A severe gust of wind
pulled the door out of my hand and slammed it shut. As I looked up the
view was suddenly changed. There were no flower beds beyond the driveway
and there were no mountain ashes. A couple of scrubby looking dwarf
birch trees grew a short distance away. I recognized them by their white
trunks. Completely bewildered I took several steps forward and then
The building behind me
was not the twenty-two story tall apartment building nor was there a
glass enclosed vestibule. The only things unchanged were the cold and
the driving snow. I took a deep breath. I must not get myself agitated,
I told myself. There is bound to be a rational explanation. Yet I was
shocked into inaction.
The first thing to do was to look around and observe. I did that very
quickly. The apartment building had changed into an ancient looking two
story structure. The glass enclosed vestibule was now merely a shabby
looking porch badly in need of paint. The driveway had mutated into a
road and from where I had stopped I could see five vehicles parked along
the bend. Only they were not moving vans. Three of them had tracks
instead of wheels and were of a color somewhere between green and grey,
and the other two also looked as if they might belong to the military.
The wind driven sleet was thinning out. The shadowy figure approaching
was a young man, completely unknown to me. He wore a military uniform,
light brown in color. In his right hand he held a Sten gun. I am not
sure how I knew, never having seen any gun from close by. He stopped
three meters away from me, took the gun in his left hand and came to
“Any word, Sir?” he asked me.
Any word of what? Where was ? I slowly shook my head.
“I thought so,” the young soldier in front of me said. “They never tell
you a damn thing.” He half turned and waved towards the five vehicles.
With engines roaring four of them took off down the road towards the
mountains. Mountains? I live - or lived - in a large eastern city. The
closest mountains were thousands of kilometers away. And then the snow
began to fall heavily again, blotting out the view of the surrounding
“We might as well get back, Captain,” the soldier said, “unless you want
“No, no,” I replied. “Let’s get back.” In desperation my mind clung to
what I had been used to. Surely this was only a bad dream, a nightmare.
In another second all this would resolve itself into the familiar
parking lot in front of the apartment building and the lawns and the
flower beds. But it did not.
For the first time I looked at myself. My feet were covered with sturdy
boots, not the well worn shoes I had put on only a few minutes ago. I
still wore my beret. But the parka was now of a light brown color and
not the cleanest. When I had slipped into it upstairs in my apartment it
had been dark blue. My trousers were of the same color as the parka, not
the grey they had been when I left home. Suddenly it dawned on me. Like
the soldier in front of me I also wore a uniform. And he had addressed
me as captain. My eyes fell on the umbrella in my right hand. But it was
no longer an umbrella. Somehow it had metamorphosed into a submachine
gun. It must have happened as I stepped through the door of the
apartment building, at the same time as all the other crazy things had
Only a second had gone by since I had talked to the soldier. He turned
and as he did so I could see the sergeant’s stripes on his left sleeve.
I was going to ask him where I was, where we were, but changed my mind.
Wherever it was it would be best to play along. After all, I told
myself, it was only a dream.
Suddenly in the distance to the left of us a bright flash lit up the
swirling snow. The sergeant halted, watching.
“They’re acting up again,” he said. “And it looks as if they’re getting
closer.” He took his Sten gun in both his hands. The click I heard told
me that he had flipped off the safety catch. He was ready to fire. I
raised my submachine gun as well. It seemed to be an automatic gesture.
Far to the left I could make out another flash. And then came the
explosion of the first shell some distance to our right. “It’s a good
thing that it’s snowing or we’d be goners now. The Jerries are getting
better all the time,” the sergeant muttered just before the second shell
hit the ground maybe fifty meters to our left. I felt something jerk at
my left glove.
We had reached the car now, a Landrover, with the canvas top down. There
was an accumulation of snow on the two seats. In the rear a machine gun
was mounted, attended by a grubby looking character.
“Let’s go, Sergeant,” the character said, “before Jerry gets the range.”
The sergeant wiped the snow off his seat and jumped in, starting the
vehicle. I copied him, but on my side the snow had red splotches in it.
“Are you hurt, Captain?” the sergeant asked when he noticed the red
I did not say anything as I climbed into the car.
“We’d better get you over to the medics.” He gunned the engine.
We shot forward as he let out the clutch. We had gone perhaps thirty
meters when there was an explosion behind us at just about the place
where the car had been parked. The corporal at the machine gun ducked as
did the sergeant. There was a loud bang at the right rear corner of our
vehicle. The sergeant kept on going.
“You are the luckiest devil I know,” he muttered now, briefly looking at
me and grinning. “How is your hand?”
“All right, I guess,” I answered. “It doesn’t hurt yet.”
It did feel strange, though, as if something was the matter with my left
middle finger. But so far there was no blood dripping from it. It must
be all right, I decided.
The sergeant drove as if the devil was after him. We bounced over holes
in the road and went around corners far too fast for conditions. Most of
the time we were on the left side of the road, on the wrong side, it
seemed to me.
There was no letup in the blizzard. I had my hands full trying to stay
in the seat. From time to time we would slide sideways towards the edge
of the road. Or should I call it a track? It did not look much like a
We had bounced over the ground for perhaps five minutes. Gradually I
began to feel a faint pain in the tip of my left middle finger.
Something must indeed be the matter with it. I was about to take another
look when we hit a giant pothole. I was thrown up and then came down
hard. Grabbing the edge of the windshield I could barely manage to
remain inside the vehicle. Then we began to slide sideways towards the
precipice. In the driving snow the drop looked bottomless.
At the very last instant, as the wheels on the right side of the
Landrover were about to leave the ground, the sergeant tramped on the
gas pedal. At the same time we hit another deep hole in the road.
Somehow we managed to avoid going over the edge. Johnson, that was the
sergeant’s name, shifted down to second gear as we began to climb a
steep stretch. Behind us I could still hear explosions from time to time
as the enemy artillery lobbed a few rounds over towards our positions in
an irregular pattern.
There was a last twist in the track and we were on a small level stretch
on which several vehicles were parked close to one side, partially
hidden by the scrubby birch trees. Opposite them was an old ramshackle
building. It has a red cross over the entrance and a sign in large
letters which read Medical Field Station No. 2. Underneath, much
smaller, it said Narvik.
Johnson parked the Landrover next to the other vehicles. “Let’s see what
the medics have to say,” he said to me as he jumped to the ground. “Does
it hurt yet?”
I grunted. By this time I felt a dull pain in the middle finger of my
left hand. Something was certainly not right and should be looked after.
Without objecting I followed the sergeant. There were four people inside
the building. Two seemed to be doctors and the other two orderlies.
“What do we have here?” a middle-aged civilian asked. He, like the
sergeant, spoke with a peculiarly English accent. “Sit down here,
Captain.” He pulled me to a chair.
“I’ll wait for you outside,” Johnson said and then left again. On the
wall next to the door through which we had entered hung a jacket and a
parka. They had major’s insignia on them. The other doctor had the rank
of captain. And then I realized that the civilian wore a partial
uniform. His feet were covered with boots similar to mine and he wore
regular army trousers.
“Don’t look,” the major said to me. “We don’t want you to be sick here.
Williams just cleaned the floor.” He jerked his head towards one of the
I could feel the doctor cutting away the glove. He had my arm lying on
top of the table. He was humming an old tune as he worked away. “Ah,
yes, a clean cut. What did you do? Did you try to catch a shell? Ha,
ha.” He seemed to have a strange sense of humour. “Williams,” he then
called. “Give me a hand.”
Turning back to me he continued: “It’s nothing serious. You’ll live.
They won’t even send you home for this. It could have been worse, much
worse. You could have lost your hand.” He shook his head. “Trying to
stop a splinter.”
I felt the pinprick of a needle and tried to jerk my arm away but the
major had a firm grip on it. And then the orderly took hold of my arm. I
felt the coolness of evaporating alcohol on my fingers. After a minute
or so the dull pain lessened.
“Hm, a clean cut,” the doctor repeated. “Now brace yourself. This will
hurt a little.”
The orderly’s grip felt like a vice. I heard a snip and a severe stab of
pain shot up my arm and into the very core of me. I jerked my arm with
all my strength but I could not move it.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it now?” The major had his back towards me and
his voice sounded far off. Gradually the severe pain lessened.
“Once more, Captain. Grit your teeth. We are just about done.”
I heard the snip a second time and another stab of pain raced from my
finger up my arm and deep into me, but it was less traumatic.
“We’ll have you out of here in no time flat. Ah,” the doctor sighed as I
heard the snipping sound a third time, and by far the most intense pang
of agony stabbed into me. It made me groan.
“See, that wasn’t bad at all,” the doctor said. “In a few weeks you’ll
be as good as new. Are you left-handed?”
“No,” I replied.
The severe pain left me after a while. I could feel the doctor working
on my hand but whatever he did, it did not hurt. Even the orderly
holding my arm relaxed his pressure a bit. Once more there was the
snip-snip of the scissors. This time I felt nothing. Then I heard a
tearing sound as if some fabric was being ripped apart. Despite the
numbness in my hand I could sense the pressure as the doctor applied the
“You’re all finished, Captain,” he said. He reached into his bag while
the orderly took the tray with the tools and went to the sink. “Take one
pill at a time when you can’t stand the pain any longer. This is all I
can give you.” He counted four tablets into my hand.
“Thanks, Doc,” I said. “What was wrong with my hand, with my finger?”
“Oh, nothing serious enough to send you home. A stray splinter got you.
Come back in a few days and we’ll change the dressing and see how it is
healing. You were lucky that we are in a lull and could look after you
There was some commotion at the door.
“Give your name, number and unit to the secretary.” The major nodded to
the other orderly and then walked towards the door. I was dismissed.
“What do we have here?” he asked.
“A mine,” somebody’s gruff voice answered.
The other orderly motioned me into an adjoining room and closed the door
“We’ve got to have a record just in case you survive.” He laughed.
“Thanks a lot. You make me feel good.”
“There is a chance, you know, Captain.” He sat down at a table. There
were no entries on the big sheet yet. I could clearly read the top line.
It said Saturday, 27 April, 1940. For a moment I felt light-headed.
“I hear that things are pretty tough down in Narvik,” the orderly said.
“I doubt whether we can hold on over the long run. Once the Germans have
consolidated their hold and get a few airfields operational - well, your
name, Captain.” He looked up at me.
“Is Kester your last name?” Playing with the pencil he seemed to
scrutinize me. He wore a smock of a grey-green color with no insignia of
rank. “Major Pershing is very particular about records.”
“Kester, first name Carl,” I confirmed.
He looked at me again. “Kester is spelled with a ‘K’? And Carl with a
“Ah, yes. Captain.” And he carried on, repeating every answer I gave
him. A few minutes later I was back outside. Sergeant Johnson threw his
cigarette to the ground and stepped on it. At the same time he came to
The trip back to my unit took fifteen minutes. It was not something to
calm my nerves. Twice Johnson missed plunging down into the Beisfjord by
literally a hair. And once a shell exploded no more than ten meters
behind us. We all ducked. The concussion almost hurled us down a steep
ravine. Despite the cold I was perspiring when Johnson finally jammed on
“There we are, Sir,” he said, grinning from ear to ear.