drawing German forces away from the Americans. The mobile air defences of the British was greatly assisting the Americans.

The RFA eased into Venice Port. The girls were again hanging over the rail and Penny knew immediately where they were going to dock, in a space between an Italian container ship and the Cunard Liner, Queen Victoria, that was disembarking American troops. Penny wondered if the Cunarder had brought these forces directly from the States and if so when it had sailed? As the tugs pushed the ship sideways into its berth, a string of ambulances arrived together with trucks queuing up to deliver another load of DROPS containers.

The wounded were first off again, all walking to the ambulances. Penny assumed that seriously wounded were helicoptered directly to the hospital ships and these guys were bad enough to be going home but not so bad that they needed immediate operations. As soon as the ambulances moved off the cranes started lifting containers that were being dropped under them by strange vehicles that were picking them up by straddling them in the container park and driving onto the dockside. At first the containers disappeared into the hold but they were soon being stacked in different-sized piles. Penny wondered how anyone knew which container went where but Irena, whose father worked at Trieste port said, “It’s all computerised, every single one has an RFI code and the computers know where every one of them is, what’s in it, who owns it and how much it weighs.”

They stood watching the containers moving in a highly choreographed dance when a polite cough made them turn. A sailor saluted and said, “Ladies, I have been looking for you, your transport will be at the gangplank in five minutes.” The girls rushed to their cabin for their bags and just beat the tatty Italian military minibus to the bottom of the gangplank where the guard took their passes. The Italian army driver told them he had orders to take them to the airport where they would be met.

Approaching the terminal building it was obvious the military had taken over. They had already overtaken busloads of Americans, which Penny guessed had come off the Queen Victoria, and truckloads of baggage. They were met as they got out of the car by a young man who handed Penny her passport and two RAF air movement passes. He handed Irena a new blue British Passport in her name, identifying her as a British subject and told them to check in at desk 41 for an RAF flight to Brize Norton. At the desk they learned they were on an RAF Voyager, taking just them and the walking wounded back to England, the plane had brought out nearly 300 troops and containerised equipment in its belly hold and would otherwise be returning empty for another load of troops. The plane also carried a couple of flight attendants and two nurses.

The only food on the flight was sandwiches left over from the outbound flight, cans of cola or tea. Penny had a ham and an egg and tomato sandwich which were really cold as they had been in a cold drawer and a warm can of cola that hadn’t. Penny advised Irena to try to sleep if she could as soldiers grabbed sleep whenever they had a chance. The flight swept around over Western France and the Bay of Biscay before descending into Brize Norton. Penny looked out of the window as the plane landed and was astonished by the number of planes on the tarmac being serviced, loaded and unloaded. The aerodrome was definitely on a war footing.

They taxied to the apron in front of the terminal and a set of steps was pushed up to the door. At first Penny wondered where the airbridge was, then remembered that this was an RAF station and not a civil airport. The girls were told to disembark first and their transport would be waiting. Walking down the airstairs Penny saw half a dozen white West Midlands Ambulance Service vehicles, at the back of her mind she seemed to remember that the main hospital for servicemen was in Birmingham.

Penny saw it was an SIS black Jaguar waiting for them, she had half expected it would be a ministerial car and a trip to No 10, however she still couldn’t work out what the department wanted with Irena. They climbed into the back seat of the car and it shot up the A40 and then onto the M40 where the driver put a magnetic blue flashing light on the roof and set off at high speed in the outside lane. Penny tried to see the speedometer but couldn’t see it. The car turned off onto the M25, where it was flashed by several of the speed cameras on gantries, before turning on to the M4 at Heathrow. They triggered more speed cameras on the Cromwell Road and another on the Embankment before crossing Vauxhall Bridge and pulling up outside the SIS building. Penny looked at her watch, the journey from Brize Norton had taken just an hour and five minutes.

Penny said to Irena, “Come on, this is where we get out, this is my office,” and led her into reception. The girl on reception said, “Hello,” to Penny and, “Can I ask you to sign in please,” to Irena who looked at her blankly. Penny translated into German and Irena nodded and signed the proffered pad. The receptionist told Penny that ‘C’ was expecting them and they should go up to the top floor in the lift. On the way up Penny asked Irena if she would prefer to speak in German or Italian. Irena shrugged and said in Italian, “Actually, I prefer Slovenian but as it looks like Trieste is at last returning to Italy I guess I should speak Italian. But I am more comfortable speaking German as that is what I have had to speak since I went to school.”

They entered ‘C’s’ office and Emma welcomed them and took them straight into ‘C’s’ inner sanctum where he was drinking coffee with Dirk. ‘C’ welcomed them in German, it was the first time Penny had heard him speak anything but English, however thinking about it she realised that many people raised during the occupation had learnt German at school and university as it had been essential to get anywhere in the Civil Service or big business. Then Dirk also introduced himself speaking his fluent German. Emma served the newcomers coffee and they settled down to business.

‘C’ explained to Irena that it was her prowess with a sniper rifle that had first brought her to his attention. But he had seen reports that she was a good soldier who both gave and took orders well. He explained that the Italians and British were planning for the future and were looking to create army and police forces in the new independent state of Slovenia. The current aim was to merge the Trieste area and the coastal strip back into Italy and to create a new nation from the remainder with its capital in Ljubljana. The working plan was that the British Army would police the new Slovenia for around six months to a year, while training the new police and army. The British would stay until it was possible to hold an election and establish a government and then longer if requested.

He continued saying that Maya had accepted the position of Trieste Chief of Police and would initially be recruiting police officers from the Resistance. Then came the big reveal. They had decided that they would like her to become a senior officer in the Slovenian equivalent of SAS. But to do that felt she should first spend some time at Sandhurst. But to do so she first had to learn English and that was where Dirk came in. He was to take a leave of absence from Cambridge and to run an intensive immersive course in English for her with help from both Penny and Big Willie who would be loaned from SIS whenever necessary. Penny had military experience, while Big Willie could help her with small arms and both spoke both English and German.

Irena had lots of questions, what was Sandhurst? What was the SAS?, What was the SIS? Would she be paid? Where would she live? Most question where straightforward to answer and but as to where she would live “C” asked Penny if she would put her up her house. It would save a lot of awkward questions while Irena learnt enough English to survive at Sandhurst. In addition she would be able to speak English as much as possible but always have German speakers around to help her. Penny agreed, provided Daniel said, “Yes”. Dirk was going to move into a local hotel for however long it took, as it was considered not practical to travel from Cambridge every day.

Of course Daniel said yes, he really had no choice now he also was an SIS employee and Irena was installed in a spare bedroom. Daniel hadn’t spoken German since school but tried his best to talk in English and explain in German. At least he had Penny to help. After dinner, Penny introduced Irena to British TV as she was anxious to learn how the war was progressing, but Penny had to translate virtually everything into German. The six o’clock news was quite positive, as far as Slovenia was concerned the Germans were still in retreat and while very little contact was being made by forces on the ground, the retreating Germans were being continuously harassed from the air. Irena perked up considerably when a reporter interviewed a Ljubljana resident who spoke in their native language with English subtitles.

Irena asked if it was possible yet to phone her parents in Trieste. But the systems had not been linked up yet so it wasn’t possible over the public network. Penny thought for a while and wondered if Dirk could help through his SAS contacts, they seemed to be able to talk to anyone in the world whenever they needed to. She would talk to him as soon as possible. As she pondered this her mobile rang and looking at its screen she saw it was her sister.

Jinnie welcomed her home and they started chatting about domestic things including the twins. As they talked on it became clear to Penny that Jinnie had no knowledge of Irena and she decided to ask her if she would help Dirk teach Irena English during the day when she and Daniel were at work. Penny agreed instantly, provided they came to her house so that she could look after the twins at the same time. They continued talking until Penny noticed a banner running across the base of the TV screen saying the Prime Minister was going to address the nation at nine that evening.

Nigel appeared on screen at nine on the dot and Penny translated for Irena. He announced that Germany had agreed to withdraw all its forces from Slovenia in the next 24 hours and that the Allies had agreed not to harass them in that period. The Nazis were withdrawing into Hungary, Croatia and a few to Austria although many troops close to the Austrian border were surrendering, rather than join the fight in Austria. The German Army were leaving behind much of their heavy equipment but were being allowed to fly out any serviceable aircraft provided they were unarmed. Irena was ecstatic, it was only a day after they had been on the roof of the airport terminal and now her country was as good as free.

The PM explained that with the assistance of the Slovenian Resistance, elements of the British Army would be staying on to help create a civil administration, a domestic police force and military. The intention was to hold a free and fair election in between six and nine months that would be overseen by the UN. The Army would withdraw as soon as possible after the election, as agreed with the new civil administration. He continued, saying that the bulk of the British forces would now be relocating to Austria to reinforce the French and Americans. Those that remained in Slovenia would in effect act as the civil police until a domestic force could be established.

The following morning Dirk and Irena arrive in a little French car that Dirk had hired. Dirk explained to Jinnie that he wanted to try to immerse Irena in the English language starting off with single words for things like pen, milk, newspaper, numbers and colours. Before moving on to trying to add a bit more, like black pen, cow’s milk or even numbers. Jinnie said she needed to check on her Zwillinge which immediately interested Irena who started asking questions. It emerged that she worked with a friend as a childminder and adored babies. Jinnie and Dirk immediately saw a way to get her into speaking fluent English, it was always easier if the pupil was interested.

Penny was back in the office helping organising the return of surplus agents from Slovenia when she remembered she had promised Irena to talk to Dirk about her talking to her family and had totally forgotten. At lunchtime she rang her sister’s mobile from the canteen and she handed the phone to Dirk. Dirk listened, thought for a moment, then said, “I have an idea, I wonder if we can get a satellite phone in her parent’s home, there must be loads floating about now we are bringing agents home. I am sure that one is not going to be missed until Telecom Italia or Vodafone extend their mobile networks to take over the German system in Trieste.”

That evening Dirk was eating dinner at Penny’s house when he looked at his watch before handing a cheap mobile to Irena and saying, “There will be a call for you in two minutes.” Exactly two minutes later the phone rang and Irena was talking to her mum, telling her she was in England, learning English and was going to officer training and would have an important job when she got home. It was agreed they would talk regularly and Irena took her mother’s new number.

With her interest in the twins, Irena was anxious to get to Jinnie’s house every day and quickly started to expand her spoken English, but found reading and writing it harder. Dirk, however, was delighted with her progress and told ‘C’ that she was well ahead of where he expected her to be. They started taking her to the shops and introducing her to buying things in the supermarket. Irena was astonished at the selection in the shops, it was far wider than she was used to in Slovenia. Jinnie explained that was one of the things she had to get used to after the Germans had been thrown out of the U.K. especially when American electrical goods started arriving like iPads, iPhones and Kindles.

Eventually, Jinnie and Dirk decided that it was time to teach Irena about fine dining and reading a menu as she was going to have to cope with formal dinners at Sandhurst. Jinnie had anticipated this and a few weeks before had reserved a table for six at Trattoria Trevi. Penny was delighted as she and Daniel loved the restaurant. Mrs Walsh was roped in to babysit the twins who were now sleeping longer and not demanding to be fed so often so Jinnie and Paolo had a rare night out and, of course, Dirk and Irena completed the six. The day before the dinner Jinnie took Irena to buy a suitable dress explaining to her that if she wore her normal jeans and a blouse she wouldn’t be let in as this was a high-class restaurant.

In Chapter 31 – Jinnie makes a decision.

© WorthingGooner 2023