It was 9 am when he awoke.
He laid there for a moment, staring at the hands of the clock, eyes wide with surprise. He’d slept in this late!
Roll call! RAUS! RAUS!
Throwing back the warm duvet, his feet
hit soft carpet, not bare wood and he remembered.
The war was over.
He ran a hand through his hair and
rubbed at his eyes with one hand. Strange
to be sleeping in a soft bed. Strange to be sleeping with a warm duvet. Strange
to have a pillow that wasn’t lumps and holes.
Strange to sleep without the soft
breathing of a dozen other men echoing reassuringly in his ears.
Debriefing was all but over, insofar as
these things were ever over. Endless questions, scrutinizing minutae, going over
every single inch of every single mission. And not just him, the others as well.
Regardless of what country each of them had belonged to it was all the same in
the end. They had been under direct control of London intelligence, and it was
to London intelligence they gave their answers.
Still, it had its perks. Officers
quarters for all of them, regardless of rank. Nothing too good for our returned
The war was over.
He still couldn’t fully grasp the
idea, like a child’s toy held tauntingly out of reach. He felt oddly disjointed, like he’d been up all night on a
mission, that unreal perception that crept in about 5 am when a new day came
And he was hungry.
Probably too late for breakfast at the
mess, although he could have called the kitchens and had them make something up.
No real point to it though.
Padding across the carpet, pyjamas
feeling odd against his skin he headed for the bathroom to wash.
As soon as he stepped in, the sight of the deep porcelain bathtub
How long had it been since he’d had a
bath? A real bath, not just a quick shower under freezing water? He couldn’t
Hot water embraced him as he stepped
into the tub and sat down, a groan of pure hedonistic delight breaking from his
lips. He could feel it lapping at his muscles, working at the strain, the dirt
and sweat from endless years fighting slowing wearing away.
Feeling luxuriously decadent, he soaped
a washcloth and leaned back in the water. Staring
up at the white painted ceiling, expecting rough wooden beams and exposed tiles.
He tore his eyes away and stared down at his own feet, toes poking out of
the water like pale pink icebergs, the faucet still dribbling lazily into the
It was over/
He rolled that thought around in his
mind for a few minutes, tasting it. Still didn’t feel right.
It was over and he’d survived.
How many others hadn’t?
He washed himself quickly, avoiding his
gaze in the mirror as he shaved. The
quartermaster had taken his uniform for cleaning, fresh clothes laid out for
him. Shirt, slacks, shoes and
socks. Even clean underwear. Civilian clothes.
It looked his size, but then again, London knew his size.
Staring at it for a long moment, he
pulled on the shirt. A bit big, but
he’d lost weight. They all had. He
shifted his shoulders underneath the odd civilian material for a moment before
pulling on pants and socks, ignoring the reflection in the bathroom mirror.
Socks without a hole or darn. He wriggled his toes inside them, reflecting on
Shoes, not boots. He stared at them for a while before slipping them on.
This wasn’t for a mission, this wasn’t part of a disguise.
This was civilian life. He
laced them, eyes not really seeing what he was doing, mind in another place.
10 am. Be on work detail usually
about now…or messing about in the barracks…
Standing, he worked his feet back and forth a few times in the new leather of the shoes. Comfortable fit.
Pushing himself up from the end of the
bed, he gathered up the jacket waiting patiently on a doorhandle. More civvies.
Throwing it over his shoulder, he headed out the door.
Portobello road. Corner shops and little
boutiques. Tattered bunting still flapping in a slight breeze, beer bottles in
odd alleyways, an old newspaper heading on the road.
THE WAR IS OVER!!
Faces still grinning in the street, the
dazed smiles of those who still can’t believe that it’s done.
Must have been one hell of a party.
Not for him though. The parties were
over by the time their debriefing had finished.
Pennies and pounds, not reichmarks. He
had the oddest urge to laugh, expecting the great eagle with its claws around a
shield on the grubby coins in his hand, not the face of King George.
Vera Lynn records in shop windows, tattered blackout material still
flickering around the edges of stained and dusty glass. Standing, staring,
apologising as a cheerful middle-aged woman bumped into him, smiling at him over
a pile of washing. “Not
to worry, ducks…” English
people, English voices, English accents. They washed over and through him in an
endless sea of disconnection.
A cup of tea in a little cafe, “There
you go, luv.” Real tea, real milk. Real cup, porcelain, not tin. Didn’t
clink as he set it down on the table. He
stared at the menu on the wall, vision blurring a little with unexpected tears.
Lunch time now.
Deft hands stirring over a potbellied stove, creating endless meals out of
meagre supplies. ‘bout time for Schultz to come sniffing for treats...
Biscuits on a plate beside him.
Wave of laughter from young women in the corner, Basil Rathbone pictures
and Bing Crosby recordings clutched in eager hands, dramatic swooning over a
couple of flyboys in the corner, still in kit.
His stomach growled at him as he left
the fragrant café and stepped back out into the cool streets, but he ignored
it, long used to the hungry whimpers. The
sky was an odd grey/blue shade, cobbles firm under his feet.
His new shirt itched oddly under his shoulderblades.
He let his feet meander where they
would, finally stopping, and staring up at Nelson’s Column. He felt an odd sort of empathy with the statue.
Fight, defend, be immortalised, it didn’t matter. In the end the
pigeons still pooped on you.
Funny how no one spoke German over here.
He’d gotten used to it.
It was getting late, Licht Aus! and
he turned his steps back to where he’d come from.
They had leave, all of them, one last night in London together before
going their separate ways, different countries, different lives.
The last meeting of Hogan’s Heroes. They were celebrating. Celebrating
the end of the war. Celebrating their own efforts. Celebrating the fact that
they survived. Celebrating
There would be music, there would be
good wine, there would probably be some of England’s finest cuisine.
Roast lamb, if there was any to be had.
Quiet companionship. Probably even roast potatoes, vegetables, gravy…
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