IT WAS INEVITABLE
"HERE THEY COME!" Shouted one of the watchers on the 918th Control Tower, and every pair of binoculars that had been searching the sky for the returning bombers turned to look in the direction he was pointing.
One of those searchers was Major General Wiley Crowe, a tall, distinguished looking senior officer in his mid-fifties, with steel-gray hair, deep-set brown eyes, and a distinctively square jaw. Crowe was Commander of the 1st Bombardment Wing, VIII Bomber Command, 8th Air Force, and the 918th was one of the Groups in his Wing.
Crowe had come up from his headquarters at Wycombe Abbey (code name 'Pinetree'), a former exclusive girls' school about forty miles southwest of the Base, to await news of the day's mission: the destruction of one of Germany's secret flying bomb test sites in Northern France.
For months, reports had been coming out of Germany about a new Nazi secret weapon: a pilotless flying bomb with a one-ton warhead, capable of reaching London, and designed to indiscriminately fall from the sky causing untold destruction wherever it hit. The Germans were calling it the 'V-1', or 'Vergeltung' (Retribution) Bomb, as it was being built in response to the Allied bombing of Germany.
The Allies had queried all their Intelligence sources and sent agents to search for more information about this new secret weapon, but had come up with very little. However their research scientists, or 'boffins' as they were called, put their heads together and developed their 'best guess' on what the design of the engine and guidance system for such a weapon would look like. They finally caught a break when a report came in about a machine parts factory near Laon, France, that had recently begun machining precision parts for a new secret gyro steering system.
Such a steering system had been a key element of the 'boffins' theoretical design, so earlier in the year, the 918th had been sent to destroy the factory. They had succeeded, setting the Germans' program back, they were told, by four to six months. But it had been a very costly success for the 918th Bomb Group's commander, Brigadier General Frank Savage; on that mission, he had lost five B-17s and their crews ... and Major Jack Temple, a classmate of his from 'The Point' and a good friend for over fifteen years.
But, in hindsight, it seemed Intelligence had been a little optimistic in their damage estimate, because now, barely three months later, new reports had come in that the Germans had only been delayed by only a few weeks and were now test firing these flying bombs. Allied agents were sent to investigate, and had discovered what appeared to be one of these rumored test sites near Lübeck, Germany. Some viewed the site as a probably decoy, to divert Allied bombers from the real targets, but the site appeared genuine, and an agent had given his life to locate it, so it had been decided to take the chance that it was the real thing. Today the 918th had been sent to destroy it.
In the distance the watchers could just make out a cluster of tiny black specks, flying low and all strung out. Then suddenly, the Control Tower radio came alive, "Tightrope Leader to Archbury Tower. Tightrope Leader to Archbury Tower. How do you read? Over."
"Tightrope Leader. This is Archbury Tower. I read you five-by-five. Over."
"Archbury. We are northeast of the field and five minutes out. Request landing instructions. Over"
"Tightrope Leader. You are cleared to land on runway zero-nine-zero. I say again, runway zero-niner-zero. Visibility is clear and unlimited. Wind is from the south at 2 miles per hour. Over."
"Roger, Tower. Runway zero-niner-zero. Visibility unlimited and wind is from the south. Leader out."
The tower operator went outside to the railing and called down to those waiting below, "They're coming in."
Immediately dozens of support and emergency vehicles started their engines and sped toward the runway and parking areas so as to be waiting as the planes landed - fire trucks, just in case; trucks to take the tired crews to interrogation and mission debriefing; crew chiefs and maintainers, to recover 'their' airplanes from crews who keep bringing them back all shot up, if they brought them back at all; and ambulances and medical corpsmen to start treatment on the wounded and take away the dead.
At the head of the straggling formation was General Savage, 'Tightrope Leader'. As they neared the field, one-by-one, they peeled off for their approach, many - including the 'Piccadilly Lily', Savage's plane - firing a red flare into the air as they landed, indicating they had wounded on board.
The Piccadilly Lily, flying on three engines and her fuselage riddle with flak and bullet holes, touched down first and taxied toward the parking area. As Savage reached his hardstand, swung his tail around, and shut down his engines, General Crowe's staff car drove up and stopped at the edge of the parking apron. A minute or two later, the Lily's nose hatch opened, and General Savage swung down. He stood there for a moment, stretching to ease the tight muscles in his back and shoulders, then walked back to the rear of the plane to watch as corpsmen placed Jack Ballard, a wounded gunner, on a stretcher and loaded him into the ambulance that would take him to the hospital.
The rest of the crew had also deplaned and watched as one of their own was driven away, then they climbed into the waiting crew truck and drove off. Alone now, Savage looked down the line of hardstands to watch the last plane in his Group taxi in and shut down his engines. All down, he thought, at least all those who made it. Savage removed his hat and ran his fingers vigorously through his hair. Then he put his hat back on, squared it, and walked over to the waiting Crowe.
Savage was six foot tall and well built with broad shoulders and narrow hips. He was a handsome man with light brown hair and piercing blue eyes, and at thirty-seven, young for a General Officer. He was also one of the most experienced Group Commanders in VIII Bomber Command. When he had taken command of the 918th, it had not had a good reputation and been considered a 'hard luck' outfit; now it was one of the best Groups in 8th Air Force ... and because it WAS one of the best, Savage often caught the worst missions, as he had today.
Crowe returned his salute, and asked, "How'd it go, Frank?"
"We were suckered, Wiley!" he replied, the stress of the mission clearly visible in the lines written on his face. He was tired and bristling with anger.
"It WAS a decoy. ... The Metz factory all over again, except this time it didn't take three missions to figure it out. We saw launch ramps, a control bunker and a fortified hangar, just like in the reconnaissance photos, but it was all just wood and plaster ... It was a setup. They were waiting for us, Wiley."
"What do you mean 'waiting for you'?"
"Well, maybe not us specifically. But they must have purposely leaked that location, then waited for whoever took the bait. The site was ringed with heavy anti-aircraft emplacements, the flak so dense you could almost walk on it; and the fighters came up in force all the way in and out. If we hadn't had those extended-range P-47s for escort, I don't know if any of us would have made it back. As it is, we were shot to pieces. I must have lost at least a third of my Group ... and for what!?"
"I'm sorry, Frank." Crowe replied. "It was the best information we had. It was a risk, we knew that. But if there had been any chance, even the remotest possibility, that the information was correct, and we could cripple or significantly delay this flying bomb program, we had to take it ... no matter the cost."
"That's what they said the last time," Savage replied bitterly. "when Jack Temple, and a lot of other good men, died taking out that gyroscope factory, but here we are again."
At that moment, a jeep drove up and Major Harvey Stovall, Savage's Adjutant and right hand man, got out. Stovall, forty-nine, glasses and balding, was old for a major. He was a re-tread from the First War who had kept his Reserve commission, and when the US had entered the war, he'd been recalled. He had left a successful law practice to take on the most important 'client' he'd ever had: the 918th Bomb Group.
"Welcome back, General."
"Thank you, Major. What was the count?"
"I counted thirteen, sir. But Air Sea Rescue just notified us they picked up Captain Simon and his crew after they ditched in the Channel, and two of the stragglers, Canon and McGuiness, landed at RAF Colburn, just west of Margate."
"Sixteen crews back out of twenty-one, Wiley!" Savage said, his voice raised. "Fifty men gone and six badly needed B-17s. This is the second time I've wasted good men and planes with nothing to show for it." Shaking his head, he said vehemently. "There won't be a third."
Crowe said nothing, but turning to Stovall, asked calmly, "Major, would you see if you can get me a copy of the strike photos?"
"Of course, sir." Stovall knew he was being 'sent out of the room', so to speak, so the two generals could speak their minds without an audience.
As soon as Stovall had left, Crowe turned back to Savage.
"I can count, General. Those were MY men, and MY planes, too. Must I remind you, AGAIN," Crow said irritably. "that we are in a war where, at the moment, we are the underdogs, and sacrifices sometimes have to be made."
Savage was a long-time friend, and almost like a younger brother to Crowe, but, friend or not, he was dangerously close to insubordination.
"I'm sorry, sir... " Savage said apologetically. Then taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, "I'm not angry at you, Wiley. I know we had to go for it, but it just doesn't seem like we're getting anywhere."
"OK, OK... Look, Frank, there's some things I'd like to discuss with you. Why don't you come down to London tonight and have dinner with me at my hotel? Then we can talk."
"I'd like to, Wiley, but I don't have the time..."
"Make the time, General. ... Do I have to 'order' you to have dinner with me, Frank?
"No, of course not."
"Good. I'm at the Grammacy Hotel, near Hyde Park, suite 36. Say, about eight o'clock?"
"All right, Wiley. Eight o'clock."
Savage watched Crowe drove off, then turned back to his plane to see Master Sergeant Nero, his line chief, on a maintenance stand with his head buried in the Lily's left outboard engine.
"How's she look, Nero?"
Nero came down off the stand, wiping his greasy hands on a dirty rag, and saluted. "No good, General. She's blown. If I had another engine, I'd replace it, but ..."
"OK. Don't worry about the Lily. Concentrate on the ones you CAN repair first."
"Yes, sir." Nero said, continuing to wipe his hands. "I don't know what shape the rest are in yet, General. My boys are checking 'em out now. I'll get you a status report later today."
"OK. I have to go down to London this evening, so if I'm not in my office, leave it with Major Cobb." (Major Joe Cobb was Savage's 'Air Exec", Deputy Commander for Air Operations)
Just as Savage was about to flag down a passing truck for a lift back to his office, Major Stovall returned in his jeep.
"Strike photos aren't back yet, General."
"That's alright, Major. General Crowe didn't really want them. I'm sure you recognized the reason for his request. I'm having dinner with him tonight at his hotel in London. I'll clear the air with him then. It's at eight, so have Ross check out a car."
Climbing into Stovall's jeep, "Take me to the hospital, will you, Harvey. I need to find out what the 'butcher's bill' is for today."
When they entered the hospital, it was chaos; gurneys were backed up in the halls and out into the receiving area. Doctors and nurses were performing triage on the wounded where they were, determining the order and priority of treatment.
"Come to see your handiwork, General?" said an angry voice behind him.
Savage spun around to see Doc Kaiser, his white coat covered in blood, his face pinched in anger. He started to vent again, then suddenly stopped and rubbed a tired hand over his face.
"I'm sorry, General." he said. "I didn't mean that. It's just bad right now ... very bad."
"It's alright, Doc." Savage said, knowing just how Kaiser felt. "Forget it."
"It's going to be some time before we can bring some order to this mess, sir. I'll get you a casualty report when I can."
Kaiser had barely finished speaking when they heard an urgent call, "Doctor! Doctor! I can't stop the bleeding!" Without a word, Kaiser turned and ran toward the sound of the voice.
Savage watched for a moment, then said, "Come on, Major. We're just in the way here."
Back in the office, Savage shut his door, threw his hat on the desk, and began to remove his flight gear. When he had finished, he made an half-hearted effort to review the correspondence on his desk. Then he stood, and stared blankly out the window behind his desk. It was bad enough to take this kind of a beating on a target that had some meaning, but to lose all these men for a decoy ... He was mad as hell, and had no one he could blame but himself. He was in command.
In the outer office, Stovall knew Savage's moods, knew he was in there punishing himself, so he left him alone to let him try to make peace with himself. After a while, he knocked on the door.
"Yes. Come in, Harvey."
"It's getting late, sir. You've just enough time to clean up and change to make your dinner with General Crowe. I've sent Sergeant Ross for the car."
"OK. Thanks, Harvey.
Savage's clerk and part-time driver, Sergeant Ernie Ross, a short, stocky twenty-year-old kid from Los Angeles, dropped him off at the Grammacy Hotel a little before eight with instructions to return for Savage around eleven. Checking at the Front Desk for General Crowe in Suite 36, he was informed he wanted the third floor, and was pointed toward the elevator.
At eight sharp, Savage knocked on Crowe's door, and as he took off his trench coat, the door opened.
"Frank! Right on time. Come in. Come in." Crowe said. As Savage entered, "Can I fix you a drink? Whiskey and water, isn't it?"
Tossing his coat and hat on a chair, "Yes, Thanks."
"Look, Wiley." Savage said as Crow handed him his drink. "About this afternoon. I was out of line. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to take my frustration out on you."
"Forget it, Frank. I have. We all have bad days, and you've had more than your share lately."
"Seems like it." Savage said as he took a sip of his drink and sat down. Waiting for Crowe to fix his own drink and join him, he looked around. It was a comfortable sitting room with over-stuffed furniture, a dining area, fireplace, and French doors opening out onto, he assumed, but couldn't tell with the blackout curtains drawn, a wide balcony.
"Nice digs, Wiley." Savage said as Crowe sat down. "When did you move up to London? Bit of a drive to Pinetree, isn't it? "
"I only stay here when I have to be in London for a day or two. It's leased by Eighth Air Force, and kept for visiting VIPs. At the moment, I'm the only occupant. It's a nice change every now and then; my quarters at Pinetree are a little Spartan, as you well know."
Taking another sip of his drink, Savage asked, "What was so important you wanted to talk about that you dragged me down to London?"
Crowe hesitated a moment, judging the best way of approaching a subject he knew Savage would not like.
"Frank, do you remember why the Old Man sent you down to take over the 918th?"
The 'Old Man' was Lieutenant General Patrick Pritchard, Commander of VIII Bomber Command, 8th Air Force and headquartered at Bushy Park, London (code name 'Widewing'). He was Wiley Crowe's ... and Savage's ... boss.
"Of course. The 918th couldn't answer a Field Order, and he sent me down to fix it."
"And you did, even though it was a step back for you, a General in a Colonel's billet. You turned it around, and now it's one of the best."
"Where are you going with this, Wiley?" Savage asked guardedly.
"Frank, it's been over six months since you turned the Group around, yet you're still there. Pritchard has left you alone so far because he wants YOU to make the decision when it's time to leave. But he's getting impatient, Frank. He wants you back at Bushy Park, and he's not going to wait much longer."
"Oh, come on, Wiley..." Savage didn't want to listen to this. He got up and walked over to the fireplace and stood staring into the empty firebox where in another month or two there'd be a roaring fire.
"No, Frank. Let me finish. If you don't make the break soon, he's going to do it for you, and you may not like where he assigns you."
"Why are you bringing this up again now, Wiley?" Savage said irritably. It seemed like every few months, Wiley was pressing him to stop flying and go back to Headquarters. "What's the sudden rush?"
"Because", Crowe said, exhaling the breath he had been holding. "I've just been offered a DCAS position on Hap Arnold's staff." Four Star General Henry 'Hap' Arnold was Commanding General of all Army Air Forces. Deputy Chief of Air Staff was a 'plum' assignment that any officer would give his first born to get.
Savage was stunned; he hadn't seen that coming. He turned back away from the fireplace and just stared at Crowe. "Are you going to take it?" he asked. It was a great opportunity for Crowe, the culmination of an almost thirty year career. But it would also mean his friend would be leaving England.
"I don't know. I have some time before I have to give them an answer. I've been thinking about it."
"It's a great opportunity." Savage was conflicted. He didn't want Wiley to go, but... "It could mean another star."
"You know," Crowe smiled and, surprising even himself, said, "I'm not sure that's really that important to me anymore... "
"I don't want to leave the ETO (European Theater of Operations), be out of the 'action' and really stuck behind a desk. At least here, as Commander of a Wing, I can get out every now and then, visit the Groups, and occasionally 'sneak' a ride-along on a low-risk milk-run." (AGeneral officer at Crowe's level of command would be prohibited from going on a mission where he could be shot down and possibly captured. He knew too much. But some risked it anyway.)
"Still," Crowe went on, "it would be nice to be in on the planning end for a change, to know what's going on and why. To see the 'Big Picture'."
Savage could see that Crowe was unconsciously using him as a sounding board, bouncing the pro's and con's off him. He knew Crowe didn't want to give up his Wing, any more than he wanted to give up his Group.
"And," Crowe added brightly, "It would allow me to spend time with my daughter."
"Aren't Kathy and the kids still in Hawaii?" Savage asked surprised.
"No. Matt McConnell, my son-in-law, sent them back to the States on the first available ship after 'Pearl' was bombed. He's at sea with Halsey's Task Force; XO (Executive Officer) on a destroyer. He didn't want to leave them alone in case the Japs paid another visit. They're staying at my house in DC, in Arlington Heights near Fort Meyer."
Crowe seemed lost in thought for a moment, not saying anything, so Savage broke the silence, "Nice house as I remember."
"Yes." Crowe said softly, almost to himself. "Martha and I were very happy there." He smiled remembering for a moment, then more somber, continued. "Kathy and I haven't been very close since her mother died, Frank. She's never come right out and said anything, but I think she blames me for not being there when Martha passed."
Now it was Crowe who stared into the empty fireplace. "I've never seen my grandchildren, you know that? They were both born in Hawaii; they'd be about five and six, now. ... I'd like to do some 'fence-mending' with her, Frank, and get to know the kids."
Changing the subject, Savage asked, "Who would take over the Wing?"
Crowe straightened. "Haven't you figured that out yet?" he said turning to face Savage. "That's why we're having this discussion, Frank. I want you to take it. I know Pritchard would go for it, and you'd get your second star."
Savage delayed a minute before he spoke. "I appreciate the offer, Wiley; I do. But I'm happy where I am. There's still a lot to be done."
"You've been very lucky, Frank. But it can't last. You've come back bloody three times since you've been down there, and twice you very nearly didn't come back at all. After the Hamburg mission, and you almost died, Doc Kaiser said you had 'more lives than a cat', but he also warned that you're getting older, your reflexes aren't as quick, and you don't heal as fast. It was his opinion that you should stop flying altogether, but he wouldn't go so far as to ground you."
"Well, that was nice of him." Savage said sarcastically.
"Yes! It was! You should listen to him. You keep flying, and one of these missions you WON'T come back... and you just might take nine other men with you. Do you ever think of that?"
"Of course, I do. Every time I go up." Savage said heatedly. Then taking a deep breath and calming down, he said, "Look, I know what you're saying, Wiley. But the time isn't right. The Group isn't ready yet."
"The time will never be right for you, Frank. They'll always be some reason why the time isn't right."
"I know you don't like to hear it, but you're NOT expendable. It's the sorry truth, but right now, pilots and crews are expendable; good leaders are not. We NEED good leaders, Frank!"
"In my opinion, General Crowe, the 918th STILL needs a good leader, and from what you just said, it has one ... and I can't lead from behind a desk." Savage said stubbornly. He was getting tired of having to defend himself.
"Yes it does, but any competent 'bird colonel' with a little command experience and some common sense can lead this Group now. YOU did that. But if you keeping going the way you are, sooner or later, you're going to end up in a Luft Stalag somewhere ... or dead, and then you won't be of any use to anyone, least of all yourself.
IT WAS INEVITABLE, Frank. From the day you took command, you had to know that at some point you'd have to move on, and hand the 918th over to another Commander. Don't you think it would be better to leave on your own terms?"
Savage said nothing. He just stood there swirling the dregs in his glass, wishing Crowe would leave it alone. He didn't want to deal with this now.
Crowe saw that Savage was no longer listening, so he said, "OK, Frank. I've said my piece. But just think about it, will you? That's all I'm asking. It won't affect my decision one way or the other, but think about what's really best for you ... and the 918th."
Savage knew that his friend was right, and merely voicing what deep inside he knew himself, but just couldn't bring himself to accept ... at least not yet.
The tension in the room was almost palpable. "OK, Wiley." Savage said, trying to lighten the mood. "It's been a long day, and I'm starving, so if it'll get me to that dinner you promised any sooner, I'll think about it."
"I mean it, Wiley." Savage said more serious. "Really. I'll give it some thought."
"That's all I'm asking."
Checking his watch, Crowe said, "It's only eight-thirty, and our reservation is for nine. But I think we can get a table. It's usually pretty slow this early; the English are late eaters ... Just let me get my coat.
As they exited the elevator, Savage noticed a senior RAF officer standing in the center of the lobby, and on his arm was the most stunning woman Savage had ever seen. He couldn't take his eyes off her. She was dressed conservatively, but fashionably, in a very becoming navy-blue two-piece, knee-length suit with a cream blouse ... neither of which did anything to conceal her shapely figure and long graceful legs.
She was about his age, he thought, maybe a little younger, probably mid-thirties; and tall, only a little shorter than himself. Her hair was a lustrous wavy auburn, worn down and loose, framing a flawlessly beautiful face. She wore very little makeup. She didn't need it; her complexion was perfect.
But it was her lively green eyes that seemed to sparkle with laughter and her smile that caught and held his attention.
Crowe followed his gaze and said, "That's Air Vice Marshal Sir Phillip Markham, my liaison with RAF Bomber Command.
"Who's the girl?" Savage asked.
"I don't know." Crowe replied, noting that Savage continued to stare. "Let's find out?"
Before Savage could object, Crowe walked over to the couple with Savage trailing behind.
"Phillip." Crowe began. "Nice to see you. Are you staying at the Grammacy, too?"
"Good heavens, Wiley Crowe... Yes, I maintain a suite here for when I'm in London."
The Air Vice Marshal - the equivalent of an American two-star Major General - was a distinguished looking officer of average height and build, piercing blue eyes, a ruddy complexion, and white hair with a neatly trimmed British brush mustache. On his well-tailored uniform, Savage noted several rows of very respectable medal ribbons. One campaign ribbon that caught his eye was the Star Campaign Medal ribbon with the gold-colored 'Battle of Britain' Rosette, a medal just recently created and awarded to participants of the famous air battle. Surely, he hadn't flown in the Battle of Britain, he thought. Granted the man appeared very fit, but he had to be sixty if he was a day.
Savage's inspection of the Air Marshal was interrupted as he heard Crowe say, "I'd like you to meet one of my Group Commanders ... General Frank Savage. It was his Group, the 918th, that led the Hannover raid a few weeks ago."
"Yes, of course. General Savage. Very pleased to meet you." Sir Phillip said offering his hand. "Good show, that! Read your report; couldn't put it down. Well done, sir. Very well done!"
Shaking his hand, Savage replied politely, "Thank you, sir. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Sir Phillip, please." Then turning to the girl Savage couldn't take his eyes from, "Let me introduce my beautiful companion... Gentlemen, this is my daughter-in-law, Anne Markham, widow of my late son, Robert. He was killed at Dunkirk."
"My dear, this is Major General Wiley Crowe, Commander of VIII Bomber Command's First Bombardment Wing..."
"Very pleased to meet you, General." she said offering her hand.
Briefly taking her hand, Crowe replied smiling, "I assure you, the pleasure is mine."
"And Brigadier General Frank Savage." Sir Phillip continued.
Anne again offered her hand, "Pleased to meet you as well, General Savage."
Savage took her hand, and holding it a little longer than was customary, said "Please accept my condolences on your loss, Mrs. Markham ... and please, call me 'Frank'."
"Then you must call me 'Anne'." She replied with a bright smile as Savage finally released her hand.
For a moment their eyes met, and held, until Crowe said, "We were just heading into dinner..."
"Yes." Savage interjected before Crowe could say anything further. "Won't you both join us? ... That is, of course, if you have no other plans."
"No!" Anne answered quickly, much to the surprise of Sir Phillip. "We were just going to catch a film, but I've already seen it ... twice. We'd be happy to join you. Wouldn't we, Phillip."
"Apparently so." Sir Phillip replied, exchanging a knowing look and grin with Crowe.
The dinner was excellent, the hotel somehow defying the strict rationing instituted by the Ministry of Food and providing 'luxury' off-ration foodstuffs for those who could afford to dine in the better restaurants.
Sir Phillip and Crowe passed the time discussing work, while Savage and Anne just talked and gazed at each other.
Over the course of the meal, Savage told her his life story: he was a farm boy from Ohio who had joined the Army as soon as he was old enough; obtained an appointment to West Point; transferred to the Army Air Corps after graduation and commissioning; and through various assignments over the years had risen in rank until he eventually ended up in command of the 918th Bomb Group.
That took less than ten minutes, over a pre-dinner glass of wine. Then it was Anne's turn, and over the course of the rest of the meal, he learned she was an American, born and raised in Pennsylvania, although after eight years in England, she had picked up a definite accent and British mannerisms. When she was ten, her parents and an older brother had died in the flu pandemic of 1918, and she had been raised by her aunt, a college professor.
She had met Robert Markham in 1936, as she was finishing her Bachelor's Degree in History from Carnegie Mellon. He had just taken his degree from Oxford and was touring the United States before he was to return home, with war looming, to take a commission in the RAF. It had been a whirlwind romance, and when Robert returned to England, Anne had gone with him as is wife.
Robert had been a natural flyer, easily earning his wings. He flew Hawker Hurricanes, and by 1939, at the start of the 'Phoney War', he was a Squadron Leader assigned to the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force located at various airfields in France from which it could operate against targets in Nazi Germany.
When the Phoney War turned into a shooting one in 1940, Robert and his squadron had flown sorties against German aircraft and positions, and later provided air cover for the evacuation of British units from France's western ports. On one of those sorties, he had been shot down and killed. After she had received the news of his death, and gone through a period of mourning, Anne had decided to remain in England and 'do what she could' for the war effort.
Later, over an after-dinner glass of Port, Anne heard her name and turned to find that Crowe had been speaking to her.
"I'm sorry, Wiley. I'm afraid I wasn't listening."
"I heard what you we're telling Frank earlier ... that you stayed in England to 'do what you could'. I asked, what is it that you do?"
"It's rather boring, actually." she said. "I work for the 'Statistical Research Department' in the Ministry of Economic Warfare... "
Before she could continue, Sir Phillip interrupted. "Really, my dear. I'm sure General Crowe and General Savage can be trusted ..."
"It's all very 'hush, hush', you see." He continued, leaning in to the table and speaking 'sotto voce' before she could stop him. "Anne works for Special Operations Executive. The 'Statistical Research Department' is just a cover name. They conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe, primarily France at the moment, and generally disrupt the Germans in any way they can."
"Phillip! I really wish you hadn't done that!" Anne said exasperated.
"It's alright right, Anne." Savage said, also in a low voice. "Sir Phillip hasn't told us anything we didn't already know. Wiley and I are both very familiar with the SOE. In fact, I met some of your people last year in France, a Leftenant Tom Smith and his team ... Sergeant Harris and Corporal Burns, if I remember correctly. They did me a very good turn."
Anne's eyes suddenly widened in recognition, "General Savage, of course! I didn't make the connection. I know Tom very well, and I've read his report on his encounter with you. It seems you had a 'very interesting' time over there."
Savage grinned, " 'Interesting' isn't exactly the word I would have used."
Crowe, who was well aware of the incident, explained to Sir Phillip that the 'interesting time' to which Anne had referred happened the previous Fall when Savage had been shot down over Occupied France, and captured by the Germans.
He was being held at a compound near Rheims, when he had been brazenly snatched from his Wehrmacht captors by a rather nasty Gestapo agent named 'Schmidt', who seemed intent on personally 'interrogating' him. Later, the 'nasty Gestapo agent' revealed himself as Leftenant Tom Smith, an SOE agent who, with two others, had come to rescue a French Maquis leader being held at the same compound. A plane had been waiting, and Savage was back in England by the next morning.
"It was pure luck. A case of being at the right place, at the right time." Crowe said, finishing the story. "But Frank's always been lucky."
" 'Luck' is a very important quality for a commander." Sir Phillip said. "Wasn't it Napoleon who said, when told of the virtues of a new General, 'That's all very well, but is the fellow lucky'?"
Everyone laughed, then Savage sobered and said, "Well, I wasn't very lucky today. My target turned out to be a very costly decoy."
Sir Phillip knew exactly what that target was, and quickly turned to Crowe, "A decoy? Damn! I really thought we were onto something this time, Wiley."
"Afraid so. I'll go over the details with you tomorrow." Then checking his watch, "It's getting late. I think we're going to have to call it a night."
"Yes." Anne said. "I have an early morning."
"May I give you a lift somewhere?" Savage asked Anne. "I have a car waiting."
Crowe started to say something, but Anne spoke first. "Thank you, but that won't be necessary. Phillip has graciously offered me a room in his suite for the night."
The elevator stopped at Sir Philip's floor, and as they exited, Savage took Anne aside and said, "I'd very much like to see you again, Anne. Would it be all right if I called?"
"I'd like that." She fumbled in her purse for a moment looking for something to write with, saying, "Let me give you my number." Then paused, and half to herself, said, "What number should I give. I never know anymore where I'll be sleeping." Finally locating a pencil, she looked up to find all three men staring at her with varying expressions.
"What?" she asked. Then thinking about what she had just said, laughed. "Really? I'm not that kind of girl!" she said primly.
"But perhaps I should explain that last bit. ... I share a flat with Mary Clarke, that is, Mary Weeks now, from work. She's just been married to a young Pilot Officer stationed at Biggin Hill, and whenever he can get away, which seems to be fairly often, he comes to visit. When he does, Mary turns the door mat over to let me know I should make other arrangements for the evening. It's a little bothersome, but they're very young, newlyweds, and I can remember what that was like."
"Anyway, I'm rarely in my own bed these days. Fortunately, Phillip maintains a suite here and kindly allows me to sleep over when I can't go home. I don't expect this arrangement will last too much longer, but should it, I suppose I shall have to look for another flat. ... A long explanation for a simple statement. I trust you gentlemen are satisfied, and my honor is intact."
A chorus of voices responded. "Yes, of course. ... Certainly. ... Never thought anything of it."
Turning back to Savage, who barely got his mouth shut in time, Anne said, "I think it might be best if you contacted me at the office." Then quickly jotting her number on a scrap of paper, handed it to Savage. "Just ask for Anne. Mary and I are the only women in the office at the moment."
"Could I give you a call tomorrow?" he asked hesitantly.
"I'll look forward to it ... Now," she said looking at her wrist watch. "I really must get some sleep. Good evening, gentlemen."
Savage watched as she and Sir Phillip walked away down the hall and entered one of the rooms. Crowe had been holding the elevation for him, and grinning broadly said, "My God, Frank. I believe you're smitten with the lady."
"Oh, Wiley. Don't be ridiculous." Savage said as the elevator doors slid shut behind him, then added grinning. "But she is rather spectacular, isn't she."
"And speaking of an early day..." he said glancing at his watch. "My God, it's almost one o'clock. Sergeant Ross ... "
"It's okay, Frank. Shortly after we sat down for dinner, I sent a message out that you'd be spending the evening and to pick you up at eight tomorrow morning. The way you were looking at her when we went in, I knew it was going to be a very late evening ... It's a good thing, though, she didn't take you up on your offer of a ride."
"Thanks, Wiley." Savage said relieved. "It's a little late to get a room now. Where is it I'm going to stay? Your sofa looked comfortable, but a little short."
Shaking his head and laughing, Crowe said, "It's a TWO bedroom suite, Frank."
A little before eight, after an early rise, a quick breakfast, and reassuring Wiley that he would give serious thought to what they talked about before dinner, Savage left the Grammacy to find Ross waiting with his car.
"Sorry about last night, Ernie. Were you able to find a place to stay?"
"Yes, sir. I spent the night at my girl's place."
"I thought your girlfriend lived in Exning.'
Ross grinned. "Oh, that's 'another' girl, sir."
"Another girl, of course." Savage shook his head, and wondered 'where does he find the time?'
Arriving back at the Base a little after nine, Ross dropped Savage off at his office, then returned the car to the Motor Pool.
"Sorry to be late, Harvey." Savage said to his Adjutant. "Dinner with General Crowe ran a little late, and I decided to spend the night. Did I miss anything?"
"Yes, sir. Pinetree called to alert us for a mission tomorrow. Cuxhaven. They wanted us to put up twenty-two, but I told them the best we could do after yesterday was maybe twelve; that it would be at least seven to ten days, according to Nero, before we could put up a full Group again."
"Unless a 'Maximum Effort' is called," Stovall said with a broad smile. "We're to stand down for the next ten days."
"It's been a long time since we haven't been able to meet a Field Order. But, I suppose after the missions we've been catching lately, the Group could stand a few down days."
Savage went into his inner office, poured himself a cup of coffee, then went to his desk. "What was Nero's real bottom line? You know he always pads his estimates, makes him look good when he finishes ahead of time."
"Just what I said, sir. Ten days... and he said he wasn't padding it any either; it was the best he could do."
"I knew it was bad after yesterday, but I didn't think we were in that bad a shape."
"It wasn't just yesterday's mission. We've caught one mission after another lately, and Nero hasn't been able to keep up, even with cannibalizing parts from one plane to fix another. This down time is just what he needs. ... and, like you said, General, the boys are tired; they could use a few days to rest up and blow off a little steam. Some three-day passes would be just the thing."
"I agree. What day is it, Harvey? I've lost track."
"It's Thursday, sir."
"Alright. You and the Air Exec get with the Squadron Commanders and work out a schedule of three-day passes for everyone starting tomorrow. But, I don't want more than a third of the crews gone at any one time, and if they don't plan to be in the local area, they're to leave a number where they can be reached. ... Just in case there IS a 'Maximum Effort'.
"Might I suggest that the General also take advantage of this stand down, and take a few days of leave?" Stovall added.
"Thanks for the thought, Harvey. But I'd better take this is opportunity to catch up on my paperwork."
Stovall frowned, then said, "May I speak freely, General?"
"Of course, Harvey. You usually do." Savage said.
"You need to take some time off, Frank. You've been pushing yourself too hard, and you're wound a little tight. That was obvious yesterday." Stovall was referring to Savage's public outburst with General Crowe, something he would never have done if he hadn't been so stressed.
"You haven't taken any time off, since General Crowe ordered you to take a couple of days before the Hannover mission." Then hesitating for a moment, judging whether he might be going a little too far, said, "and it would seem this might be a good opportunity for you to get to know Mrs. Markham."
That stopped Savage cold. "How in the world could you possibly know about ...? I just met her last night."
"It's an Adjutant's job to know things, General." Stovall replied smugly.
"Ross!" Savage exclaimed. "It had to be Ross. But how the hell could he..."
"Does it really matter, Frank? The point is, you've met a lady you are apparently attracted to, and you now have some time to pursue a relationship. You haven't 'seen' anyone since Liz Woodruff re-married... "
"God, Harvey. What are you some kind of 'match maker'?"
"No, sir. But I told you when you took command, I am an inveterate lawyer, and I have taken on the 918th as my 'client' for the duration, and I want my client to win. Right now, my client could be negatively impacted by an overstressed commander, so I highly... "
"All right, Harvey. Enough." Savage interrupted, laughing. "You win. I'll take some leave." Then as an afterthought, said, "and Harvey, see if you can find out when we're due to get some more replacement aircraft."
Savage made a token attempt at tackling the paperwork on his desk, but his mind kept wandering back to Anne Markham. Crowe was right. He had been instantly smitten and physically attracted to her. He couldn't remember having feelings like this since 'the other Anne'.
What seemed a lifetime ago, he had met her while on leave. They had fallen in love, but only had a week together when she died. It had almost destroyed him, but eventually, she had just become a memory he tried not to think about.
But now there was a new 'Anne'. He'd only met her the night before, but he found he couldn't stop thinking about her. Reaching into the breast pocket of his shirt, he retrieved the slip of paper she had given him with her phone number. He stared at it for a moment. 'Why not.' he said to himself, then picked up the phone and dialed the number.
'Statistical Research Department', saidthe voice on the other end of the line.
"Anne?" Savage asked.
"Hang on; I'll get her."
An endless minute later, he heard, "This is Mrs. Markham. May I help you?"
"Anne?" Savage asked again. "Frank Savage ... from last night." What if she didn't remember him.
"Frank! Yes. I was hoping you would call."
"I was wondering if you'd be free for lunch today."
"As it happens, yes, I am."
"That's great. I don't know London that well. Can you recommend someplace?"
"How about St. Ermin's Hotel on Caxton Street? Near St. James Park. Do you know it? Their Dining Room has an absolutely wonderful Dover sole, and it's a short walk from where I work."
"I don't, but I'm sure my driver can find it... About one o'clock?"
"Perfect. I look forward to seeing you again."
Savage was smiling as he hung up the phone. Then he looked out his office door and yelled, "Sergeant Ross!"
"Yes, sir." came the immediate reply.
"Get the car. We're going back down to London. We'll leave at," checking the time, "twelve... sharp."
"And Ross," Savage called again. "We're going to the St. Ermin's Hotel. It's near St. James Park."
"Yes, sir. I know it."
Ross was waiting with the staff car when Savage came out of the office. He had told Stovall where he'd be if he needed to find him, and had cleared away the most time-sensitive correspondence on his desk, so he was free for the rest of the day and looking forward to his luncheon date.
Once they had left the local area and were on the A10, Ross picked up speed. Before the war, he had been an Engineering student at UCLA, and in his spare time, a dirt track jalopy racer; so whenever he could, he tended to be a little heavy-footed on the gas pedal.
The roads weren't crowded today. Due to gas rationing, there was hardly any traffic on the highways, only military and government vehicles, so Ross put his foot down.
Savage had been lost in thought for the first twenty minutes or so, then breaking the silence, said, "I found an application for gunnery training on my desk this morning, Sergeant; it had your name on it."
"You tired of being my driver, Ernie?"
"NO, sir." Ross hesitated, then looking at Savage through his rear-view mirror, "It's just, well, I enlisted to fight the Germans, sir, not to be an office clerk and part-time driver. I know they're necessary jobs and somebody has to do 'em, but I'd just rather it was somebody else... "
"I'll have kids someday. What am I going to say when they ask what I did in the War... that I typed reports and drove a General around? ... No disrespect, sir."
Savage paused for a moment trying to find the right words. "War isn't all it's cracked up to be, Ernie. It's nothing like in the movies. There's nothing 'glorious' or 'heroic' about it... It's just a dirty, rotten job that has to be done."
"I know that, sir. I don't think I have any illusions about that, and I don't want to be a gunner just to have something to tell my children. I want to do something to help win this war, something more than type and drive a car."
"I've thought about this for a long time, General. I'm not saying I won't be scared. I'd be a fool not to be, but it's something I think I have to do. I don't think I'll turn chicken or anything; at least, I hope not, but I really won't know until... "
"I don't think you need to worry about that, Ernie." Savage said. "You showed what you were made of at that accident."
'That Accident' had happened a few months ago. Returning from a meeting, they had witnessed an accident involving a British lorry full of German Prisoners of War. Stopping to help, Savage had gone to help the driver, while Ross went to the back of the truck, and without hesitation, had pulled a POW away from the burning lorry just moments before it exploded, and then had beaten out the flames on the man's burning clothes with his bare hands. For that, Ross had received first and second degree burns on his hands and forearms, the scars of which were still visible, and had been awarded the 'Soldiers Medal'.
Savage thought about what Ross had said, and the conviction with which he said it, then made a decision.
"OK, Ernie. I'll approve your application. BUT," he added. "if you aren't 'dead-eye dick' with that Browning .50-caliber, you drop it. OK? Do we have a deal?"
"Yes, SIR! Thank you." Then smiling to himself, and looking back through the rear-view mirror again, said, "Did I ever mention to the General that I was Orange County Skeet Champion, for two years running?"
Savage broke out laughing, "I guess I walked into that one."
Then, as they continued down the highway, Savage sat back and thought about what he could be getting into with Anne Markham.
Ross made good time, and pulled up in front of the horseshoe-shaped St. Ermin's courtyard entrance about fifteen minutes early.
"I shouldn't be more than a couple of hours, Sergeant." Savage said. "Go get yourself something to eat and plan on being back about three."
"Thank you, sir. I have a girlfriend who works in a Tea Shop not far from here. If you need me, it's the China Leaf Tea Shop on Old Pye Street. The Front Desk will know the number."
"Got it. Your girl will probably be surprised. She won't be expecting to see you again so soon."
Ross replied, "Oh, this isn't the same girl, General. That was Diane last night. This is Lily."
"I know I'm going to regret asking this, Ross, but just how many girls have you got?!"
"Not many, sir. Just Diane and Lily here in London, Joanne at High Wycombe, Mary in Exning, and Meg in Archbury. I try to make friends wherever I am; it helps pass the time."
"How do you keep them all straight?" Savage asked amazed. "and where do you find the time ... and the energy? Clearly, I don't keep you busy enough."
"It's not like that, sir. We're not serious or anything. We just keep company now and then, and have a little fun."
"You may not be serious, but are you sure about them?" Savage cautioned. "I'd be careful if I were you, Ernie. You're playing with fire, and one of these days you just might get burned. ... again."
Ross got out of the car and opened Savage's door, standing at attention as the General got out.
"You know, Sergeant," Savage said, only half in jest. "It might be safer for everyone concerned if you WERE on an air crew. You wouldn't have as much free time, and you'll certainly have a lot less 'energy'."
Savage watched Ross drive away, and thought, 'I'm worried about getting involved with one woman, and he's juggling a half a dozen! God! Was I ever that young?'
Savage was still shaking his head, and thinking about Ross, as he walked up the two steps to the hotel's entrance where the Doorman waited, holding the door for him. Entering, he found an expansive foyer, with marble flooring, rich carpets and fine furniture comfortably arranged in conversational groupings. A wide double-staircase led up to a theater-like balcony that ran the circumference of the foyer, supported by square columns.
Surprisingly, for mid-day, there were a number of people in the foyer and up in the balcony; men by and large, but a few women as well, some in uniform, some not, and mostly in small groups engaged in quiet conversations.
Savage scanned the room for Anne, without success at first, then, frowning, saw her coming down the staircase on the arm of an British Army officer.
Anne saw Savage at the same time, and smiling, called out, "Frank! Over here!"
As they came toward him, Savage replaced his frown with a polite smile, which then broadened into a real one as he recognized the officer.
"Tom Smith!" Savage exclaimed as he returned the officer's salute and extended his hand.
"General Savage. Nice to see you again, sir. St. Ermin's is certainly more pleasant than where we first met."
As the two men stood there, their hands still clasped, Anne explained, "I told Tom that I had met you last night, Frank, and that we were having lunch today, and he wanted to say 'hello'."
"I'm glad you did. I've thought of the Leftenant often, especially whenever I fly over Reims or Metz ... I still can't believe I got out of there in one piece. And I wouldn't have, if it hadn't been for Tom and his men. The man makes a VERY convincing Nazi. He scared the crap out of me ... excuse my language, Anne."
"The General is too kind." replied Smith modestly. Then suddenly serious, "I wanted to see you again, General, besides the pleasure, because from what Anne tells me, I owe you an apology."
Savage was at a loss. "An apology? For what?"
"I'm afraid I was the primary source for your target yesterday."
The smile left Savage's face as he realized what Smith was telling him.
"We recced the region for two weeks, General, before we got a tip about Lübeck from a very reliable source. We got as close as we could to the site, and watched the comings and goings for several days, and everything we could see looked real."
"I sent Bob Harris - you remember Sergeant Harris - I sent Bob in for a closer look, and he radioed that he saw civilians working on one of the bloody things, and it looked genuine to him. He said he had gotten close enough to take some pictures, but ..."
"You've got pictures?" Savage interrupted.
"I'm sorry, No. Bob was spotted on his way back out, and killed. We had to leave him. It was all we could do to get ourselves out. ... I'm very sorry, sir. I know you lost planes because of my information."
"I'm sorry about Harris, Tom; he was a good man." Savage said. "And don't beat yourself up. Yesterday wasn't the first time we've been suckered, and it probably won't be the last. We both did the best we could with what we had, and we lost good men doing it. It's not anybody's fault; it's just the 'bloody' war ... Sorry, Anne."
"I am well acquainted with the word, Frank, and have even been known to use it on occasion." Anne said, "and if you two have finished exchanging 'hair shirts', I'm hungry."
Savage and Smith exchanged looks, and Savage asked, "Why don't you join us, Tom?
"I'd like to, General, but duty calls," then continued with a grin, ... besides if I did, I think Anne would have my head in a basket."
Savage watched Smith as he left, then Anne spoke up and said, "The dining room's this way."
Savage thought the lunch was wonderful, or perhaps it was just the company, because had he been asked, he wasn't sure he could have said what it was he had eaten. In fact, he wasn't sure he could even say what they had talked about, but somehow two hours had passed. They ended the meal with coffee, and Savage asked a question he had wanted to since the night before.
"Anne, last night, I noticed Sir Phillip was wearing the 'Battle of Britain' rosette. Did he actually go up? At his age?"
"Yes, he did, but only the one sortie. It was very early on. He was a Group Captain at the time, and visiting one of the airfields when they were alerted. He saw a Spitfire just sitting there, warmed up and ready to go, and he just took it.
He managed to shoot down two Me-109s, and damage another, before he ran out of ammunition. His Spit was all shot up by then, and he was going to have to bail out, but just before he did, he rammed another '109', taking off his tail."
"When all was said and done," she laughed, "he was credited with three kills and a 'probable'. His superiors didn't know whether to give him a medal or court-martial him for taking the Spitfire without authorization and 'pranging' it. They finally decided that three Me-109s more than offset one Spitfire and awarded him another 'bar' for his DFC, but they also informed him in no uncertain terms that his combat flying days were over."
"I can laugh about it now, but at the time ... It was less than a month after Robert had been killed, and if anything had happened to Phillip too, I don't know what I should have done."
"How did his wife take it?"
"Her name was Marjorie; everyone called her 'Madge'. She was a wonderfully sweet, but fragile woman. She had had heart trouble for years, and when she learned of Robert's death ... well, it was just too much for her; she passed away a week later. It hit Phillip, and me, very hard.
The Spitfire incident was just a few weeks after that, and I've often wondered if he did it to get back at the Germans for Robert, ... or to join him."
Then the waiter was back to ask if he could get anything else for the General or the lady, discreetly letting him know other diners were waiting for their table. But Savage didn't care; let 'em wait. Finally, though, Anne indicated that she probably needed to get back to work, and Savage asked for the check.
"Would you like a lift?" Savage asked, checking his watch to make sure Ross would be waiting outside.
"Thank you, Frank, but it's not necessary." She replied mysteriously. "When I said St. Ermin's was with 'walking' distance, I probably should have said it's within 'elevator' distance. We occupy most of St. Ermin's third floor."
"I thought Baker Street was your 'home'."
"It is. This is a subsidiary location. ... I'd appreciate if you'd keep that to yourself; it's not generally known."
"Of course." he said. "It was a wonderful lunch, Anne." Savage paused, not knowing if he should press his luck, but he wanted to see her again. "I know I may be rushing things, but I'd like to continue to see you."
"I would like that as well." Anne had not had any interest in men since Robert's death, but now she was conscious of a strong attraction to Frank Savage.
"Frank, it's Thursday." she said brashly. "Why don't you come down to Markham Hall tomorrow for a long week-end? We're in Dunstable, in Bedfordshire, just down the road from Archbury, about twenty miles or so. I usually go down on the week-end, unless something's up. It wouldn't be anything inappropriate. Phillip will be there, and he opens the Hall to the 'boys' so you never know who'll turn up. We could have a nice couple of days and get to know each other a little better."
"I'd like that." Savage replied. "We're standing down for a while, and I'd planned to take a few days leave anyway."
"Brilliant! Just take the A1 to the A505 and stay on to Dunstable, then ask for Markham Hall; anyone can give you directions. Shall we say about noon?"
As soon as they left the hotel, Savage's mind drifted away thinking about his lunch with Anne and the up-coming weekend. When Ross stopped the car, he was jolted back to the present and surprised to find they were at the Base Gate. He showed his AGO Card and as he returned the guard's salute, he was smiling. As they drove on, the Guard phoned Savage's office to let them know the General was back on base.
As he was still wearing the same uniform as he had the night before, Savage had Ross drop him off at his quarters so he could change. Then before going to his office, he made a stop at the hospital to check on Sergeant Ballard, his wounded gunner. He was directed to one of the wards.
As he pushed through the doors, he quickly located Ballard's bed. Making his way across the room, he paused at the beds of the other patients and chatted briefly with each. When he finally arrived at Ross's bed, he found him resting with a protective tunnel covering his injured leg.
"How're you doing, Jack?" Savage asked.
"Not too bad, sir. Leg hurts a little, but they give me plenty of pain killer; never had so much sleep. Doc Kaiser says the leg is broken and messed up a bit, but should heal normally. I'll be good a new in a couple of months. ... You won't replace me on the Lily's crew, will you, sir?
"No, Jack. When you're ready to come back, your position will be waiting for you."
"Thank you, sir." Ballard said much relieved.
"Take care, Jack. I'll come visit again."
As he entered his office,Savage asked, "Anything happen while I was gone, Major?"
"No, sir. It's actually been kind of slow. There's just the usual on your desk."
Following Savage into his inner office, Stovall asked, "How was your lunch with Mrs. Markham?"
"Nice, Harvey. Really nice." he said distracted, as he rummaged through the paperwork on his desk. Finding what he was looking for, he read it through again, then signed it. He handed the signed form to Stovall, saying, "I assume you know about Ross' application for gunnery training."
"Yes, sir. I tried to talk him out of it, but he was pretty determined. I'm surprised you signed it."
"Yes, well, we talked about it on the way down to London, and he made a good argument, so I told him I'd OK it, but with the provision that if he didn't pass with flying colors, he'd give it up. ... Not everyone has what it takes to be a gunner, so maybe ..."
Stovall was shaking his head, "I don't think he'll have any trouble, General."
"You mean that skeet champion thing? There's a big difference between leading a clay pigeon, Harvey, and hitting a fast moving fighter that's shooting at you."
"No, sir. I don't know anything about that. I mean he's been hanging around the gunnery range in his spare time for the last couple of months. Sergeant Farrell, the instructor, checked with me to see if it was alright, as Ross wasn't on his roster. I didn't see any harm in it as long as it didn't interfere with his duties. Anyway, from what Farrell says, Ross is a natural gunner. He could pass the course anytime ... with flying colors."
"Why that conniving little ..." Savage said. "He played me, Harvey! I ought to tear that paper up." Then he stopped, suddenly appreciating Ross's strategy, one that must have taken months to play out, and smiled. "Well, if he wants it that bad. At least it should cut down on his love life."
Seeing the puzzled look on Stovall's face, "Quite the ladies man is our Sergeant Ross."
"I know he has a girlfriend ..."
Savage held up his hand, the fingers spread, "Five. He has five girlfriends."
"Ernie?" Stovall said as he followed Savage back to the outer office. "You're kidding. I'll have to have a talk with that boy."
"You do that." Savage responded as he began to search through the drawers of the file cabinet. "Damn it, Harvey." he said, not having any success. "Where do you keep the leave forms? I'm going to take your advice and take three days leave over in Dunstable."
"Dunstable, General? What's in Dunstable? ... Wait a minute," he said as something clicked in his memory.
"Markham Hall is in Dunstable. I didn't make the connection. Your Mrs. Markham wouldn't be related to Sir Phillip Markham?"
"His daughter-in-law. Why? What do you know about Markham Hall?"
"Just that some of our men go there when they get a pass. Sir Phillip apparently opens the Hall on the weekends to the troops for R & R. I hear the place has a tennis court, swimming pool, horses, fishing, and a lot of property to just get lost in."
"Sounds perfect." Savage said, finally finding the right form.
"I'll be in for a few hours in the morning, Harvey, then depart around noon, so if there's anything I need to see or do before I leave ..."
"It'll be on your desk." Stovall finished for him, "and should anything come up - but I'm sure it won't - I know where to find you."
"Thanks, Harvey. I should be back Sunday afternoon. ... Now, let me see if I can remember how to fill one of these things out; it's been a while. ... and I guess you had better notify Pinetree and General Crowe."
Savage returned to his office to fill out the leave form and work on his in-basket.
In early the next morning, Savage had taken care of business and cleared his desk by eleven-thirty, and was ready to leave, and carried his Army-issue B-4 bag out to Stovall's office. He was wearing his 'everyday' uniform: khaki shirt, pants and his leather flying jacket.
"I hope you packed a set of 'Class As' in there," Stovall said, nodding at the bag. "I wouldn't be surprised if they 'dress' for dinner."
"Yes, Mother." Savage answered sarcastically.
Ross had already brought his car around, and now he picked up the General's bag and carried it out to the car. Returning, he said, "All set, General. She's all gassed up, windshield's clean, your bag is in the trunk ... and there's a Michelin map in the glove compartment, in case you need one."
"Thanks, Ernie." Savage would be driving himself today.
Then, just so Ross would know that he knew, and didn't like it ... "and Sergeant," Savage said with a straight face and stern voice. "I'll let it go this one time, but if you ever try manipulating me again like you just did with this gunnery thing, you will find yourself with 'slick sleeves' and driving the Base garbage truck for the duration. Is that clear?!"
Ross had been smiling, but no longer, and he had stiffened to attention. "Yes, sir." he replied, properly chastened.
"Alright, then." Then he relented a little, and smiling, said, "and keep out of trouble while I'm gone"
Savage grabbed his hat and heading for the door said, "Hold down the fort, Major. You know how to reach me. I'll see you in a couple of days."
"Yes, sir. ... and Frank, try to relax a little and have a good time."
It was a beautiful sunny day for a change, and Savage had no trouble finding Markham Hall. After all, he was a trained pilot and navigator. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but the sight of the tall wrought-iron gated entrance, with 'MARKHAM HALL' spelled out across the high arch overhead, and the long tree-lined gravel drive leading to a large mansion, he had to admit, was impressive.
Passing through the open gates, Savage proceeded slowly up the drive. To his left was a fenced paddock with several fine-looking horses grazing lazily; and to his right, what might have previously been another paddock, had been plowed under and was now a rather extensive vegetable garden.
As he got closer, he could see the Hall itself. A beautiful three-story redbrick edifice from an earlier period, but he couldn't begin to guess which one. The house was surrounded by large well-kept lawns, dark sculptured hedges, and row upon row of colorful flowers.
Several cars were already parked in a large graveled area in front of the Hall, and he pulled in beside them. He was just taking his bag from the trunk, when out of the corner of his eye, he saw a furry white object come hurtling toward him. He barely had time to drop the bag and put up his hands before a small Cairn terrier leapt into his arms.
"And just who might you be," he said laughing as he held the squirming pup.
"Charlie! ... Charlie!" he heard a woman's voice call. "Where are you, you bad dog!"
Walking toward the sound of the voice, he started around the corner of the house and saw Anne coming toward him.
"Are you looking for this little fellow?" he asked holding 'Charlie' out, then setting him on the ground.
"Frank! You're here!" she said smiling and continuing on to greet him, with Charlie running back and forth between the two of them.
"I just arrived. I was getting my bag out of the trunk, when this bundle of energy came running up and jumped into my arms. He's certainly a friendly little guy."
They were face to face now, and Anne's eyes seemed to sparkle with delight as she gave him a welcoming hug and a warm smile.
"I'm surprised. He's usually a little skittish around strangers; takes him a while to warm up to people. Not like his namesake at all ... 'Charlemagne'."
"Maybe he knows I like dogs. I had two Border Collies on the farm when I was a boy. I've just not been in a position to have one for years ... gone too much."
"Well, you're certainly on his 'approved visitors' list."
"And speaking of visitors," she said taking him by the arm and walking him back toward his car, "Why don't we get you settled into your room, and then I'll give you the 'guided tour'. Markham Hall been in the family for almost two hundred years; Phillip is very proud of it. It's not as grand as it once was, and much of the property has been sold off for upkeep of the Hall, but it still claims a respectable fifty or so acres."
When they got back to the car, Savage's bag was gone.
"Not to worry," she said. "I expect Davis has taken it. It's is probably already in your room, unpacked and everything put away."
"Davis?" Savage asked.
"Davis manages Markham Hall. He is the epitome of the English Butler. According to Phillip, there have been 'Davis's' taking care of 'Markham's', for generations.
Our Davis was born and grew up here at Markham Hall, as did his parents, and their parents, and their parents before him. He and Phillip were playmates as children, and when Phillip grew up and went off into the Army, Davis went with him as his 'batman', his soldier servant and protector."
"Army? I would have thought he would have been in the Royal Flying Corps." Savage said, surprised.
"No. He initially took a commission in the family Regiment, the Grenadier Guards. But he'd always had an interest in flying. When the War began, he and Davis apparently saw quite a bit of action. My Robert was named after Davis. ... I'm sure there's a story behind it, but neither of them will say much about it."
"Phillip was wounded at the Somme in '16." she said. "After he recovered, he wasn't fit to return to the trenches, so, rather than be invalided out, he somehow managed a secondment to the RFC. Stayed in when it became the RAF. ... But enough of war." she said suddenly. "Come, let's go in and I'll show you the place."
"The Hall was built in the 1750's, and as you can see, it's been added on to over the years." she said pointing out where the additions to the structure had been made. "The left wing came first, around the end of the last century; then the right wing, just before the First War."
They entered into a marble floored reception area, with a large colorful and well worn Indian area rug, and arranged with upholstered settees, chairs and side tables. Glancing around, Savage saw two sets of open double-doors leading off to rooms on the left, a banistered oak staircase hugging the right wall leading to the floors above, and to his immediate right, before the staircase, another set of open doors leading off into another wing.
He followed Anne into the first doorway on the left. "This is the main living room. We spend most of our time in here."
Savage could see why. The room was light and spacious with high ceilings, wood floors and large area rugs. It was comfortably furnished with overstuffed leather sofas and chairs. ... on one of which Charlie, having lost interest in the new visitor, was now curled up and fast asleep.
On the walls were watercolor and oil paintings of the English countryside, and in the center of the outside wall, there was an extremely large fireplace and mantel. Over the mantel was an oil painting of a Army officer astride a rearing white horse, and on the mantel, as well as some of the tables around the room, were framed pictures of, he assumed, family.
On either side of the fireplace were beautifully draped floor-to-ceiling windows, with a wonderful view of the grounds, the effect only slightly marred by the heavy blackout curtains, drawn back against the walls. Past the windows on the right, a set of French Doors opened out onto a large covered portico and garden patio. It would be a very comfortable room to relax in.
Going over to one of the tables, he looked at the pictures. He recognized a young Phillip in his 'Guards' uniform with a beautiful smiling young woman ... that would be Marjorie, 'Madge', his late wife. Another photo showed a distinguished looking older couple he supposed to be Phillip's parents. Then he spotted one of Anne, a brightly smiling Anne with a handsome young man; and in another photo, the same young man in flight gear smiled in front of his Hawker Hurricane. This would be Robert.
Anne had followed him to the table and picked up the picture, "This was taken just before he went over to France; it was the last time I saw him."
"It's alright. I can talk about him now and remember the good times we had. He was a wonderful man."
Setting the picture back on the table, she walked away and continued her narrative. "Besides the living room," she said as they reentered the foyer, "this floor also has a drawing room for entertaining visitors, game room, library and study, formal dining room, breakfast room, and kitchen. That door leads to the back of the house," she said pointing toward a door at the end of the foyer. "Each wing has a separate suite of rooms, small apartments really, which are our living quarters."
"Just before this war, Robert talked Phillip into modernizing the Hall with all the latest conveniences - centralized steam heating, attached bathrooms and an updated kitchen. He had two deep wells dug with storage tanks and pumps put in for running water ... and a generator for electricity, although we only use the generator if we have to; don't want to waste the petrol."
"It's very well thought out." Savage said, with admiration. "You're virtually self sufficient."
"Yes. Robert was a great planner. He even had plans to turn the estate into a working farm after the War, but ..." Anne stopped in mid-sentence, then after a moment, her smile was back, and she continued ..."As I said, Phillip and I occupy suites on the ground floor in the back. Guest bedrooms are on the second floor, most of which are 'en suite'."
"The third floor is just used for storage and overflow now. In years past it provided quarters for the staff, but we haven't had resident help for years. Just Davis and his wife, Mildred, or Mrs. D, as we call her. He manages the household, and she runs the kitchen. They have their own cottage just off to the right of the Hall. Women from the town come in to help with the housekeeping and whatever else they might need."
"There are a few other cottages on the property, mostly occupied now by former staff, old pensioners too old to be called up, and too young to sit and do nothing, so they help, as they can, with the grounds, the gardens, and the horses. Although, we don't have many horses now, and much of the stable area has been converted into a garage for our cars."
"Do you get lost much?" Savage asked half-jokingly.
"In the beginning, quite frequently." she replied and laughed. "Now, follow me and I'll show you your room."
Starting toward the stairs, they met Davis coming down. Davis, Savage saw, was a tall wiry man about Phillips age, ramrod straight, with silver grey hair and brown eyes. He was dressed as befitted a proper English butler, and carried himself with the understated self-confidence of a man who knew he was very good at what he did.
"Davis." Anne began. "This is General Savage. He'll be with us for the week-end."
"General." Davis replied, nodding. "Your bag is in your room, sir, and I have taken the liberty of unpacking it for you. A few items needed ironing, and that is being taken care of as we speak."
"Thank you, Davis."
"Sir." Then turning to Anne asked, "Will there be anything else, Miss Anne?"
"No, Davis. Thank you." Then on impulse, said, "Davis, wait. Please let Mrs. D know there will be no one for dinner. Sir Phillip will not be back from London until late, and I believe the General and I will have dinner at the 'Sugar Loaf' this evening."
"Very good, Miss."
"The 'Sugar Loaf' ?" Savage asked.
"Local Pub, built in the Seventeen Hundreds. They have a very good menu; their shepherd's pie is excellent. Their beer and ale are also very good, and you can still get a decent drink there. I think you'll like it, and it'll save Mrs. D having to make dinner for just the two of us."
"What about all your other guests? The one's belonging to those cars outside."
"Oh, they don't stay here. They just come for the day, then either go back to their bases, or, if they don't have to go back straight away, get rooms in the town."
At the top of the stairs, Anne turned left, then stopped at the third room on the right. "Here we are."
Entering the bedroom, the first thing that caught Savage's attention was the large four-poster bed set against the right wall. It was a major improvement over the Army-issue metal-framed cot he normally slept on. A light-oak dresser and large wardrobe stood against the wall at the foot of the bed, and on the far side of the wardrobe, a door leading, he supposed, into his 'en suite' bathroom. The far wall facing him contained three wide outwardly-opening windows set above a comfortable window seat from which he had a magnificent view of the countryside. It was not a large room, but it had a feeling of warmth.
"I hope you'll be comfortable in here." Anne said. "It was always Robert's favorite room." She hesitated for a moment, then said, "I imagined you might not have much in the way of civilian clothes, so I set out some of Robert's things for you - you're about the same size - in case you wanted to get out of uniform for a while. They're in the wardrobe."
"If you'd like to change, I'll wait..."
"No, ... thank you. I'm alright in these." Savage wasn't at all comfortable with the thought of wearing a dead man's clothes, especially as he was dating his widow. But as a concession to Anne for his lack of civilian appearance, he took off his leather flying jacket with the embroidered rank on the shoulders and hung it in the wardrobe, then removed the stars from his collar and laid them on the dresser. Now he was just a man in a khaki shirt and pants. He'd think about acquiring some 'civvies' when he got back to the base. Up to now, he never needed any.
Anne observed him remove the stars and smiled. It did make him look a little less 'military' and would probably be less intimidating to her other guests.
"What's on the agenda?" Savage asked.
"Well, if you don't mind, you can help me set out some lunch for our other guests."
"Not at all. I'm at your service. Just lead the way."
Savage followed her back down the stairs, then around to the right behind the staircase through the Breakfast Room and into the kitchen. He made note of the route for future reference.
In the kitchen, Mrs. D - he assumed - was busy filling trays with sandwiches, cookies (the British, for some unfathomable reason, called them 'biscuits'), chips ('crisps' to the British), and pitchers of lemonade. Then she placed the trays on a serving cart.
"May I help you with that?" he asked.
"Mrs. D," Anne said. "This is General Savage. He's visiting this week-end."
"Very pleased to meet you, sir. ... and yes, some assistance with the cart would be much appreciated. I'm not as spry as I used to be."
"That's hard to believe, a young woman such as yourself." Though he had no Irish blood to his knowledge, Savage knew how to put on the charm when he wanted to.
"Oh, get away with you, sir." Mrs. D said laughing.
Pushing the cart, Savage followed Anne through to the covered porch at the back of the house where several serving tables, with all the utensils and condiments, had been set up. They distributed the trays and pitchers onto the tables, then Anne led him down the porch steps to a flagstone patio where several young men, and women, relaxing in lawn chairs, barely noticed them. Looking around he saw others playing lawn croquet, and still others just strolling the grounds laughing and talking. It was quiet and pleasant.
A few of them, like himself, were in uniform, but most were in 'civvies', though he had no doubt they were military. Listening, he detected a variety of accents: British, American, French and even Polish.
Suddenly Anne called out loudly, "Alright, boys. Come and get it. Drinks, sandwiches, crisps and biscuits on the porch."
Savage stood aside, as everyone headed for the food. Young men - boys - were the same all over when there was food to be had, and it was best not to be in their way.
"There must be a dozen or more people here. Where do they all come from?"
"All over." Anne replied. "Some are from Dunstable, home on leave; some are RAF or Army from the bases nearby; some are even from your base. Some are 'regulars', and some I've never seen before."
"Phillip likes having young people around; reminds him of when Robert used to bring his friends home. Over time, the word has spread that servicemen, and women, from any of the Forces, were welcome at Markham Hall."
"It's a good thing that you and Phillip are doing," Savage acknowledged. "giving them a place they can come to forget about the war for a few hours."
"Speaking of forgetting the war. Let's go for a walk, and I'll show you around."
For the next hour or two, they just wandered the grounds and talked. She showed him the cottages and introduced him to some of the pensioners trimming the hedges and working in the gardens. Then it was the tennis courts, the pool - only the heartiest used it this late in the Summer - and finally the stables.
"We don't keep many horses any more, just a few for riding. Most of the pastures, paddocks and some of the lawns have been plowed under for vegetable gardens, as I'm sure you noticed when you drove in."
"We have to do our bit, Phillip says, to help with the food shortages, but he did draw the line when it came to the flower gardens. They were Madge's. She loved flowers, and did most of the planting herself. He just couldn't bring himself to let them be torn out."
They continued to walk and talk until they found themselves back at the patio. It was deserted now, everyone had gone, but Savage noted that they had picked up after themselves. If you hadn't known, you wouldn't have been able to tell that anyone had been there. No one wanted to abuse the hospitality.
"It's almost six!" Anne exclaimed, checking her watch. "I didn't realize it was getting so late. You must be starved; I know I am."
Quickly heading into the house, she called back, "Just give me a few minutes to freshen up. I'll meet you in the living room, then we'll drive into the 'Sugar Loaf' for a couple of drinks and some dinner."
Savage followed her into the house, then went up to his room to clean up. After a quick shave and comb of his hair, he grabbed his jacket and went down to the living room to wait. In his experience, when a woman said 'a few minutes', she really meant half an hour.
Sitting down on the sofa, he was surprised to find Charlie still asleep. Sensing company, however, he rolled over to allow his belly to be rubbed. Savage had just begun to fulfill Charlie's expectations, when he heard, "Are you ready?"
"I am, if you are." That was quick, he thought.
Leaving the house, Anne said, "Let's take my car. Davis has already brought it round, and I had better drive anyway. The roads around here can be a little tricky at night if you don't know them."
"Okay." he said, and climbed into the passenger seat. But he would soon regret those words.
Anne's car, he recognized, was an MG Midget Roadster, racing green, with a convertible top. It was a very popular sports car, and he had seen several on the roads, even with the gas rationing. It had a top speed of 80 mph, and was capable of going from zero to sixty in an unheard of seventeen seconds, and once they were beyond the gated entrance, Anne put her foot down and proved it.
Had he had a seat belt, he would have used it. As it was, his feet were braced against the floorboards, and he had a firm grip on the sides of his seat.
Driving down, it had taken him almost twenty minutes to get from Dunstable to Markham Hall. Anne made the return trip in a little under ten. Savage had felt safer in a field of flak.
"Here we are." Anne said as she pulled into the car park next to the pub.
It was a moment or two before Savage made a move to get out. He was just glad to be alive, and in definite need of a drink.
"Are you alright? You look a little white." she asked, suppressing a smile.
"Yes. Fine. I'm just hungry. Let's go in" He wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of knowing she'd rattled him, as he was sure had been her intention.
Savage ducked his head as he entered the pub. He was used to that. People were a lot shorter when many of England's pubs were built. Once inside he looked around. There was a long bar straight ahead; it looked to be of oak, it's surface now a deep oiled brown, almost black, with age. There were tables in front of him and on either side of the room, and booths lined the walls.
It was crowded and noisy, and people at the bar shouted their orders trying to be heard above the din. Most of the tables and booths were occupied, but Anne led him to an overlooked booth against the back wall.
They had just taken their seats, when Savage asked, "Do you always drive like that? So fast?"
"When I can. I find it rather exhilarating."
Savage laughed and shook his head. "You should meet my driver, Sergeant Ross. I think you two would get along just fine. He has a 'lead foot', too, but I think you could give him a serious run for his money."
Then the barmaid came over.
"Hi, Anne." she said. "You haven't been in for a while."
"Hello, Becky. Just been busy, I guess. This is my friend, Frank."
"Frank, this is Becky. Her family owns the 'Sugar Loaf'. That's her father, Mr. Burrows, tending bar, and her mother, Mary, does the cooking. The very best, I might add."
"Nice to meet you, Becky." Savage said politely.
"And you, Frank." she said eyeing Savage, and giving Anne a nod of approval. "... Now, what will the two of you be having this evening?"
"Why don't you order for us, Anne." Savage said. "You know what's good."
"All right. ... We'll start with a Pimms for me, Becky, and a pint of your best for Frank. ... and for dinner, shepherd's pie for the both of us."
"Excellent choice. Mum's just put some pies in the oven, be about thirty minutes. I'll be right back with your drinks."
When they were alone again, Frank asked, "And what might a 'Pimms' be?"
"It's a delightful gin-based drink containing a 'secret' mixture of herbs and liqueurs. Robert introduced me to it. I'm afraid I'm rather addicted to it."
Moments later, Becky was back with their drinks. "Cheers" she said as she placed the drinks on the table and left.
"Cheers." Anne said, raising her glass.
"Cheers." Frank repeated, also raising his.
They sipped their drinks and talked about nothing in particular for a while, then Anne said. "Tell me about Frank Savage."
"I gave you my life story at dinner the other night."
"No, I don't mean 'dates and places'. I want to know about you. How did an Ohio farm boy come to be an Army Air Force General."
I don't know. Just lucky, I guess."
"Come on, Frank! Tell me about YOU."
Savage stared into his beer for a moment, as if making a decision, then looked up and said, "Okay. When I was a boy, on the farm, I was fascinated by airplanes. I read all the books about them I could find, and when I could get some money, I'd see any movie that had airplanes in them. I'd watch the mail planes when they came over the farm, and wave. Sometimes they'd wave back. They were the most beautiful things I'd ever seen.
He smiled remembering, "I wanted to fly, and I flew anything I could, at least in my mind ... the tractor seat was my cockpit; the steering wheel, my control column. I even flew a home-made glider off the barn roof once." He laughed, "Broke my leg." andremembering his parents' reaction, "Never did that again."
Then Savage's face lit up with a wide smile. "There used to be these barnstormers. ... They had a couple of old 'jennies' and would come around once or twice a year offering rides and flying lessons. Once I saved up some money, it wasn't nearly enough, but they took me up for a ride anyway. That did it for me; I was hooked. Whenever it was time for them to come by, it was all I could think about; there was nothing else I wanted to do."
"Judging by where you are now, you must be very good at it."
The smile left Savage's face, and his voice became detached, "I was once. But flying is just a job now, there's no joy in it anymore. I just fly planes and drop bombs. Send men out, and try to bring them back again. It's just a dirty job that has to be done."
Anne was startled, and touched, by the emotion she saw on his face and heard in his voice. "Frank... "
"Sorry, Anne." he said suddenly himself again. "I didn't mean to go all maudlin on you."
"If you hate it so much, Frank, why do you keep doing it? I've seen the ribbons on your uniform. You've more than paid your dues. Why don't you just ask for a transfer to a staff job? I'm sure you could get one."
He didn't know how to answer her, but fortunately, at that moment Becky returned with two steaming-hot shepherd's pies. "I'd let these sit a moment, were I you. They're right out of the oven."
Frank stared at his pie for a moment, then said, "Enough about me. Tell me about Markham Hall and Dunstable."
Anne wanted to press her question, but saw he wasn't going to say anything further on the subject, so she put on a smile, and said, "Dunstable was founded in 1109 by King Henry I, fourth son of William the Conqueror ... of the Battle of Hastings fame.
" 'Dunstable' is an odd name." Savage said. "Does is have some meaning?"
'Well, There are several theories as to its origin. Legend has it that in response to complaints from travelers of being assaulted by robbers, Henry set out to clear the area. Unable to find the robbers, he stapled his ring to a post and dared the robber to steal it. It was, of course, and the staple with it. They searched the area, and eventually found the ring at the house of the widow Dun, and her son, the robber, was taken and hanged. Then Henry cleared the land and established the town, calling it 'Duns Staple'."
"However, another simpler theory is the that name is derived from 'Dunum', or 'Dun', a hill, and 'Staple', a marketplace. ... but I prefer the more romantic version."
"A few years before his death, Henry also established the Dunstable Priory. It was here the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon was declared null and void. The announcement of their 'divorce', of course, led to England's split from the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the Church of England."
"And of more recent fame, and relevance to Americans, the actor Gary Cooper attended Dunstable Grammar School here between 1910 and 1913. Though he was born in Montana, his parents were from Dunstable, and often returned to visit family."
"That's fascinating. Dunstable certainly seems to have left its mark." said Savage. "What about Markham Hall?"
"Markham Hall is an even better story." she said, sipping her Pimms, "In 1743, during the War of the Austrian Succession, or Queen Anne's War, as we Americans called it, at the Battle of Dettingen in what is now Germany, King George II's horse ran off with him, heading straight toward the French lines.
Leftenant Phillip Markham, a young officer in the Grenadier Guards, somehow managed, at great risk I might add, to halt the horse, thereby saving the King from death, or worse, humiliating capture. As a reward, the King knighted Markham - an inheritable title - and awarded him a large tract of land around Dunstable. After the War, Phillip returned to claim his land, and built Markham Hall, which has been in the family ever since. There's a painting of him over the fireplace."
She was about to go on, when Savage held up his hand and more at ease again, said, "You should get a job as the local historian."
"I have a job at the moment, thank you." she said. "But I do love history - if you remember, my degree was in History, and England is a treasure trove for those interested."
Their shepherd's pies were cool enough now, so they both began to eat. The pie, Anne informed him, was made from ground lamb, seasoning and winter vegetables, then baked under a potato topping.
Lamb was not a favorite of his, but he savored the smell as it rose from his pie, and his stomach rumbled, confirming that he was as hungry as he thought he was. After a tentative forkful or two, he set in with a will, finding it as delicious as it smelled. ... and it surprised him.
Anne had been watching him, and his initial hesitation, then laughed and said, "I thought you looked like a meat and potatoes man. I can see you need to be indoctrinated in the finer English dishes."
"Guilty as charged! I like my steaks, and I like 'em rare." he admitted. "But I have to admit, though I was a little doubtful at first, THAT was delicious! I'll try to be more 'adventurous' in my meal choices," he said as took another sip of his beer, "if you'd be willing to continue to order for me."
"I'd be happy to."
Then she hesitated for a moment, not wanting to spoil the moment, but she did want to know more about him, so she asked, "Frank, at dinner the other night, I got the feeling that the relationship between you and General Crowe was more than just that of a subordinate and his superior."
Savage thought about her implied question as he picked at the remnants of his dinner, then said. "You're right. Wiley is not only my superior, he's my best friend, ... more than that, he's like a big brother ... sometimes," he added grinning, "an opinionated, overbearing, and pig-headed big brother."
Anne's was still working on her pie, and almost choked as she laughed, then asked, "How did you two meet?"
"It's like I said the other night." he said wiping his mouth with a napkin, and taking another drink of his beer. "I enlisted right out of high school. My parents died in a car accident during my senior year, and I had been living with my widowed grandfather until I graduated."
"I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I didn't want to be a farmer. I wanted to fly, and the Army seemed like my best shot.
After Basic Training, I was stationed at McCook Air Field in Dayton. It's Wright-Patterson Field now. Anyway, I was assigned to Major Crowe's Repair Squadron as an engine mechanic."
"I didn't know anything about aircraft engines, but I'd worked on our farm tractor and figured there couldn't be that much difference, and I wanted to be around airplanes, so I 'sort of' indicated I was an engine mechanic on my enlistment papers.
It didn't take Major Crowe any time, though, to figure out I didn't know a 'supercharger' from a 'cylinder head', and hadn't a clue what I was doing. He got the truth out of me, but for some reason, didn't transfer me out. He assigned me to work under one of his crew chiefs, and it wasn't that long before I knew that engine as well as he did."
He paused as he continued to work on his beer, and Anne asked, "But how did you get to be an officer?"
"Wiley. I guess he took a liking to me, or saw something in me, I don't know, but even though fraternization with enlisted men was discouraged, he'd often have me over to his quarters to have dinner with his family."
"Wiley is married?"
"Was. Martha, his wife, died from a sudden illness five or six years ago. He was out of the country at the time on detached duty in Berlin. By the time he got back, it was all over. He was even too late for the funeral. I don't think he's ever forgiven himself for not being there."
"Anyway, Wiley spent a lot of time with me. We talked a lot, and I told him what I really wanted was to fly."
"To make a long story short ... He talked me into applying to West Point. Then tutored me and helped prepare me for the entrance exams. Believe me," Savage said, smiling as he remembered, "no one was more surprised than I was when I passed and, with a letter of recommendation from the Field Commander, I was given an appointment.
I graduated and received my commission in 1927, and later that same year, I was accepted into the Army Air Corps and got my wings. I'd been flying at one base or another until the war started, then I ended up here."
"Wiley and I weren't often stationed in the same place, but we stayed in contact and got together whenever we could. It was just luck ... and the war ... that brought me under his command again."
Savage took a deep breath and shook his head. "Wow! I haven't talked this much in I don't remember when." he said amazed. "What is it about you, Anne, that makes me want to tell you things I've never told anyone?" ... 'Except, Anne',he 'other' Anne. ... and he was suddenly surprised that he could think about her without that familiar pain in his chest. "The only other person I've ever been able to talk to like this is Wiley. How do you do that?"
"Must be my sparkling personality." she said with another one of her smiles. Then, "My glass is empty, Frank. Are you ready for another round?"
"Sure. But it looks like Becky's swamped." and getting up from the booth, said. "I'll go. The same again?"
Anne nodded, and watched as he made his way to the bar to place the order. 'This is a man in a lot of pain.' she thought. 'Is that why I'm so attracted to him? His vulnerability?'
She hadn't thought about a man in 'that way' since Robert's death, and she wasn't really sure she was ready now, but there was 'something' about Frank Savage that drew her to him. She wanted to be with him.
'What's the matter with you?' she asked herself. 'One dinner, lunch, and a stroll around the lawn, and you're ready to hop into bed with him. Things are moving way too fast.' Then she laughed, remembering fondly how she had met and married Robert. "No." she said to herself softly. "THAT was fast."
"Say again?" Savage asked, as he returned with the drinks. "I didn't catch that."
"I was just saying, that was fast." she said indicating the drinks.
Before he could reply, the air raid siren sounded. Everyone filed out of the pub, and hearing airplane engines, looked up.
They couldn't see anything in the black night sky, but Savage could hear the drone of the bomber engines almost overhead. 'Dorniers', he thought.
"They're going after London again." someone said.
"No. Not tonight." Savage countered, continuing to scan the sky. "They're too far north and west for London. By the sound of their engines, they're probably heading for Bristol or one the ports west of here."
Suddenly, from the far side of town, searchlight beams shot into the sky, and began to crisscross the sky searching for the bombers. But after about five minutes, Savage knew they wouldn't lock onto anything. They were too late. He could tell from the receding drone that they were already out of range.
As if they had read his thoughts, the lights switched off as suddenly as they had come on, followed almost immediately by the air raid sirens' 'All Clear'.
"Looks like the show is over." he said. "Let's go back inside."
Back in their booth,concerned about the safety of Markham Hall, Savage asked, "Does this happen often? Has Dunstable ever been bombed?"
Then thinking she knew what he was really asking, Anne added, "We've been lucky. There's never been bombing anywhere near the Hall."
Before Savage could say anything further, they heard a bell clang, and a loud voice say, "Time, gentlemen, please - Time!"
"Closing time. Is it really that late?" Anne asked. "and we were having such a good time."
It was actually slightly after ten, and with his best publican tact, Mr. Burrows chivvied the stragglers out. Anne and Frank were the last to leave. "I haven't closed a bar, since I was in college." she said.
It was almost eleven when they finally made it back to the Hall. The return drive had been much slower due to the darkness, the narrow roads, and the inability to see further than a few yards with the slotted blackout headlight covers. They were further delayed when they had been stopped by the Home Guard for an identify check, but Savage's AGO card had them going again in a matter of minutes with the offer of an escort, which he politely declined.
Driving down the gravel lane toward the Hall, they saw another vehicle parked next to Savage's staff car. When they got closer, they could see it was an RAF staff car. Phillip was home.
As they approached the door, it opened, and Davis stood waiting inside.
"You didn't need to wait up, Davis. I could have locked up."
"Sir Phillip arrived about an hour ago, Miss Anne. Mildred fixed him a cold supper, and he has retired for the evening. I informed him that the you and the General had gone into town for dinner. He said he would see you in the morning."
"Thank you, Davis. You can lock up now. I think the General and I will turn in for the night."
Anne obviously hadn't realized what she had just said, or how it could be interpreted. Savage almost choked, but Davis, to his credit, never batted an eye, and merely bid them both good evening. Davis, Savage thought, gave new meaning to the term 'aplomb'.
After Davis had locked the door and disappeared back toward the kitchen, Savage burst out laughing.
"Anne." he said trying to stop and be serious. "You really should think sometimes before you speak."
"You just told Davis we were going to turn in."
"Well, we are ... aren't we?"
"Yes." he said laughing again. "But NOT together!"
Anne thought for a moment, then realization dawned. "Oh!" She began to laugh,too. "Put my foot right in it again, didn't I?"
"Not that I wouldn't like to ..." Savage added, only half in jest.
"You're a gentleman, Frank." she said softly, as she gently touched his face. "This is all happening so fast. I need time to think."
He took her hands in his, and looked into her eyes, "I know. I feel the same way ... But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't very attracted to you."
Anne met his gaze and held it, their eyes questioning, then she stepped back and said, "I had a wonderful time tonight, Frank. I haven't enjoyed a night out like this in ages. Thank you."
"I had a good time , too." he replied smiling. "I learned all about Markham Hall and Dunstable, discovered shepherd's pie, and best of all, enjoyed the company of a beautiful woman."
Anne was beginning to blush, so he continued, "What do you have planned for us tomorrow?"
"I was thinking," she said recovering her composure, "if you'd like, we might pack a lunch and tour the estate. We have some spectacular views, a variety of wildlife, and if you like to fish, we could take some poles and catch our dinner. We have several lakes well stocked with trout and perch."
He smiled again, and said. "Sounds wonderful. What time?"
"Oh, no need to go too early. Whenever we're up and around."
"I'll see you tomorrow morning then." he said starting up the stairs. "Good Night."
Savage woke early; it was just the way his body clock worked these days. He lay there for a while trying to go back to sleep, then gave in, and got up. So much for sleeping in, he thought. But since he was up, he wanted a cup of coffee.
Hoping he could find one in an English household, he quickly washed, shaved and dressed, and as most people are not awake at five o'clock in the morning, he made his way down the stairs and went quietly in search of the kitchen.
Remembering the way, he was surprised to find Sir Phillip in the Breakfast Room, reading the paper and sipping on a cup of what he hoped was coffee.
Looking up, Sir Phillip smiled and said, "Ahhh, Frank. Good morning. Glad you could make it down. You're a early riser, too, I see. You slept well I hope."
"Good morning, Sir Phillip. I slept very well, thank you. I'm just used to waking early; goes with the job."
"Know just what you mean. Been getting up at the crack of dawn for years ... and please, when it's just the two of us, 'Phillip' will do."
" 'Phillip', then. ... Is that coffee I smell?"
"Yes. Started drinking the stuff several years ago. I'm afraid Anne corrupted me. Although it's not that easy to come by these days."
Then he called out into the kitchen, "Mrs. D! Another cup of coffee, please."
"How do you take it?" he asked. "Black?"
Savage nodded, "Yes, thanks."
Calling out again, "Black, Mrs. D ... Thank you."
Shortly, Mrs. Davis appeared carrying a large steaming mug, and muttering under her breath, but loud enough to be heard, "I don't know why you people can't drink good English tea like everyone else. Uncivilized is what it is."
Setting the mug on the table in front of Savage, she turned to Sir Phillip and said, "Would you like your breakfast now, Sir Phillip?"
"That would be very nice. Thank you."
"The usual? ... soft boiled eggs, bacon, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans, kippers, toast and preserves."
"Yes, thank you, but hold the kippers. I don't feel like fish this morning."
"And what would you like, sir?" she asked Savage sweetly.
Savage was hungry, and heard himself say, "Some eggs over medium, bacon, potatoes, and toast would be nice ... if it wouldn't be too much trouble."
"Oh, no trouble at all, sir." she said giving him her best smile and a little curtsey, then turned and retreated into the kitchen.
"You seem to have made a conquest, Frank." Phillip said laughing.
"Shouldn't we wait for Anne?"
"Good Heavens, no! She rarely rises before seven, and then barely eats enough to keep a bird alive. If I waited for her, I'd starve."
Then Phillip asked, "What do you have planned for today?"
"I don't really know. Anne said something last night about packing a lunch and showing me the property."
"Do you ride?" Phillip asked somewhat incongruously.
"When I was a boy on the farm, but not since. Why?"
"Well, if she plans to show you the estate, it's going to be on horseback." he said chuckling. "I'll be sure to have Davis draw you a hot bath when you return ... you're going to need it."
By eight o'clock Savage had read the local papers for the entire week, and was on his fourth cup of coffee. Phillip had excused himself earlier and retreated to his study to work on the household accounts.
Savage's only company now was Charlie, who had magically appeared when his breakfast had, and faithfully remained for the odd tidbit that might come his way. Mrs. D periodically checked to see if he needed anything, but mainly busied herself in the kitchen preparing the meals for the day, including more sandwiches for the day's expected guests.
Then Charlie suddenly abandoned his post and ran yapping out of the room only to reappear moments later following behind Anne, looking, he thought, very smart in a light sweater, nice-fitting riding pants and boots.
"Good morning." she said cheerfully. "Beautiful day for a ride isn't it."
Savage rose to meet her and held her chair as she sat down, then took his seat again. Well, he thought, that confirms Phillip's comment about the horses.
Mrs. D, hearing her voice, quickly appeared. "Breakfast, Miss Anne?"
"Yes, thank you, Mrs. D. The usual, please."
Settled, she smiled one of her smiles at Savage, and said, "Sorry to be so late. Afraid I'm not a morning person, unless I have to be. I suppose you've been up for hours, and have already eaten."
"Yes. But not because I wanted to be." he said. "I'm just used to waking early; goes with the job. I have eaten - Mrs. D made me a wonderful breakfast - but I was just about to have another cup of coffee."
They chatted while she ate - scrambled eggs, tomatoes, toast, and coffee - and Savage slowly sipped his coffee. When she had finished, she asked, "Are you still up for a ride in the country?" Noticing a 'look' on his face, "You DO ride?"
"Of course. I was raised with horses on the farm." then mumbled to himself under his breath, "I just never rode them much."
An hour later, they were at the stables as their horses were led out by Thomas, one of the estate's helpful pensioners. Savage was surprised, and grateful, to see they had Western saddles.
"I could never get used to those English 'postage-stamp' saddles," Anne explained, "so Robert had these shipped over for me."
"This is 'Miss Pris'," she continued, patting the neck of her horse. "You'll be riding 'Bouncer'."
" 'Bouncer'. Should I be concerned?" he asked only half joking as he placed his foot in the stirrup and swung his leg over the saddle. 'Bouncer' didn't sound like an especially friendly name to him.
"Bouncer? ... Oh, the name!" she laughed. "No. He's as gentle as a lamb. When he was born, he didn't walk normally at first, just sort of bounced around on his back legs, so we started calling him 'Bouncer', and the name stuck."
Both horses carried full saddlebags. Anne's were filled with food for their lunch, and his appeared to contained a tackle box and break-apart fishing poles. She had thought of everything. As it was a warm day, Savage took off his jacket, and tied it to the bedroll tie straps on the back of the saddle.
As they started out and passed through a gap in the hedge, following a well-worn path along the edge of the woods, he could hear voices from the patio laughing and talking; the day guests had already arrived.
They rode along, side-by-side where the path permitted, single-file where it didn't. Crossing a meadow, they flushed several coveys of grouse and pheasant, and later in a small clearing, they came upon a large twelve-point stag grazing with three doe. They stopped to watch, but the stag sensed their presence, and raised his head in alarm and looked directly at them. He snorted a warning and pawed the ground, then turned and trotted away, the does following.
After an hour or so, they came to another larger clearing with a old derelict, broken down cottage in the center. They stopped and dismounted to give the horses a rest.
"It doesn't look like much now," Anne said, "but in its day, this was the gamekeeper's cottage. Of course, there hasn't been a gamekeeper since the turn of the century, and it has mostly been vacant; but, before they married, Phillip used to sneak off to meet Madge here."
"Yes. Phillip was madly in love with Madge, but his parents disapproved; she wasn't from their social class. She was a local girl from the town, a shop keeper's daughter. But Phillip didn't care and continued to see here anyway. He wanted to marry her, but Madge was worried about the difference in their 'stations', and at first, refused him. But he finally wore her down, and they were married.
When he showed up at the front door with his 'bride', a fait accompli, so to speak, his parents made the best of it and accepted her, although from what Madge told me, they were a little 'cool', at first. But after they got to know her, she said, they didn't care who her parents were and loved her like she was their own, and she them."
Mounting up again, another thirty minutes or so brought them to a small lake, surrounded by a grassy meadow and beyond that a dense forest. "What a beautiful place." he said.
"I knew you would like it! It's my favorite spot. I thought we'd lunch here, and if you'd like, fish a little."
Thenshe dismounted, and pulled the saddlebags from the back of her horse. Savage dismounted as well, and loosened the cinch on Bouncer's saddle, then did the same for Miss Pris. There was good grass to be had by the lake, and he tethered the horses so they'd have access to both. Just because he didn't particularly like to ride horses, didn't mean he didn't know how to care for them.
While he was seeing to the horses, Anne threw down a blanket for them to sit on, then unpacked the food, plates and eating utensils. Mrs. D had outdone herself: cold chicken, potato salad, Scotch eggs (hard-boiled eggs enclosed in sausage meat, rolled in breadcrumbs, and fried), cheese and crackers, fruit, and bottled water.
They talked as they ate, but it was mostly a one-sided conversation. Anne wanted to know more about his Group, so he told her about the exceptional people under his command: Harvey Stovall, Joe Cobb, Doc Kaiser, Tony Nero, Ernie Ross, and many others. After about an hour, they had done the best they could with Mrs. D's repast, and could eat and drink no more.
While Anne packed the remainder of the lunch back into the saddlebags, Savage walked to the edge of the lake, and finding a downed tree, sat on the grass and leaned back against its trunk, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun. He gazed out over the lake, taking in its beauty, then noticing motion on the far shore, he saw a pair of red fox cautiously approach the water for a drink. He continued to watch as they drank their fill then retreated back into the forest. He hadn't seen sights like he'd seen today since he was a boy.
The lake was teeming with fish, and every so often, a big one would jump, making a splash and leaving a circle of ripples where it fell back into the water. He was tempted to get one of the poles and try his luck, but just couldn't work up the energy.
"It's so beautiful here, and quiet." he said, as Anne came to sit by him. "You could almost forget there's a war. I don't remember when I've felt so at peace."
"I know." she said. "I come here when I just want to get away, shut out the world and all the tragedy happening in it."
They sat there for a while not saying anything, then Anne noticed that Savage had drifted off. She watched him as he slept. He looked relaxed, the tension and stress that had been written in every line on his face was gone. She knew then, if she let herself, she could love him.
It was getting late, and dark clouds were forming, when she woke him. Savage came awake with a start, not knowing for a moment where he was. Then as he remembered, he saw Anne watching him with that smile.
He grinned sheepishly and said, "I'm sorry. I hope you don't think I always fall asleep when I'm with a beautiful woman. I'm usually better company."
"It's alright. You were obviously tired. But I think we'd better head back now. I don't like the looks of those clouds."
Looking up at the sky, "You're right; it's going to rain. Get your things. I'll get the horses."
Within a few minutes they were on their way. Anne led them back a quicker, more direct route. While it had taken them over two hours to get to the lake, this route had them within sight of the house in just under thirty minutes.
It had begun to rain, lightly at first, but now more heavily. Savage untied his jacket from behind his saddle and gave it to Anne. She had just put it on, when the rain started coming down fast and hard; then the thunder and lightning started. Urging their horses on, they made a run for the stables. As they reached their goal, they slowed and rode straight in through the open stable door.
Savage was soaked to the skin, but his leather jacket had saved Anne from the worst of it. As they dismounted, they looked at each other and began to laugh. "We look like a couple of drowned rats." Anne said, as she pushed back the wet strands of hair that clung to the side of her face. "Yes," he said, pulling at the wet clothes clinging to him. "I feel like one, too."
Seconds later, Phillip ran from the house, followed by Davis carrying an umbrella and dry towels. "Thank God, you're back." Phillip said, as Davis handed them the towels. "I saw the clouds forming, and was worried you wouldn't make it back before the rain. Let's get you both into the house and dried off.
After a hot soaking bath and a change into dry clothes, Savage came back downstairs to the living room. He found Phillip there, building a fire, while Davis placed oil lamps around the room.
The rain was coming down in buckets now, and the time between the lightning and the thunder was getting shorter which meant that the storm was getting closer.
"Looks like it's going to be a bad one and last a while. With storms like this, we often lose power, so it's best to be prepared." Phillip said by way of explanation. "We have the generator, of course, but I don't like to waste the petrol unless it's really needed."
"Can I help with anything?" Savage asked.
"No. But thank you. This happens often enough Davis and I have a routine."
"Has Anne come down yet?" Savage asked.
"No. She'll be a while yet; she'll have to do her hair. You know how women are." he said with a grin. "Would you care for a drink while we wait?"
"I could be talked into that. Whiskey and water, if you have it."
Phillip and Savage had finished their drinks, and were discussing the progress of the air war, when Anne appeared, magically transformed from a 'drowned rat' back into a beautiful woman again.
"Sorry to keep you gentlemen waiting," she said. "but a girl has to keep up her appearance." and seeing the drink glasses, asked, "Can you make one of those for me?"
"Of course, my dear. The usual?"
"Yes, please. Whiskey and water."
Phillip poured three whiskey and waters, and as he handed them out, made the toast, "Confusion to the enemy!"
"Confusion to the enemy!" They repeated.
"Now," Phillip said, "tell me all about your day. Where did you go?"
But before they could reply, Davis appeared, "Dinner is served."
It was a sumptuous, and cozy, dinner by candle light, as the power had gone off shortly after they were seated. Mrs. D had everything prepared and ready to serve: roast pork with apple sauce, boiled potatoes, steamed vegetables, hard rolls, and bread pudding for dessert. Lest Savage think they were circumventing the rationing edicts, Phillip was quick, and proud, to point out that everything on the table had come from the estate - their piggery and their gardens.
After dinner, they all withdrew to the living room, warmly lit by the fire and the oil lamps. Phillip found the book he had been reading, and settled into his leather chair to read, but it wasn't long before he excused himself, "I think I'll leave you young people to it and turn in. Good evening."
Anne had challenged Savage to a game of checkers, and after moving a table and chairs in front of the fireplace for the light, and setting up the checker board, they spent the rest of the evening playing several cut-throat games. Anne gave no quarter, and accepted none. When all was said and done, she had beaten Savage badly, five games to two.
"That's all for me," Savage said finally. "I know when to quit. I think I'll call it a night. Thank you, Anne, for a wonderful day. I'll see you in the morning."
"Good night, Frank."
It was Sunday. Sometime during the night, the rain had stopped, and the power returned. Savage rose early again and packed his bag, then he went down to the breakfast room where he found Phillip waiting. They made small talk as they ate their breakfasts, then as Phillip got up to leave, he shook hands with Savage and said,
"I'm glad you came, Frank. It's been awfully good for Anne. This is the first time she's invited anyone down other than old friends since Robert died. ... I hope you will visit us again."
Savage thanked Phillip for his hospitality and promised to return when he could. After Phillip had left, he slowly finished his coffee, then went into the kitchen to say thank you and goodbye to Mrs. D.
He started to return to his room to get his bag, but saw Davis had beaten him to it, and the bag was sitting at the foot of the stairs. All that was left now was to say his farewell to Anne, and he went into the living room to wait. Charlie was curled up in his favorite chair, but as Savage entered, he sat up, then jumped down and went over to greet him.
"So where were you at breakfast? I saved you some scrapes, but Mrs. D has them now." he said as he sat down on the sofa. Charlie jumped up and sat next to him, allowing himself to be scratched.
That was where Anne found him when she appeared. She had made an effort to wake early - at least, early for her - to spend some time with him before he left. There was a lot that needed to be said, but she wasn't sure how to say it, or if he wanted to hear it. So in the end, they just talked about his visit and the wonderful time they both had. Then it was time to go, and there was no point in delaying it any further.
Anne followed him out to his car and watched as he put his bag in the trunk, neither of them able to say what they wanted.
"I've had a wonderful time, Anne." he said again. "Thank you for inviting me." He hesitated a second, then, "I'll call you later, if that's all right."
She smiled that smile, and replied, "I'll look for to it."
There was a awkward moment when Savage didn't know whether to offer his hand or ...
Then Anne took the initiative and leaning in, kissed him on the cheek. Savage on impulse put his arms around her and pulled her to him, then kissed her, and she responded with a will of her own.
They held the kiss for a moment, then Savage released her and stepped back. Brushing his fingers lightly and affectionately under her chin, he said softly, "I'll call you." Then he got in his car and drove away.
As Anne watched him drive up the path, then turn out the gate, Sir Phillip came up from behind and put his arm around her shoulder. "You like him."
"Yes. Yes, I do ... very much. I think I could love him, but ..."
Phillip turned her around to face him. He could see tears welling up in her eyes. "But?"
"I'm afraid. ... I couldn't stand to fall in love again, and then lose him like I lost Robert."
She was quietly sobbing now and buried her face in his shoulder. He gave her a minute, then gently pulled away, and lifting her chin wiped a tear from her cheek. "Let's go inside and talk about it."
Harvey Stovall was surprised to find General Savage already in his office when he came in Monday morning. One look at his face told him how his weekend went, but he asked anyway.
"I trust the General had a relaxing leave." Stovall probed, sounding Savage out.
"Very relaxing, Major. I highly recommend Markham Hall for your next leave."
"and the 'company'?" Stovall pressed.
"The 'company' was most pleasant ... and that's all you are going to get, Harvey." he said laughing, "so you can stop fishing."
Not willing to let it go yet, Stovall continued innocently, "Is the shepherd's pie at the Sugar Loaf as good as everyone says?"
"What? How?! ... Oh, never mind." he said shaking his head and laughing again. "Harvey you've got to stop doing this; you're making me crazy!"
"Sorry, Frank. I couldn't resist. You and Anne Markham were spotted at the Sugar Loaf Friday night by some of the boys. It was all over the base by Sunday. I heard it from Ernie."
"Oh, great. I thought I saw some familiar faces. Well, there's goes my command image ... drinking in a pub with a woman."
"I don't know about the drinking part, but the feedback I've been getting has your popularity up several points. Apparently, many have tried to approach Mrs. Markham and been shot down. The boys are proud that their General succeeded where others have failed."
"No, I'm afraid not. ... Also, they rather like the idea that you have a girl; makes you seem more human."
"Harvey, tell me. Am I running a Bomb Group, or a boy's club? Try to squash this will you."
"Thank you. ... and speaking of Ross," he said looking around. "where is he?"
"He came in yesterday and told me Sergeant Farrell had contacted him, and told him to report for Gunnery School today.'
"What?" Savage was surprised. "How'd he get a class so soon? I only signed his application a few days ago. It should have taken him at least a month to get a class date; there's usually a backlog."
"I called Farrell, and he confirmed it. Told me he'd had a sudden vacancy in his current class - a student with acute appendicitis. With the training Ross already had, Farrell knew he could sign him off anytime, but that he required formal class time for his Sixty-six-dash-One Personnel File. He said he hated to waste a slot teaching Ross what he already knew ... like you said, there's a waiting list. His current class is in its final block, so he called Ross knowing he could jump in without missing a beat. This way, Farrell told me, Ross gets the necessary classroom time on his record, and he doesn't waste a slot."
"I don't know how Ross does it; luckiest kid I ever saw." Savage said shaking his head. "I hope he takes that luck with him when he goes up the first time."
"Okay, so what else has been happening?"
"Not much. All crews are on a rotating schedule of three-day passes."
"No. Not yet, anyway. Major Henderson (Savage's Provost Marshal) has reported only the usual 'drunk and disorderly' and civilian complaints; nothing warranting formal disciplinary action."
"Good. What about replacement aircraft?"
"According to Pinetree, we can expect three new 'Forts' by the end of the week."
"Good. Nero will be happy to see some new aircraft, and parts, and so will I. How's he coming with the repairs?"
"Better than expected, actually. He managed to 'acquire' - Savage noted the emphasis on the word - some parts he needed, and says we should be able to put up twenty by the end of the week. With the new replacements, that will put us in better shape than we've been in months."
"That's great. I told you he always 'pads' his estimate. ... Should I ask about HOW he 'acquired' those parts?"
"I opted not to ask, and I think it might be best if the General didn't either."
Savage was aware of Nero's 'unofficial', and probably illegal, bartering practices with the other Groups in the Wing, but chose to turn a blind eye. He didn't know exactly what Nero was trading, and wasn't going to ask. All he cared was that Nero kept his planes flying. But one day, he knew, there would come a reckoning.
Changing the subject, "Has Doc Kaiser sent over a casualty report for the Lübeck mission?"
"Yes, sir." Stovall said as he searched through the papers in Savage's basket, and finding it, reluctantly handed it to him.
Savage tensed as he read the report. He knew they had been badly hurt over Lübeck, but not this bad. Besides the men lost on the mission, several more had either died of their wounds, or were listed as critical. Savage wondered now, if he had the planes, would he have crews to fly them.
"What have I got on my schedule today, Harvey?"
"The Morning Report and whatever's on your desk. No appointments, so far, General."
"OK. You and Cobb take the Morning Report, and no appointments for the rest of the day, unless it's something that can't wait. I have letters to write."
"Yes, sir. There are drafts for most of them already in your basket." He knew Savage was talking about 'next-of-kin' letters, and as he left, he shut the office door behind him.
Savage hated paperwork in general, but most of all, he hated writing letters to the families of those who had died under his command. Stovall would write drafts, but Savage always wrote the actual letters, trying to put a personal touch to the explanation of why someone's loved one wasn't ever coming home. He didn't personally know everyone he wrote letters for; he commanded hundreds of men and couldn't possibly know them all, but Harvey always included personal information about each man to make his task a little easier. Still, Savage would struggle over every word trying to say something that would provide comfort to the families.
It was the letters for the ones that had made it back, and then died of their wounds, that were the hardest for him. It always seemed that these men had been cheated somehow. They had done their duty, gone in harm's way, and made it back. It wasn't fair that they should then die when they were safe at home.
Savage was slowly working his way through the letters, and had just pulled another from the stack, when the name - 'Ballard, Kurt J., Staff Sergeant, Gunner' - stopped him cold.
"He can't be dead!" he said aloud. "It was just a leg wound!"
He picked up the phone, "Get me Doc Kaiser at the Hospital."
When Kaiser came on the line, Savage skipped the pleasantries and said, "Doc? ... Savage. ... Sergeant Ballard, waist gunner. He was wounded in the leg on that last mission. I just found out he's dead. What happened?"
"Ballard." Kaiser had to think for a moment to place the name. "Kurt Ballard. Yes ... I'm sorry, General. I didn't know he was on your crew."
"But how did he die? I talked to him Thursday morning, and he was fine. He said you told him he'd be good as new in a couple of months."
"He died of respiratory failure due to, I believe, a pulmonary embolism." Kaiser said. "But I'll need to do a post mortem to be sure."
"What does that mean?"
"He developed a clot in his bloodstream, probably from the break in his femur. The clot eventually became big enough to block the pulmonary artery, obstructing the flow of blood through his lungs. Simply put, he wasn't getting enough oxygen and suffocated."
"It happened Friday night while he was sleeping. His vitals were normal at midnight, but when the nurse made her rounds again at two, he was gone. I doubt he felt anything, General. It would have been very sudden. ... I'm sorry."
"I'm sure you did all you could, Doc. I ... it just caught me by surprise. I thought he'd be alright."
"Ballard. Ballard." Kaiser repeated. "Now I remember. I thought he looked familiar. Wasn't he a member of your crew on that Hamburg mission? Second and third degree burns on his hands, as I recall."
"Yes. He survived that mission so he could die on this one." Savage said bitterly.
"Are you all right, General? You don't sound ..."
"I'm fine, Doc. Just tired of writing letters. Sorry to have bothered you."
Kaiser was about to say that it was no bother, then realized the General was no longer on the line.
Savage was beating himself up, as if knowing Ballard's condition beforehand would have somehow changed the outcome. This had been Ballard's twenty-second mission; he only had three more to go before he could rotate back to the States. Why?
Then he recalled the Hamburg mission. It was months ago. They were just coming off the bomb run when his plane had been badly damaged by flak, and he had been severely wounded. While the crew fought to keep the plane in the air, Ballard, with his bare hands, had pushed a burning ammunition locker out of the plane before it could cook off. He had recommended Ballard for an Air Medal.
Ballard's letter was harder than usual to write, and after he'd finished, he set the rest aside; he'd written all he could for now. He leaned back in his chair, and rubbed his fingers against his temples in an attempt to suppress the headache growing behind his eyes. He needed some fresh air.
Taking a break, he drove to the flight line, stopping on the edge of the parking apron to watch Nero and his maintainers work on his wounded birds.
As he sat there, he thought about what Wiley had said the other night at the hotel. He knew he was right; the 918th didn't need him anymore, hadn't for months. Any one of his squadron commanders could lead, and had on numerous missions, and Joe Cobb had virtually run Air Operations the months he had been in the hospital. The Group would be fine without him.
So why couldn't he let go? It's not as if he liked it. The Army Air Force was his chosen profession, but no one in his right mind LIKED war. What was it Anne had asked, 'If you hate it so much, why do you keep doing it?' He hadn't had an answer for her then, and he didn't now.
A short time later, he started his jeep, and drove back to his office.
When Savage came in the next morning, Harvey Stovall wasn't there, but a young corporal was sitting at Ross's desk, and he immediately sprang to attention.
The boy was of slightly less than average height, slim, red-headed with a flattop, and wore wire-rimmed glasses. He was pink faced, with freckles, and Savage was sure it would be years before he would ever need to use a razor. He looked like he should be jerking sodas somewhere, not sitting behind a desk in his office.
"As you were, Corporal? ... Corporal?"
"Kiefer, sir. Daniel J. I'm your replacement clerk while Ernie, .. I mean, while Sergeant Ross is in Gunnery School."
"Oh, yes. I had forgotten. Alright. Carry on, Kiefer."
Savage started for his office, then stopped wondering where Stovall was. "Kiefer, do you ..."
"Sir!" The boy sprang to attention again.
"Kiefer, it is not necessary to jump to attention every time I say something. Now relax and sit down."
"Yes, sir." Kiefer replied as he took his seat again.
"Now, do you know where Major Stovall is?"
"Yes, sir." Kiefer replied a little hesitantly. "He's over at the hospital."
"What's he doing over there?"
Kiefer mumbled something that Savage couldn't hear. "What was that? Speak up."
"I said he's having his hand x-rayed, sir."
"It was an accident, General. Honest." It all came out in a rush, as Kiefer tried to explain. "The Major was showing me where the forms were in the filing cabinets, and I sort of shut one of the drawers on his hand."
Savage smothered a laugh, then as straight-faced as he could, said, "Alright, Corporal. When Major Stovall returns, tell him I'd like to see him in my office."
Savage poured himself a cup of coffee from the ever present pot setting on top of the small coal stove in his office. He took a sip, then grimaced. It was yesterday's coffee, and it was cold. The first one in the office, usually Ross, made a fresh pot, but that obviously hadn't happened this morning.
Taking his cup and the cold pot back to the outer office, "Corporal" he started, "... as you were." he said as the boy jumped to his feet again. "Corporal, do you know how to make a pot of coffee?"
"Well .. Yes, sir."
Setting the cup and pot on the boy's desk, "Good. Then please make one. That, and feeding the stoves, is to be done first thing every morning."
Savage returned to his office, and fed some coal into the stove to get it going again, then went backto his desk, and started in on the last of the letters. A short time later, Kiefer knocked on his doorframe, then entered with the fresh pot of coffee and set it on the now heated stove. He poured Savage a cup, set it on his desk, and left.
"Thank you, Corporal." At least he can make coffee, Savage thought. That's a start.
An hour later, just as he had finished the last letter, Stovall knocked on his door, "You wanted to see me, General?"
"Yes. Come in, Major."
Stovall entered holding his right hand slightly hidden behind his back and closed the door behind him.
"Okay, Harvey." Savage said, barely holding back a grin. "Let's see it."
"I don't know what the General is ..."
"Let me see the hand, Major."
Reluctantly, Stovall brought out his right hand. Four of his fingers were in metal splints. The only digit still working was his thumb; the entire hand was swelling and an angry red.
Savage struggled to suppress a laugh, but failed and started to chuckle. "Sorry, Harvey, I know it's not funny, and I don't mean to belittle your injury, but ... That looks ridiculous; I can't wait to see you try to salute."
"It's not as bad as it looks." Stovall said somewhat indignantly. "Only the middle two fingers are broken, the others are just bruised."
Containing himself, Savage asked, "Does it hurt much?"
"Not too bad now, Kaiser gave me a shot; but when the boy slammed that drawer ... God, I wouldn't have believed something could hurt that much." ... Then joking, "Maybe I should put in for a Purple Heart."
"Sorry, Harvey," Savage replied with another laugh. "As much as it may seem like it at the moment, I don't think Corporal Kiefer's act qualifies as one committed by an enemy in a time of war."
Stovall feigned disappointment. "I suppose you're right, and I guess it was an accident. Kiefer's a good clerk; he's just a little intimidated by rank and over eager to please."
"I noticed. How old is he? He doesn't look a day over sixteen."
"He's nineteen, actually. He'll be twenty in three months. I checked his personnel file. He just has one of those baby faces. But he's a good clerk."
"Where did you find him?"
"He's Major Chaffee's clerk, from the 901st. Chaffee wasn't happy about giving him up either. Instead of getting a green replacement from the pool, I decided to 'requisition' one of our own Squadron clerks. Kiefer has been with the Group the longest, is familiar with the paperwork, and has had excellent evaluations. It just might take a few days to break him in."
"OK. See what you can do. It's going to be difficult enough with Ernie gone to keep this office functioning properly without having a crippled Adjutant and a timid clerk who jumps every time I look at him. I'm going to need a new driver, too, so find out if he can drive, and if he can't, see to it that he learns ... fast.
Now, get out there and take care of that hand. ... and Major, no calls. I need some time."
Savage was just pouring himself another cup of coffee - Kiefer could make a good cup, he'd give him that - when Stovall called over the intercom, "I know you didn't want to be disturbed, sir, but General Crowe is on the line.
"That's alright, Harvey. I'll take it."
Picking up the receiver, he said, "Savage."
"Frank? Wiley. I know you're still on a Stand Down, but if you had to, how many planes could you put up in the next day or two?"
"Good morning to you, too, Wiley."
"I'm serious, Frank. How many?"
Recognizing the urgency in Crowe's voice, Savage replied, "I don't know, Wiley. Nero says we should be able to put up twenty by the end of the week. But tomorrow or the next day? ... I'll have to ask him. Is it important?"
"Very. But I can't talk about it over the phone. Find out how many planes you can put up, then come down to Pinetree. ... As soon as you can, Frank."
"Yes, sir. I'll be there within the hour."
"See you then."
General Crowe was waiting when Savage knocked, then entered his office. Returning Savage's salute, he said, "Thanks for getting here so fast, Frank. Take a seat."
Once he was seated, "What's so important you couldn't tell me on the phone, Wiley?"
"First ... how many planes can you put up?"
"Nineteen tomorrow, for sure. Maybe twenty by Thursday."
"OK. Good. ... Have you ever heard of the German heavy cruiser 'Prinz Eugen'?"
"Sure. Didn't she used to run with the battleships 'Scharnhorst' and 'Gneisenau', raising havoc with merchant ships in the South Atlantic? Caught a torpedo in the stern last year and limped back to Kiel for repairs."
"That's the one. Only she's not at Kiel anymore. She's out."
Crowe stood and walking over to the wall, pulled back the curtain covering a large map of Western Europe.
Taking a pointer and tracing the route, he said, "Three weeks ago, Prinz Eugen, with a small screening force, made a run from Kiel, out the Denmark Straights, across the North and Norwegian Seas, around the Faroe Islands, and into the North Atlantic.
British Naval Intelligence got word, and the Navy managed to scrape together a force to go after her. Two days ago, they intercepted her here," marking a spot in the Atlantic with the pointer. "about two hundred miles off the southern tip of Greenland."
"In the ensuing battle, Prinz Eugen was damaged, and had to disengage, leaving the two forces to slug it out, while she made a run for it. She apparently was hit in the stern again - that seems to be a weak spot on these heavy ships - and is currently steaming under reduced power. The Royal Navy sunk or forced the remainder of the German force to scatter, but by the time they were able to give chase, the Prinz Eugen was out of range, even at her reduced speed. ... So Prinz Eugen is out there by herself looking for a friendly port to run to."
"Scout planes from the Navy ships shadowed her for as long as they could, and radioed that she appeared to be making for one of France's western ports, but they had to turn back before they could determine which one.
As of her last reported position, course and speed, there are only two ports she could be making for that are big enough for a ship her size. Lorient," he said pointing, "is the closest. But Brest (pointing again) is bigger and has better facilities."
"The RAF sent two squadrons of torpedo bombers, Grumman Avengers, but even that far out, the Germans had her under heavy air cover. The bombers weren't able to penetrate the German fighter screen and had to abort."
Returning to his desk, Crowe continued, "Both ports are too well defended for the British, or us, to send ships in after her, and the RAF doesn't want to try a night raid lest they miss her in the dark, so they've asked us for help."
"Assuming no changes in her course or speed, she's expected to reach Lorient, tomorrow morning, and Brest that evening. Since we don't know which port to target, I plan to send two Groups ... the 911th and the 918th ... and hit both. Hugh Zempke's 56th Fighter Group will provide air cover. ... What do you think?"
"Well, neither one is a sure thing, Wiley. She could change course at any time, but if she doesn't, and I were her Captain, I'd head for the nearest port that offered protection, and worry about the repairs later."
"I agree. Lorient. That's your target, Frank. Expect the Field Order this afternoon."
"Yes, sir. I'll start mission planning as soon as I get back to the base."
Savage saluted Crowe, and headed for the door.
"Frank, wait." Crowe said, waving him back.
Crowe waited until Savage was seated again, then asked, "How did your weekend go at Markham Hall ... with Anne Markham?"
"First Stovall, now You!" Savage said, somewhat annoyed. "Why does everyone want to know about my weekend?"
"Because we're interested!"
"Well," he said, resigned that Crowe would get it out of him sooner or later. "If you must know. It went great. Why wouldn't it? She's beautiful, intelligent, fun to be with, independent with a mind of her own ... and she plays a mean game of checkers."
"You like her, then?"
"Yes. ... Yes, I do. Very much."
Savage paused for a moment, then opened up. He needed to talk about her with someone. "I've only known her for a few days, Wiley, but I think I could be in love with her."
"How does she feel?"
"I think she feel the same. At least, when I was leaving, I kissed her, and she kissed me back."
Savage stood then, and went over to the window and stared out. This was a habit he had when he was trying to think. "Things are happening too fast, Wiley. People just don't fall in love this fast ..."
"Frank." Crowe interrupted. "Did I ever tell you how I met Martha?"
"Only a few hundred times." Savage laughed.
"Well, sit down, and let me tell you again..."
"It was right after the First War, I was a young Captain at the time, having drinks with some friends at the Army Navy Club in DC, when I saw this beautiful girl sitting alone at a table. She kept checking the time and was obviously waiting for someone. I watched her on and off for about twenty minutes, but no one showed up.
She was too good looking to be left sitting there by herself, so I worked up enough nerve to go over. I told her it looked like her date wasn't coming, and asked if she'd like some company. I fully expected her to tell me to take a hike, but instead, she said 'sure, why not.' ... Martha was always one to speak her mind."
"I remember." Savage said with a grin. "She put me in my place more than once."
"And you always deserved it. ... Anyway," Crowe continued. "After that we began to see each other. I knew right away that I loved her, and after a couple of weeks, I proposed, ... and she accepted."
"It gets better every time you tell it, Wiley."
"The POINT I'm trying to make here, Frank, is that love CAN happen JUST that fast."
"If you like the woman, and you think she likes you, go after her. Don't let her get away. Neither of you is getting any younger, and believe me, you don't want to spend the rest of your life alone."
"I hear what you're saying, Wiley, but there's a war on. She's already lost one man because of it. She may not want to risk it again."
"If she really loves you, it won't matter."
"Martha and I had nineteen wonderful years together before she passed. But if we'd only had nineteen minutes, it would have been worth it. I wouldn't have missed, or regretted, a single minute. ... and I'd be willing to bet, that if you asked Anne, she'd tell you the same thing."
"And," Crowe said, not willing to let an opportunity go by, "if your flying is a real problem for her, you can always accept my offer to take over the Wing."
"You never give up, do you, Wiley."
"No. ... and I won't until you're sitting behind this desk."
The Field Order was waiting when Savage got back to the base. Major Stovall had already cancelled all leaves and passes, and notified Major Cobb.
Savage found Cobb in the Operations Room with the various heads of department, planning and coordinating the details for the mission. The primary target, Lorient, was identified in the Field Order. Usually it was the local commander's prerogative to select an alternate target, or targets, if the Group had to divert for some reason, but not for this mission. There would be no diverting for alternate targets, this one was too important.
By the end of the day, all of the details had been worked out - armament, munitions and fuel loads; route selection (in and out) with headings, altitudes, navigational control points, radio frequencies, and call signs; coordination with the 911th and fighter escort, and rally points; identification of heavy flak areas and enemy fighter concentration; and weather. Then they went over the details again; nothing could be left to chance.
On the following morning, Wednesday, all lead pilots, navigators and bombardiers were pre-briefed; and all crews notified there would be a mission Thursday, briefing at zero five hundred. Now all they had to do was wait for the Prinz Eugen to make port.
Late in the afternoon, a last-minute change in the Field Order came down. They would have to change out the bomb load, replacing the thousand-pound bombs with five hundred-pounders. Savage was making the necessary changes to the Air Order, when his intercom buzzed.
"General, do you have time for a visitor?"
"I'm a little busy right now, Major." he replied, somewhat annoyed at the interruption. "Who is it?"
"A lady from the Ministry of Economic Warfare, the Statistical Research Department."
"The Statistical Research what? ..." Then it hit him. "Anne?!"
He opened his door, and there she was. "I was in the area, Frank, and thought I'd just pop in for a quick visit. ... If that's all right."
"Of course. Of course. ... Wait! How did you get onto the base?"
"I called, and Major Stovall was kind enough to pass me through the gate, and the guard gave me directions here."
Then Anne held out her hand to Stovall saying, "The General apparently isn't going to introduce us. I'm Anne, and you must be 'Harvey'. The General has told me so much about you. Said you practically ran the place for him."
"I don't believe those were my EXACT words."
Ignoring Savage, Stovall awkwardly took her hand with his uninjured left, and replied, "It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Markham. We've heard so little about you."
" 'Anne', please." she said, giving him one of her smiles, and noticing his splinted fingers and now seriously black and blue right hand, asked "and what have you done to your poor hand?"
"Just a little accident." he said, glancing at Kiefer, who looked away. "It'll be fine in a couple of weeks."
Then noticing Corporal Kiefer at his desk, "... and you must be Ernie Ross, General Savage's driver.
"No, Ma'am. I'm Corporal Kiefer. Sergeant Ross is not in today."
"Oh, that's too bad. I would liked to have met him; I've heard so much about him."
Savage had had enough. "I'm sure you didn't come by to meet my office staff, and I'm equally sure they have work to do, so let's go into my office where we can talk."
Back in his office, Savage picked up the Field Order change and the Air Order he had been re-working and took it out to Stovall. "Give this to Major Cobb, will you, Harvey. A change in the bomb loads for tomorrow, have him finish working it."
"Yes, sir." he said, then added. " ... She's nice, Frank. Don't blow it."
"Harvey..." Then went back into his office and closed the door.
Looking around his office, an office not unlike so many others she'd been in, Anne saw a small framed document on the windowsill behind the desk. She picked it up, expecting it to be some honor he had earned, but as she looked at it, she saw it was in German. Fluent, she read it, then exclaimed, "This is a Prisoner of War form!"
"Yes." he said, then went on to explain that the form, registering him as a Prisoner of War, had been started when he had been captured last year. Tom Smith had taken it from the German Major filling it out when he had rescued Savage. Smith had it in his pocket when they made it back to England, and had later given it to him as a 'souvenir'.
"I keep it," he said staring at the form and remembering how close he had come to spending the rest of the war in a Luft Stalag, "to remind me what happens when I do something really stupid."
"Now," he said replacing the frame on the windowsill. "Archbury is a pretty good drive from London. How is it you just 'happened' to be in the area?" Savage assumed she had made the drive just to see him, and he was encouraged by the thought.
"I had to drive some friends up to Tempsford. It's not that far from Archbury, so I thought I'd drop by and give you an opportunity to explain why you haven't called ... as you said you would."
Savage thought she sounded a little miffed, and now he was on the defensive. He hadn't forgotten; he just hadn't had time. "I meant to call, but I've been caught up in something and haven't had time. I was going to call you later."
Then Anne made an intuitive leap. "You've been alerted."
"I'm sorry, Frank, I shouldn't be bothering you now. ..."
Before she say anything further, Savage interrupted, and seemingly out of context, asked, "Tempsford? ... RAF Tempsford. ... It's not Tom going out again, is it?"
"What do you know about Tempsford?" Anne asked alarmed.
"Nothing, until just now."
Anne looked confused, so Savage explained. "When we returned from France last year, Ross drove Tom and his team back to their base. He took them to Tempsford. It doesn't take much to connect the dots."
"That field is Top Secret." Anne laughed, "I shall have to recommend that in such situations in the future, the agent call for a pickup, rather than accept a ride."
Savage smiled, and encouraged by her laugh, asked, "Are we okay?"
"I don't know. Are we?"
"I'd like to think so."
Anne closed with him, put her arms around his neck and kissed him. "Then we must be." she said. "Anyway, I'm here, and it's after four, so why don't you buy me a drink."
It was still early when they entered the Officer's Club. There weren't many there, but there was a momentary lull as their presence was noted, then conversations resumed. As they made their way across the room to a table in the back, several of the officers who recognized Anne, waved or said their 'hello's', but as she was with the General, they left it at that.
Once they were settled at their table, Savage asked, "Pimms?"
"That would be nice, yes." she replied, and Savage went to the bar to place his order. "Let me have a pint, and a Pimms. You know what that is?"
"Yes, sir." replied the bartender. "I'll bring your drinks right over."
Sipping her Pimms, Anne said, "I'll be staying in London this weekend, Frank, I have to work. That's the real reason I came by; I wondered if you'd like to drive down and meet me after work Saturday? I could make us some dinner at my flat?"
"What about your roommate?"
"Pilot Officer Weeks has wangled some leave, so they'll be off on a delayed honeymoon. I shall have the flat to myself for most of the week."
"I'd like that very much. Why don't I pick you up at St. Ermin's, and you can give me directions."
"Fine. About six?"
"Six, it is."
The club was beginning to fill up now, and they were attracting more attention, so Savage suggested, "Are you hungry? The 'Star and Bottle' in Archbury has a descent menu, although I doubt it's up to the 'Sugar Loaf's' standards."
"I'd love to, Frank. But I'd better get going. I'm staying at home this evening, and I've still a bit of a drive; Mrs. D will be waiting dinner." Then added with a laugh, "and you know how Phillip gets when his dinner is delayed."
"Okay." he said disappointed, and escorted her out to her car. But he was again encouraged by the invitation to her flat. He was making progress.
At the car, Anne turned and gave him a quick peck on the cheek, "Good luck tomorrow, Frank, and be careful ... and call me when you get back, will you.?"
"I'm always as careful," he said as her helped her into the car and shut the door. "As careful as I can be and still get the job done, and yes, I'll call ... I promise."
At zero-seven-thirty, the next morning, twenty B-17s took off from Archbury Field and formed up overhead. Today, Savage was 'Blackjack Leader' and flying in the Piccadilly Lily (where Nero found a new engine, he didn't know or care) and the lead, high and low squadrons were his Red, Blue and Green 'Aces', respectively. The 911th Bomb Group, when they joined with their eighteen planes, would be Red, Blue and Green 'Jokers'.
After take-off, Savage climbed to 5,000 feet, and proceeding according to their flight plan, led the 918th southwest over the English countryside to a predetermined point near Oxford, where homing on a 'splasher' radio beacon, they flew a box pattern while waiting for the 911th Bomb Group to join and form up.
Coming around the pattern for the second time, Savage heard a call over the radio, "Red Ace One (that was Major Cobb from his lead squadron) to Blackjack Leader. Jokers approaching from my six o'clock high, sir."
"Roger, Red Ace One." replied Savage, then, "Blackjack Leader to Joker Leader. Welcome. Form up and keep it tight. Blackjack, out."
Joker leader acknowledged and the two groups slowly transformed into a combat wing formation, with Savage's lead squadron in the center. Then the formation, flying at a low altitude to avoid German radar for as long as possible, continued on toward the southwest coast of England. Passing over Weymouth and out into the English Channel, they rendezvoused with their fighter escort, P-47s from the 56th FG.
"Top turret to pilot. Fighter escort approaching from our six, sir."
Savage acknowledged, then switched to Channel Three, the channel pre-set to the fighters' designated frequency, but before he could make the call, "Sandman Leader to Blackjack Leader. On station with 24 friendlies. Over"
"Blackjack Leader to Sandman. Roger. Glad to have you. Blackjack out."
His formation now complete, Savage began a climb to their cruising altitude of 17,000 feet, and gave the gunners the 'OK' to test fire their guns. Each of the B-17 Flying Fortresses, or 'Forts', carried thirteen Browning .50-caliber machineguns, and little puffs of smoke filled the sky as gunners fired short bursts to clear their guns. At 10,000 feet, they had gone on oxygen, but at today's altitude, they wouldn't need the electrically-heated suits, and other cold weather gear, essential at the higher altitudes.
Not long into the Channel, and still flying southwest, Savage heard a call on his interphone, "Navigator to Pilot."
"What is it, Gardiner?"
"I'm seeing ship activity in the Channel, sir. I don't think they're ours. Several ships heading northeast and hugging the French coast. One of them is big, sir. Could be a heavy cruiser."
"Are you sure, Harry?"
"Yes, sir. Look for yourself."
Savage confirmed the sighting, then said, "All right, Harry. See if you can get a count and determine course and speed."
Savage thought for a moment. Could it be the Prinz Eugen? How could she be this far into the Channel, when she was supposed to be over two hundred miles south? She was believed to be by herself; could she have rendezvoused with the remnants of her screening force, and be making a run for Kiel through the Channel ... the French ports just a feint to draw attention away from her actual direction?
Savage mulled all this over in his mind, then made a decision. "Pilot to radio operator. ... Mike, break radio silence and send the following, 'Believed enemy ship activity in Channel. Possible heavy cruiser and small force.' Get our present position, and the ship count, course and speed from Harry. Then add 'We are continuing to assigned targets'. Have you got that?"
"Yes, sir." came the reply. "Enemy ship activity in Channel; possible heavy cruiser and others; add our position, and number, course and speed of the ships, and we are continuing to assigned targets."
"Good. Get that off quick as you can, and get an acknowledgement."
Savage knew it was a risk to break radio silence, but the German radar station on Ushant off the tip of Brittany, where they were heading, certainly knew they were there by now. If it was the Prinz Eugen, the Navy would have to scramble to send a force to intercept them before they made it into the North Sea and the protection of their home fleet.
Approaching the western tip of Guernsey, "Navigator to Pilot. On course, on time, sir. Checkpoint dead ahead. Three minutes to new heading 1-6-5."
"Roger." Savage replied, as he made the course correction. "New heading 1-6-5." Switching channels on his radio, "Blackjack Leader to all Players. Checkpoint ahead. Joker Leader, this is where we break away. Good luck. We will re-group at the rally point. Blackjack, out."
Savage heard a 'Roger' as the Jokers continued on course toward the Celtic Sea where at a point off the tip of Brittany, they would turn inland for their run on Breast.
With a call of 'Aces follow the leader," Savage turned the formation toward St-Malo on the Brittany coast; looking overhead he saw half his fighter escort also break off and follow.
Over the radio, Savage called, "All gunners be alert for fighters, they'll be on us any time now."
At St-Malo, they turned back southwest again to cross Brittany and approach their target, the Port of Lorient. Savage had anticipated that the Prinz Eugen might have heavier than normal anti-aircraft and fighter protection, so he had made some carefully thought out changes to normal mission procedures in the hopes of throwing the Germans off their game.
Up to this point they had been flying at 17,000 feet, but now they dropped down to 8,000. This was a much lower bombing altitude than he liked, but it was also below the usual fuse settings of the German anti-aircraft batteries, and it would take the them time to determine their new altitude and change their fuse settings. And time was critical.
The course across Brittany was also more risky than approaching from the sea, as the 911th would do, but until the Germans were convinced that it wasn't a feint, and they weren't going to turn and head inland, they would hesitate to pull their fighters away from other areas, and that hesitation would give him still more time.
Lastly, when the fighters did attack, their lower altitude would make it more difficult for them to come at them from below.
Savage was going over all this again in his mind, when the fighters attacked. From Sergeant Wells, his top turret gunner, he heard, "Bandits at eleven and twelve o'clock high."
The fighters, Focke-Wulf 190's, had waited until they had turned back southwest at St-Malo, then came on in a rush. The Lily shuddered as gunners opened up at the fighters darting straight through trying to hit the leaders and split the formation.
Over the interphone, Savage called, "Gunners, short bursts, and verify your targets. We have friendlies out there."
As the FWs turned to make another pass, the P-47s attacked from above. Before the FWs could react, the 'Thunderbolts' had chalked up several kills. But it didn't take long for the Germans to recover.
The bombers continued on course as the fighters broke up into individual dogfights. Over the radio Savage could hear his gunners cheering on the P-47s, until he yelled into his mike, "Cut the chatter! Maintain radio discipline." Then, "Gunners, keep alert. Remember they want us, not the fighters. ... and tighten it up!"
As the fighters went at each other, several FWs managed to break away to continue their attack of the bombers, but the 'Fort' gunners gave as good, if not better, than they got. Several had been hit, and had sustained wounded, including the Lily, as bullets from one of the FWs had stitched their way down the Lily's side, wounding their new right-waist gunner, 'Slim' Rooney.
The formation had been 'bloodied', but they hadn't lost any. But the same could not be said for the Germans. The FWs continued to chase and harass the bombers for another thirty minutes, then suddenly broke off the attack.
Savage knew this meant they were approaching Flak field, and in the distance he could see a thick wall of little white puffs waiting for them.
'Flak' was the by-product of anti-aircraft shells whose fuses were set to detonate at pre-determined altitudes. This technique created a barrier of flak through which the bombers had to fly. The 'flak' itself consisted of thousands of white hot metal splinters created by the exploding shells, which when they hit, destroyed engines, and cut through a B-17's unarmored aluminum skin ... and human flesh ... like it was paper. Everyone feared 'flak'.
But today, because of their lower altitude, most of the shells were exploding above them. As they flew through the field, they were, for the most part, harmlessly showered with falling fragments; it almost sounded like rain on a tin roof. However, some of the flak, still white hot, actually burned through the thin aluminum skin and dropped onto the crew below.
Savage knew the Germans were frantically re-setting their fuses, but they were almost to the target, and he doubted they would be in time to affect their bomb run. The flak on the way out, however, would be another story.
Up ahead, Savage could see their Initial Aiming Point, the Lanester bridge across the Scorff River on the outskirts of Lorient. So far, his formation was intact. He hoped the 911th was doing as well.
"Pilot to Bombardier. IP ahead, center your PDI."
The Pilot's Directional Indicator, or PDI, was part of the Norden Bombsite System. When the autopilot was engaged and the PDI centered, the autopilot would automatically make the necessary corrections for altitude, speed, wind and other factors as the Bombardier sighted on the target.
"Bombardier to pilot. PDI centered."
Savage waited a few seconds, then asked, "What do you see, O'Leary? Is she down there?"
A few seconds later, "I don't think so, sir. I see a few surface ships, but nothing big enough to be a heavy cruiser."
The Prinz Eugen wasn't there. Savage hoped the 911th would have better luck. "Okay, Tim. Target whatever will do the most damage ... ships, docks, repair facilities." Then engaging the Auto pilot, and removing his hands from the control column, he gave O'Leary control of the aircraft. "... It's your airplane!"
Savage felt the bomb bay doors open, and a few moments later, heard, "Bombs Away!"
The Piccadilly Lily rose slightly in the sky as four thousand pounds of bombs and incendiaries left the bomb bay and fell towards the harbor. Then the bomb bay doors closed, and Savage disengaged the Auto Pilot and took back control of his airplane.
The Group bombed off the Leader, so as the first bomb dropped from the Piccadilly Lily, the bombardiers in the rest of the Group pickled their bombs as well.
Fingering his mike, Savage radioed the Group, "Blackjack Leader to Aces, follow the leader. I say again, follow the leader. Close it up. The fighters will waiting and looking for stragglers."
Savage flew straight on, out over the mouth of the harbor, but the expected flak, while thick and heavy, was still high and inaccurate. They had come away relatively unscathed, but he knew this trick would not work more than once.
According to flight plan, Savage led the formation out into the bay of Biscay. Then, after ten minutes, "Navigator to Pilot. Course change in two minutes. New heading 3-6-0."
"Roger. New heading 3-6-0." Making the ninety degree turn north, Savage suddenly heard, "Bandits! Twelve O'clock high. ... Wait! Hold fire! They're ours! It's the P-47s!"
"Radio operator to pilot. Sandman leader on Three, sir."
Switching channels, Savage said. "Blackjack Leader. Go ahead, Sandman."
"Blackjack, do you have stragglers?"
"Negative, Sandman. All present. Let's try to keep it that way."
"Roger that, Blackjack. Sandman, out."
After another thirty minutes, they turned back northeast into the English Channel where they would rendezvous with the 911th and the rest of their fighter escort. Although every eye had been scanning the skies for enemy fighters, none had appeared. It was almost like they had been given a free pass. Savage didn't understand it, and what he didn't understand, he didn't like.
They were nearing the rally point where they would rejoin the 911th, when, the radio operator called. "Radio operator to pilot. I'm picking up a lot of chatter on Joker's frequency, sir. Sounds like he's under attack."
Switching to Joker's dedicated channel, Savage called, "Blackjack Leader to Joker Leader. What is your status? Over."
"Joker Leader to Blackjack. We're at the rally point, Frank, and under attack. At least two 'staffel' (squadrons) of FWs. The P-47s are keeping them busy, but we could use some help."
"Hold on, John. (Colonel John Webber, Commander of the 911th) We'll be there in under two. I'll send my fighters on ahead. Blackjack out."
Switching channels again, "Sandman leader, this is Blackjack. Joker is at the rally point and under attack."
"Roger, Blackjack. We have been monitoring. I've left you a three-ship, the rest of us are already en route."
Now he knew where all the fighters were. If they are harassing the 911th that badly, they must have been successful.
Less than a minute later, Savage found himself in the middle of an air battle. There was no hope of merging to strengthen Joker's formation, so he just came up from behind and waited for the FWs to notice him and split their force to attack his formation. But the addition of more fighters and bombers was enough for the FWs to break off and retreat.
"Blackjack Leader to Joker Leader. How bad is it, John?"
"We're shot up pretty good, Frank. I lost one over the target, another three to these fighters, and there are two stragglers somewhere behind me. At least, I hope they're still there. I had to leave them."
It was a hard thing to do, leave a plane behind, but Savage knew Joker couldn't risk the safety of his Group for two stragglers. The integrity of the formation always came first. He would have, and had, done the same.
Immediately, Savage was back on the radio. "Blackjack to Sandman leader. Joker has two stragglers. I say again, two stragglers. Send a three-ship to shepherd them. Blackjack, out."
"Roger, Blackjack. Shepherds en route. Sandman, out."
Switching channels again, "Blackjack Leader to Joker Leader. P-47s have gone back for your stragglers, John. ... What about the target? Did you get her?"
"Negative. No sign of her, but there were two destroyers and a light cruiser in the harbor, and I emphasize the word 'were'. We did some serious damage. My bombardier thinks we might even have hit a sub on his way out of the pens. ... Anyway, we really stirred up a hornet's nest, and they chased us all the way here. The P-47s really saved our bacon, but I'm afraid they lost of couple in the process. ... Thanks for the help, by the way."
"You're welcome. ... Now let's form up and go home. Blackjack out."
"Pilot to radio operator. Mike, send a strike report to Pinetree. 'No sign of target at either location. Returning to base.' "
It was almost thirteen-hundred (one o'clock) when Savage taxied the Piccadilly Lily to its hardstand and shut down the engines. A few minutes later he tossed his gear out the nose hatch, then swung himself down. He stretched for a moment and rubbed his neck, then removed his hat and ran his fingers vigorously through his hair. This was almost a ritual now at the end of a long mission. His muscles ached and he was tired.
Replacing his hat and looking toward the rear of the plane, he saw his crew had already deplaned and were watching Sergeant 'Slim' Rooney, his wounded waist gunner, as he was helped to the waiting ambulance. Then they climbed into the crew truck waiting to take them to interrogation and mission debriefing, and drove away.
Rooney was Jack Ballard's replacement, a new kid on his first mission, and already wounded. Savage walked over to the boy and asked the corpsman, "How's he doing?"
"Nothing serious, sir. Just a 'flesh' wound in the fatty part of his side. A through-and-through. He'll be good as new in a couple of weeks. Good thing he was carrying a few extra pounds though."
Rooney, jokingly nicknamed 'Slim' because he was a little on the heavy side, grinned and said, "Sometimes it pays to be a little overweight, sir." He winced as the corpsman bandaged his wound. "My first mission,' he went on, "and I have something to write home about."
"Yes, you do. From what I heard, you can claim a piece of one of those FWs. That's certainly something to write about." Savage said, then added, "Though you might want to down-play being wounded. You don't want to worry your folks."
"No, sir, I don't. Thank you."
After the ambulance drove away, Savage noticed Harvey Stovall waiting in his jeep at the edge of the parking apron. Walking over, he climbed into the jeep.
"Another bust, Harvey."
"I heard. But, at least we didn't lose any planes today."
"No. At least, there's that," he said slowly, rubbing his hand over his face. "but we were hurt. I'll have to wait for Kaiser's Casualty Report to see how badly."
"General Crowe is waiting in your office, Frank." Stovall said. "He drove up after receiving your Strike Report."
"I guess we better go, then."
Crowe was looking out Savage's window when he came in. Turning, and walking back around to the front of the desk, he said, "Bad luck, Frank. But at least you didn't lose any planes."
"No." Savage said, going to his desk and reaching into a bottom drawer and removing a bottle and two glasses. Savage poured a good measure into one glass and looked questioningly at Crowe, who shook his head, "No, thanks."
Savage downed the drink in one swallow, then returned the bottle to its drawer. "There was nothing at Lorient. We hit the ships in the harbor, docks and repair yards, but it wasn't worth the trip. Maybe we didn't lose any planes, but we were hurt. I don't know how bad yet."
Savage stared into his glass for a moment, then continued with his report. "She wasn't at Brest either. The 911th got a couple of destroyers and maybe a light cruiser, but got chewed up pretty good in the process."
Savage took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then sat down in his chair. "I'm getting really tired, Wiley, of being sent after targets that aren't there. Do we know where the Prinz Eugen is?"
"Yes. From what I've been able to find out, your report about the ships in the Channel was right on." Crowe said. "The RAF sent out a reconnaissance plane and identified the Prinz Eugen, a light cruiser and three destroyers making a dash through the Channel for the North Sea. Unfortunately, neither the Royal, nor US, Navy had anything big enough or close enough to send after her. They sent everything they had after her the first time.
The RAF sent some Grumman Avengers after her again, but the ships were hugging the French coast and had continuous in-depth air cover. They couldn't get within range and had to abort. Estimates have Prinz Eugen in the Denmark Straights by this evening, and probably back at Kiel by tomorrow night. ... Not good, but I suppose that's better than her running loose in the Atlantic."
"If you knew all this, Wiley, why weren't we recalled?" Savage slammed his glass down on his desk in frustration. "We could have aborted."
"I'm sorry, Frank. By the time the RAF was able to confirm your sighting, and knew anything for certain, it was too late. You were already committed."
"I know. I know. I'm not any happier about this than you are!"
Crowe let Savage stew for a few moments, then said, "Frank ... I'm sorry to have to bring this up now, .. but have you thought about our discussion ... about taking the Wing?"
"Yes ... I've thought about it."
"I don't know, Wiley. ... I need more time."
"How much time?"
"You've made your decision." Savage said looking Crowe in the eye. It was a statement, not a question. "You're going to take the job."
"Yes." Crowe answered. "But it's not official yet. I still have some time before I have to give General Pritchard my answer. I can give you maybe another week, max."
"Thank, Wiley. You'll have my answer."
Crowe stood and started to leave, then stopped. "I suppose, I might as well hit you with all of it while I'm here."
He turned to face Savage again, "Frank, I've had a lot of complaints over the last few months from the other Group commanders about missing parts and spares. There seems to be some 'unofficial' bartering going on between the Groups, the leader of which appears to be your Line Chief, Nero."
Savage tensed. He knew this day would come, but now was not a good time.
"I've turned a blind eye to it so far, Frank, as all of the Groups seemed to benefit overall, but two days ago, a B-17 engine disappeared somewhere between the Southampton docks and the 925th. An entire Wright 'cyclone' turbocharged engine, Frank!"
"So that's where he got it." Savage said to himself.
"Say again." Crowe said. "I didn't catch that."
"Nothing. It was nothing; just thinking out loud."
"Look, Frank. I could control the situation as long as it stayed within the Wing, but the 925th doesn't belong to me. The 925th is in Bill Thompson's 2nd Bomb Wing, and he's raising holy hell about finding those responsible and court-marshalling 'em."
"I'm in a bad spot here, Frank. I know you need Nero, but he's gone too far this time, and he may just have to take the consequences."
"Wiley," Savage said. "I know you think the 918th can survive without its current commander, ... but I guarantee you, I GUANANTEE you, it cannot do its job without Nero."
"You needed me to put up twenty airplanes for the mission today, and I did. But only because Nero managed to 'find' another engine for the Piccadilly Lily. Now, the Prinz Eugen wasn't at Lorient, but she could have been, and one more B-17 could have made the difference."
"Nero does what he has to, to meet mission requirements. He always puts out 200 percent. You take him away, and I promise you the 918th mission success rate will suffer for it."
"Alright! Alright!" Crowe said, raising his hands in defeat. "I'll square it with Thompson somehow. But talk to Nero, will you, Frank. He's got to keep his scavenging within the Wing."
"Thanks, Wiley." Savage said relieved. "I'll have a long 'come to Jesus' talk with him. I'll make sure he doesn't poach on someone else's patch again."
"I'll hold you to that, Frank." Crowe said as he headed for the door again. "Now, I've got to get back to my office." Then he stopped again and turned. " and Frank, don't wait too long to make that decision, will you? You and the 918th ARE going to have to part company sooner or later. When that happens, and you don't take Wing, you're liable to end up as an ACS (Assistant Chief of Staff) at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) shuffling papers, or worst, commanding a Training Base back in the States. Think on that while you're making your decision."
Savage followed Crowe out, then remembering a promise he had made, went back to his office, picked up the phone and dialed Anne's office. When she picked up, just hearing her voice made him forget about everything else, and he smiled.
"Hi." he said. "It's me. I told you I'd call."
"Frank! I was just thinking about you, wondering if you were back yet. ... How did it go today?"
"Not too bad. We didn't lose anybody, but we didn't find the target, either. I'll tell you about it later. Are we still on for Saturday?"
"Yes, definitely. Six o'clock at the Hotel, but pick me up at the side entrance, if you would. We don't like to advertise our comings and goings."
"Alright. Where do you live, by the way? Just so I know."
"Pelham Place, number 42. It's in Knightsbridge, just off Brompton Road. ... a couple of miles west of the Hotel."
Hearing a knock on the door, Savage looked up to see Stovall waiting. "I've got to go, Anne. I'll see you Saturday."
"Come in, Major." he said as he placed the receiver back in its cradle. "What've you got?"
"Casualty report." Stovallreplied handing him the report. "It's not bad. Out of 200 men, only fourteen wounded ... mostly minor, no one critical ... and no deaths. It was a good mission, General."
Savage was reading the report as Stovall spoke. "It would have been better had we found and destroyed the Prinz Eugen. But, you're right, it was a good mission."
Sometime during the night, the rain started. It was gray and wet Friday morning as Savage walked to the office. Corporal Kiefer was at his desk, but some of his awe of the General must have worn off as he didn't jump to attention, but merely stood and said 'good morning'. As did a nervous looking young sergeant who had been sitting by Major Stovall's desk, but now stood to rigid attention.
"As you were." Savage said, acknowledging them both, then proceeded into his office.
Stovall was waiting with a hot cup of coffee when Savage entered. "Morning, General." he said, handing Savage his coffee.
"Thanks, Harvey." Savage said as he accepted the cup, then sat behind his desk and took a sip. "Rotten weather this morning, and by the look of it, it'll be with us a while."
"Yes, sir. We just had a call from Pinetree, weather's socked in over the continent again, and they don't expect it to clear for at least seventy-two hours. We're to stand down until notified."
"Alright. Pass the word, and tell the Air Exec to grant day passes for the local area."
Starting to sort through the correspondence on his desk, he asked, "Those three replacement birds are due in today. Do we know where they are?"
"Yes, sir. The Duty Officer was notified early this morning. Engine trouble delayed their departure from Reykjavík (Iceland). They won't make RAF Prestwick (Scotland) until later tonight. They'll refuel and spend the night, then fly over Saturday morning, weather permitting. Sergeant Nero has been notified."
"Good. ... and speaking of Nero, call and tell him I want to see him in my office," checking the time, "in thirty minutes."
Savage had only made a little progress with the pile of paperwork on his desk, when his intercom buzzed, "Sergeant Nero is here, General."
Master Sergeant Tony Nero was a feisty second-generation Italian from New Jersey, built like a fireplug, and always chewing on a cigar. He was career Army, and bragged that in his almost twenty years of service, he had worked on every airplane engine ever made. Whether that was true or not, there was no denying that he knew the B-17's 1200Hp turbocharged Wright Cyclone engines inside and out.
Savage liked Nero. He was the best Line Chief he'd ever had, although he was a little unconventional, decidedly lax in military bearing, and a slovenly soldier. But he kept his airplanes flying, and Savage couldn't afford to lose him. He'd talked to him before about his 'methods', without much success, but this time, he planned to put the fear of God in him.
"Send him in Major."
Sergeant Nero knocked on the door frame, and poked his head in, "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Come in, Sergeant."
Nero entered and casually stood in front of Savage's desk. Savage looked up from the document he was reading, immediately taking in Nero's stance, that his uniform looked like he had slept in it, and at nine o'clock in the morning, he had a noticeable 'five o'clock shadow'.
"Stand at attention. ... Did you forget to shave this morning, Sergeant?"
Nero immediately stiffened to attention, "Is that why the General wanted to see me, sir. Because I haven't shaved today?"
"Don't be insubordinate!" Savage replied, annoyed at Nero's attitude.
"Sorry, sir." If Nero wondered what he had done to incur the General's wrath, he didn't have to wait long.
"You have a problem, Sergeant, and because YOU do, I do, and I'm not happy about it." Savage began in a stern voice. "First, I want you to know that I've always appreciated what you and your men do to keep my planes flying. You work harder than any three men. But, and we've had this discussion before, some of your methods are 'unorthodox', to say the least. I admit, I've mostly turned a blind eye so long as I had the planes to answer a Field Order ... that was a failure on my part. ... it won't happen again."
Nero was paying attention now. He'd known sooner or later this day would come, and he was waiting to see how hard the hammer would fall.
"As long as your scavenging stayed within the Wing," Savage continued, "I've been able to square it with General Crowe. But your last 'acquisition' - that engine for the Lily - you went too far.
You poached from the wrong patch this time, Nero. That engine was intended for the 2nd Bomb Wing, and General Thompson is looking for somebody's head. It won't take him long to find the culprit ... you've never been particularly circumspect about your scavenging, and he WILL file formal charges, which means a general court-marshal."
Nero was beginning to sweat now and turn a little pale. Savage could see his speech was beginning to have the desired effect.
"I'll do what I can, but there's no question that you'll be found guilty, and even with mitigating circumstances, you're looking at a Dishonorable Discharge, and serious time in the Guardhouse at Shepton Mallet (a British prison in Somerset used by the American military)."
"Isn't there anything you can do, sir? It's not like I've been selling the stuff on the Black Market or anything. I only traded for parts we needed and couldn't get through normal Supply channels."
Nero was almost pleading. Savage could see that he had finally realized the seriousness of his situation, and decided it was time to back off a little.
"I appreciate that, Sergeant, but that engine for the Lily wasn't a trade; it was an out and out theft. Don't you see the other groups have just as great a need for those parts to repair their aircraft?"
"Of course, sir. I normally only trade for parts the other Groups don't need right then, and we always help them out whenever we can with our spares. That engine, well, it was an emergency."
Savage shook he head, and breathed a great sigh, as if he'd just come to a decision, then said, "Alright ... Look Nero, I can't promise anything, but I'll speak to General Crowe and ask if he can smooth things over with General Thompson."
"Thank you, sir." Nero said relieved.
"But you're not out of the woods." Savage continued sternly. "If General Crowe agrees, and you somehow manage to get out from under this, you're going to have to stay within the System. If you can't get what you need through channels, and you can work an aboveboard parts exchange with another Group in the Wing, that's fine ... but only within our Wing! If you pull another stunt like this last one again, there'll be no keeping you out of Shepton Mallet. Is that understood?"
Nero was beginning to breathe normally again, and his color was returning as he acknowledged what Savage had said. "Yes, sir, I understand. Thank you. You won't regret it, General. I won't let you down."
"Alright. Now get out of here so I can try to keep you out of the Guardhouse."
Nero, who had remained at rigid attention all through his chewing out, now stepped back two paces, saluted, said, "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," then executed a very military right face and headed for the door. Savage maintained a straight face, resisting the urge to laugh. He would have bet Nero hadn't done that since basic training.
Just as Nero got to the door, Savage called after him, "and Sergeant, if there happens to be an engine among the spares those replacement aircraft are bringing tomorrow, I would strongly suggest you personally deliver it to the 2nd Bomb Wing, with an abject apology for the 'misunderstanding'. I think it might go a long way toward helping you out of your current situation."
Nero, who had turned and come to attention again, replied, "Yes, sir." Then he saluted again and left as quickly as he could.
Savage was reasonably satisfied with the outcome of his meeting with Nero. He had put 'the fear of God' in him, as he had intended, but he wondered how long it would last. He had no doubt that Nero would try to follow the rules, go through Channels for what he needed, at least for a while. But he also had no doubt that the first time he couldn't put up the required number of airplanes for a mission, he'd fall back on tried and true methods. Savage just hoped that his replacement would be open-minded enough ...
'His replacement?' Savage thought. 'Where did that come from? Was he starting to accept that his days with the 918th were numbered?'
A moment later, Stovall came into his office. "I don't know what you said to Nero, General, but you certainly lit a fire under him." he said laughing. "He couldn't get out of here fast enough."
"That was my intention, Harvey. His 'acquisition' methods finally caught up with him. That new engine he put in the Lily belonged to General Thompson, and he's out for blood. General Crowe has already agreed to smooth it over with him, but I didn't tell Nero that. I wanted to put the fear of God in him and convince him to change his ways, at least for a little while."
"Well, the way he looked when he left, I'd say you were successful."
"You know, Harvey, what has always mystified me is when Nero didn't have a part to exchange, what was he trading?"
"I think I can answer that. ... He's been trading German paraphernalia, souvenirs ... belt buckles, Nazi arm bands, medals, forage caps, and the like"
"Where would he get stuff like that?"
"From British troops. He buys - with his own money, mind you - boxes of Hersey bars, cigarettes, ladies' - ah - clothing, and other hard to acquire items from the BX and trades it to the troops just back from North Africa and Tunisia for their souvenirs. Then he trades the German stuff to our guys. He's very resourceful."
"How'd you find all this out?"
"Ernie told me. I saw him with a German belt buckle once and asked him where he got it. He was a little evasive at first, but then he told me about Nero's thriving souvenir business."
Savage shook his head in wonder. "Speaking of Ernie, how's he doing in gunnery school?"
"As we expected. Sergeant Farrell says he'll graduate top of his class tomorrow and be rated as a qualified Air Gunner. We can expect him back in the office Monday. Then it's a matter of what do we do with him. ... sit him back at his desk, or assign him to a crew?"
"That's got to be some kind of record, doesn't it? What's it been, a week? Well, when you get his training certificate, cut orders promoting him to Staff Sergeant, and as I'm short a waist gunner at the moment, assign him to the Lily's crew."
The rest of Friday dragged on for Savage. For a few hours, he took calls, kept appointments, answered correspondence and reviewed requests for personnel and supplies, then, with the rain still coming down in buckets, made his usual rounds of the flight line to see how the repairs were coming. The most heavily damaged were being worked on inside one of the big hangers. A much subdued Sergeant Nero gave him a progress report and assured him all would be operational within the next twenty-four hours. Savage could see the unspoken question in Nero's eyes - had he spoken to General Crowe yet - but he decided he'd let him stew on it for a while before he let him off the hook.
After the flight line, he made a general tour of the other base organizations to show his face and chat with the troops. Finishing his tour at the Hospital, he talked with Doc Kaiser, who apologized again for his outburst the night they had so many wounded, and discussed his request for more staff. Assuring Kaiser he'd do what he could to get him more nurses, he went on to spend some time in the Wards with the wounded. By six o'clock, he was ready to call it a day. He was looking forward to tomorrow and his dinner with Anne.
"General." Stovall called over the intercom. "The guard at the main gate called. He just passed General Crowe through. He's on his way here."
Checking his watch, Savage noted it was only a little past eight. "He's out early" he replied, wondering why the early visit. "Show him straight in when he gets here, Major."
Not five minutes later, General Crowe entered the office. He took off his raincoat and shook it out, then slapped his hat against his leg to shake the water off. "Is he in, Major?" he asked.
"Yes, sir." Stovall said as he took Crowe's coat and hat and handed them to Corporal Kiefer to be hung up to dry. "Please go right in, General, he's expecting you."
"Afternoon, Frank." Crowe said entering Savage's inner office. "It's raining cats and dogs out there."
"Going to be like that for a while, too, sir, from what I understand." Savage replied standing to acknowledge his superior officer.
"Cup of coffee, Wiley?" Savage asked as he walked to the little pot-bellied stove and picked up the pot. This was his standard opening when Wiley Crowe dropped in unannounced for a visit. It generally gave him a minute or two to assess his mood, and determine whether the visit was social or business, and by the look on Crowe's face, he could tell it was business, and he wasn't going to like the reason he was there. He just hoped it wouldn't interfere with his dinner plans with Anne.
"Not right now, Frank, thanks. ... I drove up to tell you you've got a mission."
"You couldn't tell me that over the phone?"
"No. It's ... complicated ... and I wanted to tell you in person."
Savage stopped in mid-poor and turned around. "What's the target?"
"Montluçon, a new synthetic rubber plant in central France."
"Central France. Doesn't that put it in the 'Vichy Free Zone'? We can't go there."
"Last year, I'd agree. But after 'Operation Torch', and the Allied landings in North Africa, the Germans invaded Vichy France's 'Free Zone' last Fall. Now it's part of the German occupied 'Southern Zone', under German military administration ... and fair game."
"Earlier this year, the Germans seized the old Dunlop tire plant in Montluçon, and have been converting it to produce synthetic rubber. You know how badly the Germans need synthetic rubber since they can't import the real stuff. It's a new plant, built with forced labor. It's scheduled to open Monday."
"Okayyy, ... and?" Savage knew there was more coming.
"The Old Man's being pressured by the leader of the Free French, a General De Gaulle, to set up a raid to bomb the plant on opening day. There will be a number of Nazi big wigs attending as well as local French collaborators. If we plan it right, we can catch them in the middle of the ribbon-cutting."
"That doesn't sound that complicated. What's the catch?"
"Besides the destruction of a plant, the raid is intended to be the signal for an uprising in the town to stop the mass deportation of local men being sent to Germany as forced labor for their factories. When the plant goes up, during the confusion, the townspeople, aided by the Resistance, will overpower the guards, free the prisoners, then everyone escape into the countryside."
"It will be a remarkable act of resistance, Frank; the first time an entire city has risen up against the Germans. De Gaulle believes that the uprising will spark acts of resistance throughout the Southern Zone. So you can understand why the raid has to be planned down to the minute."
Savage finished his pour, took a sip of his coffee, then walked back to his desk. Looking out his window where the rain was coming down in sheets, and the sky covered by black clouds, he said, "The success of this whole plan will hinge on the weather. ... You DO remember we're on a weather hold. That most of the continent, and certainly Central France, will be socked in for days."
"Yes, I know. But the meteorologists think there's a good chance there'll be a break in the weather over the Montluçon region by Monday."
"Are you serious? 'They think?' ... 'There's a good chance?' ... That's not much to plan a mission on that has to be timed to the minute, Wiley. The Resistance will be waiting a long time for their signal if we can't find the target through the overcast."
"I know." Crowe said, hesitating before he went on. "That's why ... Oh, Hell ... Frank, your orders will read that if the target is obscured ... you are to reduce altitude and repeat the bomb run, regardless of casualties."
"I only wish I were. I've talked myself blue trying to make the French understand that's tantamount to suicide."
"What does Pritchard say? He can't go along with this!"
"He's not happy about it, but De Gaulle has the backing of Spaatz (Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz, Commander, 8th Air Force) and Eisenhower (General Dwight Eisenhower, Commander, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force). The French need a propaganda victory to show the people in the old Vichy zone that the Germans aren't invincible, something that will turn their loyalty and support back to the Allies. The thought is that when we invade France - and I don't think it's that far off, Frank - it will be a lot easier if we don't have to worry about fighting Frenchmen as well as Germans."
"Okay. I can see the dual aspect of the mission has some value, but we need to find a better way than sending an entire Group over there to be slaughtered." Savage thought for a moment, then said, "Couldn't someone on the ground send up a flare to mark the target, so we don't have to go around?"
"I don't know." Crowe said. "It's a thought. Let me look into it. But in the meantime, plan the mission according to the parameters specified in the Field Order. It's being worked up now; you'll get it over the teletype this afternoon."
"Yes, sir." Savage replied, clearly angry. "You know, General, I'm beginning to feel like a character in that old Errol Flynn movie, 'The Charge of the Light Brigade', and I've just been ordered to charge the Russian guns. As I recall, that didn't work out too well."
"I'm sorry, Frank." Crowe said, heading for the door. "I'll keep working on them, but unless there's a change in the orders, there's not much I can do ... "
"All right, Wiley. Just send us the Field Order."
After Crowe left, Savage sat thinking about the mission and the cost if they had to make more than one pass over the target. He was angry that they would throw away his Group just like that. There had to be something they could do to better the odds.
Buzzing Stovall over the intercom, "Harvey, come into my office would you."
Stovall could see something was up as soon as he entered. "Harvey, we've just been alerted. I don't have all the details yet, but the Field Order will come down this afternoon, and it's a bad one."
"I'll fill you in later, but for now," Savage waited as Stovall quickly grabbed a pencil and pad of paper from his desk. "Call Intelligence and have Major Herrick bring me everything he has on Montluçon in Central France, and all the fighter bases and anti-aircraft emplacements in the surrounding area and between Montluçon and Guernsey. Then call Major Rosen. I want a detailed, and I mean 'detailed', forecast for Montluçon for Monday morning, especially as relates to overcast conditions and cloud cover. Next, call Nero and get a confirmation on the number of planes we can put up Monday. Last, get Joe Cobb and have him bring the mission planning we did for Lorient. I'll be in Operations. We've got some serious planning to do."
It was still early morning when they got started. Savage quickly filled Stovall and Cobb in on the proposed mission and the unusual risks, then they started going over the information they had collected.
From what they could determine, Montluçon was a small town dead in the center of France. It wasn't located near any heavily defended cities or industrial areas, and as the plant was new, and had been located in the former Vichy 'Free Zone', it was doubtful that it was protected by many anti-aircraft gun emplacements. A reconnaissance flight would confirm that, but they didn't have the time nor want to call attention to their interest in the town.
They tentatively planned to fly the same route they had to Lorient a few days earlier, except this time, instead of turning southwest at St-Malo to cross Brittany as they had before, they would continue inland towards Montluçon. They determined that their best chance of avoiding enemy fighters was to fly a southeast heading, between Le Mans and Tours, to Bourges, then alter course due south to Montluçon.
Savage felt reasonably satisfied with their strategy thus far, but the big question was still the weather. Just before lunch, Rosen reported with his weather forecast. He spent the next half hour explaining, with annotated meteorological maps, that the current weather, a freak low pressure squall line, was being caused by a cold front sweeping down over the entire western half of the continent.
"How does this help me with my problem, Major?" Savage asked impatiently.
"I was just getting to that, sir. The cold front has picked up speed and is moving very fast now. And it's turning back out to sea. It should pass out of Eastern and Central France by late tomorrow evening, at the latest. There should be no more than scattered cloud cover over your target by Monday morning."
"I'll be damned." Savage said. "Maybe General Crowe's weathermen know what they're talking about. Thank you, Major Rosen."
"I'm glad I could help, sir. But while your target will be clear, I'm afraid you could still encounter some weather on the return trip."
"That's alright, Major. If we can't see the ground, maybe the Germans can't see us. Thank you again. That will be all."
"Well, gentlemen," Savage said after Rosen had left. "If we can believe Rosen's forecast, we just might survive this mission after all."
"Alright, Joe. It's twelve o'clock. We should be receiving the Field Order any time. But start planning the mission with what we know so far. Get the department heads together, and see how far you can get.
The Field Order didn't come down until almost two-thirty. But Cobb, as Air Exec, had already worked out most of the details of the mission plan - route selection (in and out), navigational control points, radio frequencies, flak and enemy fighter concentrations, best return route if forced to leave the formation, and friendly airfields should anyone have to make an emergency landing on the continent.
It was primarily a matter of inserting the specifics from the Field Order: number of aircraft required and bombing altitude; munitions and fuel loads; fighter rendezvous and rally points; frequencies and call signs; take-off time, and required time to be over the target.
It was after four when Savage was sufficiently satisfied with the plan to break away. Sunset was early this time of year, so it was already dark when he left for London. It was usually only about an hour's drive, but it was hard enough to see in the rain and fog in daylight, but in the dark with the slotted headlight blackout covers, he had wanted to give himself more time. It took him considerably longer than he had expected, and by the time he arrived in London and made his way to St Ermin's, it was six-thirty. He was late.
As he parked in front of the hotel, he saw Anne waiting just inside the doorway. But before he could get out and fetch her with the umbrella, she ran quickly for the car door, and he barely had time to get it open before she jumped in.
"What horrid weather!" she exclaimed as she leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek. "But, I suppose that, at least, means we shouldn't be bothered by our German friends tonight."
"Sorry to be late." he said.
"Quite alright." she said, giving him one of her smiles. "I was a little late myself; I had to wait for something."
With Anne providing the directions, Savage slowly made his way through the fog and the blacked-out city to her flat in Pelham Place, and parked in front of number 42, a three-story brick building.
There weren't many other vehicles parked on the street, so he asked, "Is it alright to leave the car here?"
"Yes, certainly. But, even if it wasn't, with that star on your car plate, no one would bother it.
Savage got out and quickly ran around the car with the umbrella to open Anne's door, and help her out, then went to the trunk and took out a large paper bag.
"What's in the bag?"
"Oh, I like surprises."
Anne pointed to a barely visible window on the third floor. "That's me, I'm afraid. It's a two-bedroom walk-up on the top floor. Come along."
When they reached the third floor landing, Savage was a little winded, and he made a mental note to work out more.
"There are only two flats on this floor," she said pointing. "Mine and a Naval Commander I've rarely seen; I think he's on nights."
Anne opened the door with her key, went to the windows to draw the blackout curtains, then switched on the light. "Come in, Frank." she said, then as she looked around the room, quickly began to pickup pieces of clothing strewn around. "The place is a mess, I'm afraid. Mary is not very neat to begin with, but I suspect she was in a bit of a dither when she left."
Savage stood out of the way, as Anne carried an arm load of clothing into one of the bedrooms, then came out and shut the door behind her. "There. That's better ... Now," she asked, looking expectantly at the bag Savage had set on a table. "what's your surprise?"
"As I am a 'confessed' beef eater," he replied removing a butcher-paper wrapped package from the bag and handing it to her. "I thought we might have a couple of steaks for dinner."
"Oh, Frank! How wonderful. I haven't had a steak since ... since I don't know when. Beef is strictly rationed, you know."
"Not at our Mess Hall, it isn't ... at least, not for me. Rank does have SOME benefits, you know. Also," he said, reaching back into the bag and retrieving two 1-lb cans of coffee and two cartons of Camel cigarettes, and setting them on the table. "Phillip mentioned he had a hard time getting coffee these days, and I don't know if either of you smoke, but..."
"Oh, my! You shouldn't have!"
"If you don't want them, I can take them back." he said grinning.
"Don't you dare!" she said laughing. "This coffee is wonderful; there's almost none to be had ... and the cigarettes. I don't smoke, and Phillip is a pipe man, but, ... do you KNOW what these would be worth on the Black market?"
"I have a good idea."
Anne was deliriously happy, and all she could think to do, she did. She put her arms around his neck, pulled him to her and kissed him.
They held the kiss for a moment, then she pulled away and said, "Let me put these steaks into the refrigerator."
"You have a refrigerator? Here?"
"Yes, Philip had it put in when I took the flat. We're the envy of the building, most of the flats just have 'meat safes' (a small cupboard for meat that kept flies away)"
Anne put the steaks away and placed the coffee and cigarettes on the kitchen counter, then said, pointing to a table in the middle of the room against the wall, "Why don't you fix us a drink, while I change into something more comfortable. ... Whiskey and water, for me."
Savage removed his dripping hat and rain coat, and hung them on the coat rack by the door. Then he mixed the drinks and sat down to wait. The room, largish for a flat, had several area rugs, a few chairs positioned about with the occasional side table and a fairly large overstuffed sofa. An unlit gas fire was set into the wall in front of the sofa with a built-in bookcase on either side. The kitchen with its refrigerator and a gas stove, had a number of cabinets and a separate eating area with a window. Leading out of the room, he saw three doors: two, he was certain, were bedrooms as he had seen Anne enter both; the other, he supposed, was a bathroom.
He took his drink and walked around the room examining the brik-a-brac and pictures decorating the tables and walls. On a shelf in the bookcase to the left of the gas fire was a cup full of coins. He picked up the cup, wondering what the coins were for, when Anne returned. "They're shillings to feed the gas meter. There's a gas fire in each of the bedrooms and one in the bathroom for hot water. They 'eat' shillings. ... no shilling; no heat."
Anne was wearing a loose pair of slacks and a sweater, and looked very 'Katherine Hepburn'. As she accepted her drink, asked, "What would you like with your steak? I have a couple of potatoes I could bake and some tinned peas."
After dinner, Savage helped her with the dishes, then as Anne went to freshen up, took his coffee back into the setting room and settled into a chair.
"That was a wonderful dinner. You're a great cook." Savage said when she returned.
"Thank you, kind sir." she said choosing the sofa and setting her coffee on the side table. "Compliments are always appreciated."
Sipping his coffee, Savage said, "Do you mind if I ask you a question? It's something I've been more than a little curious about since we first met?"
"No. Not at all. What is it you'd like to know?"
"You've never said. ... Just what is it you do at SOE? You're not an agent, or anything, are you?"
"Oh, No. Nothing like that. I don't think I could be that brave. I mostly take care of the 'housekeeping' related to the agents I'm assigned ... things like making sure they've memorized their new identities, and know their contacts and the locations of safe houses. I check that their papers are authentic and appropriately dated, and that they're appropriately 'kitted out' and not carrying anything that could give them away. I go with them to see them off, and when they return, I'm there to welcome them back."
The hardest part," she said. " is when they don't come back. When they're captured or killed. When that happens ... and it happens far too often ... we try to find out what went wrong, and learn from it.
If death is confirmed, I record where he, or she, is buried. I sort through the belongings, then pack them up to send to their next of kin. ... and I write the letters. I really hate that part."
"And sometimes," she finished more brightly. "like this week-end, if we have a special 'Op' on and are waiting for information, I'll hang about for the agent's message."
"and I thought my job was hard." Savage said, shaking his head. He had never suspected from her always cheerful demeanor, what her job entailed. How close she must get to these men and women, and how difficult for her to send them out, especially when they don't return. "I don't think I could do what you do. For me, it's much easier to fly the mission than it is to send men up then wait for their return."
"We all do what we can, Frank." Then changing the subject, she asked, "Now, how did your mission go, you promised ... " She suddenly stopped in mid-sentence as she spied a shoe sticking out from under a table. She rose and went over to retrieve it, then exclaimed, "Damn and blast!"
"This is one of my new shoes." she said irritated. "Mary is always 'borrowing' my things. I don't mind the clothes, but her feet are bigger than mine. I just bought this pair last week. They cost me a bundle, plus five ration coupons. Five! I haven't even worn them yet, and now they're ruined. I could kill her!"
It was the right shoe of a pair of low-heeled navy-blue pumps with a tiny gold rosette on the toe and a buttoned strap across the arch, and the strap was broken. "Can't you have it repaired?"
"Oh, I suppose." she replied as she calmed down. I just wish she'd be more considerate. I'll call Liz; she mentioned once she knew a good cobbler."
"Liz?" Savage wasn't too concerned. 'Liz' was a common enough name.
"Yes, Liz Woodruff, a friend of mine. ... well, an acquaintance really. She throws wonderful parties, and Phillip and I have attended a few."
Now Savage was worried. For a while, he had seriously dated Liz Woodruff.
"She married a few months ago, but rumor has it she had a thing going with one of your lot. But it apparently wasn't going anywhere, and she got tired of competing for his attention, so she broke it off, and married someone from her brother's office in the Air Ministry. … ... Oh, what WAS his?"
"John Knowles." Savage replied, resigned that she would eventually find out anyway.
Anne had been staring at the shoe and just rambling on, but as he spoke, she looked up questioningly. He had a rather embarrassed look on his face.
"How could you …?" then as she thought about it, she laughed and exclaimed, "Oh, no! It was you?"
"I'm afraid so. But it was a long time ago, and as you said, it wasn't going anywhere. I was actually relieved when she broke it off, and happy for her when she married Knowles."
"Well, at least she had good taste in men." she said still laughing, a little pleased to see him look so uncomfortable.
Then she became serious and asked, "You've never married, Frank. Why is that?"
"Never had the time, I guess."
"But you believe in the institution."
"I suppose. It seems to work for a lot of people; just not for me."
"Have you NEVER been in love, then?" she pressed.
"Once." he said. "It didn't work out ..."
"But there WAS someone." she just wouldn't let it go. "Tell me, … who was she, and what was she like?"
Savage didn't really want to talk about it, but as before, he found himself telling her anyway. He HAD found love once. Her name was Anne, too. Anne McCrae. He told her how they had met. He was going through a bad period, and Wiley had made him take leave, a place 'as far away from the base as you can physically get without deserting' had been the order.
His leave hadn't started well, however. On the train, there had been some confusion over his First Class compartment. A WREN (Women's Royal Naval Service) Lieutenant had felt the compartment was hers, but as the train began to move, they had had to agree to share.
Savage continued to explain how, rank aside, as just two people on leave, he and the WREN had sparred over one silly misunderstanding or another all the way to the end of the rail line. But on the boat to Dun Fergus, a small island off the western coast of Scotland, as far away from the base as he could get, they had made peace, and by the time they docked, had become attracted to one another.
Anne, Savage told her, was going home on leave to visit her father, a retired school teacher, and over the next week they had spent all of their time together. He had fallen in love with her, and she, he thought, with him; but when he asked her to come back with him, she turned him down. He was hurt and didn't understand until on the day he was to leave, her father called him to their house and explained.
Anne had a cancer, he said; she had come home to die, and now she had run out of time. Savage had been devastated, but had seen her one more time, and they had said their goodbyes.
"When she died," he continued without emotion, "I just closed down, and threw myself into flying. I dated occasionally - you know about Liz - but never let myself get close enough to anyone where I could be hurt like that again."
"That all changed," he finished, "when I met you."
As hard as the telling had been, he found he felt better. He'd not been able to talk to anyone about Anne McCrae before, not even Wiley. But now he could think about her without that overwhelming ache, and remember her for the wonderful person she was.
"Oh, Frank. I'm so sorry."
"It's alright. I think I've needed to get that out for a long time. She was a wonderful person. I don't know if it would have worked out between us, but we never had the chance to find out."
Savage looked at his watch. It was almost ten. He hesitated for a moment, then said, "It's getting late, Anne. I'd better go. It's been a great evening, but I've got a long drive back to the base."
He stood and went to the door. She followed him, and they kissed, but as he took his hat and coat from the rack and opened the door to leave, he heard her say, "Frank. ... Don't go."
Savage slowly opened his eyes, and seeing the light shining in the bedroom window, knew it was late. Checking his watch, he saw it was almost nine and was amazed. He never slept that long. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he had slept past five o'clock. He looked over for Anne, but her side of the bed was empty. A note lay on her pillow.
Lifting himself up onto one elbow, he reached over to take the note. It read, 'Gone to work. Didn't want to wake you. Coffee on the stove. Bread in the toaster. Toiletries in the medicine cabinet. Meet me for lunch one o'clock at the hotel. Last night was wonderful!'
'Yes. It was.' he thought. He considered getting up, but the bed was comfortable, and the sound of the rain still beating on the window soothing, so he just lay back and drifted off to sleep again. When he woke again, it was after ten. He had slept better than he had in months, but decided he had better get up
After a very brief and very cold shower - he hadn't remembered to a put a shilling in the meter - he quickly made the bed, threw on his clothes and went in search of the coffee promised in Anne's note. The pot was on the stove, as promised, but cold, so it took a few minutes to reheat it.
While he waited for his coffee, he used Anne's phone to check in with his office. Stovall assured him that the planning for tomorrow's mission was complete, and that Major Cobb would pre-brief the lead pilots, navigators and bombardiers later today. Savage told him he would be back later in the afternoon, and gave him Anne's number in case he needed to contact him before then.
As it neared noon, and after several relaxing cups of coffee staring out the kitchen window at the pedestrians and traffic passing by below, Savage felt like he was ready to face the world again.
While the rain had finally stopped, the fog remained, but Savage had little difficulty finding his way back to the hotel. He parked the car where Ross had before, and the door man held the door for him as he entered. He was still a little early, so he took a seat in the foyer and waited.
Just after one, Anne exited from one of the elevators, and looking around, spotted him and walked over to where he had been sitting. He rose to meet her.
"Good morning." she began, as she gave him a hug and kiss. "I hope you slept well. I know I did." Then she whispered in his ear, "Have I mentioned that last night was wonderful?"
"Yes, you have, and it was. You should have woke me when you got up."
"No. I decided it was better to let you sleep, otherwise," she said with a look. "I should have been late to work." Then, "Shall we get something to eat?"
"Absolutely. I'm starving."
Once they were seated, Savage asked, "I know it's late, but do you think I could still order breakfast?"
"Yes, I should think so." she replied. So when the waiter appeared, while Anne ordered the Dover Sole plate, he ordered a full English breakfast: bacon and eggs, hash browns, toast, sausage, beans, grilled tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, and, though not very English, coffee.
Savage was still eating when Anne finished her meal. So she sipped her coffee and watched him as he ate. He attacked the plate of food like it was a military objective, and she almost laughed as he chased a last bit of sausage around his plate before he finally speared it.
"That's better." he said as wiped his mouth with his napkin, then took a drink of coffee.
"My, you really WERE hungry, weren't you." she said with a chuckle.
"Yes. But after a really good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast, I'm ready to go again. Would you like to go somewhere, or do you have to go back to work?"
"I'm afraid I have to work," she said, then looking uncertain, went on, "but I have some time yet. Let's go find a place to sit and chat."
Back in the lobby, they found a couple of chairs in a secluded corner and sat down. Savage could see she had something on her mind, so he waited for her to begin.
"I'm not sure how to say this, Frank, so I'll just come straight out with it. ... Since I met you, I've had feelings I never thought I would have again. ... I'm falling in love with you, Frank, and I believe you have feelings for me. I think we would be good for each other, and I know we could be happy... "
"You must know I love you, too." he said, surprising himself. "I think I started falling in love with you that first evening we met."
Savage could see moisture building in her eyes. She blinked away a tear, then steeled herself to say what she needed to. "But, I couldn't stand to lose you like I lost Robert. I can't ... I won't go through that again."
"What do you want me to do?" he asked. "There's a war on. I can't just walk away."
"No. But you don't have to take such an active part in it. You don't have to keep flying. You could take that promotion Wiley has offered."
"How do you know about that?"
"Wiley told Phillip about his new assignment and that he'd offered you the Wing. Phillip told me. But he said you hadn't made a decision yet. Why not, Frank? You hate what you're doing; you've said as much."
"I ... I can't right now. It's complicated... "
"Yes, you can. You just have to decide what it is you really want. Do you know what that is, Frank? Do you really know?" she was getting angry. "Or have you just been 'going up' so long, you don't know how to do anything else?"
Savage didn't know what to say to that, but before he could say anything, she said, "I've got to go. Goodbye, Frank." Then she got up then and walked away.
He started after her, "Anne, wait!" But she kept walking.
Savage wondered what had just happened. How could the morning have started out so wonderful, then gone so wrong. Why did she have to bring this up now?
He thought about what Anne had said all the way back to the base. What did he want? He wasn't sure anymore if he knew.
When Savage returned to the office later that afternoon, he was surprised to find Sergeant Ross sitting at his old desk.
Ross stood as he entered, proudly displaying his new Staff Sergeant stripes and his shiny new Air Gunner wings.
"What are you doing here, Sergeant? Weren't you notified of your crew assignment and that there's a mission tomorrow?"
"Yes, sir. I was waiting to see you. I wanted to thank you for assigning me to your crew."
"You're welcome, but don't read too much into that, Ernie. I needed a waist gunner, and your name just happened to be the first on the list of available gunners."
"Yes, sir." Ross knew this wasn't exactly the truth, as Danny Kiefer, his replacement, had told him the General had specifically told Major Stovall to assign him to the Piccadilly Lily.
"Do you know where Major Stovall is?"
"Yes, sir. He's in the Operations Room with Major Cobb; they just finished the pre-briefing for tomorrows mission."
"Alright. I'd better go see how it went, and you need to go get something to eat and rest up for tomorrow ... and Ernie, those wings look good on you. Now, get out of here."
Savage walked down the hall to the Operations Room where he found Cobb, Stovall and Major Rosen going over the weather forecast again.
"Any changes in the weather?" he asked. He was a little concerned, as in addition to the continuing fog, the rain had started again on the drive back to Archbury.
Both Stovall and Cobb deferred to Rosen as he answered, "That cold front has slowed, General." Rosen said. "But from the data collected, it still looks like it should be moderately clear over the target tomorrow by early afternoon."
Savage was already in a bad mood; this new information didn't improve it any, and he let Rosen know it. "Yesterday, Major, you said there'd just be scattered clouds over the target Monday morning. Now you're saying it should be moderately clear by early afternoon. ... That's not good enough!"
"I'm sorry, sir." Rosen replied. The General was being unreasonable. "I can only give you a forecast based on the data." Then he added, rather sarcastically, "I can't change the weather."
Rosen's reply, and his tone, had bordered on insubordination, and Savage was about to chew him out, when he suddenly realized he was letting his personal problems intrude where they had no business, and he bit it back and calmed down. Rosen was right. It wasn't his fault the weather had changed. All he could do was provide his best interpretation as to what they could expect over the target.
Neither Stovall nor Cobb had seen Savage this angry in a long time. Rosen's information about the change in the weather didn't warrant Savage's response, and he wondered what was really behind it. He was about to intervene, and try to calm things down, when Savage said, "You're right, Major. My apologies. ... Mission Briefing will be at oh-eight-hundred tomorrow. Please get me a weather update before the Briefing. That will be all."
"Yes, sir. I'll have it to you by oh-seven-thirty." he saluted, then picked up his charts and reports, and left.
Stovall nodded in the direction of the door as a sign for Cobb to leave, and as he closed the door after him, said, "What's wrong, Frank?"
"What do you mean? There's nothing wrong."
"You nearly took Rosen's head off for no reason. That's not like you. So, what's the matter?"
"It's personal, Major, and I don't want to talk about it just yet."
"Alright. I'll be here when you're ready."
"Thanks, Harvey. Now, get Cobb back in here, and let's go over the Mission again."
The rain had stopped again early Monday morning, but there was still considerable ground fog and a damp chill in the air.
To meet their noon time over the target, the flight plan called for takeoff at oh-nine-hundred. Mission Briefing was an hour before that, and afterwards, as the crews filed out of the briefing hut, Sergeant Ross waited to speak to the General.
"Well Ernie." Savage said, as Ross approached and saluted. "You've got what you wanted. Are you ready for it?"
"I hope so, sir. I'm scared, but more about messing up than anything else. I hope I won't let you down, sir."
"You'll be alright, Ernie. Once things get going, you won't have time to mess up. Just do what you were trained to, and you'll be fine. ... Now, you'd better get going. You don't want to be late your first mission."
"Yes, sir. ... 'see you up there'." Then Ross blushed and stammered. "Sorry, sir. I've always wanted to say that."
Stovall drove Savage to the plane as he usually did. As they waited for the green flare that signaled the mission was a 'go', Savage appeared to be in a good frame of mind; whatever was bothering him yesterday, he had seemingly resolved.
Stovall was not a superstitious person, and hesitated to say anything, but he had a bad feeling about this mission, and spoke out anyway. "Be careful this time, General."
"I'm always as careful as I can be, Harvey; you know that. But thanks for the thought."
"I mean it, Frank. If the target is obscured, don't go around. Just drop your bombs and get out of there. Let the French get their propaganda some other time."
Savage was surprised at Stovall's outburst, but before he could reply to his obvious concern, a green flare shot into the sky.
"Alright." Savage called to his waiting crew as he got out of the jeep and grabbed his gear. "Green for Go! Let's do it." Then he turned back to Stovall and said, "I'll be careful, Harvey. I don't throw lives away for no reason. It'll be alright."
The Piccadilly Lily's wheels left the runway at precisely oh-nine-hundred. Savage, his call sign 'Linebacker', immediately climbed to 500 feet, then began a circular pattern until the rest of his Group, his Alpha, Bravo and Charlie Squadrons, could take off and assemble into a box formation behind him. The Group had started with twenty-one aircraft, but quickly lost one, as Charlie Six ran off the runway on take-off, and as this was a 'maximum effort', he didn't have a spare to take his place.
With his formation complete, Savage climbed to 2,500 feet, and proceeded to lead the Group southwest over the English countryside to Weymouth, on the coast. Passing out into the English Channel, they rendezvoused with their fighter escort. They had drawn the P-47 Thunderbolts from the 56th Fighter Group again
"Radio operator to pilot. Sandman on Channel Three, sir."
Switching to Channel Three, Savage heard, "Sandman to Linebacker. On station. Any instructions today, sir?"
"Linebacker to Sandman. Negative. Just keep the fighters off us. Over."
"Roger that. Out"
Following the route they had for the Lorient mission, they flew southwest across the Channel to the western tip of Guernsey, then turned south-southeast toward the Coast of France.
They were still in the Channel when Savage heard, "Bravo One to Linebacker. Sorry, sir, I'm going to have to abort. My ball turret is inoperative. It won't rotate, and I can't get my gunner out."
"Linebacker to Bravo One. Roger. Good Luck." Bravo One was Major Paul Chaffee, Bravo Squadron's commander.
Savage watched as Chaffee left the formation and turned back toward England. That was his second abort. He was down to nineteen aircraft. Not a great start.
"Linebacker to Bravo Two. Bravo One is returning to base. Take the lead. Fill in the gap and keep it tight."
"Bravo Two to Linebacker. Roger."
Savage checked his watch. "Navigator. How are we doing?"
"On course, on time, sir. We will cross into France in four minutes. Remain on heading 1-6-5."
"Roger. Remaining on heading 1-6-5."
"Linebacker to Group. We are registering on the German radar now. We can expect fighters at any time so keep alert and watch your chatter. Let's don't tell them any more than we have to."
The formation had flown at 2,500 feet across the Channel, but once they crossed into France, Savage began to climb. At 10,000 feet they went on oxygen, and continued to climb to their designated bombing altitude of 21,000 feet. Each of Savage's B-17s was carrying ten 500-lb bombs and several bundles of incendiaries.
Proceeding in-land, Savage found solid cloud cover below him; he prayed it would clear over the target. The clouds gave them some protection from the fighters, but all gunners were on alert with their .50-caliber machine guns charged and ready ... which was a good thing, as moments later, Sergeant Wells, his flight engineer and top turret gunner, called, "Bandits. Eleven o'clock low!"
The enemy fighters, Me-109s, a dozen or more, came up out of the cloud layer about 500 yards out and flew straight at the Lily, trying to take out the leader and split the formation. The fighters came so close before they broke away, that Savage could see the pilots' faces. Their aircraft were black with yellow spinners, and almost looked like bog angry bees as they flew past. Savage struggled to maintain his altitude and heading, as the Lily shuddered and shook, as much from the recoil of her gunners firing at the fighters, as from being raked by the 20mm cannon shells of the fighters.
The P-47s engaged the 109s one-on-one, but a few managed to disengage and continue to attack the bombers. The formation was holding its own and hadn't taken much damage until one bold German pilot made another pass at the Lily while being pursued by one of the Thunderbolts. It was a quick pass, but an effective one, as Savage's Number Three engine suddenly began to smoke, then caught fire.
"Fuel shut-off on Three, and Fire Bottle." Savage ordered. "Feather Three."
"Three, Fuel Switch, OFF; Fire bottle, ON. Three feathered." replied his Lieutenant Baker, co-pilot.
The extinguisher put out the fire, but the engine continued to trail smoke, and Savage could see oil spraying back over the blackened cowling and wing. If it wasn't stopped, the engine could catch fire again.
"Wells" Savage called over the interphone. "We're trailing oil from Number Three. Shut down the transfer line."
"Already working on it, sir."
After a few minutes, the oil trail stopped, but the engine continued to smoke. He was on three engines now, but as long as he didn't lose another, he could maintain speed and altitude.
The fighters continued to harass the Group, quickly darting in and out causing what damage they could while evading the P-47s, but so far Savage hadn't lost any planes.
''Navigator to pilot. Approaching Bourges. Course change in two minutes. New heading 1-8-5."
"Roger. Making a timed turn to new heading 1-8-5."
As Savage made the course change, he radioed the Group. "Linebacker to Formation. Follow the leader. Repeat, follow the leader."
The 109s stayed had with them as they changed their course, but the P-47s kept most of them at a distance. They were only about 60 miles north of Montluçon now, and the heavy cloud cover had not diminished.
The closer they got to the target - the Germans had a good idea where they were going now - the more intense the fighter attacks became. The P-47s were doing their best to keep the 109s off them, and they had noticeably reduced their number, but the formation had also been hurt. Sandman had lost one of his planes, and Savage had lost two. Bravo Two from the high squadron took a direct hit and exploded, no one got out; and Charlie Five from the low squadron went down with three engines on fire, but the entire crew was able to bail out. Savage took a moment to hope they'd be able to evade capture and contact the French underground. Several other 'Forts' had been damaged also, a couple severely, but they managed to stay in formation.
"Linebacker to Group. Fill in the gaps and close it up. Don't let them split you. Keep it tight, we're almost there."
Now the Group was beginning to draw flak. Synthetic rubber was crucial to Germany's war industry, and the German's were throwing up everything they had trying to protect it. The flak was intense, but not very accurate; it was obvious they hadn't had much practice. At first, the fighters flew through the flak to continue their attacks, but eventually they broke off, undoubtedly to re-fuel and re-arm. They would find the bombers again on their way home. The P-47s also withdrew to take up station at the designated rally point and wait.
They were finally at the Initial Aiming Point, but the ground was still totally hidden by clouds. So much for the weather predictions, Savage thought. It was looking like the plant would be obscured, and they would have to drop their altitude and go around ... or maybe not.
Savage was considering the unthinkable ... disobeying orders. He had already lost men and airplanes, and was likely to lose more, even if the target was clear. If they didn't take out that Plant today, they could always come back. And as for the signal for the uprising. Just having their formation overhead, with everyone trying to shoot them down, and every eye looking up or trying to find a hole to crawl into, was sufficient confusion for their purposes. The mission today was for propaganda, and he was not of a mind to waste more lives for something that 'might' payoff 'sometime'; he done enough of that lately.
"Pilot to bombardier. O'Leary, can you see anything?"
"Negative, sir. The IP is partially obscured by cloud cover."
"What do you think? Do we need to go around?"
"I don't know, sir. It's ... Wait a minute! There's a hole opening up ... ... it's opening ... ... it's opening ... there it is! I've got it!"
"All right!" Savage was relieved; he wasn't going to have to make that decision. "Center your PDI, O'Leary."
It seemed forever before, he heard, "PDI centered, sir."
"Okayyy. It's your airplane."
Savage felt the bomb bay doors open, then nothing. After a few moments, "O'Leary, are we over the target? Have you got it?"
"Almost. ... almost ... Yes! ... Bombs away!"
O'Leary released his bombs directly over the target. It was a perfect bomb run, and the rest of the Group pickled their bombs on him. There were massive explosions, and large amounts of black and orange smoke billowing up from the immense fires started by the incendiaries. O'Leary saw the first bombs hit, and he was certain the target would be destroyed, but the rising smoke made it impossible for him to observe the actual bombing results.
"Pilot to Navigator. How's it look, Harry?"
The Navigator, Lieutenant Harry Gardiner, whose job it was to record where the bombs struck for Intelligence, reported back, "Can't tell, sir. I can't see anything but fire, explosions and a whole lot of smoke. We'll have to wait to see what the cameras captured and for the intelligence reports, but I think it was a good run."
Not too bad, Savage thought, and he hadn't lost anyone over the target. That was a lot better than he had expected, or dared to hope. "Alright. Let's get out of here."
"Linebacker to formation, starting a 180 degree turn to the right; repeat, a 1-8-0 degree turn to the right. Close it up."
Just as he completed the turn, and was almost clear of the flak field, the Lily was hit by shrapnel from a nearby burst. The Number Two propeller began to windmill, and the Lily went into a steep dive.
Savage yelled over the noise in the cockpit to Baker, "Pull her up! We've got to pull her out of this!" They were flying on only two engines now, and were losing altitude rapidly.
"Fuel shut-off on Two. Feather Two." Savage shouted as he pulled back on the yoke for all he was worth.
Baker quickly did as ordered, toggling the switches with one hand as he pulled back the control column with the other. "Number Two fuel switch, OFF. Two feathered."
Between them, they slowly pulled out of the dive, and leveled off at 18,000 feet. But they were flying on only two engines; there was no way he could stay with the formation.
"Linebacker to Alpha One. Two engines out. Cannot maintain speed and altitude. Take the Group home."
"We can reduce speed to cover you, Linebacker." Cobb replied.
"Negative! Repeat, negative. Maintain flight plan and take the Group home. Linebacker out."
"Roger, Leader. Good Luck."
Savage watched the Group pull further away as his speed and altitude continued to drop. He had to have more power. His Number Three was out of the question, but he might be able to restart Number Two. He needed three engines, until he got them, if ... make that when, the fighters found them, they'd be easy prey.
Turning to his flight engineer, "How are you coming with that engine, Wells?"
"Working on it, sir. After that dive, she's cool enough to try a restart. But I need to reduce the cylinder head temperature, then get her oil pressure back up ... just a couple more minutes."
"OK. Quick as you can. We're like fish in a barrel here."
"Pilot to gunners. Keep alert and your eyes peeled for fighters."
Savage maneuvered to hide in the clouds, and give Wells the time he needed to get Number Two back on line, but he knew he couldn't keep that up very long as it was taking him farther and farther off the heading he needed to be on. He had just come out of a cloud bank and corrected his course, when he heard the call he had been dreading, "Bandits! Ten o'clock high. Me-109's."
Savage looked out his window high to his left and saw at least a 'staffel' (squadron) of Me-109s passing several thousand feet above them. He had a brief hope that they hadn't seen the lone straggler below, but that hope died as three fighters suddenly peeled off from the main group and dove at them.
With their distinctive yellow spinners, he recognized them at once as the same fighters that had attacked them on the way to the target. As soon as they came within range, they opened fire, and 20mm rounds stitched more holes down the fuselage, narrowly missing Savage. Then the Lily began to shake as every gunner opened up.
The fighters flew down the left side, one after the other, continuing to rake the plane with cannon fire as they went. The 20mm rounds made large jagged holes as they punched through the Lily's thin skin like it was tissue paper, several rounds passing through to exit on the other side. One round, as it exited, passed so close to the right-waist gunner's face that it burned a furrow in his cheek.
The last fighter, however, came a little too close and paid for it as bullets from Ernie Ross's left-waist gun found his fuel tank. The plane disintegrated in a blinding flash, its wreckage peppering the Lily's side and belly with hot shrapnel. Ross was hit with a few small splinters in his left arm and side, but he continued to fire short bursts at the other two Germans as they circled for another pass.
Suddenly the drone of the Lily's engines increased, and Savage felt a surge of power; Wells had finally been able to restart Engine Two. Savage had felt the aircraft shudder when hit by the fighter's remains, but he didn't have time to worry about it just then. With three working engines again, he pushed the yoke hard forward and increased power, putting the plane in a steep dive to prevent the remaining 109's from getting under him where he was most vulnerable.
The fighters followed him down, but as Savage leveled off at almost treetop level, instead of continuing their attack, the 109's flew past without firing, then circled back around, carefully staying out of range of the Lily's guns.
"What the ...?" exclaimed Baker. "Why aren't they firing?"
The answer came as Eddie Collins, the ball turret gunner, called over the interphone. "General. Our landing gear just dropped! ... and I've taken a lot of shrapnel in my turret from that 109. I'm not hurt, at least I don't think so, but it's awful breezy in here, and I can't rotate my turret."
"OK, Eddie." Savage replied to the nervous gunner. "Hang on; we'll get you out."
Savage checked his instrument panel. The position indicator confirmed that the landing gear was down, but when he toggled the switch to retract it, nothing happened. He cycled the switch twice more, but still nothing.
"Damn!" he exclaimed, then quickly called, "Pilot to all gunners. Cease fire. I say again, stop firing. Our gear is down. ... ... and somebody get Eddie out of the ball turret."
Savage called Wells down from the top turret, "Find out what's happened to the gear. We've got to get those wheels back up!"
Under International Law, a pilot lowering his landing gear in combat was indicating his intention to surrender. Savage had no intention of surrendering, but those Germans didn't know that. As long as his wheels were down, and they weren't firing at him, he couldn't fire at them without violating International Law and the 'code of the air'.
The fighters had discontinued their attack and were now taking station on either side of him. The pilot off his left wing was indicating with hand signals that he wanted Savage to follow him.
'Well, that's not going to happen' he thought. But he also knew they couldn't just keeping flying as they were, heading for the Channel. At some point, those Germans were going to get insistent.
"What are we going to do, sir?" Baker asked again. "We CAN'T just surrender."
Ignoring Baker, Savage called on the interphone, "Wells. Did you find the problem? Can you fix it?"
"The shrapnel from that 109 made a mess of the hydraulic lines in the bomb bay, sir. I can patch the lines for the gear, but it'll take a couple more minutes."
"OK. Report when it's fixed, but don't raise the gear."
Savage thought about their predicament. He needed to be able to tell the Germans that he wasn't surrendering. But how? Radio communication between enemy aircraft was theoretically possible, all he needed to do was find the enemy's frequency. But he had only a limited set of frequencies, so it was unlikely he could tune into one of the theirs. However, there had been reports of Germans spoofing Allied radio communications to mislead fighter escorts, so it was just possible that the German might be able to tune in to one of theirs...
'Pilot to Radio Operator. Mike, you speak German, don't you?"
"Yes, sir. Fluently."
"Good. I need to be able to speak to these Germans, to let them know we're not surrendering. I want you to broadcast the following message, in German, over all of our frequencies, ... 'B-17 to German pilot flying off my left wing. I do not surrender. Do you copy?' ... You got that, Mike?"
"Yes, sir. Calling."
Almost immediately, Savage heard, "B-Siebzehn Bis deutsche pilot fliegen aus meinem linken Flügel. Ich bin nicht aufzugeben. Kopierst du? Ende."
Koenig repeated the message on all channels twice, with no reply. Savage was beginning to think it wasn't going to work, when suddenly he heard, in English, "Jaeger-Dreizehn to Amerikanische B-Siebzehn. I am hearing you. Your wheels, they are down. Do you surrender? Ende."
Savage immediately answered. "B-17 to Jaeger-13. Negative. Repeat, Negative. My landing gear dropped due to battle damage. I repeat, I did NOT drop my wheels; it was battle damage. It is being repaired. I do not surrender. Repeat, I do NOT surrender. Do you understand? Over."
"I understand, B-Siebzehn . What do you do? Ende."
Just then, Baker got a call from Wells over the interphone. He acknowledged, then tapped Savage on the shoulder. "Wells reports landing gear hydraulics are operational, sir."
Savage nodded to acknowledge the information. Then the German radioed again. "I understand you do not surrender, B-Siebzehn . What do you intend? Ende."
"Break off, Jaeger-13. My landing gear has been repaired. In thirty seconds, I will raise my gear and commence firing. Repeat, we will commence firing in thirty seconds. You are free to do the same. ... Thank you for your courtesy. B-17 out."
Savage had barely signed off, when both fighters broke off in half-rolls, flying away from the Lily at high speed. At the same moment, Savage toggled the switch to retract his landing gear. To his relief, this time he could feel the gear come up and lock, and the indicator on his panel read, 'Gear Up'.
The controls still felt sluggish, and he knew he had more problems than hydraulics, but he couldn't deal with that just now. His main concern at the moment was the location of those fighters.
"Pilot to all gunners. Our gear is up. You are cleared to fire."
For several minutes, Savage and the Lily's gunners searched the sky for the returning fighters, but saw nothing. Then, "Here they come! Twelve o'clock high!"
But the two 109's were too high for an attack and continued on past.
Wells was still in the bomb bay working on repairs, so Eddie Collins, freed from his non-functioning ball turret, had taken Wells' place in the top turret. As the fighters overhead flew past toward the rear of the aircraft, Eddie rotated his turret to follow them with his twin .50-caliber Brownings.
"They're coming back around." he called, and charged his guns. "Six o'clock high."
But once again the Germans made no attempt to resume their attack. They maintained their distance and took station high above the Piccadilly Lily.
'Now what?!' Savage wondered. 'They're playing cat and mouse', he thought. 'and we're the mouse.' Then his radio came alive again.
"Jaeger-Dreizehn to Amerikanische B-Siebzehn pilot. Ende."
Curious, Savage switched back to the German's frequency. "Go ahead, Jaeger-13. Over."
"You have luck today, Amerikaner. It is good you observe rules of conduct. Others do not. Because you do, I decide you will live, this time ... We meet another day. Viel Gluck! (Good Luck!) Jaeger-Dreizehn , Ende."
With that, the fighters peeled off, one waggling his wings just before they disappeared into the distance.
"How about that!" Savage said aloud. "Well, I don't care why. We're still alive; that's good enough."
Switching back to his interphone and fingering his throat mike, he called, "Wells! Check in and report." He needed to know how badly they were hurt.
"We've got problems, General." Wells replied. "When that 109 exploded, it chewed up the bomb bay and left wing pretty good. ... I've patched the gear hydraulics, but the ball turret, bomb bay doors, brakes, and everything else is still out. The bomb bay doors are still closed, but almost anything could make them drop open like the wheels did."
"The bomb bay fuel tank was hit, too, but high up. I've put a patch on the tank and re-routed the fuel through the wing and Tokyo tanks, but we've lost a lot of fuel, and most of it is sloshing around back here. It's slowly seeping out through holes in the belly, but one spark ..."
"Alright. I get the picture." Quickly checking his gages, "Do we have enough fuel to make it home?"
"I'll be close, but I think so ... providing we don't run into any more fighters."
"Okay. Don't worry about the ball turret, concentrate on the hydraulics for the brakes and the bomb bay doors, and anything we need to keep flying or land. If we have to, we can build up brake pressure with the hand pump before we land, but I don't want those doors coming open on landing. ... Anything else?"
"Yes, sir. We're missing about three feet off the tip of the left wing, as well as its aileron, and about half of the flap."
Savage quickly looked out his window at the left wing. The end of the wing was missing as well as much of its control surfaces; he was surprised he hadn't noticed before. It would be difficult, but he could compensate for that; he'd brought 17's back before with worse damage.
"... also," Wells continued. "we had a small fire in the radio compartment. Nothing serious, and it's out now, but it's possible some of the overhead control cables could have been weakened by the heat. If so, that's nothing I can fix in the air, sir, it'll probably require replacement cables."
"I've already noticed the controls are sluggish." Savage replied. "I'll just have to work with it. ... What about the crew?"
"We've been lucky, sir. Just three with minor injuries. Mike has some burns from putting out the fire; Johnny Mathews has a graze on his cheek from a 20mm; and Ernie caught a few splinters from that 109 he flamed."
"OK. Keep working on the hydraulics. Eddie will man your turret. ... and Wells, Good work."
Savage was still flying at treetop level, so he began a slow climb to 8,000 feet. He wanted to keep below 10,000 feet and stay off oxygen; oxygen, gas fumes and sparks don't mix.
Reaching altitude, he leveled off, then checked his heading. His compass read 318; his speed, 235 mph. He nudged the throttles forward to increase his speed to 250 mph. Then he called his navigator.
"Pilot to navigator. Where are we, Harry? Give me a position check."
There was a short delay, then, "We're about forty-five minutes east of the Channel, General, and a little off course. Correct to heading 3-2-5."
"OK. Correcting to 3-2-5."
"Savage to crew." Savage called over the interphone. "Those Germans gave us a pass, but we're not home yet, so everyone stay alert. ... and gunners, check your ammo."
Shortly after the three fighters broke off to attack Savage's straggling fortress, the main body of the Me-109s had caught up with and attacked Cobb's main formation. They harassed them the rest of the way across France and out into the Channel, an air battle lasting almost an hour. Between the bombers' gunners and the P-47s, they could claim four destroyed and two probable's, but they also lost two P-47s and another of their own before the Germans finally broke off the attack.
The English coast was in sight. The Group reformed, filling in the gaps as best they could; there were only thirteen of them now. Sandman's P-47s maintained station overhead. Midway across the Channel, Cobb's radio operator reported that he had picked up the 'Splasher' radio beacon at Southampton. They were almost to the coast.
"Alpha One to Sandman." Cobb radioed. "Have you located any of my stragglers?" After they had rendezvoused with the Thunderbolts, Cobb had reported three stragglers, including Linebacker, and Sandman had sent three of his planes to look for them and shepherd them home.
"Two are in-bound, Alpha One. They're still looking for Linebacker."
The formation flew on, crossing over the English coast at Weymouth, and continuing inland toward Archbury and home. Cobb still had hopes that the P-47s would find the Piccadilly Lily, and Savage, but they were decreasing with every mile. Still, he thought, the General had always somehow managed to come back.
Passing over Oxford, Cobb was called by his radio operator, "Sandman on Channel Three, sir."
Switching channels, Cobb heard, "Sandman to Alpha One."
"Go ahead, Sandman."
"We leave you here, Major. Sandman 4 and 5 report they have just entered the Channel with two of your stragglers and are about twenty minutes behind. Sandman six is still looking for Linebacker; but if he hasn't found him by now. ... He has to be close to 'bingo' fuel, and will have to call off the search soon. I'm sorry. It's not looking good, but I've radioed Air-Sea Rescue for a sweep off the French Coast. They might find him. Over."
"Alpha One to Sandman. Thanks for the effort, but don't write Linebacker off just yet; he has a way of turning up. Thanks again for the company. Alpha One, out."
Passing over Oxford, the formation flew on, and the P-47s broke off, heading for their base at RAF Halesworth on the Suffolk coast.
It had almost been eight hours since they took off that morning, when the Group was spotted approaching the field.
"Alpha One to Archbury Control. We are southwest of the field and five minutes out. Request landing instructions, over."
"Archbury to Alpha One. You are cleared to land on runway two-four-zero. I say again, runway two-four-zero. Visibility is one half-mile with patchy fog and mist. Wind is from the north at 4 miles per hour. Over."
"Roger, Tower. Runway two-four-zero. Visibility one-half mile with patchy fog. Wind from the north at four. Alpha One out."
The planes circled the field as they waited their turn to land. There were clearly not as many as had started out, and some were flying on three and even two engines with fuselages, tails and rudders shot up. Several red flares shot into the air, indicating wounded on board.
Stovall was on the Tower awaiting the return of the Group and had heard the operator giving landing instructions to Alpha One. Alpha One - that was Major Cobb. Where was Savage?
He went to the Tower railing and counted ... ten ... eleven ... twelve ... thirteen. Thirteen, plus the two that had aborted. Six missing out of twenty-one that had taken off, and one was the Piccadilly Lily.
According to Gardiner's last position report, they were almost to the Channel. The last half hour had been uneventful. They had not encountered any more fighters and apparently none of the anti-aircraft emplacements they had passed over had thought the lone bomber worth the effort or the expenditure of shells.
Savage was beginning to think he was out of the woods, when Ross shouted over the interphone, "Single Bandit. Nine o'clock high."
The top turret was already rotating to locate the enemy, when Ross quickly called again, "Disregard. Disregard. It's a P-47! It's one of ours."
Almost immediately, the P-47 radioed, "Sandman Six to Linebacker."
"This is Linebacker." Savage replied, happy to see a 'friendly'. "Go ahead, Six."
"Thank God I found you, Linebacker. This is my last pass. I am almost 'bingo' fuel."
"I'm glad to see you, too, Six. Lead the way. We'll follow."
Within ten minutes, the Lily, with the P-47 flying escort overhead, left France and crossed into the English Channel. They weren't home free yet - German Fighters had been known to attack in the Channel - but everybody breathed a lot easier. Sergeant Koenig, the radio operator, notified Savage he'd picked up the radio beacon at Southampton, and not long after that, they passed over the Weymouth, and flew inland.
As soon as he had been within range, Sandman had radioed ahead to his base that Linebacker had been found and was on his way in. Then over Oxford, after taking his leave of Linebacker, he left to hurry home himself. He was long past 'bingo', and flying on fumes.
When he was within sight of the base, Savage radioed for landing instructions. The Fighter Group had already notified Archbury that Savage had been found and was inbound, so as soon as the Tower Operator had provided the requested information, he went to the railing, and shouted, "It's the General! He's coming in!"
The tower operator had replied he was cleared on runway two-four-zero and reported limited visibility and light winds. Wells had been able to repair most of the hydraulics, but Savage wasn't completely sure he could trust that the 'fix' would hold. He had brakes, but he had Collins stand by the hand pump in case he lost pressure again.
A red flare, indicating he had wounded, shot into the air as he began his approach and lowered his gear. His instrument panel indicator read 'Gear Down', but just to be sure, Wells checked with the hand crank that they were all the way down and locked.
The bomb bay doors were his main concern. If his gear held when he landed, and the bomb bay doors jolted open, that was OK, they were high enough off the ground not to be a problem. But if the gear collapsed, and he had to make a wheels up landing, that was different. If the doors opened then, and dragged along the runway before they were crushed or ripped off, all kinds of bad things could happen. The worst being a spark that would ignite the fuel still sloshing around in the belly, causing an explosion that would blow them all into little pieces.
"Savage to Tower. I'm not certain my landing gear will hold. Prepare for an emergency landing."
Emergency vehicles rushed to line the runway as Savage began a long glide, trying to make as gentle a landing as possible. Compensating for his missing left wingtip with his remaining ailerons, flaps and rudder, he flew lower and lower until finally his wheels touched ... and held. He continued to roll down the runway, slowly increasing pressure on his brakes, until he came to a gentle stop. It was probably one of the best landings he had ever made.
Followed by the fire trucks and an ambulance, Savage slowly taxied to his hardstand, turned in, swung his tail around in the small circle of concrete and cut his engines. Everyone, including the wounded, exited the Lily as quickly as they could and ran to the edge of the parking apron. The corpsmen helped his wounded - Koenig, Mathews, and Ernie Ross - into the ambulance and sped away. Then the rest of the crew climbed into the back of the waiting crew truck to be driven to interrogation and debriefing. They would have a story to tell.
Savage stood there alone, looking at the Piccadilly Lily, with her engines blackened and large jagged holes through her fuselage and wings. She had taken a beating today, but still brought everyone home as she always did.
He removed his hat and vigorously ran his fingers through his hair. He was tired and sore, and he looked exhausted; it had been a long and stressful day. He was looking forward to a drink to loosen up, when Harvey Stovall drove up in his jeep, with Joe Cobb arriving right behind.
"Welcome back, General." Cobb said as he hopped out of his jeep. "You had us worried."
"I had myself worried, Joe." Savage replied wearily. "It was touch and go there for a while, but it was a good mission, I think, at least as far as target destruction for a change"
"Yes, SIR." Cobb replied brightly. "The strike photos showed complete destruction of the plant, as well as its railroad siding and a long line of rail cars waiting to unload. O'Leary pickled right in the middle of the target. It was lucky that hole in the cloud cover appeared just at the right moment. If it hadn't, ..." Cobb was still running on adrenaline and a little hyper.
"Is interrogation and debriefing over, Major?" Savage interrupted. He wanted Cobb to leave. He knew the boy was excited by their success, but he just couldn't handle that much energy this late in the day.
"No, sir. I just wanted to give you the news, but I'd better get back." Then he saluted, jumped back into his jeep and drove off.
Stovall had been waiting until Cobb left to approach. "I won't ask how it went. From everything I hear it was a great bomb run. ... You look terrible, by the way."
"Thanks." Savage managed a tired smile. "It was a long and ... unusual day." Looking back at the Lily, he asked. "What was the count, Harvey?"
"Not bad. You had the two aborts. Two were lost to fighters on the way in - Jessup and Davidson."
Savage nodded, "Jessup's plane took a direct hit and exploded. Davidson had three engines on fire; the crew bailed out."
"Cobb lost another one to fighters on the way back" Stovall continued. "That was Chang. He managed to make it to the Channel, then he and his crew bailed out. Air Sea Rescue's looking for them now.
Then there were three stragglers - Peacock, Harrison and you; all back safe. Bottom line, we lost three aircraft out of twenty-one. That's not bad for any mission, Frank; but for this one, it was a miracle."
"What about the P-47s?"
"Three; they all bailed out."
"We haven't got the final count from Interrogation yet, but we also have claims of five confirmed kills and three probables from our gunners."
"Make that six kills. Ernie got one, and a 'probable'. He was also hit, but not badly; just a few splinters in his arm and side. He'll be OK."
"Thank, God. I've become rather fond of that boy. ... You say he got one, on his first time out? There will be no living with him now."
"Well, if he gets to bragging too much," Savage said with a laugh. "Just remind him that he came close to 'killing' the Lily, too."
Stovall was about to ask what that meant, when all of a sudden, the Lily's bomb bay doors fell open and gallons of fuel splashed onto the concrete.
"What the ...?" Stovall said amazed. "It's a good thing that didn't happen when you were landing."
"Isn't it though." Savage replied absently.
"What do you mean, 'he almost killed the Lily'?"
"Come on, drive me back to the office, I'd like a drink , and I have a story to tell you."
"They just let you go?!" Stovall exclaimed after Savage finished telling him about his encounter with Jaeger-13. Savage had had his 'post-mission' drink, a habit he had developed to take the edge off, and after today's mission, he had needed one.
'Yes. I don't know why, maybe a personal sense of honor, or just because he could, but they had us cold, and let us go. That's good enough for me. ... Now, I'm hungry, Harvey, and I could use some company, so how about joining me for dinner."
The next morning was a busy one, starting with General Crowe, who drove up early to see Savage.
"Morning, Frank." Crowe said as he entered Savage's office, poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down. "Who's the 'jack-in-the-box' out there?"
"That's Corporal Kiefer, Ross's replacement." Savage said rising to greet his superior officer. "He's still a little over-awed by rank."
"I noticed. ... Where's Ross?"
"Ernie's an air gunner now. He flew left-waist in the Lily yesterday."
"Yes." Savage nodded. "In fact he shot down one Me-109, and can claim a 'probable'."
"Amazing. Congratulate him for me ... and congratulations to you, too!"
"Yesterday's mission is, of course, why I'm here. ... I don't know how you managed to pull it off, Frank, with everything you had going against you, but you took what many believed to be a one-way trip and turned it into an extremely successful mission.
The destruction of that plant, the uprising in the town, everything went like clockwork. The French couldn't be happier; De Gaulle is even talking about awarding you the Croix de Guerre."
"Great! ... I'd rather have more men and planes."
Crowe ignored him. "The Old Man is also extremely pleased, not just with the success of the mission, but with the minimum loss of life and aircraft.
He's briefing the press later this morning; he's calling the mission 'a major blow to the German war industry and an excellent example of American - French collaboration'."
"The reporters will want to interview you, too, and some of the crews."
"Can't you keep me out of it, Wiley? I don't have the time nor the inclination to talk to reporters. Stovall can line up some crews for them, but leave me out of it."
"Sorry, Frank. Successful missions like this one are good publicity for the Air Force, and for Daylight Precision Bombing. ... and good publicity pays dividends with Congress in terms of more planes, bombs and manpower."
"Staff is already working on the draft of a unit citation for the Group, and I think there could even be an Oak Leaf Cluster in this for your Silver Star."
"I'm not looking for medals, Wiley." Savage said annoyed. He really didn't have time for this. He had reports to write, wounded to visit, and he needed to see Nero about the condition of his aircraft, especially the Lily.
"I know that, Frank, and so does General Pritchard. But America needs heroes, Frank, more than ever, and right now, you're it. So suck it up, General. Talk nice to the reporters and smile for the cameras ... and that's an order."
"Yes, sir." Savage said resigned.
"Good! Now that we've got that settled, what's this report I got from Interrogation that your crew is saying they got a 'free pass' from a couple of German fighters?"
Savage spent the next half hour describing his encounter with Jaeger-13, and the dilemma he faced when his wheels dropped.
"If anybody else had told me this story, Frank, I wouldn't have believed him. ... What were you going to do, if you hadn't been able to raise the gear? You couldn't land. Can you imagine the propaganda the Germans could make out of the surrender of an American Air Force General with an intact B-17?"
"I know, believe me, I know! I don't know what I would have done. I wasn't going to surrender, but I couldn't fire on him either, not as long as he wasn't firing on me. I suppose I would have just kept flying toward the Channel, and wait for him to fire on me, so I could fire back. But they had us cold, Wiley; they could have blown us out of the sky. Fortunately, it didn't come to that..."
"You will put all this in your report."
"Go into as much detail as you can remember, Frank, especially about how you were able to communicate with them. We've had reports of Germans using our frequencies before, but usually from ground stations, not in fighters. I'm sure Intelligence will want to look into that further."
"Also, the part about the Germans giving you a pass. I don't want that getting around. The last thing we need is aircrews believing there are 'chivalrous' Germans flying around up there; it would be very bad for morale. From now on, that information is restricted. See that your crew understands that."
"Good." Crowe said, checking the time and standing. "I'd better get going. Pritchard wants me to attend his press conference. ... Why don't you walk me out to my car."
Crowe's driver held the door for him as he got in his staff car. Then Crowe turned to him and said, "Sergeant, take a smoke somewhere, will you." After his driver left, Crowe motioned Savage to get in.
As Savage settled into the seat and closed the car door, Crowe said, "There's been a new wrinkle to your problem, Frank."
"Pritchard has just received a directive from General Arnold. He needs a highly qualified, combat experienced general officer to take over Second Air Force in Colorado. It's a Training Command, and its Commander would primarily be responsible for the organization and training of B-17 and B-24 Heavy Bombardment Groups."
"That's right up your alley, Frank, and Pritchard's looking hard at you for the job. It would mean no more combat, but probably a lot of flying. You've never said, but I know that being stuck behind a desk is one of the reasons you've been dragging your feet about leaving the Group. I felt the same when my time came."
"The bottom line, Frank, is that you've got two choices now, and staying here isn't one of them. Both are good assignments, and both will get you your second star. It's just a matter of whether you want to stay in the ETO, or go back to the States."
"I've run out of time, too. Pritchard wants my answer this afternoon, which means I need yours no later than the end of the week, ... or you'll probably be on the same flight with me back to the States."
"I'm sorry to have to hit you with this now, Frank, but that's just the way it is. So start working on a short list of Colonels you'd recommend to take over the Group, and decide which assignment you want."
Savage stood there watching as Crowe drove away. "Well, that's it, then." he said to himself, and walked back inside. At Stovall's desk, he said, "No calls, Harvey. I've got some thinking to do." Then he went back into his inner office and shut the door.
Savage went to the window behind his desk and stood there staring out. He'd known this day was coming, but he'd refused to face it despite Wiley Crowe's constant pushing for him to move on.
Thinking back, Savage remembered the day the Old Man had asked him to take command of the 918th, those many months ago.
The Group couldn't answer a Field Order, Pritchard had said. They had the highest losses in Bomber Command, the worst mission success rate, and they no morale. He said they had given up, quit, and he needed him to go down and fix it.
And he had. In less than six months, he's turned the 918th into one of the best Groups in 8th Air Force, giving the unit justifiable pride in itself and its accomplishments.
But, there had been a cost. He couldn't remember how many men and airplanes he'd taken out that didn't make it back. And after a period of time, in spite of his every intention to the contrary, he'd let the Group, and its personnel, get under his skin.
That was a cardinal error for a commander. The men of the 918th had become more than just numbers, and he found he could no longer spend them like they were. Every plane lost, every crew member killed, had become a personal failure and filled him with guilt.
He'd managed to keep those feeling buried deep inside, to maintain a tough front, but in the last few months, it had become more difficult, and the stress was beginning to affect his decisions and ability to command.
Maybe Wiley was right; maybe it was time for him and the 918th to part company ... especially since the decision was no longer his to make.
Savage turned away from the window, and sat down at his desk to work on the Mission Report while it was still fresh in his mind. When he was finished, he grabbed his hat and took the report out to Stovall to review it, then have it typed up and sent forward.
"Major, General Crowe has decided that all information relating to our encounter with Jaeger-13 should be restricted, so mark it 'Confidential'. Also, have Major Henderson brief the crew and anyone they may have told."
"Yes, sir. I'll see to it right away." Stovall said as he began to read the report.
Going out the door, he said. "If you need me, Harvey, I'll be on the flight line with Nero, or at the hospital."
Savage drove down Perimeter Road to the Flight Line. He found Nero in the Repair Hanger with a 'hanger queen', supervising the removal of a wingtip assembly that he planned to use as a replacement for the damaged section of the Piccadilly Lily's left wing.
Seeing the General drive up, Nero stopped what he was doing, and wiping his hands, walked over.
Returning Nero's salute, Savage asked, "How's she look, Nero?"
Nero knew he was asking about the Lily. "She's not too bad, General. The holes in the fuselage, the hydraulics, the bomb bay tank, and the wingtip assembly; all of that will only take two, maybe three days. But we'll have to replace all the exposed overhead control cabling that runs through the radio compartment, and your right inboard engine will require a complete overhaul. ... Give me five, six days, and she'll be good as new."
"Speaking of engines ..." It was time to let Nero off the hook. "I spoke with General Crowe."
He had Nero's complete attention, and he was looking a little worried.
"He was able to persuade General Thompson to let it go THIS time, but if it happens again ... "
"It won't, sir." Nero said, much relieved. "I swear!"
"All right. I'll take you at your word. ... Now, what about the rest of the aircraft?"
"Most of it is minor, General. There's only two that will take some time; besides the usual flak holes and such, one needs an entire new tail assembly; the other, a new engine. ... and before you ask, sir, I still have three of the four new engines that came over with the replacements. ... Both planes will be ready about the same time as the Lily."
"Is there anyone working on the Lily now?"
"No, sir. I wanted to replace her wingtip first."
"OK. I'll let you get back to it. ... Good work, Nero."
Savage drove along the edge of the parking apron until he came to the Lily's hardstand. He got out and walked over, then opening the nose hatch, swung himself up into the plane and settled into the pilot's seat.
He could always think here, in a cockpit, better than anywhere else. He was a flyer; a 'stick and rubber' man. He'd never liked staff assignments. They were necessary; you had to fill that square, but he didn't like it and had always managed to eventually get back to the field and flying.
But not this time, he thought. Not after he left his Group. This time there would be no going back; no more flying. He would be behind a desk for the rest of his career.
But if he took the Training Command, he'd be out of it; no more sending men up, no more death and destruction, and he'd be able to keep flying. He might even regain some of the joy in it he'd once had.
He was sure he could work something out with Anne, if he wasn't flying anymore. But if he went back to the States, he was also certain she wouldn't go with him; England was her home now.
'What is it you really want, Frank?' That was what she had asked.
Like an epiphany, Savage realized, what he wanted was Anne. He wanted her more than he had ever wanted anything. And who says he couldn't continue to fly. As a Wing Commander, he could fly whenever he wanted; he just couldn't fly missions. Would that be such a loss?
"God!" he said aloud. "Is it that simple?"
Savage suddenly felt as if a great weight had been lifted, and he knew he had an answer for Wiley. ... and maybe, a question for Anne.
Savage's next stop was the Hospital. Entering, he went first to look for Doc Kaiser, and found him, just coming out of the Operating Theater. He looked tired, and his surgical gown was spattered with blood. As Savage watched, Kaiser put his hands to the small of his back and stretched to relieve a growing ache. Then noticing Savage, he wiped the sweat from his face, and went over to him.
"Good Morning, General." he said wearily.
"You look tired, Doc. Bad one?"
"Yes. Lieutenant Burgess, navigator on Captain Chang's crew. Wounded in the chest before he bailed out over the Channel. Hit the water hard, and ... well, long story short, I had to remove a large portion of his right lung."
"Is he going to be OK?"
"Barring infection, I think he'll make it, but his flying days are over; he'll be going home."
Then Kaiser seemed to get his second wind, and asked, "What can I do for you, General?"
"I just wanted to see how many wounded we had from yesterday's mission, and how they were doing."
"Overall," Kaiser replied, "Not too bad. ... No deaths; twelve wounded, mostly minor. Only three, including Burgess, had serious injuries, but none life threatening. ... At least, from what I hear, it was worth the trip this time."
"Yes. The Brass seems to be happy with the results. ... How's Ross doing?"
"Fine. He just had a few splinters in his left arm and side. I'm just going to keep him another day to watch for infection, then release him to light duty for a couple of weeks. ... He's in Ward Two, if you want to see him."
Savage, of course, didn't need directions, he knew every ward in the hospital, and as he pushed through the swinging doors, every head turned in his direction. He slowly made his way across the room, pausing at each bed to say a few words.
Mid-way along, he stopped at the bed of Sergeant John Mathews, his right-waist gunner. The right side of his face, where he'd been 'stung' by a 20mm round, was heavily bandaged.
"How the cheek, Mathews?"
"Not too bad, sir. They've got it all doped up. I don't feel much of anything. Just feels kinda weird. Doc Kaiser says there'll probably be a scar."
"Hope it doesn't interfere with your love life." Mathews was known to be a bit of a 'woman chaser'.
"Oh, no, sir." he replied trying to smile, then gave it up as a bad idea. "A nice scar. A war wound. ... General, it'll draw 'em like flies to honey. I've got it made."
Savage laughed, then told him to get well soon, that the Lily needed her waist gunner back, and continued on to the next bed, and the next. Eventually, starting back up the other side, he came to Ernie Ross's bed.
Ross was sitting up in bed, his left arm in a sling, looking quite pleased with himself having survived his first mission.
"Well, Ernie. You seemed to do okay your first time out ... one kill, and a 'probable'. Was it everything you expected?"
"Yes, sir ... well, sort of. I was cold and scared all the way over, but when those 109s showed up, things started happening so fast, I didn't have time to be scared or do anything but react. It was just like you said it would be."
Then he looked a little uncertain. "I didn't expect to be able to see their faces, General. ... That 109 I flamed, I looked right at him; it was like everything was in slow motion. He didn't look like the Nazis on the posters or in the movies; he just looked like a scared kid, just like me. ... I was excited at the time, my first kill and all; but now it bothers me."
"A lot of people feel that way 'after', Ernie. Killing isn't natural; it's not something you want to do, but we're in a war, and right now, it's something that needs doing. Just don't ever start to like it."
Savage paused to let that sink in. Then, " ... Doc Kaiser says he's going to keep you another day, then release you to light duties. You can come back to the office, if you want. Maybe you settle Kiefer down and convince him I don't bite. ... or would you rather spend some time with your girl friends?"
"I think I'd like to come back to the office, sir, just for a while. I'm a gunner, now, and I have a duty to do, but I have to admit I miss driving you around ... and I've had some time to think things over lately. I'm going to break it off with Diane, Lily, Joanne and Mary; everyone, except Meg here in Archbury. Life's too short to waste it fooling around. I think I might want to settle down."
Savage was stunned. The boy never ceased to amaze him. He had discovered, in the space of a couple of weeks, a truth it had taken him thirty-seven years to discover.
"I think that's a good idea, Ernie. I'll let Major Stovall know to expect you. "
When Savage returned to the office, he called Stovall into his office and informed about Pritchard's press conference, and that reporters would be down in the next day or so to talk to some of the crews.
"It's a given they'll want to talk to the lead crew, Major, and pick a couple of others, and make sure they all know what they can talk about, and what they can't, especially that Jaeger-13 business. ... and if you can, try to limit their time with me ... say there's an emergency or something."
"Yes, sir." Stovall said with an understanding grin. "and I'll get crew recommendations from Major Cobb."
"Oh, Harvey, before I forget." Savage said as Stovall started to leave. "Ernie Ross will be back with us in a couple of days, just until his wounds heal and Doc Kaiser clears him to return to flight duty. Put him to settling Kiefer down, will you? The kid is beginning to get on my nerves."
After Stovall left, Savage tried calling Anne. He wanted to tell her he was going to take Wiley's offer. But like the several times he'd tried before, she either wasn't there, or couldn't - wouldn't? - take his call.
"He's called again, Anne." Mary Weeks, said. "Why won't you talk to the poor man?" she asked. "How can you resolve anything, if you won't talk to him?"
"I know, Mary. But I'm afraid to. If I hear his voice, I know I'll just give in."
"Well, this approach isn't working, is it!" Mary said exasperated. "You've been miserable these last few days. You walk around in a funk all day, and stay up half the night crying. Our bedroom walls aren't that thick, you know; I can hear you. ... How much worse could it be if you just saw the man and talked it out?"
They hadn't exactly quarreled Sunday, Anne knew, but there was this tension between them, and his unwillingness to even talk about it, infuriated her. Part of her understood that by pressing him about his flying, she risked having him walk out of her life. But she couldn't help her feelings, and she was more afraid that she'd lose him as she had Robert.
"I just can't lose another man to this bloody war!" she suddenly said aloud.
"Who says you have to lose him?" Mary offered. "Not everyone dies, do they. There wouldn't be anyone left to fight the bloody wars, if they did. ... I worry about Terry; him being a pilot and all. But I could just as easily get killed too, in an air raid or something. Nobody's safe in this bloody war. I'm not going to let worry run my life. I'd rather have whatever time I can with him, than not have him at all."
Anne thought about what Mary had just said, then smiled, "Out of the mouths of babes."
"Here! Who you calling a baby? I'm a married woman."
"Sorry, Mary. I just meant that was good advice from someone so young."
"Oh, that's alright, then."
Mary was right, she thought. Even with the pain of Robert's death, even now, she wouldn't have traded a minute of the time she'd had with him even if she'd known what was to happen.
And, Frank ... what did she think, that she could just come into his life and expect him to change who he was? Yes, he risked his life every time he went up, and she hated it, but were he to be killed, would the hurt be any less because she'd shut him out? Of course not. It was too late; she loved the man. All it would mean was she'd thrown away whatever time they could have had together. She didn't want to wake up one morning and regret what they might have had.
"God, What a fool I am!"
"Oh, I doubt that, Mrs. Markham," said Charles Hambrook, her SOE Section Chief who had just entered the room. "I doubt that very much."
"Sorry, sir. I was just thinking aloud ... a personal problem."
"I see. ... Well, if you can put that aside for a moment. We've just had a transmission from 'Phillipe'; he has something for us and needs a pickup tonight. Here are his coordinates." he said, handing her a slip of paper. "See to the necessary arrangements, would you?"
"Of course, sir. I'll get on it straight away."
Anne smiled at the news. 'Phillipe' was Tom Smith's code name; she was fond of Tom and glad to hear he was coming home. She quickly checked the coordinates, then picked up the phone and started to make the arrangements for his pickup.
Thinking about the decision he'd made and the situation with Anne, Savage hadn't slept well, and was later than usual getting into the office the next morning. Now that he'd made his choice, it was time to make it official. When he called Crowe, his secretary, Mrs. Phillips, said the General was in a meeting, but he would have time to see him at noon.
He had just poured himself a cup of coffee and started going over the correspondence on his desk, when the phone rang. He hoped it was Anne. She still hadn't returned any of his calls, and he missed her more than he could say. A moment later, Stovall announced that it WAS the Statistical Research Department on the line.
Savage quickly picked up the receiver. "Anne?"
"No, sir. It's Mary, Mary Weeks .. Anne's flat mate."
Savage was alarmed. "What's the matter? Has something happened to Anne? Is she alright?"
"Nothing has happened, General. She's out of the office for a moment, so I don't have much time. ... I wanted you to know, Anne's NOT alright. She's miserable. She's been miserable all week, and if you'll pardon me for saying so, sir, from all the messages you've left, so are you."
"Mary, I appreciate your concern, but ... "
"I know this is none of my business, and you don't know me, but Anne is my friend, General, and I can't stand by and watch her push you away when I know she loves you. ... and you love her too ... don't you, sir? Truly?"
Savage hesitated to talk about his feelings for Anne with a stranger, but ... "Yes, Mary. I do. Truly."
"Then pardon me, sir, but you two need to stop mucking about and talk to each other. I've told her how it is with me and Terry. It's no different, you know; he's a fighter pilot. But we talked about it and decided should the worst happen - to either of us - we weren't going to waste time worrying about what might happen; life's too short, and I told her so. ... I think she's ready to listen, General; you've got to come to London and talk to her."
"You could be right, Mary." Savage said, and after a moment's thought, said, "I'll come down tonight. I have some things I want to tell her."
"She's coming, I have to go, ... Goodbye, General, and good luck."
"Thank you, Mary. You're a good friend."
Savage was still thinking about what Mary had said, when he heard a light tap on his doorframe. Looking up, he saw Kiefer standing in the doorway. "Yes, what is it, Corporal?"
Corporal Kiefer entered, came to attention in from of Savage's desk and held out a folder. "The promotion lists just came in, sir."
"It's about time. Give it to Major Stovall."
Kiefer fidgeted, but didn't move. "I thought the General might want to look at it first, sir."
Savage was a little annoyed at the interruption, but took the folder and glanced at the pages inside. Then smiled.
"You're right, Corporal. I'll take care of this. Thank you."
After Kiefer left, Savage looked at the Orders again. At the top of the second page, listed alphabetically under the heading, 'Majors Promoted to the Permanent Grade of Lieutenant Colonel', were, among others, the names, Cobb, Kaiser, and Stovall. He quickly perused the remaining pages and noted several other officer and enlisted promotions that were appropriate and generally overdue. There would be a formal promotion ceremony later, but these three he wanted to do himself, now. The orders were dated several weeks ago - they had obviously sat on someone's desk for a time - and read 'effective immediately'.
Savage flipped the lever on his intercom, "Major Stovall."
"I would like to see Major Cobb and Doc Kaiser in my office at ..." checking his watch; it was oh-nine-thirty, and remembering his noon meeting, "at ten hundred. ... and send Corporal Kiefer in."
Kiefer was back at his door almost before he finished speaking. "Come in, Corporal. I have an errand for you."
Kiefer was back in less than twenty minutes. "Here are those items you requested, sir."
"Thank you, Corporal."
Savage had just placed three pairs of shiny new silver oak leaves on his desk, when Stovall buzzed. "They're here , sir."
"Thank you, Major. Send them in, and you come in as well."
The two officers entered and stood at attention in front of Savage's desk; Stovall remained by the door.
"Please join the others Major Stovall."
The three were clearly wondering why they had been summoned, and Savage didn't make them wait long.
"Gentlemen, there are few duties I enjoy more than the one I have the privilege to perform now."
"Attention to orders." he said, then read aloud. "Pursuant to Special Order 43-178, effective immediately, the following Majors are promoted to the permanent grade of Lieutenant Colonel: Cobb, Joseph M.; Kaiser, Donald J.; Stovall, Harvey S."
"Congratulations! These promotions are well deserved and long overdue." Savage said smiling broadly, and came around his desk to shake the hand of each man, give him a set of his new rank insignia, and say a few words,
"You've finally got the rank to go with your job, Joe."
"Yes, sir." Cobb replied with a wide smile. "Thank you."
"Doc, as a Lieutenant Colonel, if you want, you can request re-assignment ..."
"If it's all right with the General," Kaiser interrupted. "I'm happy where I am."
"I was hoping you'd say that, Doc. We'd hate to have to break in a new doctor just as we were getting used to you."
Savage saved Stovall for last. "Harvey, I'm afraid I can't have a Lieutenant Colonel in a Major's billet." He paused long enough to give Stovall concern, then continued, "So, I guess I'll have to make you Deputy Commander for Ground Operations. You've been acting Ground Exec for months anyway. But until a suitable replacement Adjutant can be assigned, you'll have to do both jobs. ... in short, you'll continue what you've been doing."
"Yes, sir." Stovall was clearly pleased.
Then addressing all three, he said, "There will be a formal promotion ceremony for you and everyone else on the list as soon as Colonel Stovall, here, can set it up, but I wanted to have the pleasure of promoting you three myself. ... That's all Gentlemen, except, I expect to see all of you at the Officers' Club at fifteen hundred, and you're buying. ... Dismissed."
As they filed out, congratulating each other, Savage said, "Stay a minute, Harvey, would you, and close the door."
"Take a seat." he said as he went back around his desk and sat down. He'd been dreading this, but it had to be said sometime. He hesitated a moment, gauging the best way to begin, then just came right out with it.
"Harvey, I'm leaving. I'm being reassigned. It's not official yet, but I'll be taking over the Wing from General Crowe."
Stovall said nothing for a moment, as if he couldn't believe what Savage had said, then surprisingly, said, "Thank, God!"
Savage was taken aback. "That's not exactly the reaction I was expecting, Harvey." he said with a confused smile. "No, 'I'm sorry to see you go'?"
"May I speak frankly, General? Man to man?"
"You always have, Harvey."
"Frank, when you first took over the Group, you were a real fire-breather. ... Cold and detached, just here to do a job; and you came on hard with that 'forget about going home, consider yourself already dead' speech.
But after a few months, you fell into the same trap that broke Keith Davenport. You started to care. It became personal. Every death, every plane lost, ate at you.
You tried to hide it, keep up a tough front, but I've watched you punish yourself for months. You led every mission; you never took any time off. You began to challenge Pinetree on mission parameters you didn't like. The occasional after-mission drink became a habit, a crutch to help you deal with the stress. Every time you went up, I'd be afraid it would be your last, and a few times, it almost was.
So, yes! I'm glad you're leaving, before your luck runs out, before you either break like Davenport did, or just don't come back."
"Was I that transparent?" Savage was surprised that Stovall had been able to read him so well, and that he felt so strongly about it. "Did anyone else know?"
"Only Don Kaiser. He saw it coming, too. Did you know he wanted to ground you after the Hamburg mission? He would have, too, but 'over-stressed by concern for your men' isn't an accepted medical diagnosis."
"I thought he kept me grounded longer than was necessary, but, no, I didn't know that; not until Wiley Crowe told me a couple of weeks ago."
"I know it probably wasn't your intention, Frank, and in the beginning you would have considered it a weakness, but you've made a lot of friends since you've been here. The men respect you and would follow you anywhere ... and have."
"Thanks, Harvey. That means a lot. I feel the same way about them."
"You WILL be missed, you know." Stovall continued. "And congratulations. It's a great opportunity, and I think you'll make a great Wing Commander."
"But you're going to be a hard act to follow. Have you any idea yet who'll replace you?"
"My recommendation will be Joe Cobb. His promotion couldn't have come at a better time. I'd never have been able to recommend him for the job as a Major, but as a Lieutenant Colonel... It'll take some doing, but I think I can convince Wiley to sell it to General Pritchard. But I don't want to say anything to Joe, not until it's a done deal. I want to let him get used to the idea of being a Lieutenant Colonel for a few days before I spring it on him"
"There's one more thing." he said, knowing what Stovall's reply would be. "I'm going to need a Chief of Staff, Harvey. I don't suppose you'd consider ..."
"Thank you, Frank. I appreciate the offer, I do. But as I've mentioned before, I'm an old country lawyer, and I can't give up on a client in the middle of a case. I'd like to stay with the 918th."
"I thought that's what you'd say, but I had to ask." Savage said rising and coming around his also stood, and the two men shook hands. "I'll miss our talks, Harvey." he said. "But I know you'll help Joe find his way and keep him out of trouble."
"If I know you, Frank, I expect you'll visit now and then."
"You're probably right." Savage said with a grin. "Remember." he cautioned. "Nothing is official yet, so keep all this to yourself."
"Of course, sir." Stovall replied. "If there's nothing else, General, I've got some promotions to post and arrangements to make."
"No, nothing else. Thank you, Colonel."
An hour later, not trusting Kiefer as his driver just yet, Savage drove himself down to Wycombe Abbey for his meeting with Wiley Crowe.
Savage was early when he entered Crowe's outer office. The 'guardian' at Crowe's gate was Mrs. Vera Phillips, a fifty-something very efficient, no nonsense secretary, whose stern visage belied a warm personality and a very dry British sense of humor. She was the wife of a senior British Army officer, now a Japanese Prisoner of War, captured just before the fall of Singapore, and the mother of an RAF pilot serving in North Africa. Early on, rather than sit alone in an empty house waiting for the daily Post, she decided to keep busy and do something useful.
She had been Crowe's secretary since the beginning, and Savage had spent enough time in Crowe's office that he'd gotten to know her; he had no doubt that they would work well together.
"I know I'm early, Mrs. Phillip's." he began, "I'll just ..."
But before he could finish, Crowe came out of his office with his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Ed Chandler.
Chandler was a young Lieutenant Colonel, and an experienced B-24 senior pilot, just serving his time in a staff position. Savage and he had butted-heads several times over Field Orders Savage hadn't liked, but Chandler was a good officer, and he was certain he could work with him. Chandler was also a colonel-select, and Savage knew that as soon as he 'pinned on', it would not be long before he was given command of his own Group.
Crowe was still talking to Chandler, and hadn't noticed Savage. "Get that off to General Pritchard's office right away, will you, Ed."
"Yes, sir." Chandler replied, then turned and went into his office just opposite Mrs. Phillips' desk.
"I know I'm early for our appointment, General," Savage said. "but have you got a couple of minutes?"
"Certainly, General." Crowe said as he led the way back into his office. "Come in."
As Savage followed, Crowe continued, "Close the door, will you.
Savage did as instructed, then looked around. He had been in this office, he didn't know how many times, but had never looked at it from the perspective of someone who would one day work here.
It was a big, and comfortable, office, at least three times the size of his. Crowe's large cherry executive desk was situated opposite the door, with two comfortable leather chairs, also in cherry, in front. Behind the desk were several tall windows, with open blackout curtains, evenly spaced along the outside wall.
To the right of the desk was a large sitting area with two overstuffed leather sofas and a chair positioned parallel to and in front of a large fireplace, and in the corner, there was a door that opened, he knew, into a private bathroom.
On the other end of the room was a long conference table and eight chairs, and beyond them on the wall, now covered with a curtain, was the large map of Western Europe they had recently used to trace the route of the Prinz Eugen.
The entire room front of the room, on either side of the door, was lined with bookcases and cabinets in the same warm cherry paneling, and the wood floors were covered with several large area rugs.
Savage observed all this as he approached Crowe who stood waiting in front of his desk.
"What's on your mind, Frank?" Crowe said. He hoped he knew what it was, but he would wait for Savage to say it.
Savage hesitated another moment, then said, "I've made a decision, Wiley. I'd like to take you up on your offer ... assuming the offer is still good, and the Old Man goes for it, of course. The Training Command isn't for me. Colorado has too much snow, and I'd like to stay in the ETO and finish this thing."
Crowe was pleased, and it showed as he shook Savage's hand. "You've made the right decision, Frank. You don't know how relieved I am to know you just might survive this war after all, and that somebody I know and trust is taking over my Wing."
Crowe sat in one of the padded leather chairs in front of his desk, and motioned Savage into the asked, "Have you thought about your replacement?"
Leaning back in his chair, Savage replied, "I want Joe Cobb to take the Group."
"I don't know, Frank. I know the boy's very capable. But a Major in a Colonel's billet?"
"Promotion Orders just came down. Joe pinned on his silver oak leaves this morning."
"That's great. He certainly deserves it. But still, he'd be a brand new LC; and he's awfully young to command a Group. I'm not sure I can sell that to Pritchard."
Savage leaned forward in his chair. "Wiley, Joe's been doing a Lieutenant Colonel's job for months now, ever since Peterson bought it, and I'd match his flying hours, missions flown and knowledge of the Group's capabilities against anyone you can put up. You know he can do it. Hell, he pretty much ran the Group those months I was out of action after Hamburg."
"Yes, he's young. But he's very good, and as everyone keeps telling me, this is a young man's war. ... Besides, he'll have Harvey Stovall - who also pinned on this morning, along with Doc Kaiser - to help with the administrative side ... and I'll be right here to watch him, won't I."
"Okay. Okay. Stop swinging. You win." Crowe laughed. "If I have any say in it, and I do, Cobb will get the Group, and you'll take the Wing. I'll let Pritchard know this afternoon. But it probably won't be announced for a couple of days."
"Good. Will there be any overlap with you, or is it just 'sink or swim'?
"I don't have to report for two weeks. You can have a week of that, then I have arrangements to make. I'd like to have a few days with Kathy and the kids before I report."
"A week will be fine."
"Good. ... You say both Stovall and Kaiser have been promoted, too? I'm glad; they're both deserve it. But what are you going to do with Harvey? He can't remain as Adjutant."
"I've bumped him up to Ground Exec; he's been 'acting' anyway since we shipped Brown home with that lung infection. He can continue doing both jobs until I ... until JOE can find a suitable replacement for Adjutant."
Savage leaned back in his chair again. He was relieved that it was done; he was committed now. It would take a while to get used to the idea, to adjust, but he felt he was ready to move on.
"Well, I guess that does it. When do you want me to report?" Savage said, rising to leave.
"We'll work that out in a couple of days, after it's been announced." Then unexpectedly, Crowe asked, "How are things going with you and Anne Markham?"
Savage sat back down, and said. "To tell you the truth, Wiley, I don't really know. I thought we were good until last Sunday, then out of the blue, she pressed me about my continued flying and why hadn't I taken your offer ... Phillip had told her. It caught me off guard. I wasn't prepared to talk about it, and she left in a huff. She hasn't answered any of my calls since."
"Do you still feel the same about her?"
"I love her, Wiley. I feel as though I've been in love with her since that first day. She's all I can think about."
"Boy, you DO have it bad." Crowe grinned. "But that's just the way it was with Martha and me."
"I'm going into London tonight to tell her, Wiley. Now that I won't be flying anymore, I'm think we can work things out. I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but if things go as I hope, I intend to ask her to marry me."
Crowe stood, as did Savage. "You have no idea how happy that makes me, Frank." he said vigorously shaking his hand again. "It's about time you settled down and started a family."
Savage laughed. "I don't know about a family. Let's wait until she says 'yes'; I don't even have a ring yet."
"Well, you'd better get going, ... and Frank, don't mess this up. You don't want to let this one get away.'
Savage celebrated the new Lieutenant Colonels' promotions with a quick beer at the Club, then started down to London just after dark. It was a warm, clear night with a full moon - 'a bomber's moon'. Even with the reduced visibility of the slotted blackout headlight covers on his car, he made good time on the A10. Once into London, he stayed on it across the city until he came to the Thames River, then as he turned west toward Knightsbridge, the Air Raid Sirens began to wail. Soon overhead he heard the drone of bombers' engines, and search lights began to criss-cross the sky trying to find and trap the German bombers in their beams.
Several times Air Raid Wardens tried to flag him down, to get him off the street and into a shelter, but Savage ignored them and kept driving. He had to get to Knightsbridge. When he passed St. Ermin's, he knew where he was; it was only a few miles more to Brompton Road, then Pelham Place and Anne's flat.
Only emergency vehicles were on the streets, rushing to wherever they were needed. He drove slowly, and he could hear the whistle of the bombs as they dropped, and felt the car shudder when they hit nearby, and over it all, he heard the answering crump-crump-crump of the anti-aircraft batteries. The streets were illuminated by the glow of the fires, and the buildings blown apart by the bombs left great craters and debris in the road.
His progress was hindered as he avoided the piles of rubble, broken water mains spewing water and gas mains, ablaze and burning like eternal flames. As he slowed to go around a vehicle abandoned in the middle of the street, a man jumped out in front of his car, forcing him to brake hard and stop. It was another Air Raid Warden.
"You'll have to get off the street, sir, and come into the shelter. You're a hazard out here, you are."
Savage showed his identification. "I'm on official business ..."
"I'm sorry, General. Whatever it is, it'll have to wait. Only emergency vehicles are allowed during an Air Raid. Now please move your car to the side of the road and come into the shelter before we both get killed."
It had been useless to argue further, and Savage had been impatiently trapped for hours in the shelter until the 'All Clear' finally sounded a little after ten. Coming out, he saw more parts of the city on fire, and there was a constant noise everywhere that made it almost impossible to hear. He found his car where he had left it, and drove on as best he could, avoiding the rushing ambulances, dazed survivors, and debris that seemed everywhere.
He was almost to her block when the street became impassable. He abandoned his car, and continued on foot, walking at first, but as his worry for Anne grew, he began to run.
From a distance, the block, at first, looked intact, and he breathed a sigh of relief. But as he got closer, he saw Pelham Place was in chaos. Several of the buildings had been hit and were ablaze, and the Fire Brigade had arrived to try to control and extinguish the fires. Rescuers searched for survivors and pulled bodies from the rubble, and clanging ambulances came and went.
Savage ran toward Number 42, Anne's building, only to find it was no longer there. It must have taken a direct hit by one of the German bombs, and had collapsed in on itself. Now it was just a mountain of burning rubble.
On the far side of the road, he saw a line of stretchers on the ground, their dead occupants discreetly covered by blankets. Savage noticed a foot poking out from under one of the blankets, and suddenly he couldn't breathe and felt his knees go weak. The foot was wearing a low-heeled navy-blue pump with a tiny gold rosette on the toe; it was Anne's shoe.
"No! Oh, God, No!"
Fearing the worst, he ran to the stretcher and willed himself to look beneath the blanket. He held his breath as he knelt and slowly lifted back the cover, then released it with a great sigh of relief. He didn't know who the woman was, but, thank God, it wasn't Anne.
He stood and turned, searching the scene around him. She had to be here, but there were people everywhere. Men of the Fire Brigade manhandled heavy hoses directing high-pressure streams of water at the raging fires; medical personnel performed triage and tried to stabilize the injured before sending them away in ambulances. Survivors stumbled through the debris calling for missing loved ones, while others dug through the rubble of what had been their homes, searching for any salvageable possession.
There was no sign of Anne, but Savage noticed a small child, a young girl, seemingly unhurt, sitting alone on a pile of brick and clutching a broken doll; she was crying and calling for her mother. No one seemed to notice her, so he went to her and lifting her up and cradling her in his arms, asked where her mother was. She continued to cry and without a word, pointed to one of the covered stretchers. Savage tried to comfort her, then carried her to a nearby ambulance and gave her over to an attendant.
Then, above the din, he heard a woman's voice nearby, calling out for someone. Looking for the source, he saw a lone woman a few yards away, an apparition covered in a film of chalky dust.
Savage started toward her to help, but as he got closer, he recognized the voice; it was Anne. He ran to her and gently took her in his arms. She was dazed and looked through him without recognition. She just kept calling, "Mary! Mary!" Then as if he were a stranger, asked, "Can you help me find my friend?"
Looking through tear-filled eyes, his voice almost breaking,he said, "Anne. Thank God, you're all right. I thought I had lost you. ... Anne. ... Anne."
Her clothes were disheveled and torn, but she didn't appear badly injured. Her hair was tangled and matted; her face, encrusted with a mixture of the chalky dust and blood trickling from a cut on her forehead, and her elbows and knees had scrapes and scratches. Savage brushed some hair from her face, and continued to softly speak to her and call her name until she finally seemed to recognize him.
"Frank? .. What? ... Frank, I can't find Mary. We were together. We have to find her."
It took only a second for Savage to realize where Mary was, and supporting Anne with his arm around her shoulder, he slowly led her back to the stretchers.
"I thought she was you." he said, looking down at the covered stretcher.
Then Anne looked to where he was starring and saw the shoe - her shoe - and tears came as she realized whose foot that was. She drew a deep sobbing breath and said softly, "Oh, Mary. I'm so sorry."
Anne was crying uncontrollably, and the tears, running down her cheeks, left trails in the chalky dust. Savage put his arms around her again and pulled her into his shoulder to console her. He was sorry about Mary, but so grateful that Anne was alive.
Savage knew he had to get her away from there, to someplace he could take care of her. The flat was gone, and the hospitals would be overflowing, so he slowly walked her back to his car, then drove her to the Grammacy Hotel, to Phillip's suite.
By the time he got her into the room, her face had become ashen, her skin clammy, and she was shivering. Savage recognized the signs of shock, and quickly took her into one of the bedrooms, stripped her down to her underwear and helped her into bed. Then he pulled up the covers, adding an extra blanket, to keep her warm. After a few minutes her shivering subsided and she drifted into a light sleep.
Leaving her for a moment, he went to call Phillip. The bombers hadn't done much damage to this part of the city, but it was still a miracle that the phone exchange worked. Using his priority as a general officer, he called Markham Hall first, but Davis informed him Sir Phillip was still at Wycombe Abbey. He tried Phillip's office next, and when Phillip came to the phone, he quickly explained what had happened and where they were. Phillip said he'd be there as soon as he could.
While he waited, Savage wet a clean hand towel from the bathroom, then returned to Anne. She was awake again. "I'm sorry to be such a bother, Frank. I'm quite alright, really.
"No, you're not." he said quietly as he began to clean the dust and blood from her face. "You almost had a building fall on you, and you're suffering from shock." He wanted to keep her talking, so he asked, "Do you remember what happened?"
Anne nodded, "When the sirens started, Mary and I went to the shelter in the Tube Station at the head of the street. Then after the 'All Clear', we back to the flat. Several of the nearby buildings had been hit, but ours seem undamaged, so we went in. We were on the stairs going up, when we heard this explosion. Nothing happened at first, then we felt a vibration beneath the steps, and the building began to sway. We ran back down the stairs and had just got to the ground floor, then things started falling around us."
"Delayed fuse." Savage said absently. "You were lucky to get out."
Anne looked at Savage, tears again filling her eyes, "It wasn't luck, Frank. It was Mary. Just before the whole thing collapsed, she pushed me through the door. The next thing I knew I was lying in a pile of rubble in the middle of the street, and I couldn't find Mary."
"She saved my life, Frank. ... Oh, God. She was so young. How will I tell Terry?"
Then Phillip arrived and immediately went to her, after reassuring himself that she was alright, he motioned to an RAF officer standing in the bedroom doorway.
"Anne. Frank. This is Flight Leftenant Crewson, from my office; he's a doctor in private life."
Savage stood back out of the way, as Crewson, carrying a musette bag marked with a Red Cross, approached the bed.
"If you gentlemen wouldn't mind waiting in the other room, I'd like to examine my patient.
After about twenty minutes, he came back out into the setting room. "Nothing to worry about, Sir Phillip. A few abrasions on her arms and legs, nothing serious. I've cleaned them with antiseptic.
She has a bump and small cut on her forehead, I put a sticking plaster on it. It should heal nicely and not leave a scar. ... All things considered, she's a very lucky lady."
Packing up his musette bag. "She IS in a mild state of shock, however, so keep her warm and comfortable. I don't think there's any danger of a concussion or fracture, so I've given her something to help her sleep; best thing for her right now. But as soon as she's able, she should go to hospital for a complete examination."
"Thank you, Gerald." Phillip said much relieved. "I do appreciate your coming."
"Not at all, Sir Phillip. Think nothing of it." he replied. "It was rather a nice change to make a 'house call' again. ... If there's nothing else, sir, I'll be off. I may be needed elsewhere. ... Sir Phillip. ... General."
After Crewson left, Savage all but collapsed into a chair. "It was such a near thing, Phillip." he said, his voice near to breaking again. "I thought I'd lost her."
Before Phillip could say anything, Anne called out. They both hurried into the bedroom, to find her trying to get up.
"Here, here. What's this?" Phillip said, as they gently helped her back into the bed. "You need to stay in bed and get a good night's sleep, doctor's orders."
"Oh, Phillip." She was rambling. "It was awful ... the building just collapsed ... so many people ... and Mary ... Mary's gone ... "
"Ssssh. Everything's going to be all right. Frank and I are right here. You just need to get some sleep. Everything will be better in the morning."
"Frank?" She was getting drowsy again. "There's something I need to say, to tell you ..."
"Ssssh." Savage said, leaning over her and tenderly kissing her on the cheek. "All you need to do now is go to sleep and get better. We can talk in the morning. There's something I want to tell you, too."
Anne's eyes slowly closed, and Savage started out of the room. Phillip had picked up Anne's ruined clothes from the floor and was waiting in the doorway. As Savage joined him, Anne called out, "Frank? Can you stay with me?"
Phillip nodded, "Go to her."
When Savage rose the next morning, Anne was still asleep. He had sat up, awake, most of the night, holding her and comforting her when she cried out in her sleep. He got off the bed as gently and quietly as possible so as not to disturb her, and went out to the setting room where he found Phillip waiting with a carafe of coffee on a room service cart.
"How is she?" Phillip asked, offering Savage a cup.
"Sleeping." he said, gratefully accepting the coffee. "She was restless most of the night, then finally settled down a few hours ago."
"Did you get any sleep?"
"Not much." he said shaking his head. "I was afraid to take my eyes off her."
Phillip nodded. "I didn't sleep much either."
Phillip thought for a moment before he spoke again. "She told me what happened last Sunday, Frank, about pressing you to take the Wing. I'm sorry. I had no business telling her about Wiley's offer."
"It's alright. We would have had to have that conversation sooner or later ... and as it turned out, the decision was taken out of my hands."
Savage told him about his two possible assignments and his decision to remain in the ETO and take the Wing ... and why.
"I don't think she'd be happy back in the States, Phillip. England - and Markham Hall - is her home now. And truthfully, I don't think I'd be happy there, either. I've invested too much in this war, and I'd like to see it through."
"You want to marry her, then."
"Yes. ... If she'll have me." Savage didn't know how Phillip felt about her re-marrying. His face was unreadable, and he waited to see his reaction.
"That's wonderful." he said, smiling and shaking Savage's hand. "I had hoped... I couldn't be more pleased. I glad SOMETHING good can come out of this bloody war."
Savage was relieved. He liked Phillip and wouldn't have wanted to go against his wishes. "and speaking of the war, I had better check in with my Adjutant before he sends out a search party."
"No need." Phillip said. "I rang Wiley last night and filled him in. He said he'd take care of everything and call you later."
Then Savage thought about Mary Weeks. She had literally saved Anne's life, and because of her phone call to him that morning, maybe his as well.
"Mary Weeks, Phillip." he said. "Isn't there something we can do for her? From what Anne says, she saved her life, pushed her from the building just before it collapsed."
Phillip went to the window and stared out at the still fiery and smoking skyline. "It's funny, strange" he said, talking almost to himself. "Everyone worries about the soldiers, that they won't come home. But who worries about the ones waiting for them. How many 'Marys' died last night? How many like my Madge won't be able to live with their loss?"
"Phillip." Savage said softly.
"How many of our young men will have to be told they have no one to come home to ..."
"What? ... Oh, yes. Sorry. Sometimes I ... What were you saying?"
"That we should do something about Mary. Where would they take her? And her husband, her family, they won't know."
"Yes, you're right. Weeks needs to be told. He's stationed at Biggin Hill, as I remember. Sailor Malan is the officer commanding. I'll ring him up and ask him to tell the boy about her death and the circumstances. I don't believe she has any other family. From what Anne told me, her parents and a younger brother were killed in a raid two years ago.
As to where would they take her, ... I don't really know, but Gerald Crewson will, or can find out. I'll ask him to find her and see if she can be sent to a local mortuary, until Weeks can decide where he'd like her to be buried. ... I'm afraid that's the best we can do for her now."
"Thank you, Phillip." Anne said. "I couldn't stand to think of her just being left somewhere."
Anne was standing in the bedroom doorway, looking small and fragile in an over-sized white hotel terrycloth robe. Savage went to her and with a supporting arm around her shoulder led her to a chair Phillip quickly pulled away from the dining table and eased her down.
"How do you feel?" ... "How are you?" they asked almost simultaneously.
She laughed weakly. "Rather like a building dropped on me, but other than that, and a little grubby, I feel fine. ... I just ... I can't believe Mary's gone." she said suddenly saddened. "I keep thinking, if we'd only stayed in the shelter a little longer, if we hadn't gone back in the building, if she'd just run and hadn't pushed me ..."
"Thinking like that does no good, Anne." Phillip said. "It will only make you more unhappy; believe me, I know."
"Yes" Savage added. "And from what you told me, if she hadn't pushed you, you'd both be dead. The building was collapsing; she could probably see there wasn't time for you both to get out, so she made the conscious choice that you would. Don't cry for her, Anne. Honor her for that selfless act."
"I do, really, I do. But it's strange this happened now. She was talking to me just the other day ... mainly about us, Frank. She said, bless her, that it did no good for her to worry about Terry being a pilot, that she could just as easily be killed in an air raid or something ..." She paused to wipe the tears from her eyes and clear her voice. "She said she'd rather have whatever time they could, than have nothing at all."
"That's what I wanted to tell you last night, Frank. As long as you fly, I can't stop worrying that I'll lose you."
"That's what I want to ..." Savage tried to interrupt.
"Please, let me finish. I can't stop worrying, Frank, it's not in me; but I can't stop loving you, either. It's too late; I love you. I'll worry whether we're together or not. I don't want to waste what time we could have being afraid of what might happen. I guess what I'm trying to say ..."
"That's what I came to tell you." Savage laughed. "I won't be flying any more, at least not on missions. I've accepted Wiley's offer; I've taken the Wing."
"I love you, too, Anne." he said kneeling beside her chair and taking her hand. "I've never loved anyone as deeply as I love you."
Then he stood again. "I've never done this before,' he said clearing his voice and working up to what he wanted to say. "and I don't know if I'm doing it right." He paused and quickly looked to Phillip who nodded him on with a smile. "Okayyy ... Anne ... Will you marry me?"
"Oh, Frank!' she said again, then stood and threw her arms around his neck. "Yes! Oh, yes! Yes! Yes!"
They hugged and kissed briefly, then Anne slowly pulled away, and went to where Phillip was standing.
"Phillip." she said taking his hands in hers. "Is it alright? You know I loved Robert, and he'll always be in my heart ..."
"My dearest, Anne." Phillip replied all smiles with a little moisture beginning to form in his eyes. "Of course, it's all right." He wrapped his arms around her in a hug. "I know Robert would have wanted you to carry-on on with your life, and I couldn't be happier ... for both of you."
Then sniffling a little and wiping the wetness from his eyes, said, "Normally, this is where I would propose a toast to celebrate the occasion, but as it's barely seven-thirty in the morning, and I have no champagne to celebrate with anyway, what say to a hearty breakfast all round!"
Anne, all tears and smiles, replied, "Well, I for one am suddenly very hungry, so I say, bring it on. And while we're waiting," she added, shaking her head and running her fingers through her matted and dusty hair, "I shall have a hot soaking bath and wash my hair."
While Phillip went to make his phone calls, and Anne for her bath, Savage sat down at the table, and sipping his coffee, thought how lucky he was. Only two weeks ago, he was furious that his Group was to be taken away. Now he couldn't believe how little that mattered. He'd found a love he hadn't even been looking for, and couldn't remember when he had felt so happy and content. Everything just seemed right.
Phillip ordered breakfast first, then began his various calls - Biggin Hill, Crewson, Anne's office, and lastly Davis, to prepare him for when he brought Anne home - and it had taken him some time.
He had just finished, when there was a knock at the door. When he opened the door, he found an elderly bellman holding a hanger with Anne's suit. When he had ordered the coffee very early that morning, he had sent the clothes to be cleaned.
"Housekeeping did the best they could, Sir Phillip, but it really needs a professional cleaning and a good seamstress."
"I'm sure it will do, Steven." Phillip said accepting the hanger and handing the man a handsome gratuity. "Please thank the ladies for me."
But the man waved it off. "No, sir, thank you. I hope the young lady is feeling better." Then he turned and left.
Phillip was about to shut the door, when the breakfast cart arrived. As the cart was pushed into the room, Phillip handed the hanger to Frank.
"Take this in to Anne, would you, Frank. It's still a bit dirty, but I expect she would like to change out of that robe."
A man entering the bedroom of an unmarried woman was not an accepted practice, especially not in England, but as they were now engaged, Savage found himself accepted, at least by Phillip, as 'family'.
Anne had finished her bath and, with her wet hair wrapped in a towel, was just tying the belt of her robe when Savage knocked, then entered.
"I've brought you your suit," he said holding up the hanger. "Housekeeping did the best they could with it. ... and breakfast has arrived."
"Wonderful! Thank you." she said, accepting the hanger and giving him one of her smiles. He could see she was feeling better. "Just give me a minute to change. I'll be out in a tick."
After a leisurely and very enjoyable breakfast, Savage reluctantly made his excuses. He had to get back to his Base. So with a kiss on the cheek and a promise to come to Markham Hall later that afternoon, he left Anne in Phillip's care.
It was noon before Savage made it back to his office, and he had had a lot to think about on the way. In just twenty-four hours, his entire life had been turned upside down, and he couldn't be happier.
As he entered his outer office, Stovall came to meet him. Savage acknowledged Ross, back at his desk but with his arm in a sling, and Kiefer, both of whom had stood as he entered, then continued on into his office with Stovall right behind.
"General Crowe called last night and told me what happened." Stovall said looking at Savage closely. "Are you alright, Frank? There's blood ..."
Savage looked down at his uniform. His tunic and pants were both lightly coated with that chalky dust, and there were a few patches of dried blood on his shoulder.
"I'm fine." he said, trying to brush himself off, then gave it up as a lost cause. "That's not my blood; it's Anne's"
"Is she alright?" Stovall asked, alarmed. "General Crowe didn't have any details, just that Anne's building had been bombed, and you had taken her to the Grammacy."
"She's alright, just a few cuts and scrapes, and shock. But the girl she shared her flat with, her friend, Mary Weeks, was killed. She saved Anne's life, Harvey."
"It must have been horrible."
"Yes, it was. It was a bad Raid. Hundreds, maybe thousands, must have been killed last night; and I can't even guess how many buildings were destroyed. Parts of the city were still burning when I left."
"There was something else that happened, Harvey." Savage said with a big smile. "I asked Anne to marry me this morning ... and she accepted."
"That's wonderful, Frank! I couldn't be happier for you." Stovall said, pumping his hand and clapping him on the back. "I told you she was a keeper."
"Thanks, Harvey. But now that I've asked her, I haven't a clue what to do next. My only experience with weddings has been to attend a few."
"Well, General. You've come to the right man." Stovall said smugly. "In addition to my own wedding, I've married off two daughters. I'm an expert in wedding planning."
Savage laughed. Once again, his Adjutant had proved to be all-knowing. "Why am I not surprised."
"If the General would like to change into a clean uniform, I will make a list of those things that need to be done.
By the time Savage returned, showered and in a fresh uniform, Stovall had the list ready. As Savage went down the list, he was both amazed, and dismayed, at all the things he needed to do.
"It's not as overwhelming as it looks, Frank. Once you get started, things will just seem to fall into place. ... The most important things you need to decide right now are where you want to be married - I'm sure Anne will have an input - and when."
" 'When' is easy. I want Wiley Crowe to be my Best Man, which means the wedding has to happen before he departs for the States; that's in just over a week. Can we do this in a week, Harvey?"
"It'll be a little difficult, but I think we can do it. Today is Thursday." he said looking at the calendar. "So our potential dates are next Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Let's start with those."
"I'm going to see Anne this evening, and I'll run some of these questions by her. I know she'll want Phillip to give her away, and she'll probably want to be married in the church in Dunstable, with a reception at Markham Hall. ... You're right, Harvey. This might not be so tough after all."
Savage was still studying Harvey's 'must-do' list an hour later when the phone rang, and a moment later, Stovall buzzed. "General Crowe, sir."
"Thank you, Colonel."
"Afternoon, Wiley." Savage said.
"How is she, Frank? I'm sorry I couldn't call sooner, but I've been locked in a meeting with Pritchard all day.."
"She's fine, Wiley. Some cuts and bruises, but nothing serious. Phillip took her home this morning. I'm going to go see her later."
"Frank, Pritchard has signed off on everything and wants to move out on the assignment changes. You and Cobb will receive your orders tomorrow morning."
"That was fast. I had hoped to have a few days to break Joe in and get him used to the idea. ... I guess I'd better tell him this afternoon then."
"That would probably be best. ... and you should plan on moving up to Pinetree on Monday. I'll have quarters arranged."
Then seemingly out of context Savage asked, "Wiley, have you ever been Best Man at a wedding?"
"Several times. Why do you ..." Crowe stopped in mid-sentence, then exclaimed, "You proposed! And she said 'yes'!"
"Yes, this morning. I'd like you to stand up with me, be my Best Man."
"I'd be honored, Frank." Then he hesitated and said, "Wait ... When are you planning to have the wedding?"
"I haven't discussed this with Anne yet, but I'm shooting for the middle to end of next week, before you have to leave."
"That's awfully fast, but it can be done. If you remember, when the sailing date of Matt McConnell's ship got moved up, I only had five days to arrange Kathy's wedding."
"I remember." Savage replied with a laugh. "I also remember you almost had a nervous breakdown by the time it was over. But, it WAS a nice wedding."
"You should to make a list of the things that have to be done. I can help with that." Crowe offered.
"Harvey Stovall's already made one out for me. He says he's married off two daughters and is an expect."
"I bow to Harvey's experience," Crowe laughed. "but if you need any help..."
"Thanks. The first thing I think I need to do is discuss things with Anne and see what she wants."
"A wise decision. Keep me posted. ... and Frank. Congratulations."
After he hung up the phone, Savage asked Stovall to come into his office.
"It's done, Harvey. Pritchard's not wasting any time. Assignment orders will come down tomorrow morning. You'd better call Cobb and tell him I'd like to see him."
Not five minutes passed before Cobb knocked on Savage's doorframe. "You wanted to see me, General?" he said as he saluted and entered the office.
"Yes, Joe. Close the door will you, and take a seat."
As soon as Cobb had complied, Savage came right out with it. "I'm leaving the Group, Joe. General Crowe is being re-assigned to General Arnold's staff back in the States, and I'll be taking over the Wing."
Cobb was clearly pleased for Savage. "That's great, sir. Congratulations! Do you know who your replacement will be?"
'Okayyy.' Savage thought. 'Here we go.'
"Yes, Joe, I do. ... You will."
"Say again, sir? I don't thing I heard you right."
"You heard me right, Colonel. You are to be the new Group Commander."
"No. Sir. That can't be." Cobb said, clearly overwhelmed by the idea. "I don't have the rank, General, or the experience."
"Yes, you do, Joe. This has always been a Colonel's billet. I was only supposed to be here for a short while, to fix a problem. But there hasn't been anything wrong with the 918th for some time. We're one of the best Groups in 8th Air Force, and it's time for me to move on. You're a Lieutenant Colonel now, and I expect in a few months, when you get used to the job, you'll get your 'Eagle'.
As for experience, you've got plenty. You've flown more missions than almost anyone in the Group, you've been Air Exec for months, and you virtually ran the place when I was out of commission. You didn't have any trouble then, did you."
Cobb was thinking, remembering, and Savage could see he was beginning to adjust to the idea.
"You've been a squadron commander and Air Exec," Savage continued. "so you're already familiar with most of the paperwork, and Harvey will be here to help you if you need it."
"I'm sorry to spring this on you like this, Joe. I'd hoped we'd have a few days overlap, to give you a chance to settle in, but General Pritchard wants the changeover as soon as possible. ... So. What do you think?"
Cobb didn't say anything for a moment, still thinking about the enormity of the job he was being offered. Then, finally, he said, "I don't know if I'm the right man, or not, General, but I think I'd like to give it a try."
"Good." Savage said as he got up and came around his desk to shake Cobb's hand. "None of this will be official until the orders come down tomorrow, so keep it to yourself. But start thinking about who you want to replace you as Air Exec."
"Yes, sir." Cobb said starting for the door. "and thank you, General, for this opportunity. I won't let you down."
"I know you won't, Joe."
Savage spent the next couple of hours going over correspondence and other matters that required his attention before he left, and identified those items and personal mementos he wanted to take with him. His presence would still be required for a day or two, to wrap things up, but come Monday morning, if all went as it should, Joe Cobb would be sitting behind his desk.
Then telling Harvey where he'd be, and how to reach him, he headed out to Dunstable.
He made excellent time to Markham Hall, and as he parked and got out of his car, he found Davis waiting, holding the door for him.
Taking Savage's hat and coat, Davis said, "If I might take the liberty, sir, may I offer my congratulations on the General's engagement."
"You may, Davis, and thank you. Where might I find Anne and Sir Phillip?"
"In the living room, sir."
Savage started to join them, only to almost trip as Charlie ran to greet him and darted between his legs. Picking up the squirming pup and patting his head, he continued on into the room where he found Anne sitting on the sofa warmly wrapped in a wool throw, and Phillip in the process of mixing drinks.
Savage set Charlie down, then went directly to Anne and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "How are you feeling?" he asked.
"Much better, now that you're here." She said smiling.
"We heard you drive up." Phillip said. "Whiskey and water?"
As he waited for his drink, "Has there been any word about Mary Weeks?"
"Yes." replied Phillip. "Gerald Crewson located her at a temporary mortuary set up after the bombing in Hyde Park. She was transferred to a funeral home in Kensington this afternoon, and Pilot Officer Weeks, notified."
"I'm glad." he said, and took his and Anne's drink over to her on the sofa. Shifting Charlie so he could sit next to her, Savage sipped his drink, then said, "I needed this. It's been one of those days."
During the next few minutes, he told them about his conversation with Wiley Crowe and that he would be, as of Monday morning, in effect, the new Commander of Bomber Command's 1st Bombardment Wing.
After a toast from Phillip on his new assignment, Savage asked, "Anne, have you given any thought to our wedding?"
"Yes, I have. Frank, I know you only proposed this morning, but I think I'd like to have the ceremony right away."
"Phillip." she said, looking to him. "You WILL give me away?"
"Of course." Phillip replied smiling.
"And if you don't mind, Frank, I'd like our Vicar, Mr. Andrews, to perform the ceremony."
"I was hoping for a quick wedding as well. I'd like Wiley to be Best Man, so the wedding HAS to happen before he leaves. I was looking at next Thursday, Friday or Saturday. ... Saturday might be best, as it would allow the most time to make the necessary arrangements."
For the next hour, the three of them went over Harvey's list, and by the time Davis announced dinner, they had worked out most of the details. Anne and Savage both decided to forego the 'bachelor party' and 'wedding shower' in the interests of time, though truth be known, neither of them wanted one anyway.
The paperwork, the license and the Banns, would be a little more difficult. There would be no difficulty in obtaining a license, but the Banns could be more problematical. There would not be time to post the Banns for the required period (three Sundays prior to the wedding), but the posting, though still observed, was no longer strictly required, and Phillip was certain the usual notice period could be waived.
The primary outstanding items were the license (Phillip would speak with the Vicar, and Savage would check with Chaplain Twombley tomorrow), availability of the church and it's vicar (Phillip would look into that), the announcements (Phillip would place an announcement in the London Times), and invitations (they each needed to make a short list), and the necessary food and drink for the reception which would, of course, be held at Markham Hall (Davis and Mrs. D would be consulted.)
They were all feeling rather pleased with what they had accomplished as they went into dinner, until Savage suddenly remembered, "The ring!" he said. "I haven't got a ring!"
Phillip paused and thought for a moment, then excused himself and left the room. He returned in a few minutes with a little black velvet-covered jewelry box. He opened the box and handed it to Savage.
"I would be honored, Frank, if you would accept these rings; they were Madge's."
Inside was a pair of diamond rings; a wedding set. The engagement ring was strikingly beautiful in a white-gold filigreed setting with a central diamond, faceted in a round shape to emphasize its brilliance, and a smaller accent diamond on each side. The ring and the accompanying wedding band matched perfectly.
Both Anne and Savage immediately protested, but Phillip insisted. "Madge loved you very much, Anne, and I know she would want you to have them."
Savage was at a loss for words, the rings were nicer than anything he could have hoped to find, but he gratefully accepted. Then taking it from its box, he slid the engagement ring onto Anne's finger; it fit as if it had been made for her.
"Oh, Frank. It's so beautiful" she said, her eyes brimming with tears. Then she hugged Phillip, and said, "Thank you, Phillip. This means so much to me; it's like having a part of Madge close to me."
After dinner, Phillip retreated to his study to give the couple some time alone. Anne and Frank went back into the living room and as they settled back onto the sofa, Anne somewhat hesitantly said, "Frank, there's something else we need to discuss. After we're married, I plan ... I would like to keep working. I don't think you're one of those men who believe a woman's place is at home, but ... "
"Anne," he said, "One of the things that first attracted me to you, besides your smile, and your eyes, and your beauty, ... "
"Stop it!" Anne laughed. "Be serious."
"Seriously," he continued. "One of the things I admired was your independence, your self-reliance. If you want to keep working, then that's what you should do."
Anne leaned over and gave him a hug and a kiss. "I knew there was a reason I loved you."
They continued to talk for a while and play with Charlie, who never seemed to get enough attention, then Savage had to leave.
"I've got to get back to the Base. I've got a lot to do tomorrow, and I'd like to get a good night's sleep. That's not going to happen here." he finished with a grin. "I'll be back sometime tomorrow afternoon, and with luck, I'll be able to spend the weekend."
When he got to the door, he found Davis waiting with his hat and coat. 'How does he do that?' Savage wondered.
Early the next morning, before he had left his quarters, Savage had packed his uniforms and other belongings. The only things he had left were his flight gear and his shearling-lined flying boots. He wouldn't need them anymore.
He was first in the office, so he made the coffee and fed the stoves, using a little extra coal as the mornings were beginning to get a little chilly. Waiting for his coffee to boil, he noted that his personal items had already been boxed up and addressed, and were sitting in a corner awaiting delivery to Wycombe Abbey.
Savage checked his desk drawers one last time to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything, and in the bottom left-hand drawer, he found his bottle of Jack Daniels. It really hadn't been his bottle, he had inherited it from Keith Davenport, and now, as he replaced it and shut the drawer, he would leave it for Joe Cobb. He didn't need that anymore either.
With one final look around, he saw he hadn't forgotten anything. It was just another office now; it was no longer his.
The coffee was finally ready, and Savage was pouring himself a cup when Stovall arrived. "You're in early, General."
"Lot to do today. I was just about to call Chaplain Twombley, but as you're here now, give him a call would you, Harvey, and ask him to come by."
"Yes, sir. Right away."
Chaplain Twombley had rarely been called to the General's office, so it wasn't fifteen minutes before he hurriedly arrived, wondering what he had, or hadn't, done.
Savage informed him about his re-assignment and engagement, and after congratulating him on both, a much relieved Twombley informed him that an English marriage license could be obtained from any Vicarage, and confirmed that the posting of Banns was no longer a strict requirement. He also informed Savage that as far as Army Air Force bureaucracy was concerned, as a General Officer, there was no paperwork or other red tape required for his marriage, merely a courtesy notification to his superior officer, and that square had already been filled.
When he left, Twombley congratulated the General again, and stated that while he was a little disappointed that he would not be performing the ceremony, he certainly understood that the bride's wishes were paramount.
Not long after the Chaplain's departure, the awaited Orders arrived by messenger. Stovall signed for them, and took them into Savage. With the Orders in his hand, Savage called Cobb into the office for his final act as Commander of the 918th Bomb Group.
"General Pritchard hasn't left us time for a formal Change of Command, and a passing of the Flag, Joe, so I guess a reading of the Orders and a handshake will have to do."
Calling Stovall, Ross and Kiefer into his office as witnesses, Savage read the Change of Command Orders and formally relinquished command of the 918th Bomb Group to Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Cobb.
"Congratulations, Colonel." Savage said and offered his hand to the smiling, but overcome Cobb.
"I hope I can live up to your expectations, sir." he said, still having doubts about the job he had just undertaken.
"Don't worry, Joe. You will." Then adding a little jab to lighten the moment Savage said with a grin, "Believe me, you'll know it if you don't."
Stovall had already prepared the official notification of change of command and now placed it into base-wide distribution. It never ceased to amaze him how fast news could travel on a military installation; he knew it wouldn't take long for the word to get around.
Before he left, Savage had one last thing to do, and asked Stovall to get him General Crowe on the phone.
When Crowe answered, Savage said, "It's done, Wiley. Joe Cobb is now officially your new Group Commander. If you have time, you might want to drop by this afternoon and give the boy a few words of encouragement. ... I'll be on leave at Markham Hall until Monday. After your visit to Cobb, why don't you come by for a drink and some dinner."
"I just might take you up on that, Frank."
Then Savage went out to his jeep to begin a circuit of the Base to say his 'goodbyes' to those officer and enlisted personnel he had come to know more closely: Henderson, Herrick, Rosen; his squadron commanders, Chaffee, Toller and Stone; Nero, the Lily's crew, and several others.
Returning to the office almost an hour later, Savage parked his jeep and walked across the street to the hospital to say goodbye to Don Kaiser. In the over twelve months he'd been in command, he'd had cause - on more occasions than he cared to remember - to spend an inordinate amount of time under Kaiser's care, and Kaiser had literally saved his life, twice.
While Savage had often traded barbs with him, and they sometimes hadn't agreed, he had come to know him as an excellent and caring physician and surgeon, and a good man with an impossible job. It was Kaiser and Stovall he would miss the most.
As he walked back to the office, even though it had only been a little over an hour, Savage could see word of his departure was already spreading as every person he met, or was in the area, made it a point to stop and crisply salute as he passed. He was heartened by their show of respect; how different from that first day when all he had received glares and resentful salutes.
As he reached the office, he saw Ross had brought up his staff car, and he and Stovall were standing by.
"Corporal Kiefer collected your things from your quarters, sir. They're in the trunk."
"Thanks, Ernie. I'll miss having you for a driver, but you'll do well as a gunner; you've already made a good start." Then he offered his hand to the boy and said, "Take care, Ernie, and watch yourself up there."
As Ross when around to hold the driver's door open, Stovall came forward, "The boxes in the office will be waiting for you at Wycombe Abbey when you get there, Frank."
"Thanks, Harvey, and thanks again for everything you did to make my job here easier. I'll be seeing you."
Returning their salutes, Savage climbed in the driver's seat, and after Ross shut the door, started the ignition, then drove away.
As Savage returned the guard's salute as he left the Base, he was suddenly conscious of the fact that this was the last time he would leaving the Base as its Commander. The next time he came through this gate, it would be as a visitor.
It was a small wedding, at least by British standards. The Vicar of Dunstable, the Right Reverend Thomas Andrews, performed the ceremony in the village church.
Anne was radiant in a blue satin dress, and Savage looked very handsome in his bemedalled dress uniform. As did Wiley Crowe, Best Man, and Sir Phillip, Father (in-law) of the Bride, in theirs.
The church was packed with well-wishers. The Davis', of course, were present, as were friends of the family from Dunstable and the surrounding area. Harvey Stovall, Don Kaiser, Joe Cobb, and many others from the 918th attended, as did Tom Smith, looking very 'regimental' in his Guards uniform, and several others Savage didn't recognize, but assumed (correctly) were Anne's SOE colleagues.
The reception was held at Markham Hall, and though it had emptied their pantry and took every ration stamp they could beg, borrow or steal, Mrs. D, with the help of Mary Burrows from the Sugar Loaf Pub, outdid herself with enough food and drink to sustain an army. The wedding cake, however, was the center of attention. How Mrs. D acquired the necessary, but strictly rationed, flour, sugar, eggs, and butter for such a cake was a topic of conversation among the women, although rumor had it that the day before the wedding an AAF truck from Archbury had visited Markham Hall.
As Anne cut the first piece of the cake and fed it to her new husband, a cheer went up, followed by several toasts to the happy couple. A short time later, as Anne mingled with the guests, Savage observed General Pritchard quietly enter the room unobserved from the patio. Savage was surprised to see him. He had invited him, of course, that was pro forma, but he didn't really expect the Commander of VIII Bomber Command would have the time to attend. Savage went to welcome him.
Pritchard offered his congratulations, then said, "I'm sorry I couldn't attend the wedding, Frank, but I wanted to at least make an appearance at your reception."
"I appreciate you taking the time, sir."
Then he handed Savage a small box. "I usually wait a few months before I do this," he said smiling. "to make sure the man and the job are a good fit. But in your case, I don't see a need to wait. Consider this a small wedding present."
Savage opened the box and was astonished to find two sets of the two-star rank insignia of a major general.
"I don't know what to say, sir." Savage said. "Thank you. I won't let you down."
"I know you won't, Frank. You never have."
"Well, I can't stay. I've done what I came to do, and I've got a meeting. ... Oh, by the way, you're on leave until Monday next. Ed Chandler can hold things together for a week. Now, this is your wedding day. Go be with your bride, and give her my regards."
"Could you wait just another minute, General? I'm sure Anne would like to meet you."
"Sorry, Frank, another time. I'm already late. Now go enjoy yourself ... that's an order."
Savage watched as Pritchard quietly left unnoticed back the way he came. Then he put the little box in his pocket and went to find Anne. He'd tell her about the General's present later.
The reception lasted well into the evening. Finally all the guests had gone, including Phillip who had suddenly decided to spend the next week in London.
All the guests had left, that is, except Wiley Crowe who Savage found sitting quietly on the sofa in the living room. Wanting to give the two friends some time, Anne went to help Davis and Mrs. D with the clean-up.
Savage sat down in the chair next to him. "General Pritchard was here." he said.
"Yes, I saw you talking to him earlier."
Savage took the little box from his pocket and handed it to Wiley. "Did you know about this? or that he just put me on a week's leave?"
"No. But I'm not surprised. ... Congratulations, by the way. I told you you'd get your second star."
"Yes, you did." he said with a grin. "But I hadn't expected to get it before I even started the job."
Then the grin disappeared as he asked, "What time does your flight leave Monday?
"Not till early afternoon. I plan to go into the office in the morning, clear out my things, and say my goodbyes."
"If you don't mind, I'd like to say my goodbye now." Savage said with a little catch in his voice. "But I don't know how, Wiley, to say what I feel. For more years than I can remember, you've been a friend, a mentor, even a big brother to me. Especially over the last few months. I knew the stress was getting to me; I'd lost my perspective, but I still couldn't make myself walk away. Yet you continued to put up with me even when I was way out of line and ... "
Savage stopped for a moment, then said, "I guess what I'm trying to say, in my clumsy way, is 'thank you' for being my friend."
Wiley Crowe had not interrupted Savage, he couldn't. It was just as emotional a moment for him as it was for Savage. He'd seen him enlist as a private and advance to the rank of major general; watched him grow and mature from boy to a man, and he was a good man.
"You know the feeling is mutual, Frank. I've felt just as lucky all these years to have you as a friend; you're 'family' and always will be." Crowe paused to get his feelings under control. "But, it's not like we'll never see each other again, you know ... I expect I'll have occasion to return every now and then on some fact-finding mission or something."
Crowe stood, ending the moment and offered his hand to Savage. "I have a lot of packing to do tomorrow, Frank, and other friends I want to say goodbye to, so I had better get going."
Savage took his hand in both of his and shook it warmly. Then he called out, "Anne! Wiley's leaving. Come say goodbye."
As they headed for the door, Anne appeared wiping her hands on a towel. "Wiley." she said, giving him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "I'm sorry we didn't have more time to get to know each other. But know you will always be welcome in our home wherever we are."
"Thank you, Anne. That means a lot. I know the two of you will be very happy. ... Until the next time, Goodbye."
Then he was out the door, and into his car, and they watched as he drove away.
Finally, they were alone. Alone, that is, except for Charlie who had spent the afternoon and evening watching the goings-on from under a table in the corner, emerging occasionally only long enough to snatch up some tidbit that had fallen from someone's plate. As Savage and Anne sat together on the sofa, not saying anything for a moment and just enjoying the silence, Charlie jumped up between them. After rewarding Charlie with an appropriate amount of belly rubbing, Savage took out the little box and handed it to Anne.
"A little present from General Pritchard."
"The General was here? Why didn't you call me?"
"There wasn't time. He had to leave. I was surprised he had time to come at all."
Anne opened the box, and gasped. "You got your second star! That's wonderful, Frank. But, can he do that? Just give it to you? I mean, isn't there a process, or something?"
Savage laughed. "Yes. He can do that. He IS the process."
"It's been a wonderful day, Frank." she said leaning back against the sofa cushions. "Are you as happy as I am?"
Savage put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. "Yes." he said with a kiss. "Absolutely. Never doubt it."
There was a discreet cough from the doorway, and Savage turned to see Davis standing there.
"We'll finish the clean-up in the morning, sir. Will there be anything else tonight?"
"No, Davis. Thank you. You can lock up and turn out the lights. We're going to turn in."
Then with a teasing grin, Anne quickly added. "Yes, Davis, we're going to turn in ... together."
Savage laughed, remembering her faux pas about their 'turning in' that first weekend he had visited. But Davis, as before, with perfect composure didn't bat an eye.
Then the newly-weds got up, and with his arm around her shoulder, and Charlie running on ahead, they started toward their rooms at the back of the house.
"Did I mention," Davis heard Savage say to her. "that General Pritchard put me on a week's leave? I don't have to report until next Monday."
Davis locked the front door, and watched until they had disappeared behind the door to their apartment, then cracked a broad smile and turned off the lights.