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The Nurses. Chapter 42

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“What have they done to you?” he whispered, his voice cracked with emotion.

Gibraltar, April 6h 1941.

 

Katarina and Maria remained at the hospital in Gibraltar for two weeks.

Katarina's wound had healed quickly, at least enough for her to be released from medical care and return home.

For Maria, it was the longest fortnight of her life. Never before had she been so idle.

The hospital was very different from the sickbay on the Lakhota. It was far more regimented, and there was more military staff than Red Cross.

The majority, she found out were from Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, a branch of the British Navy.

Although they were German, the British nurses treated them with the utmost respect but they were not free to wander as they pleased and whenever they left the ward where they were billeted, they were to be accompanied by one of the English staff.

At first, Maria had offered to help with the ward duties, but she was not permitted even to empty a bowl, and so she concentrated on ensuring that Katarina received the best possible care that any other patient could only dream of.

They spent many hours walking the grounds of this amazing hospital which was built of stone which appeared blue in the sunshine and was set into the rocky hillside. They would be accompanied by a nurse or orderly at all times, whichever was available.

 

Throughout their stay, they talked as much as their limited command of the English language would allow but even so, discovered that this hospital had some amazing history.

The one story that amazed them both was the fact that a British Army Nursing Officer, Colonel Gertrude Morgan had received the German Red Cross Medal, just as they had.

They had listened intently when being told of the work in nineteen-thirty-seven when during the Spanish civil war the battleship Deutschland had been bombed by two Republican aircraft whilst at anchor off Ibiza. The ship then sailed to Gibraltar and fifty-five severely injured sailors were cared for in the very hospital where they were making their recovery.

At the time, the hospital was extremely busy since, in addition to the German casualties, a British ship, HMS Hunter had struck a mine, suffering many casualties and they were also caring for casualties from the hospital ship Maine, but still the Germans received all the care and attention they needed.

The care that Colonel Morgan and her team had given to those men had so impressed the German authorities that Adolf Hitler himself had bestowed the honour upon her.

Of course, this was all before the war had begun and was because both sides were peacekeeping forces due to the Spanish Civil War. Even so, when they had told the nurse who related the story to them that they too had the same medals, she was stunned that these two young women had been awarded the very same honour.

“My word!” she gasped. “But you are so young.”

“Yes, we are young,” Katarina shrugged, “Now there is war. Young, old, no matter now.”

 

As they ate breakfast on this grey, overcast morning, they were joined by the same senior Matron who had met then in the ambulance.

She addressed them in their native tongue.

“Good morning, Sisters,” she began.

They returned her greeting with Maria adding,

“Gruss Gott.”

When she was settled at the small table at which they were dining, she looked at each of the young Germans in turn.

“In a way, I am sorry to tell you that the doctors have deemed Matron Langsdorf fit to travel and so, arrangements have been made to drive you to the border where you will be handed over to the Spanish Red Cross officials who have agreed to transport you to the airport at Malaga. From there you will be flown home.”

Maria listened, but her curiosity was getting the better of her. As soon as the British Matron stopped speaking she had to ask.

“Why sorry? Are you not pleased?”

The older woman smiled.

“Yes, I am pleased,” she said. “I will miss you both, and I think my girls here will too.”

She studied their faces,

“I do know how difficult it has been for you here, but you have both been so friendly, and it won't be the same without you. Lieutenant-Surgeon Madison has written a report for my records in which he has explained how much you did to help the wounded on board his ship after the attack last month and even before that. He wrote that even after you were rescued, as soon as you were both fit enough you worked so hard that he had never seen his sickbay so well maintained.”

At the mention of Simon's name, Maria took a deep breath and tried not to think of him, but it was just not possible. Instead, she agreed that he was an excellent doctor.

Katarina looked hard at this middle aged Matron and then asked,

“What happened to the man who attacked Maria, do you know?”

The Senior Nursing Officer shook her head slowly.

“Captain Meadows said that he would be returned to England where he would be facing a charge of attempted murder but other than that...”

Maria immediately tried to defend him.

“I do not think he want to kill me, Matron. I think he was just try to frighten me or hurt me a little. He say that when they take him away. I think that something has happen to him or his family for to hate us so. It is the war, yes?”

The Senior Matron smiled and shook her head again.

“I have only known you a short time, but it doesn't surprise me that you say that, Sister Kaufman. It strikes me that you cannot see bad in anyone, either of you. You have both written what you saw and heard, so I am sure that will be taken into consideration when he is tried.”

After a moment's silence, the British Officer stood up to leave.

“It just remains for me to wish you both a safe journey home and, who knows, once this accursed war is over, perhaps we shall meet again.”

 

Two hours Later, Maria and Katarina were collected by two soldiers who escorted them to a waiting car which took them to the border at La Linea. There they were handed into the care of the Spanish Red Cross.

Within the delegation was an official from the German Embassy who supplied them with fresh identity papers and information about how they would travel.

They were to be taken by road to Malaga Airbase, a journey of several hours and remained there for the night. The following morning they would be flown home courtesy of Deutsche Luft Hansa.

 

The journey to Malaga seemed to take forever.

Although not as grey as the previous day the air was still humid and the car very stuffy, even with all the windows open.

They were told along the way that the distance was some one hundred and twenty Kilometres, but they traveled in a car which, whilst large was not particularly comfortable, especially for Katarina. Her wound was healing nicely but every bump in the road, of which there seemed to be a great many, caused twinges of pain to shoot through her stomach.

Thus they traveled slowly, barely more than forty kilometres per hour, sometimes less and more than three hours later when they arrived at the airfield, Katarina was exhausted.

She and Maria had spoken little along the way, lost in their thoughts about what the next hours would bring, thoughts which matched each other almost exactly.

The anticipation of going home, at last, was uppermost in their minds, but it was tinged with the fear that they would be separated as soon as the aircraft touched down in Munich.

As yet they had received no orders about where they were to go or when. It would still be several weeks until Katarina would be fit enough to return to duty and it was anyone's guess how long Maria would have before she found out about where she would be working.

It made for a very wearisome day for them both.

 

They were given no orders on arrival and so were left alone to enjoy the afternoon sunshine which had cleared away the haze and clouds and that night they were allocated beds in the medical centre.

 

The following morning dawned bright and clear, and after breakfast, they were driven out to the airfield where a small, black and silver Junkers Ju160 was waiting, it's single engine already running, the propeller flashing in the bright morning sunshine.

Towards the rear, just behind the left wing, a small door was open, and Katarina and Maria climbed the few steps up into the cabin and sat in the seats indicated by the crewman.

 

Flying was another first for Maria, and she didn't know what to expect.

As the little Junkers taxied out towards the runway, she began to feel anxious and sought reassurance by gripping her friend's hand.

Katarina looked at her and smiled.

“Of course! You have never flown before,” she stated. “It will all right. Just relax, and when we take off, you will see how amazing the view is from up here.”

Maria couldn't relax, though and as the aeroplane picked up speed and the cabin became level she gripped Katarina's hand even more strongly.

She was almost holding her breath as they lifted off the ground and began to slowly climb into the air, higher and higher.

“Look how small everything is becoming,” she heard her friend say, but she had seen nothing through tightly clenched eyelids.

“Oh Maria, look. You are missing such a wonderful sight.”

Using all the willpower she could muster, Maria slowly opened one eye and turned towards the window.

She gasped when she saw the sun-soaked Spanish landscape far below, and suddenly she didn't feel afraid anymore. The steady drone of the engine and the gentle vibration through the cabin was reassurance enough that this metal bird was more than capable of staying airborne and probably wouldn't go crashing to the ground.

“You see?” Katarina smiled widely, seeing that Maria was beginning to relax.”Beautiful isn't it?”

At first, Maria just nodded, enthralled by the changing landscape far below.

“It is beautiful indeed,” she eventually agreed quietly, half to herself and for the first time in weeks she felt all the tension fade from her, and she was overwhelmed by a great feeling of inner peace.

 

Because the aeroplane was so small, indeed it had only six seats in the cabin, it was to land at Toulouse to refuel.

The journey thus far had taken over three hours, and so they were taken to the main building where they were given lunch and an opportunity to stretch their legs a little.

An hour later, they were back on board taxiing towards the runway once more.

 

Maria looked down at her watch, four thirty almost. They had left Malaga at ten past nine that morning, and she wondered how much further they had to go. The flight had seemed an eternity.

Minutes later, she felt the little aeroplane begin its descent, and she knew that very soon she would be home.

Suddenly, she felt a churning feeling in her stomach as the realisation that she was about to part from her closest friend, the one person she could not bear to be without dawned on her.

She turned to Katarina who was dozing beside her.

What if she never saw her again?

Katarina stirred and opened her eyes, and Maria felt that she must have been able to read her thoughts.

“Don't worry, Maria,” she whispered. “It won't be for long. Fate brought us together and will do so again.”

“Do you really think so?” Maria asked her, even though she had felt the same thing.

Katarina nodded and smiled.

“We are destined to be together. Don't you feel it?”

Maria took her friend's hand between her own and gripped it tightly.

“Yes, I feel it,” she agreed.

As they spoke, there was a whirr and clunk as the undercarriage dropped from the wings and locked into place. They both heard it and knew that the time had come.

 

Once on the ground, the little aeroplane's engine was switched off, and the cabin door opened.

“Don't linger, Maria, please. I can't bear it. Go home, find your Mama and Papa. We will be together soon; I know we will...”

Katarina sniffed quietly, trying hard not to let Maria see that she was upset.

Released from their seat straps, they held each other tightly and although they tried desperately to hide their anguish they each knew that the other was crying.

“Go now, Maria, Please?”

Katarina gently pushed her friend away.

“Give my regards to your mother and father.”

Maria brushed the tears from her face and smiled, but only her lips moved. Her eyes remained sad.

“Take care of yourself, Katrina. I will see you soon.”

Katarina nodded and wiped away her own tears.

“Go...” she whispered.

 

Outside a refueller had pulled up beside the little Junkers and they had already begun refueling but a few feet from the steps, a car was waiting. As Maria stepped from the cabin and down onto the concrete, its rear door opened.

There was a young nurse sitting in the back seat.

“Romy!” Maria exclaimed and hugged her old friend.

The car crunched into gear and as it began to move away and Maria turned and looked out of the rear window.

Katarina was standing in the doorway of the cabin, and when she saw Maria, she waved sadly.

 

The car took Maria to her home, and on the way, Romy explained that they had heard all about what had happened to her ship and being rescued by a British warship. She said that the hospital had allowed her to take her home and even offered the use of the car.

When they pulled up in front of the garden gate, Maria asked,

“Aren't you coming in, Romy?”

Romy shook her head.

“No, I think this is one time when you all need to be left alone,” she said. “I will see you tomorrow.”

She watched as Maria walked up the path and tapped gently on the front door of the house and smiled as she and her parents held each other tightly on the doorstep.

Romy then tapped the driver's shoulder indicating that he should drive away.

 

For Katarina, it would be another couple of hours flying until she could be home.

Now, for the first time of being separated from her friend in over six months, she felt suddenly alone. She told herself over and over that it was only temporary and instead, concentrated on seeing her parents and sleeping in her own comfortable bed.

With a wry chuckle she realised that although it had been more than three months since she had last left her home, she had not actually been anywhere. She was still traveling and what a journey it had been!

 

Once again, as almost three hours previously, the undercarriage whirred and clunked and soon, she was standing in the doorway of the cabin in front of the arrivals building at Templehof Airport

It was almost dark, and the airport lighting was illuminated.

As the door was opened for her, she saw a gleaming black car pull away from in front of the building and drive almost silently, the few metres towards her. It stopped just short of the steps, and the rear door opened.

“Papa!” she gasped, half to herself as a man in a smart suit stepped out and looked up at her.

He waited patiently whilst she stepped carefully down and then he held her tightly without a word being spoken.

After a moment or two, Katarina extricated herself from his arms.

“I'm sorry, Papa but it still hurts.”

Siegfried Langsdorf's eyes misted over.

“What have they done to you?” he whispered, his voice cracked with emotion.

“Oh Papa, it's a long story,” she replied. “I am all right.”

He surreptitiously wiped a tear from his eye with a gloved hand.

“Come on then, Liebling. Let's get you home.”

 

 

 

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