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The Nurses. Chapter 21

“Nein, nicht schiessen!” Maria croaked her throat suddenly dry...

Amiens. September 15 th 1940

Katarina awoke early as she always did. She had arranged to meet Maria at seven and they would have breakfast together.

They were a little later today as this was a rare Sunday that they both had a day off and had planned to to go to the park and perhaps have dinner in town after a little exploring. Something neither of them had hitherto been able to achieve.

She liked Maria. They seemed to have so much in common. Not just in appearance but in their upbringing and their personalities.

The weather did not look good. It had rained during the night and the sky was heavy with clouds, but she didn't mind. She was just happy that she had a friend with whom to share the day.

On the dot of seven she knocked on Maria's door and went into her room.

“Good morning, Katarina,” Maria smiled as she put the final clip into her hair, holding her cap in place.

“Good Morning, Maria,” Katarina replied happily, “You did it then.”

The two girls giggled, Maria had arranged her hair in a bun.

There had been such confusion over their appearance that they decided to have a little fun and wear their hair in the same style for once.

When they entered the mess hall together, they got few looks. They had grown so close since that first meeting, three months ago that most were used to seeing them together when they were not working.

“How are things back home?” Katarina asked.

“Oh, I am not sure,”Maria replied. “I last received a letter about two months ago. I don't think much has changed though except for the mail being so slow these days. What about your home? I heard that there have been several bombing raids there.”

“Yes, there have but not too serious, my parents have not been affected by them.”

“Oh, that is good. I am pleased to hear you say that.”

Maria sipped at her coffee.

“Did you hear the noise last night.”

Katarina put her cup down.

“Yes, I did. More bombers heading for the coast. Another raid on England do you think?”

“I expect so,” Maria sighed. “But they should not have bombed Berlin, it is not fair that innocent people should be killed.”

“Well, maybe so,” Katarina agreed, “But we have bombed their cities too, London especially. It must be awful.”

They sat in silence for a moment until Katarina said,

“I have been to London. It is...” she paused and then continued wistfully, “It was, a beautiful city and everyone so friendly.”

Maria's eyes opened wide.

“You have been to London? I have never been far from Munich. Do you speak English then?”

“Oh, heavens, no!” Katarina laughed. “The odd word perhaps but I certainly could not hold a conversation and it is over seven years since I was there, I was just a child.”

Maria sighed as she thought about her life up to now.

“It must be nice to travel.”

“It was nice,” Katarina sighed, “My father is a diplomat and it became difficult when the Nazis rose to power and more so because I began my medical training so I never got the chance again,” she paused, “Until now that is.”

They giggled at that.

“If you can call this 'travelling'!” Maria laughed.

“It is travelling. Haven't you been to places you have never even seen before?”

“Well, yes, I know but I would rather be here as a friend rather than an enemy. It is so hard to get my patients to understand that we are not all Nazis, especially when they first arrive.”

Katarina smiled.

“What happened to that English pilot of yours?”

“I don't know,” Maria replied thoughtfully. “He wasn't too badly burned and after a few days he was well enough to travel. The last I heard he was taken to a prisoner of war camp in Germany.”

“Then he is closer to our home than we are!” Katarina laughed.

“Yes, indeed he is,” Maria replied, “And out of this awful war.”

“When I was young,” Katarina began, “We used to have picnics in the park, Mama and Papa and me. It is so long since.”

“So did we,” Maria mused, “We had one not long before I left for here...”

She stopped, suddenly thoughtful.

“Shall we have one today, here?”

Katarina grinned,

“I was thinking exactly that,” she said, “There must be a park here, surely.”

“Yes, I am sure there must but, oh...” Maria's smile slowly changed to sadness. “We don't have anything to use, no cloth, no basket and no cutlery.”

“That doesn't matter!” Katarina chuckled, “We will buy some things that we can just eat with our fingers. Some bread, cheese perhaps, fruit...”

Maria's face brightened once again.

“Yes, all right, it will be fun.”

And so it was settled and a few hours later the two of them set off arm in arm towards the town.

The sky was still grey but the clouds were thinning and, here and there, a little ray of sunshine broke through.

For a short while they forgot about the war around them and chatted as they walked.

“You know, Katarina, things were bad in Munich. I worry about my parents.”

Katarina nodded in agreement.

“Yes, Berlin is the same. We had trouble in in our apartment house just before I left but my Papa was able to take care of it. I don't worry so much, he is strong.”

“Mine are not so but I think they will be all right. I just wish the post was better.”

At that moment, as they rounded a corner between two shops, a man, dressed in civilian clothes and wearing a scarf covering his nose and mouth, stepped out of the shadows. He was holding a revolver and it was aimed directly at them.

They froze, staring at him, eyes wide and terrified.

“Nein, nicht schiessen!” Maria croaked her throat suddenly dry.

Katarina also spoke out,

“Wir sind Freunde, nicht Feinde! Krankenschwestern!”

The man stared back with total incomprehension but his eyes narrowed, the gun in his hand wavering almost imperceptibly but then, suddenly and without warning, he raised the revolver firmly again. His eyes narrowed.

“Allez, allez vite!” he hissed.

Neither Maria nor Katarina understood and remained petrified, trembling, rooted to the spot.

The gun barked, a sharp crack and both of them screamed out in terror.

“No!” Maria shouted uncontrollably as she fell to her knees then felt her hand being gripped tightly and pulled out to the side.

“Come on!”

It was Katarina and she threw herself to the side of the alley where they cowered in each others arms like frightened dogs against the wall.

They were vaguely aware of running feet and shouting, guns being fired, bullets thudding into the walls around them and then, as suddenly as it began, it was over.

Maria slowly opened her eyes. Katarina was lying against her.

“Katarina?” she whispered, and gently shook her shoulder.

“I'm all right,” she whispered, “Are you?”

“Yes, I am but why did he want to kill us? What have we done?”

“I don't think he did,” her friend replied as she sat upright, dusting herself off, “Look.”

To their right was the body of the Frenchman, lying on the ground in an ever increasing pool of blood and to their left was a group of three Wehrmacht soldiers, one of whom was also lying on the cobbled street holding his chest. Blood was soaking through his tunic, the dark red in stark contrast to the grey of the fabric.

Maria jumped to her feet, her fear suddenly forgotten.

“Check the Frenchman!” she said, “I will look after him,” nodding towards the soldier.

As Katarina went quickly over to the prone figure, Maria ran over to the soldier.

He was alive and trembling with shock. There was a small hole in his tunic near the centre of the spreading blood stain.

“It's all right,” she said gently, “I will take care of you, just lay still.”

The soldier looked at her and nodded, his head moving only slightly and jerkily, his skin cold and clammy, grey. She could see the signs of shock and knew she had to tread carefully to prevent losing him to it.

Moments later Katarina knelt on the opposite side.

“The Frenchman is dead,” she whispered, and Maria nodded.

“Could you help me open his tunic,” she asked, and Katarina began to unfasten the buttons whilst Maria took the field dressing from his belt.

The soldier was shaking violently now, his teeth chattering.

“It's all right,” she said reassuring him, “You will be in our hospital before you know it.”

She tore open the large packet and placed the pad directly on the wound, pressing hard to try to stem the flow of blood.

Katarina looked up at the nearest soldier.

“Get an ambulance, something! We must get him to the hospital and quickly!”

At that moment, there was squealing of brakes as a lorry pulled up at the end of the alley and a group of black uniformed SS men jumped down and ran over to them.

“What is happening here?” the sergeant in command demanded as two of his men went over and kicked the body of the Frenchman.

“Dead,” one them called back.

He then looked down at the two nurses.

“And what have you two to do with this?” he demanded.

“Never mind that, get this man to the hospital immediately!” Maria shouted, “Now!”

“If he dies, someone will pay!” the SS sergeant hissed as he ordered two of his men to get him into the lorry.

They went with him to the hospital, Maria keeping the ever reddening wad pressed hard against his wound and Katarina cradling his head away from the solid timbers of the lorry's floor.

Although it was just a five-minute journey, it seemed to take so long until they arrived at the entrance.

They grabbed the nearest orderlies and a trolley and carefully lifted their now unconscious patient from the vehicle and wheeled him quickly to the operating theatre.

The wound was quite a serious one, the bullet having entered the man's chest just to his left side. It had missed any important organs but had shattered two ribs and lodged in the thoracic cavity between his ribs and left lung. There were also some fragments of plaster embedded in the flesh around the entry point which led the surgeon to surmise that the bullet had actually ricocheted off the wall before finding its intended target.

That was the reason, he told them, that the bullet had not penetrated further.

The two young women cut away the sodden remnants of the soldiers uniform whilst the Surgeon prepared to operate.

It took quite a while before he was satisfied that the damaged flesh and blood vessels were repaired as well as was possible and once the bullet was removed and the bleeding brought under control, the surgeon was able to close the wound and dress it with the help of hid two young matrons.

“Do you think he will survive, Doctor?” Katarina asked.

“Time will tell, Matron,” he replied, “But he has the best chance now.”

Since Katarina had spare capacity on her ward, the young soldier was taken there and both the women went with him.

When they walked through the door, Ailise met them.

She looked first from one to the other and pursed her lips, twisting her mouth to one side and staring at them, waiting.

“Ailise?” Katarina spoke first.

“You two will be the death of me!” the Matron broke into a broad grin. “How am I supposed to know which of you is which if you both style your hair in the same way?”

Maria and Katarina turned to each other and immediately burst into laughter.

“I forgot about that!” Maria chuckled.

“Me too,” the other agreed.

The smile faded from the face of the on-duty matron.

“What on earth have you two been up to?” she frowned, her gaze passing from one to the other. “You are covered in blood!”

Again, they looked at each other and now that they had time to think the memory flooded back.

“Oh, it's all right, Ailise,” Katarina said slowly, “It isn't ours. We got caught up in an attack. A Frenchman was going to shoot us in town!”

Shoot you?” Ailise exclaimed, “Why what did you do?”

“I don't know, well, nothing...” Katarina sighed.

“I think it was just that we are German, Katarina,” Maria whispered sadly, “Enemies.”

“So... erm, how are you... erm,” Ailise wasn't sure of how to ask and wrinkled her nose as she tried to form the question.

“Alive?” Katarina finished what she was trying to ask, “He seemed to change his mind, shouted something... like 'Allay allay veet'? I don't know what he meant.”

“Allez vite.” Ailise laughed, “It means 'Go, quickly'. I imagine he was telling you to get out of the way.”

Katarina looked at her friend and gave a weak shrug.

“Oh, I understand now,” she said and turned back to Ailise, “He must have decided not to shoot us just as those three soldiers appeared.”

She looked again at her friend.

“I think I need coffee, Maria, ” she said, “I feel a bit sick.”

Ailise took both their hands.

“Come on,” she said gently, “Come and sit down. I will get you some coffee, but I think you may have a little delayed shock now that you have had time to think.”

They didn't argue and followed her to the nearest empty bed, perching on the edge and taking deep breaths.

Whilst she was gone Maria looked down at the floor and whispered.

“I have never been so frightened, Katarina. He was going to kill us...”

She felt her friends arm slip around her shoulders and hold her tightly against her.

“No, I don't think he was, Maria. I think he wanted the soldiers rather than us, but maybe he heard our footsteps and... well, you know.”

“Yes, I think you are right but now... now he is... dead.”

“It is war,” was the simple reply but the accompanying hug was enough and Maria sighed deeply.

“Yes,” she agreed sadly, “War.”

When Ailise returned with a jug of freshly made coffee, she was not alone. With her was the same SS sergeant who had been in the alley.

“You two!” he barked them, “Who are you and why were you in that alley?”

Katarina immediately remembered the SS men who had been to arrest Herr Metzler several weeks before when she had been preparing to leave for France.

Her blood ran cold but now, like then, she was not going to be treated like dirt.

She slowly rose to her feet.

“I, Sergeant, am Matron Katarina Langsdorf and this,” she said, indicating Maria who was now standing beside her, “Is Matron Maria Kaufmann and we would remind you that we are not your soldiers but Red Cross nurses so I would remind you to speak somewhat more civilly. Do I make myself clear?”

The sergeant, a giant of a man, at least two metres tall and a jaw as square as a table, drew himself up, astonished that such a slip of a girl would dare to speak to him in such a way.

“I suggest, Matron, that you be very careful how you speak to me,” he replied through clenched teeth.

“Do you know who I am, Sergeant? Does my name mean anything to you?”

By this time, the SS man was beginning to waver.

“No,” he answered uncertainly, “Should it?”

“I will just say this,” Katarina replied firmly, “You better hope it stays that way. Now, shall we continue?”

Maria and Ailise stood with their mouths open. Had Katarina lost her senses, talking to an SS man in such manner!

The two protagonists faced each other, the soldier wondering whether this was just bravado or whether this pretty young woman had connections that he should be wary of.

“I asked what you were doing in that alley,” he said eventually but in a far more subdued manner than he began with.

“We were on our way to the park, to enjoy our day off,” Katarina spoke firmly.

“The park is not that way,” the sergeant frowned, “Why did you use that alley?”

“We wanted to buy food for a picnic first,” Maria offered.

“A pic...?” The sergeant didn't finish the sentence, his eyebrows rising with surprise.

“Yes, A picnic,” Katarina affirmed, “Is there something wrong with that?”

“No, I suppose not,” the big man replied.

“How many Frenchmen were there? Did any escape?”

“Just one, Sergeant and I think you are fully aware that he did not get away.”

There was a moments silence until he nodded across to the bed where the young soldier was laying.

“Will he live?”

All three of the nurses turned and looked in the same direction and then at each other.

Katarina turned back to the inquisitor.

“We don't know, but we hope so. We will do all we can to make that happen.”

She glared at him for a moment.

“If you would care to leave us now Sergeant. We cannot help him whilst you are taking up our time.”

“You are very full of yourself, young lady,” the soldier looked back at her though narrowed eyes, “I suggest you think carefully before you continue...”

“My father is a diplomat, Sergeant. He knows many of the party officials, including Reinhardt Heydrich. Do you wish him to find out that his soldiers abuse German Red Cross staff and obstruct them in the course of their duties, putting the lives of wounded German soldiers at risk?”

There was a stony silence as the SS man tried to work out whether this young woman was telling the truth or not.”

“Well, Sergeant?”

Suddenly, he snapped to attention and clicked the heels of his boots.

“No, Matron, I would not,” he replied with more than a heavy hint of sarcasm. “Kindly keep me informed of his progress.”

He then turned on his heel and strode out from the ward.

Once they were sure he had gone, Katarina let out a sigh of relief.

“Why do I get the feeling that we are fighting our own people just as much as the enemy?” she breathed.

Maria studied her friend for a moment.

“What?” Katarina asked.

“Oh, I was just wondering how long it will be before we get moved again.”

“What do you mean, Maria? Why should we be moved again.”

“Well, I am here because I wouldn't bow and scrape to the authorities when they came to the ward looking for people to take away. Why were you sent here?”

Katarina chuckled.

“I see what you are saying. You know I am here for the same reason and here we are, having to do it all over again.”

She took her friend's hand and squeezed it.

“Maybe we should just do as we are told?” she said.

“Yes,” Maria replied with a smile, “Maybe we should... But you know we won't.”

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