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Kindred Spirits, Distant Hearts. Chapter 33.
By
AnnaMayZing

Kindred Spirits, Distant Hearts. Chapter 33.

Tags: ww2, drk, libya, torch
For the first time, Oberstabsarzt Ritter raised his voice to them and they were stunned into silence

Tripoli. January 14th 1943

 

Maria took over from Katarina as usual and whilst she did her ward rounds, left Rania to help Ilsa on her ward.

After she had checked her last patient for the morning she headed back to her office where, on her desk she found a grey message form from the adjutants office. It was marked, 'Attention Matrons Kaufmann/Langsdorf'.

It was a request from the Italian orderly who had translated for them the previous evening. He wanted to speak to either of them.

Immediately she picked up the telephone and waited until the operator spoke.

“This is Matron Kaufmann. Put me through to the Italian Matron's office please.”

She waited patiently.

“Ah, good morning Matron,” she said as soon as the telephone at the other end was answered. “This is Matron Kaufmann. Your orderly, erm...” she looked down at the grey form. “...Gino Moretti, is he on duty today?” she waited whilst listening to the voices in the background chattering in Italian.

“Oh good. Could you get a message to him to come and see me before he goes on shift then, please?” another pause and then, “Oh no, nothing to be concerned about. It is in relation to an incident yesterday evening when he was required to help me with translation in Arabic.” Again, she listened. “Tell him, if I am not in my office to find me on one of the wards. Thank you for your time. Ciao.”

She placed the receiver back on its cradle.

 

It was late in the afternoon before Orderly Moretti found her. She was assisting on of her nurses with an amputee who needed fresh dressings.

“Scusi, Signorina... Kaufmann?”

Maria looked up. “Ah, Signor Moretti. Just one moment please. I shan't be long.”

The orderly waited patiently until Maria was able to leave the nurse to complete the task and then followed her to her office.

Once inside she bid him to sit.

“I got your message,” she began. “What is wrong?”

He shook his head.

“No, nothing is wrong, Matron. It is about those men who attacked you last night.”

Maria began to correct him.

“It wasn't me, it was... never mind. Go on.”

Gino frowned but didn't question her.

“The one with the finger...” he said.

“Ah yes. How was it?”

“It was bad. It had to go. The little girl, she 'ad bite through the tendons and into the joint. No save.”

“Too bad,” Maria responded. “Still, we tried.”

“Si, we try,” Gino agreed.

There was a brief pause before Maria spoke again.

“But I don't think that is why you are here...?”

“No, Signorina. All time 'e with us 'e talk. On and on. 'e say that the one that die was bad man. 'e often force 'imself on 'is own wife an' make 'er do things for 'is friends. 'e would 'it 'er if she refuse, kick and punch, you know?”

“So I heard. Go on.”

“This man, 'e say, threatened 'im that same would 'appen to 'is wife an' daughters if 'e no do as 'e say. 'e say 'e glad the man is dead an' now they are free of 'im.”

Maria listened carefully but wondered if there was something else.

“I did gather as much last night,” she said with a frown. “Am I missing something?”

“What is, Signorina. The little girl's Mama was only one not afraid of 'im and now 'e is dead there are many family 'e say will take care of 'er but is more.”

“Yes. For some reason I thought there might be.”

“The wife of dead man, Signorina Matron. 'e beat 'er and break 'er so bad that she not able 'ave child. I wonder, maybe... if you agree... she maybe best to take the little girl. I think she look after 'er extra special, Si?”

Maria thought carefully.

“It is a possibility, I agree,” she said at long length. “How do we know that someone else won't come along and treat her the same way? How do we know we can trust anyone with her?”

“Si, I agree but this man, 'e talk long. 'e say that everyone afraid of dead man but 'e think all will 'elp keep 'er safe now 'e gone.”

“Hmm... I don't know, Gino. He could be just saying that to save his own skin. I will need to find out more before I allow her to go to them.”

“Si, Signorina. I tell 'im that. 'e say that alright and all is good.”

Maria thought some more and then smiled.

“Is he still with you?”

“No. 'e go back to your Gendarmerie.”

“I see. Would you do something else for me, Gino, please?”

The Italian shrugged.

“Si. Anything.”

“I will speak to Untersturmführer Langer and ask him to make some enquiries. If I need you to, will you help me?”

Gino smiled widely.

“Of course. I glad to 'elp.”

 

Later, in the ranks mess hall, Maria and Rania met with Katarina for dinner. As they ate they were joined by Gino who looked so different. He was dressed smartly in his army uniform and his jet black hair was combed smartly back and glistening with oil. He looked younger than he had in his white coat but Maria still estimated his age as being some ten years older than herself. Both she and Katarina thought him very handsome.

They chatted as they ate, Gino translating for Rania. By the time they left, they were all satisfied that Rania could indeed live with her Aunt. Rania herself had corroborated the information that Gino had told them.

True to her word, Maria recruited the Gendarmerie to investigate the possibilities and, although Lieutenant Langer had been somewhat reluctant, he did accept that he had been wrong to accuse Maria and Katarina. He reported his findings directly to Major Ritter who then authorised the adoption and added that they would be under the protection of the German army.

 

Unfortunately, that protection was to be short lived. News reached the hospital that there had been a big battle, many hundreds of kilometres away at El Alamein. The Allies had defeated Field-marshal Rommel and he had retreated back towards Benghazi. The fighting had been fierce and the casualties high but, for the first time, the Deutsche Afrika Korps was being pushed back through Libya.

As the days passed, air raids on the port became more frequent and more and more casualties were brought to the hospital and each piece of news that reached them seemed worse than the previous.

Both the young Matrons knew that things were not getting better when, towards the middle of November news reached them that, on the Eighth, a large force of Allies, including a contingent of American troops and equipment had landed in Morocco and Algeria to the west and had defeated the Vichy French troops who, it seems had switched sides, and were now advancing towards Tunisia.

Neither Maria nor Katarina had a moment to consider the outcome of all this as every day was passing by so quickly now and neither of them had any time to themselves.

 

During the last week of November, they were shocked to hear that, on the Twentieth, Benghazi had again fallen to the Allies. The news hit Maria hard as she knew that some of her colleagues were still there and she wondered what had happened to them and whether they were safe. What was more, Benghazi was little more than a thousand kilometres away and she remembered her own escape. How long, then would it be until the Allies arrived in Tripoli?

 

November soon became December and as the month progressed towards Christmas and the Allied forces continued to push through Libya, a frantic effort began to evacuate as many casualties as they possibly could.

One morning, late in December, Major Ritter called all the Medical Officers to a meeting.

He announced that the Allies were now on the doorstep and they had to evacuate everyone forthwith. There was no hospital ship available and they were to get the casualties aboard any ship that they could get to.

The fighting was intense and the docks and airfield were bombed severely. The roads were clogged with military vehicles taking equipment and supplies to the front and the ambulances that were available struggled to get to the port.

 

It was Christmas Eve by the time Katarina and Maria were finally ordered to leave. They were to take the next available ambulances and board a ship destined for Italy where they would be repatriated to Germany and home.

They refused!

“Sir, we cannot leave until the last of the casualties are taken! They need us!”

For the first time, Oberstabsarzt Ritter raised his voice to them and they were stunned into silence.

He slammed his fist onto the desk in front of him

“I am not having you two taken by the enemy!” he roared. “Nor will I stand by and watch you get killed. You have both given far more than anyone could ever reasonably expect of you so now you will damn well do as you are ordered and get the hell out of here! Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir,” they replied in unison. “But we...”

Major Ritter stopped them from saying anything more.

“No buts. I am ordering you to get out and that is exactly what you will do!”

There was a deathly silence broken only by the sounds of battle in the near distance. Major Ritter sank slowly into his chair.

“Please,” he said quietly. “Just go now. I will soon be following. All I ask is that you keep yourselves safe.”

Ritter pushed a grey folder across the desk towards them.

“Your permits,” he said. “They authorize you for travel back to Germany by any means available.

With both the port and the airfield at risk of attack I suggest you get out now, today, while you still can. You have heard the artillery, if the DAK can't hold them back, then...” he looked up at them. “I don't have to tell you. Especially you, Maria, you have seen it all before.

The two young women looked at each other. It was Katarina who put their unspoken thoughts into words. She shook her head.

“No. I'm sorry, Sir but no. We won't leave until the last of our patients and...”

The Surgeon look resignedly at them as Maria continued.

“We won't leave before you.”

Ritter shook his head and sighed.

“You know what scares me the most?” he said. “You two will die before the war is over and probably in the process of saving the life of someone who doesn't deserve it. The documents are open for whenever the time comes. Please, just don't leave it too late.”

Katarina picked up the papers and handed Maria hers.

“We'll all go together,” she said.

When they left the office Maria asked an unexpected question.

“Do you know what day it is?”

Katarina nodded sadly.

“Christmas Eve.”

“Yes, the first we have spent together as sisters and I don't have a present for you.”

Katarina took her sister's hand.

“Nor have I for you,” she replied. “I think there has been too much going on to do anything about that but what gift could be better than being here, together? We have spent so much of our lives apart that gifts... well, they really don't matter.”

“Have you had any post from home lately?”

Katarina thought hard.

“Now you mention it, no, I haven't. Have you?”

Maria shook her head.

“No. I hope it is just the situation here that has held it up but I can't help wondering how they are.”

“Yes, me too.”

They walked on in silence, hand in hand, each thinking of their own homes in Berlin and Munich.

 

The following day, Christmas Day, seemed a little quieter than previous days but maybe it was their imagination. Either way, the two young women spent as much time as they could together, so far as the practicalities of their situation would allow. Even though the spirit of Christmas had never seemed so far away, in their hearts it was as strong as ever. They would greet everyone with a cheerful 'Frohe Weihnachten' and, more often than not would receive the same greeting in response.

“When this is all over,” Katarina said, “We are going to have the best Christmas that anyone could wish for!”

Maria smiled wistfully.

“Yes, and maybe our Mamas and Papas will be as close again just as before we were born. After all, they have no reason not to be any more.”

 

~*~*~

 

The days passed quickly and the workload increased with each one passing. The sounds of battle grew closer and more intense until, suddenly, one morning some three weeks later, Major Ritter burst into the ward.

“Matron!” he shouted and from the other side of the ward, Katarina looked up from the severely burned soldier she was monitoring.

“Sir!” she called back.

“Where's Matron Kaufmann?”

“She's getting some rest, Sir. We haven't slept in days.”

“Well find her, quickly. We are leaving right away. The Army are pulling out and we have to get these patients to the docks. There isn't a moment to lose!”

 

The hospital was a hive of activity and Maria and Katarina worked tirelessly to ensure that no-one was left behind until there were just two ambulances left. They were two of the bus types and the two women crammed the last few wounded into them.

When they were ready to leave, Katarina found that the only place left available was to stand on the step just inside the door. From her cramped position she could see Maria in the same position on the other Ambulance.

 

One behind the other, the two overloaded vehicles creaked and lurched out of the hospital and onto the road to the docks. Katarina had noticed that there was no longer any sign of the guards and the barrier was missing. She thought of little Rania whom she had not seen for a few days. With the help of Gino Moretti, she and Maria had tried to explain that they would have to leave soon and that she should stay at home where it would be somewhat safer. They had tried to explain but, to an eight year old, it hadn't been easy. They told her how much they loved her and that whatever the future held for her she must never give up her hopes and dreams because she was the best little nurse they knew.

Rania had begged to go with them but it was not to be. They could not take a young girl from her home into a hostile world where they would be unable to guarantee her safety. No, they had told her, she should stay and look after her aunt and be the best person she could possibly be.

Rania went home in tears, leaving both Katarina and Maria heartbroken.

 

From her position squeezed into the doorway, Maria could do nothing but watch the Ambulance a little way ahead as it turned the final corner on its journey to the port. As they approached the same corner there was a tremendous explosion and the corner of the building erupted in a cloud of dust and rubble. The driver had little time to react and swerved across the road but it was too late to avoid the bricks and debris that rained down, shattering windows and smashing into the metal panels.

When the dust had settled, the ambulance was tilted at a crazy angle where it had ridden up onto the shattered remains of the building. There was a deathly silence and no-one moved.

Maria opened her eyes and tried to make sense of what had just happened. In a state of shock she tried to open the door but it wouldn't move. The only way out was to climb through the shattered windscreen.

The first thing she did was to check on the driver who was just inches in front of her. He was pinned in his seat by the steering wheel. She checked his pulse but there was nothing, the wheel had crushed his chest so much that he couldn't possibly have survived.

Then she looked back and was shocked by what she saw. The rest of the vehicle was flattened under the weight of fallen masonry. By some miracle, she was the only one left alive!

 

~*~*~

 

As her ambulance squealed to a halt at the dockside, Katarina opened the door and almost fell out onto the cobbled surface. As she aided the casualties off and handed them over to the sailors from the ship beside which they had stopped, she looked back with increasing concern. Where was Maria?

“Come on, Matron. We have to leave!” The urgent voice of the ship's First Officer.

“There is another ambulance,” she replied without looking at him. “It was right behind us.”

The Officer grabbed her arm but Katarina shook him loose.

“We can't wait. If we miss the tide we will be sitting ducks! Come on!”

“No!” she replied urgently. “I am not leaving without her!”

“Gustav! Hurry up!”

The officer waved up to the open bridge from where the Captain had shouted.

“Come on, Matron! That is it. We have to go!”

Katarina went to run back along the quayside but the First Officer grabbed her arm and dragged her back.

“No!” Maria screamed at him. “She's my sister!”

Strong arms encircled her waist and no matter how much she kicked and screamed, she could not break free.

As soon as they were aboard, the gang plank was dragged away from the side and the dockside workers released the ropes from the capstans. Slowly the ship began to move away, the water around her stern being churned into a froth by the whirling propellers.

The gap between the dock and ship slowly widened and the First Officer carefully released his grip.

Katarina was sobbing heartily, the tears rolling unchecked down her tanned cheeks as she watched the berth recede.

 

~*~*~

 

Maria dragged herself through the somewhat narrowed opening where the windscreen had once been, being very careful to avoid the shards of broken glass that littered the scene. Once outside she tried to find some sign of life but there was sheer carnage, the Ambulance had taken the full weight of the rest of the building which had collapsed on top of it.

She sat in the rubble for a minute, trying to make some sense of what had happened. She heard a sound, an engine. Something was approaching and rapidly from the sound of it.

She was right. The small Kübel screeched to a halt in front of the wreckage.

“Major Ritter!” she shouted and stood up.

“Matron! Thank goodness you are all right! Where is the other ambulance.”

“I don't know!” she shouted through the dust. “I think it got through. I lost sight of it just before the...” She looked around, ...this.”

“Come on,” the Major shouted as he swung open the little door. “We don't have a moment to lose!”

Maria scrambled through the rubble and climbed into the little car which turned around and drove as fast as its driver could make it go towards the docks.

They headed directly to the quayside between bombed out warehouses and twisted skeletons of buildings but they were too late, the berth was empty and the ship was heading out of the port towards the open sea.

Maria's heart almost stopped. She knew her sister was on board, her now empty ambulance was still where they had abandoned it. She felt sick and alone.

“I'll find you, Katarina,” Maria whispered, desperately trying to hold back her tears. “If it takes the rest of my life I will find you.”

~*~*~

And so ends the second book of this epic World War Two tale. Now it is time for formatting and preparing into book form. Don't worry, the third book in the series will begin in the new year.

A big thank you to all of you who have read and enjoyed it so far. 

 

 

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Copyright © All stories and poems are Copyright ©2013-2018 the Author. No unauthorised reproduction is permitted in any form.

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