The Angel On Her Wing - 3 - New Kid On the Block

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The Angel On Her Wing


THE ANGEL ON HER WING


War Changes Everyone.

From the Author:

Note, the references to Spitfires were changed to Hurricanes to better reflect 43 Squadron's actual aircraft.

Chapter Three - New Kid On the Block

The lorry rumbled slowly along an uneven dirt track somewhere deep inside the heart of Germany. It had been nearly two weeks since Brian Campbell’s aircraft had gone down over Northern France and the young airman couldn’t begin to imagine where exactly he now found himself. The more lost he felt, the more he realised that was most likely part of their plan.

They had left France by train and traveled deep into the heart of the German Reich before transferring him to an Opel Blitz lorry for the final leg of his journey. The Luftwaffe guards assigned to him were a professional group and had treated him surprisingly well during his journey further and further away from his homeland. Quite certain that not all German troops behaved this way with Prisoners, Brian suspected it was his status as an officer and a pilot amongst the air force soldiers that was a deciding factor in their generally fair treatment of him. Honour and warfare; strange bedfellows that were rapidly tiring of one another’s company in these uncertain modern times.

He had been cooped up in the swelteringly hot rear of the German cargo lorry for at least four hours. They had traveled through two towns before they had turned off onto the bumpy track he now found himself traveling along. WIth diversions and ever present military traffic, their journey across Europe had taken four days to complete.

The Doctor in France had signed him off as fit to travel only three days after Herr Bergmann’s visit which meant that while he was healthy enough to travel, his injuries were far from healed. For Brian, the train had been tolerable, but the lorry was bordering on agonising as they bumped along the roadway. Thankfully the Germans, not blind to his discomfort, had given him the opportunity to stretch and ease his aching body whenever they stopped.

Brian felt the truck shudder as the engine note changed denoted their driver dropping down the gears. He felt them slow and turn before rolling to a jolting halt with a squeal of brakes. He could hear the doors of the cab open and close as multiple German voices exchanged words just out of view. His escort guards rose and began to open the rear flap of the truck. Sunlight streamed into the dull interior, momentarily disorientating him as he was ordered out into the daylight.

Lowering himself carefully down to the ground Brian looked around, blinking in the bright sunlight as he began to take in his immediate surroundings. They were in a forest clearing surrounded by tall ancient pine trees that towered over them. The truck had driven along a rutted dirt track cut tightly between the trees.

Set within the tall dense foliage of the pine forest, the camp was a large wire-fenced compound. Row upon row of long wooden huts filled the interior, smoke lazily rising from small chimneys along their roof. Brian could see guards manning towers along the perimeter fence, with others patrolling the exterior of the fence. Outside the tall barbed wire-topped fence, more wooden buildings made up the administration and guard facilities, very little different to those of the prisoners. Above the entrance to the camp, an arched wooden sign in stark gothic letters proclaimed ‘Stalag Luft IX’ This, Brian realised dejectedly, was his new home for the foreseeable future.

The guards escorted him across the parking area to a long wooden building just outside the main camp gate which he discovered was an administrative building. Inside, German personnel worked away, barely paying him any attention as he was led across the room. He was escorted to the desk of a portly middle-aged German officer who at the time, was focused on his writing rather than Brian.

“Your name?” the man asked tersely, without looking up.

“Pilot Officer Brian R Campbell,” he offered simply.

“If I had asked for your rank, I would have said so,” the man remarked tersely, his head still focused on the page. “Pilot Officer.” the man muttered as he filled in the next box on the form he held.

“Your service number is what?” He asked, resting his pen.

“588403,” Brian repeated from memory, forcing himself to remain aware of the questions he was being asked.

“Your date of birth?” The German asked, looking up at him.

“You have my name, rank, and serial number,” Brian replied with a brief smile. “That’s all you get and you know it.”

The German frowned and looked up, “Insolence is not tolerated here, Pilot Officer Campbell. Give me your date of birth for our records.”

Brian, feeling a momentary flash of bravado grinned and shook his head, “nope.”

The man’s lip curled but he said nothing for a moment as he wrote something in the book before closing it and glancing back at Brian. “A Guard will escort you through to speak with the Komandant of the camp before you are taken through, please leave now.”

Brian resisted the urge to childishly stick his tongue out at the chubby bureaucrat. With a casual salute, he turned on his heels and followed his escorts deeper into the building.

His expectations having been somewhat eroded by the snide administration officer were rapidly repaired on entering the camp Komandant’s office. The man was in his late forties or early fifties with short grey hair covering his broad head. His large aquiline nose and tanned skin fitted his tall slim frame well. He held himself with a rigid posture that oozed command and authority as he sat writing behind his desk.

Coming to attention, Brian saluted the Komandant without hesitation; “Pilot Officer Brian Campbell, sir,” he offered, awaiting the man’s consideration.

Looking up from his desk, the Komandant rose and returned Brian’s salute with a subtle nod of appreciation. “Welcome to Stalag Luft Nine Pilot Officer Campbell. Please forgive my bluntness but we will skip to the matter of business,” the man replied curtly. Stepping out from behind his desk and approaching the window overlooking the camp itself, he turned to Brian and addressed him.

“I run my camp with four very simple and firm rules: Follow them, and your time with us will be as pleasant as is possible under the circumstances. If you break them I will do my very best to make this a deeply unpleasant experience for you,” he said firmly, his eyes fixed on the young airman.

“Escape attempts will be punished by stays of increasing length in Isolation, you may be shot also, so be warned.”

Brian nodded his understanding and smiled sheepishly at the Komandant’s last remark.

“Secondly,” The older officer continued. “You are not to fight with the guards or your fellow prisoners of war. We house English and other European airmen at this location and I will not tolerate violence of any kind within these confines.”

The Kommandant walked across his office before turning to face Brian once more. “The third rule is that you will follow the orders of a Guard to the letter, however, you may report mistreatment through the appropriate channels. I do not tolerate bullying on either side of the wire, Herr Campbell,” the Komandant added, raising his eyebrows. “Do you have any questions?”

“What about the fourth rule?” Brian asked curiously.

The Komandant nodded. “The fourth rule you do not need to know if you follow the first three. However, break any of these consistently, and you will become intimately familiar with it’s contents. Now,” the Officer said bluntly. “You will be escorted through to the camp. Once you are there, you will report to Wing Commander Berkley; he is the ranking prisoner of war and my liaison amongst the other prisoners. Any questions or complaints may be directed through him for my attention. The day-to-day running of the camp and prisoners is his responsibility. He will brief you when you arrive. He is in hut twenty-one,” the Komandant explained. “I hope we do not have to see one another again, Pilot Officer Campbell.”

Brain saluted the German politely and turned to follow the escorting guards back out the way he had come. The man seemed genuine in Brian’s eyes, but he had never been a particularly excellent judge of character. The man’s rules had been strict but fair and Brian had no real intent of breaking them. Quite honestly, he wasn’t the sort to deliberately get in trouble or flaunt authority. The truth was, now that he was captured, he had lost the desire to fight at all.

He had been expecting to be led directly to the large imposing gates of the camp itself, however the guard escorted him around the far side of the Administration Office to a similar wooden structure marked with a large red cross. Even with his atrocious grasp of the German language, he could appreciate that Klinikum meant that his was the camp Clinic.

Inside, Brain found the space cool and calm in comparison to the bureaucratic bustle of the office. The lobby of the clinic was set up as a small waiting area with a long wooden bench and a small wood-burning stove. The guard ordered him to sit and wait while he vanished into one of the adjoining rooms. It initially surprised Brian that the man had left him alone. Then again, he was out in the middle of an unknown forest surrounded by Germans; how far could an already wounded man get?

A few moments later the soldier returned with a doctor wearing a white coat over his Luftwaffe uniform. Unlike the Doctor in France, this man smiled when he looked across at Brian. “You are Pilot Officer Campbell, yes?”

“Yes sir,” Brian answered as he stood uneasily and came to attention.

The doctor clasped his hands together and nodded, “Ah, excellent, we have been expecting you. You can dispense with the formality here, we are a hospital not a parade ground.”

`He looked across at the guard and nodded, “Danke Hermann, Komm später wiedert, ok?”

The guard saluted and left the clinic leaving Brian alone with the Doctor. Turning towards the door he had appeared from, the doctor glanced back at Brian and raised his eyebrow, “are you coming?”

While initially surprised by the man’s informality, Brian complied and followed him into the examination room, stopping just inside the door, uncertain as to what he should do next.

The man took a seat at a desk and slid a pair of glasses up his nose before looking back at Brian with an amused expression. “Are you going to stand there all day, Herr Campbell? Come, close the door and take a seat on the table. I am here to check your health, not interrogate you. You can relax here, there are no tricks to make you reveal military secrets.”

Closing the door behind himself slowly, Brian eased over and took a seat on the edge of the examination table, the furthest point in the room from the German Doctor and waited patiently for the man to proceed.

The doctor briefly checked through a file on his desk before turning to face Brian. “My name is Doctor Muller, I am the camp physician here at Stalag Luft Nine. Your records here indicate you were injured in your parachute landing, how are you feeling?”

Brian shifted awkwardly. “I’m healing sir, given the circumstances I feel alright I suppose.”

“Quite dramatic surgery performed; they note here several small-scale pelvic fractures and a bilateral Orchiectomy after irreparable damage to the tissue and some internal bleeding, mein gott.” the doctor muttered as he read the notes before glancing up at Brian. “This is a great deal to go through, any pain?”

“Sore, stiff, bit achy I suppose,” Brian admitted. “The journey here was quite rough I’ll admit.”

“I can imagine,” The doctor agreed, standing up and placing his stethoscope in his ears, “lift your shirt please.”

Brian did as he was asked and followed the German doctor’s instructions as he examined him thoroughly. Unlike the brusk doctor in France, this man was far kinder and more professional. At each stage, he answered questions and explained what he was doing and why. It almost felt like seeing a normal doctor back at home.

“Were you a doctor before the war?” Brian asked while the man wrote down the results of his physical.

Muller looked over and nodded, “Yes, I work for twenty years at a clinic outside of Frankfurt, why?”

“You don’t have the cold detachment of military doctors. Our lot are like yours I think.” Brian admitted with a smirk. “Ours treat you like a piece of meat. You remind me of my family doctor at home growing up.”

“That was once my job,” Muller admitted, walking back over to Brian. “And one I hope to return to again after the war.

“I hope you can.”

Muller looked sentimental for a moment before he smiled and shook his head. “All for another time Herr Campbell. Now as embarrassing as this may be, I need to ask you to remove your trousers and lie back on the table for me. I must check your injury site and ensure there is no infection or other concern that might affect your healing.”

Brian hesitated for a moment before complying with the doctor’s request. He was ashamed of his injury, but in a way, he was still processing the reality of what had occurred. Thankfully the German doctor made the examination as quick and painless as he could. Before long Brian was redressing, his cheeks bright red after the humiliating experience.

“Things are healing nicely, Herr Campbell,” the man smiled reassuringly. “No signs of infection and I believe no problems has occurred from your journey here to us. I should be able to remove the stitches in a week or two and you will make a full recovery… other than the obvious.”

“What does this mean for me going forward doctor?” Brian asked uncertainty, “The doctor in France, he wouldn’t tell me anything. He wouldn’t even tell me what they had done to me.”

Muller seemed briefly irritated at Brian’s story before clearing his expression. “What has essentially happened, if my interpretation of your records is accurate, is that your parachute harness failed in such a way that your body slammed down into it. This led to stress fractures and internal bleeding around your pelvis. Your testicles were crushed and their remains had to be removed surgically when they went in to stop your bleeding.”

“So I… what does that mean?” Brian asked nervously.

“The human body once it enters puberty is directed by chemicals we call hormones. These are testosterone in males and oestrogen in females. These hormones cause us to develop secondary sexual characteristics and also control and regulate our sexual drive and our health as we live into adulthood, do you follow?”

Brian nodded.

“You are in a precarious position thanks to your accident. While you will recover physically in general terms, you will no longer produce testosterone. This means that any further development you might have experienced as you grow will now cease at this point. I am also afraid that you will never father children.” Muller explained as gently as he could.

“I see,” Brian murmured. “I don’t really know how to take that.”

Muller nodded, “It is a difficult situation, and you may find life a little different going forward. You will not grow taller or grow more hair on your face or body and you will have difficulty maintaining muscle mass. Most notably you will experience sexual dysfunction I am afraid.”

Brian chuckled and the doctor raised his eyebrow.

“I never even really got to experience sexual function, so that’s a bit of a bum deal.”

The doctor frowned sadly and reached over to pat Brian on the shoulder. “I am sorry young man.” he offered quietly. “I wish there was something I could do for you, but I am afraid, unable to. Please do know that during your stay here I will ensure you remain as healthy as can be under the circumstances. I am a doctor first and a soldier second; you are my patient as much as any German here. As such, if you ever need to talk about what has happened, please ask a Guard to arrange for you to see me.”

Brian smiled, “Thank you doctor, that means more than you can imagine.”

Muller stood and inclined his head as he led the way back towards the waiting room. “There is no war inside my clinic, Herr Campbell, there are no sides.”

Brian was still thinking about what Doctor Muller had told him when the guard escorting him stopped in front of the main camp gate. The gates formed a tunnel between two sets that crossed the wire divide into the camp. Ensuring that at all times, one set was closed while people were entering and exiting the camp.

“You will go through now.” The man ordered, before pushing Brian by his shoulder through the inner gate and into the camp itself.

Locking the gates behind him, the German retreated back to the outside world, leaving Brian unsure of what to do next.

Well, He supposed. He had a bloody long time to work it out.

* * *

Eventually, those within the camp began to notice the young pilot standing alone by the interior gate. He hadn’t moved since the guard had led him inside ten minutes earlier. He wasn’t sure if it was fear or the stark realisation that he was now officially a prisoner of war that kept him rooted to the spot. Even though he had been a captive since his time in the hospital in Valognes and during the long journey to the camp, it had all been merely a theoretical state of existence. He had been a prisoner, but he wasn’t yet in a prison. Now, here in the camp, it struck him like a bucket of ice water. The dark reality that he was now a prisoner of war finally sank in. Here, he would spend the remainder of the war until they won or lost, but he would have no further part in it.

“Just hit you ain't it Sir?” asked a large flame haired Scotsman as he sauntered over towards the young airman. “Aye, I recognize that look meself. If you’ll excuse the observation Sir, you’re finally realisin’ that you’re a prisoner and that it’s over. Took me a wee while to come to terms with it too,” the Scot admitted, shoving his hands into his pockets and grimacing.

“I suppose so,” Brian admitted uncertainly, smiling weakly at the man.

“Like being an animal at the zoo really. The name’s Graham Moorfield.” The big man grinned extending shovel sized hand. “Fifty-seven squadron, Wellington Navigator.”

“P, Pilot Officer Brian Campbell, Hurricanes with Forty-Three Squadron,” he offered, resisting the urge to wince as the big man vigorously shook his entire arm. “I don’t suppose you know where I’d find a Wing Commander Berkley do you? The head Jerry outside told me to report to him when I got in here,” Brian asked tentatively, hoping the Scot would release his hand while he still possessed one.

The Scotsman grinned again, looking for all the world as though he was enjoying a night in the pub. “Aye nae problem at all. Now mind you follow me sir.”

The highland bear led Brian through the camp, stopping on the way to introduce him to other prisoners as they passed. While he struggled to remember names and squadrons, ranks and positions, that all seemed friendly enough. Brian was very aware of the stares he drew as the new boy. Moorfield led him up to a hut on the far side of the camp and rapped on the door before standing back. A few moments later, a middle-aged man with dark hair and thin glasses opened the door and raised his eyebrows. “Yes Graham?”

Moorfield saluted, followed shortly after by Brian. “Sir, Pilot Officer Campbell here sir. He just got in; new today sir.”

“Very well Moorfield,” the man smiled before turning to Brian. “Come in then Campbell, come in,” he added beckoning Brian to follow him. Nodding his thanks to the large Scotsman, Brian followed the Wing Commander into his hut.

Walking inside, Brian gazed around the space slowly while waiting for the man to seat himself at the rough-hewn wooden desk that filled one-half of the room. The building was spartan but cosy, with a small wood-burning fire going to the right, and a single bunk to the far left. Do sit old chap,” Wing Commander Berkley offered with a hint of amused exasperation. “We don’t stand around on ceremony here.”

Brian walked forwards and lowered himself into one of the chairs in front of the Wing Commander’s desk. “Sir, the camp Komandant told me to report to you once I’d arrived.”

Berkley leaned back in his chair and regarded Brian for a moment over his spectacles. “Yes, I would imagine he did,” the man said dismissively. “All new prisoners are to report to me on their arrival. It’s a little ‘settling in’ activity we do; lets people work out the lay of the land faster so to speak.”

“So what’s the deal here?” Brian asked plainly, without looking away from the Wing Commander. “Are things as black and white as the Komandant’s four simple rules or are they a little more grey?”

Berkley looked at Brian for a moment before leaning forwards and propping his forearms on the desk. “As you know Campbell, there is currently a war on,” he said, stating the obvious in Brian’s view. “To follow the German’s rules would be a dereliction of our duties as the King’s fighting men.” He said more forcefully, slapping his palm down on the desk. “We have the duty to escape, and cause as much mayhem for Jerry as possible in the process; we simply must. As such, all efforts in this camp are put into subterfuge, covert action, and active escape attempts. You will be a part of this now you are under my command.”

“Of course Sir,” Brian replied noncommittally. “I will do my duty.”

“Very good,” Berkley nodded slowly. “I suppose I ought to fill you in on the more mediocre aspects of life here lad.” The man said standing and walking over to a wood-burning stove in the corner and checking a kettle. “Spot of tea?”

“Thank you sir,” Brian agreed readily. “I’ve not had a cup since the morning I went down. The Jerry coffee isn’t bad but it’s not tea, sir.”

“That it' is not,” Berkley agreed as he filled two mugs with steaming liquid. “Sorry, you’ll have to take it black, no civil niceties like milk and sugar at the moment.”

“That’s fine sir.” Brian agreed, taking the proffered mug. “So how do things run around here? Aside from all the secret squirrel antics?”

Berkley lent against a window frame and sipped his tea. “Like one would expect a prison camp to be run, probably the same way we do back home to be honest. We get up in the mornings, some groups on a rota perform maintenance and go on work parties. There’s football, gardening, some of the more worldly types teach classes and there is a chapel. We have a kitchen rota for meals and such. All in all, it’s not too bad, but it's not England.”

Brian nodded. “The Jerries seem to take good care of us.” He observed from behind his mug. “Anything dodgy happened yet?”

Berkley paused, before shaking his head. “The odd fight with a guard, the odd failed escape, typical animosities, but mostly Jerry leaves us alone and we leave them alone till we want out.”

“Is there any communication with the outside world?” Brian asked curiously, “Red Cross, or a wireless perhaps?”

Berkley shook his head sadly. “The Red Cross deliver packages via the Germans, but it's all vetted and sanitised, nothing slips by and they would never let us have a wireless.”

“Worth a thought.” Brian shrugged. “How long have you been here sir?”

Berkley sighed. “About three months I believe; Captured when my Gladiator went down in Norway during the retreat. No flack, No air support; we were so undermanned,” he sighed. “We lost so many good men. So did I…. Jerry picked me up off the side of some god-forsaken Norwegian mountain and packaged me off here with the other fliers they were collecting.”

“You’ve been a prisoner since then? Brian asked with surprise. “Why it’s mid-August now sir. And you have no news? Sir, Italy joined the war alongside Germany and France fell.”

Visibly paling, Berkeley sat in silence for a moment. “Bloody hell.” He whispered to himself. “Not a good show… Tell me.” He almost pleaded, the middle-aged man showing true signs of age in his weariness. “How are we doing back home?”

Brian raised his palms. “It’s hard to tell, sir. The Germans bomb us daily, our airfields, now our cities, we’ve bombed them back and we’re struggling in the air. There’s word Hitler might try to invade England soon sir.”

Berkley shook his head. “This damned bloody war.”

“I know sir,” Brian added after a moment’s awkward silence.

Wing Commander Berkley shook himself and stood. “Never mind eh?” He said with false optimism. “Not much we can do about it from in here…”

Berkeley placed his mug down on the desk and moved around towards the door. As he placed his hand on the handle he turned and regarded Brian again, his body language suddenly seeming slightly tense.

“Say, now, I’m not accusing you of anything here, but rather I suppose I… tell most of the chaps this when they get here.”

Brian furrowed his brow at the Wing Commander’s stumbling. “Sir?”

Berkeley shuffled awkwardly. “Look, It’s a prison, see? And It’s all chaps, tensions run high and frustrations of a sort… There are certain types that one might avoid in polite society that end up being a little more open about their lifestyles and perversions.”

Brian suddenly realised what Berkeley was getting on about. “I’m not queer sir, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“No, no, gosh no.” The man spluttered, waving his hands. “No, rather just, you’re a smaller chap, some of them might show an interest, just a warning perhaps. Look, forget I said anything; let's get you billeted and we can begin to fight Jerry again tomorrow.”

Wing Commander Berkley grinned sheepishly and held the door open before guiding Brian back out into the afternoon sunshine.

As Berkeley escorted him to his new home, Brian wondered just what the man had meant by his warning. He wasn’t a homosexual nor had he ever really had any issue with them. The man seemed to suggest that Brian was the sort they might show interest in; what he meant by that was hard to wrap his head around.

As Berkeley escorted him through the camp, Brian was overawed by the variety of uniforms he saw before him; English, Polish, Dutch, Norwegian, and other nations aviators were represented amongst the camp’s population. He saw members of his own branch as well as aviators from both the Army and Royal Navy. While they appeared in relatively good health, their uniforms looked tired and dusty.

As they navigated the camp, the Wing Commander gave Brian a brief overview of its facilities and important locations. The place appeared more like a small town than a prison once he was within its walls. The Germans, it seemed, gave them a lot of latitude as long as they behaved themselves. Before long, Berkeley was stopped by a group of prisoners with a grievance to air, and as such, the Senior Officer sent Brian on his way with directions to his new abode.

After several wrong turns, Brian checked the number on the hut in front of him. Hut Twelve; this would be his home for the foreseeable future. Whether he liked it or not, he was going to have to get on with its occupants and fit in to an entirely new society.

Knocking, Brian pushed the door open and stepped inside the long wooden structure. The interior was dark in comparison to the bright summer sunshine, but as his eyes adjusted to the gloom he began to pick out the differences with the Wing Commander’s own. Rather than an office area, it was lined with rows of bunk beds, a small table and wood burning stove. Slowly walking further into the room, he took time to look to see which bunks appeared to be already occupied. From the state of them, the room seemed at least half occupied with four of the ten bunks appearing to have owners at present.

Finding an unoccupied bunk, Brian eased himself down onto the thin mattress and sat staring off into the distance. While he could hear the world outside the hut as the camp went about it’s daily business, it was mercifully quiet in comparison to his life for the past few weeks. Had it really been this long since he had truly been alone?

With a sigh, he swung his legs up onto the bunk. He laid back and stared up at the slats of the bunk above him. Squeezing his eyes shut, he wept silently, his body finally releasing the stress and tension of the ordeal he had experienced. Since his capture he had struggled to find time to process what had occurred since that fateful day; his crash, his injuries and the experiences of combat rushed through his mind in the silence of the hut. It was impossible for a human being to go through what he had and just shrug it off. The pain, the fear, the recovery and now his incarceration in a foreign land. A foreign land that under normal circumstances wanted him dead. He had no idea what the future held for him, but he felt powerless to effect it.

The physical pain he felt was healing, and he knew in time it would pass. His future was a significant question mark in his mind; the German Doctor had been kind to him, but even his answer had been evasive. The man simply didn’t know what would happen to him; for all Brian knew, it might kill him. It was with this knowledge that Brian drifted off into a fitful sleep.

* * *

The thump of the hut door and the footfall of heavy boots roused Brian from his fitful sleep. He wasn’t sure how long he had been asleep, but it hadn’t felt like anywhere near enough. Raising himself up on his elbows he forced his exhausted eyes to focus on the sound that had awoken him. Three men had entered the hut and were stood by the door on the far side of the room, apparently as surprised by the new arrival as he was by them.

Sitting up, he quickly, he hauled himself painfully up from the bunk. “Ah, Hello,” He went to offer the men a handshake but changed his mind and turned it into an anaemic wave instead. “I’m Pilot Officer Campbell, ah, Brian; I was sent here by Wing Commander Berkeley. I mean, I just got here today, he told me I’m bunking here, if that’s ok?”

The men seemed to relax at the explanation and began to move about the room as they had originally intended. “Warrant Officer Second Class Arthur Hamley,” offered a wide-set Irishman thrusting a spade-sized hand at Brian, “And these chaps are Lieutenant Daniel Maddox, and Michael Down.”

“Hey there partner,” Down drawled in an exotic American accent as he tossed Brian a casual salute. “Sorry buddy, we just got off work detail; we’re a bit spicy,” he grinned, running his hand through his damp hair.”

“Oh that’s not a problem. I just took one of these empty bunks; that’s alright isn’t it?” he asked cautiously, feeling like a new boy at school. “Nobody was around and I sorely needed some shut-eye,” he shrugged apologetically.

“Aye, it’s no problem,” Hamley replied, stripping out of his work shirt. “Those empty ones are all free till we get more people in, so it’s all grand.”

“So what outfit are you with?” Maddox asked, turning to join the conversation. “I’m a Navy chap myself.”

“Forty-Three Squadron, Royal Air Force, in Hurricanes,” Brian offered. “Came down over France a few weeks ago.”

“Ah a fighter ace, guys,” chuckled the American. “Watch your women and your whiskey.”

Blushing at the comment, Brian didn’t reply immediately. “So I take it none of you are fighter pilots?” he asked, changing the subject.

Maddox shook his head, “Hamley over there was a Wellington Bomb Aimerand I flew Walrus reconnaissance planes. Our Yankie friend here is a civilian. Actually Mike, Why don’t you explain your cock and bull story yourself?” he added grinning.

Mike Down slumped down on the edge of his bunk and rubbed his hair a second time. “Well I’m not one to boast, but it was a pretty hairy one.”

“Aye we know you are but tell the story so,” laughed Hamley.

Throwing his shirt at the Irishman, the American made a rude gesture before continuing his tale. “It’s like this, right? I was a commercial pilot before the war and flew clippers for Pan American. When the war started, we started working with the government to fly over time-sensitive cargoes that convoys couldn’t handle.”

“Get to the point Down,” Maddox replied drearily, stripping down to his shorts and picking up a towel. “I want a shower before those cads in thirty-two use up all the water again.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Down waved dismissively. “So anyway I get knocked a little off course right? This burns up a lot of Juice and my bird is running pretty low with a full belly… I want to have water under my hull pretty soon. So I get myself back on track, and I head for the shore, I spot this port and it’s got a seaplane terminal…I think what the heck,” he shrugged. “So down I go… Turns out, I overshot a little bit.” He grinned sheepishly. “It was Norway, and a German Naval base that I landed in! Brash as you like I get out of my cockpit and light up on the jetty. Only to get planted face down and have guns pointed at me before I realise my mistake.” The man smiled ruefully, holding his hands up. “Not sure who was more surprised to see who.”

Brian laughed warmly. “I ended up getting lost over France so don’t feel so down about it.”

“Ah see?” Mike grinned looking at the other men. “I’m not the only one that can’t read a map.”

The three men finished stripping out of their outer clothing and made their way down a corridor to what Brian presumed to be the ablutions block of the huts. From what he had seen so far, he could have been billeted with far worse men. They seemed friendly enough and at least none of them were Army.

Ten minutes later, the men returned from their ablutions, chatting happily amongst themselves. Brian remained in his bunk while the men moved about the room dressing and conversing amongst themselves. He didn’t feel comfortable involving himself in what appeared to be a well-established friendship.

Daniel Maddox was a tall, athletic man with floppy dark hair that seemed to fly off at angles of its own choosing. He had a kind face with dark and considerate eyes. The American Down was almost his exact opposite; shorter and blonde, he had a scrappy build that made him look like a lightweight boxer. Unlike the other two, Arthur Hamley the Irish Warrant Officer was a bear of a man; at over six foot four, he was by far the largest of the group. The man was older, in his late forties by Brian’s estimation; his face was lined but showed a fatherly kindness.

“You going to come with us for chow?” Down called to Brian as he dressed, snapping Brian from his thoughts.

“I don’t even know how meals work here,” Brian admitted. “Wing Berkley was more focused on his escape plans than anything that useful.”

Daniel Maddox rolled his eyes. “Sounds like Bloody Berkeley alright. That one’s got a bloody head full of plans and no idea how to tie his shoelaces. You’re better off ignoring the old fart and keeping your head down Campbell, he means well but he’s a bit single-minded.”

“Aye,” Hamley added. “It’s real simple, we eat at seven, one and six each day. Food isn’t fantastic but it’s better than slop. Don’t go expecting any wine or cigars but it will fill a hole sure it will.”

“I’m not that kind of officer,” Brian admitted with a sly smile. “I’ll eat anything as long as it’s hot.”

“Hot you will get,” Maddox chuckled, “Anything else is a toss-up I’m afraid.”

Once dressed, the men made their way out of the hut and followed the stream of prisoners toward the mess hall. The hall itself was a longer and wider version of their own accommodation, a single story wooden building raised up a foot off the ground with a low angled roof. Inside, it seated the camp population at long wooden benches.

The camp, Brian was beginning to realise, was like starting at school all over again: He was with a new group of people learning a new set of rules all wrapped up within an entirely new social network. He would have to learn fast or sink back into isolation once more. The very fact that like school, it was an all-male environment felt awkwardly familiar to Brian. School for him had been a torturous and lonely experience at best. In part, it was the pressure of living up to his father’s expectations and the culture of the English public school system. Expectations forged unchecked in an environment of raw testosterone that seemed to define what made an Englishman.

Brian had been bright enough when it came to his school work but had struggled to find the same competitive drive when it came to the more athletic aspects of his education. He hadn’t disliked it, but hadn’t particularly been successful in the same way his larger peers had been. Boarding school had been the only world he had known for many years and it had often been uncomfortable and unpleasant for him. He had always assumed that it was the nature of the beast for all students; an exercise in character building. He had however, never entirely worked out what that character was meant to be. Between the public school system and the RAF’s officer training he’d just gotten along with things; as far as he knew, that was simply how life was.

The group made their way into the mess hall and joined the queue of men who passed in front of the kitchen hatch at the far end of the building. The air inside was humid and close and was filled with the sounds and smells of food. Brian felt his stomach growl; it had been most of the day since he had eaten anything at all. As the group wound its way towards the front, Brian watched the room. It certainly looked like school all over again; men divided themselves into cliques and groups as a defense mechanism against the system. The only difference was that here, rather than teachers, they had guards. In the end, the result was the same; overgrown schoolboys returning to what they knew best.

Brian’s thoughts were interrupted when a tall, well built man in a Navy pilot’s uniform slipped into the queue alongside them, much to the consternation of a few of the men behind them. The man was around Maddox’s height, but unlike the other aviator’s more foppish looks, Matheson’s dark hair was shorter and swept back from a strong square face. He wore a solid mustache on his upper lip and his cheeks were dusted with light stubble.

“Evening chaps, everything peachy?”

“Grand, Andrew,” Hamley replied, turning to the newcomer. “Jerry does like to keep us occupied.”

Hamley turned to Brian, placing a hand on his shoulder he nodded his head towards the grinning newcomer. “This lad is Andrew Matheson, one of our hut; he’s Navy like Maddox.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Matheson grinned, extending a hand as he regarded Brian’s uniform. “RAF eh?”

“That would be me,” admitted Brian sheepishly, shaking the man’s offered hand. “Brian Campbell.”

“Joined our motley bunch of sods here then eh?” the man smiled. I’m sure you’ll settle in fine. Not that we hope to hang around too long of course,” he grinned. “So Campbell is it? How are you settling in? Just get here today, yes?”

“Still pretty green,” he admitted. “It feels like I'm back in the seventh form again. I guess it's still hitting me; where exactly I am now.” Brian replied softly, unable to properly meet the eyes of the other man.

Matheson rubbed his mustache thoughtfully and nodded. “Well I guess it’s our lot for now,” he admitted. “We do what we can, because we must, I suppose.”

The line finally ended and the group received a bowl of simple stew and a hunk of bread from the kitchen before retreating to one of the unoccupied wooden benches. Brian sat in silence, slowly eating his stew as the others talked and laughed around him. In a sea of people, he still managed to feel quite alone. It wasn’t that he was new; he understood that and knew it would change with time. It was more that he knew that no matter how welcome he was made to feel by the group, that he would never really be one of them. Since his accident, he knew that the separation he had felt from his peers was a gulf that would only widen. At one time, he had hoped that with time, he would eventually look and feel like he belonged amongst them. Now, his future was as uncertain as his place within it.

“You’re the first new face in here since Norway you know,” Matheson offered, pointing his spoon at Brian. “I think the Jerries are up to something you know.”

Brian paused, his own spoon halfway to his mouth. “What do you mean?” he asked, knitting his brow.

“Well, surely there have been more airmen down since Operation Domino and such,” Andrew posited aloud. “Mike here was the last to join us and he arrived shortly after the British evacuated. What you told Old Berkley has gone around the camp like wildfire. We’ve had nobody new since then and it seems a little strange, considering there’s still plenty of space. Why you? Why now?” He pushed, looking at Brian with a confused expression.

“I can’t answer that,” Brian admitted with a shrug. “We lose a lot of boys, perhaps other camps were full?”

“No,” Matheson shook his head. “Jerry’s up to something,” he muttered impaling a lump of potato in his bowl. “Almost as if they are keeping news out of camps by separating airmen from different campaigns. It would make sense, It’s what I’d do, but that doesn’t explain you, does it?”

“I don’t know what to say,” Brian admitted, feeling the weight of every eye at the table. “I don’t know why they sent me here,” Brian muttered sheepishly.

* * *

The next few days were a blur to Brian. As the first fresh face to arrive in months, he became an instant celebrity in the camp. The men came to him for news of loved ones and friends or, to simply hear about the war in general. It seemed everyone wanted to know something about the world outside. He was just disappointed that he couldn’t answer them all very well.

Camp life was difficult to adjust to after the freedom of the outside world before his captivity. True to the Komandant’s word, the guards were fair but strict and did not outwardly mistreat them. Brian was careful to walk the line between remaining on their good side and to do his duty to his comrades. Although he had begun to feel more comfortable with the men that he shared his billet with, he wasn’t sure they qualified as friends yet by any stretch.

He still felt pain from his injuries. The others in the hut had certainly seen his stiff movement and discomfort but didn’t outwardly ask him about it. He was grateful for their tact in that matter. He knew it wasn’t uncommon for men to arrive wounded and it seemed, at least, as though they didn’t want to make a big deal of it. While still humiliating, it was a great deal easier for Brian to adapt to his new environment without undue attention.

For his entire adolescence, Brian had been guided towards a hypothetical ideal of manhood. The person he should be according to society was quite simple; big, strong and hairy; exactly what his two brothers embodied. He had never quite developed the same way and it had never particularly bothered him besides a sense of guilt at his deficiencies. He had always been told that he was a late bloomer; that one day, his time would come and he would be just like his big brothers. The reality now with his wounds was that it was no longer a matter of when, but a matter of never.

When he looked past the embarrassment, the truth of the matter was that this new state of affairs seemed to calm him more than it upset him. He was at a loss to explain why. It was a feeling he attributed to a change in expectations; he was no longer waiting for puberty to catch up with him and make him like his brothers. He felt relief that regardless of the outcome, the wait was over.

The world here in the camp however, was not a place to be weak. Weakness was exactly what this now made him and he had to remain vigilant of that fact. For someone who had never particularly fitted the masculine archetype, this wasn’t an ideal situation. He would work hard to be one of the boys of hut twelve and ingratiate himself with the men. His hope was that with time, he would be as invisible as he had been in school.

* * *

The days began to turn into weeks at Stalag Luft IX as the last vestiges of summer gave way to the autumnal grasp of October. A strange normality began to settle into camp life for Brian as he became more accustomed to life as a prisoner of war. Life in the hut with the others was a great deal more like school than he could have imagined, although with far fewer of the bad parts. Unlike his classmates, the men of hut twelve treated him fairly and with respect.

The conditions were hard on the men and food was monotonous when it was not scarce. What little they were given was supplemented by a vegetable garden that the Germans allowed them to tend within the camp grounds. Regularly groups would leave the camp under escort on various work details. The Geneva Conventions might have required enlisted prisoners to complete work duties, but officers however were not required to. While these work details were technically entirely voluntary, they rewarded the men with additional rations and comforts; things the men could scarcely live without.

Prisoners within the camp settled into various groups based on their talents and personal interests. Sports like football and rugby were played on an open pitch area and there were a number of clubs and hobby activities that were permitted by the guards. Admittedly, none of these involved anything sharp, but it certainly kept the prisoners occupied. Even classes were held in the mess hall by academically inclined prisoners who passed on their knowledge of language, literature and sciences to the others.

As his physical pain subsided, Brian began working regularly in the camp vegetable garden. Whatever fresh fruit and vegetables they were able to produce went to supplement the prisoner’s meagre diets. It was rewarding work for him that helped to take his mind off his body and his troubles. At Matheson’s suggestion, he had taken to attending a German class that was taught by an older Dutch Captain in the mess. The chap had been a professor before the war and took great pleasure in returning to the classroom. The Camp guards actually encouraged this endeavour and would sometimes help the Captain with his lessons. In their mind, it made their jobs handling the prisoners far easier.

Just like his time in school, Brian found that the Guards ruled their lives through routine. In the morning, they would parade for the Camp Kommandant before getting breakfast and going about their day’s labour. They would parade again after dinner and have a few hours to themselves before lights out. Unlike school, the Germans didn’t care if they were awake past lights out, just that they were tucked up in their huts. It was these times, often by candlelight that Brian truly grew to know the men he shared hut twelve with.

“You know, when I get home I’m going to eat and drink myself into a damn coma,” Hamley mused aloud in the dimly lit interior of hut twelve. “I’ll travel the whole way from Dublin to Cork visiting every pub along the way.”

Maddox leant up on his elbow and regarded the Irishman in the dim light of the wood stove in the centre of the hut. “I don’t think the Irish economy will survive that big man.”

Hamley chuckled in the darkness and his bunk creaked as he stretched out, “that’s fine by me.”

“Some of the Dutch guys in fourteen have set themselves up some kinda makeshift still,” Down offered. Ain’t no Kentucky Bourbon but it’s something for sure. darn thing is some backwoods Appalachian engineering.”

Brian twisted around in his bunk and looked over at the American. “Tell me about America Mike, What it’s really like; Is it like the pictures?”

“What, like cowboys and Indians?” Down chuckled from his bunk. “No not at all. I mean where I’m from in Texas there’s plenty of cowboys but that’s just a way of life; ranching. Honestly it's like a world of its own. We have mountains and deserts, forests and cities so big you’d think they covered the world.”

“I’d love to visit one day,” Brian mused. “I always wanted to see California and the Rocky Mountains.”

“It’s truly beautiful,” Mike agreed. “I used to fly out of San Francisco before the war, that’s in California north of Los Angeles. Lord it was stunning to fly over the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset out into the wide open Pacific Ocean.”

“Sounds like a glamorous life; flying passenger airplanes all around the world.”

Down laughed. “Sure we get to visit some great places, but man, ain’t nothing glamorous up front in the cockpit. That is hours upon hours of flying and maintenance on the aircraft because half the time we don’t have a maintenance base to use. It’s loud, bumpy and cramped and physically demanding. Though you do end up with arms like these.” He grinned flexing his sizable biceps.

Brian’s smile faded, “perhaps I’ll stick to my Hurricane.”

“What about you Brian? What was life before all this?” Matheson asked from the shadows across the hut.

“My life was awfully dull I’m afraid; boarding school, university then the war. I’m the middle child of four, two older brothers, one younger sister and not a great deal to tell.” Brian admitted to the bunk above him.

“No sweetheart? Girlfriend?”

Brian hesitated. A lump caught in his throat at the thought that he would never actually get to experience that now. “No.”

Matheson seemed to sense the reluctance and backed off. “I have a sister myself, She’s Signals with the Wrens.”

“Your sister is a right cookie.” Maddox leered in the darkness. Brian chuckled in the darkness as he heard something metallic clang followed by a yelp.

The evenings in the hut were one of the few times Brian felt truly comfortable with his situation. The others there didn’t judge him for his smaller size or his appearance; they treated him like a comrade and a friend.

It was far more than he could say for the rest of the camp, however. Outside of his immediate group, the glamour of the new arrival had swiftly worn off. Once they had gotten what news they could from him he was only the sum of himself. To them, he was just a scrawny fine-featured lad who would never amount to much. He had seen some of the looks he had received from others, they made comments and jokes behind his back and some of them looked at him in other ways; ways he didn’t like at all. It concerned him that perhaps Berkeley had been onto something.

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Comments

Where's Steve McQueen?

joannebarbarella's picture

Oh! That's right, he's in solitary bouncing his ball against the wall.

The sense of isolation and the humdrum of camp life nicely conveyed here.

I imagine the real action starts soon. Please continue.

Thank you!

Kit's picture

There's certain establishing that needs to happen for this story... After that it's kinda hard to slow down! Trust me, it's all downhill from Chapter 4

I like Turtles.

It seems...

Accel World 1.png

Brian's future survival in the pow camp is at stake. I haven't seen any hints at a possible breakout, will they even try? Brian is in extreme danger because of his medical situation and I hope we will see some evidence pointing towards something soon!

Worried.

Sephrena

Worried

And rightly so.

My very second hand understanding is that small guys like him likely need some kind of protector in such prison situations.

Ugh,