“It struck me that Albania was the sort of place that might keep a man from yawning.”
John Buchan, The 39 Steps
“How terrible you look Jack. Like you are nearly one hundred years. What has happened to you since last I saw you?” Despite being well over 100 years of age, Jack couldn’t disagree with Viktor that the weight of all those years was suddenly showing. Instead, he simply smiled, shrugged and performed the introductions.
Aware that Billy was sizing up Viktor with no small degree of disappointment, Jack asked Victor how his training was progressing. “It is fine, I think. We are being given much work – fitness, skills, explosives but, even more important, we are being fed well, very well.” Viktor patted his stomach, which could not be flatter.
“And they’re pleased are they? The big brass?”
“I think, yes, our instructors say we are ‘tough beggers’ and they call us their Pixies.” Viktor’s laugh boomed out of his small frame. “We are tough beggers for sure, small only because we lack food for so many years, but fighters, oh yes. And we are ready, but I think the higher-ups, they need to decide on a plan, you know. Till then, I can help you.”
Leaving Billy to size up Victor some more, Tink pulled Jack aside for a quiet word. “Look, I know you said he was small, but he’s downright tiny. Are we sure he’s up to it?”
Tiredly Jack replied “he’s been trained by the very best we’ve got – the Royal Marines augmented by the same lot who trained the Commandos – and if they consider them ‘tough beggers’, that should be good enough for us. And he’s only available as there’s some talk of the Yanks getting involved in the project which I don’t think Viktor’s overly keen about, but he’ll do anything to get back into Albania to hurt the communists. He’s a King Zog man through-and-through. So yes, I do think he’s up to it, and whilst he’s small, we need specialist help and there’s not much of that about.”
A short while later, there was an outburst of pleasure from Billy causing Tinkerbell and Jack to turn round. Viktor had Billy clasped in a huge hug and – surprisingly – Billy seemed to be both delighted and was reciprocating. Puzzled looks on their faces, they re-joined the joyous pair.
Raising his eyebrows at Billy, Jack got the following news “‘E’s a boxer! Yer never told me that Jack … ‘n dead ‘andy too by the sound of ‘oo e’s fought. Yer kin ‘ave all yer special trainin’ malarkey, boxin’s a real mans’ game.”
Viktor seemed to positively grow in stature in front of their very eyes and, although he was doing his best to be humble about the whole thing, he was clearly well pleased to be recognised as a proper fighting man by what he saw as the only other proper fighting man present.
“Viktor’s also a frogman. If you let Billy know what kit you need Viktor, he’ll get Ch… ah, I’m sure he’ll be able to rustle some up from somewhere. I’m sorry Billy, I’m so used to Charlie being part of our team, it just slipped out.”
“Not ter worry Jack, ‘e’d rather that than be forgot. I always told ‘im chasin’ the birds wud get ‘im in trubble, jes’ never thought it’d be this kinder trubble.”
As they all stood around quietly regarding their pints, a friendly greeting interrupted their thoughts of Charlie …
“‘Allo Billy …”
“‘Wotcher Isaac m’boy, come ‘n join us.”
Following the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Forces at Dunkirk, Winston Churchill had called for the formation of “a force of specially trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror down the enemy coast”. Lt Colonel Dudley Clarke, having previously submitted a proposal which seemed to meet the criteria, lost no time in forming the Commandos. A volunteer force, they were initially drawn solely from the Army, although the Royal marines joined in 1942. Candidates had to be physically very fit of course, but – far more important – they also had to demonstrate they didn’t need the traditional chain of command to operate in the heat of battle, for such chains of command were all too inclined to break down. Initiative was considered to be a vital commodity.
Training took place at a number of hastily put together facilities until they were streamlined into a facility at Inveraray, a small village in the Highlands of Scotland.
The training regime was expanded to include the unorthodox, primarily supplied by a former assistant commissioner of the Shanghai Police – William Fairbairn. His party trick was to give each commando a loaded revolver which they were to stick into his back. He’d then instruct them ‘when I move, you pull the trigger’, only for each man to be utterly amazed at having shot wide. They soon learned never to push a gun into the enemy’s back, for before your brain could get the signal to your trigger finger, he’d sufficient time to turn round, knock your hand away and have his right hand at your throat or your eyes.
Introductions complete, Tink enquired of Isaac “is it true what they say about Fairbairn?”
“D’pends what story tha’ means, but yerss … I recken so.”
Now that was a surprise, Tink had not expected the fast thinking Isaac to be a slow speaking West Country lad. Hoping he’d kept his reaction from showing, he continued –
“And what was your own background, before you joined the Commandos, Isaac?”
“Backalong, all us local folk, we do join the Glawsters … ‘Course, we do gets pulled out at Dunkirk with they rest. While we be waiting, my officer ‘ee says ‘listen up me’ansom, this new lot we be ‘earing ’bout, I reckens you be zackley what they be looking fer.’ Dreckly we got back, I do volunteer. Not many places we baint fought in – Norway, France, Germany, Italy, North Africa … was even goin’ to Japan, till they Yanks dropped they bombs. When it all wound up, I dint want ter go back ter ordin’ry soldierin’, so yer tiz – in civvy street ‘n no reg’lar work.”
“Well, it’s my absolutely pleasure to meet you Isaac. I’ve had an ear out for you ever since you were smart enough to lob that briefcase over the wall at Seagull Lane before haring off to pull any followers after you.”
“B’y, was that you in there? ‘ow did yer be gettin’ out?”
“Oh, I’ve a few tricks up my sleeve …”
Leaving Tinkerbell chatting to Viktor and Isaac, Jack drew Billy aside for a quiet word. “Have you had any ideas about moving that difficult item from Blackfriars?”
“As it ‘appens, I ‘as Jack m’lad, I ‘as.” Billy appeared to be inordinately pleased with himself. “One that cud fit rather well wiv our other plans too. Wiv a bit of ‘elp from yer young lady, sum muscle ‘n the odd docker, I fink I’ve got a right good plan.”
Catching Tinkerbell’s eye, Jack motioned him to join them. Tink left Viktor and Isaac trading tales of where they’d been, what skills they had and who they knew. They’d both started out a tad warily, circling about, testing each other out, but there now appeared to be a recognition and respect – one for the other – of properly trained fighting men.
“Billy’s had a cracking idea as to how we could solve two problems in one. Go on Billy, tell him!”
“I jes’ thought we cud mebbe get old man Thames’s bomb back down the river ‘n into th’docks … then it cud blow up one’v that Bunty geezer’s bits of cargo. We knows the nex’ few dates from Charlie sneekin’ a peak at ‘is diary, all we need ter do is pick a date when tide’s runnin’ t’right way.”
As Jack and Tinkerbell stood deep in thought
, he raised his glass – “Right then, I’ll leave yew two gents wiv that idea while I goes talk to our new fightin’ men.”
© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey