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Across The Threshold by Jack Bode
Chapter 10

Who was the most valuable man in my company? I would be hard pressed to pick any one individual but Sergeant Bill Johnson would certainly be near the top.

Early the next morning he arrived with a vehicle, a battered Landrover.

“ We can’t have you walk everywhere,” he said to me as he proudly displayed his prize. It had no glass in the windshield and the body was full of bullet holes. But it ran.

“Where did you pick that one up?” was my first question.

“Oh, I have my connections,” he replied evasively. “What do you say, we load some of the wounded into the back and take them to the field hospital in Narvik? I hear they have a hospital ship leave for England in a day or so.”

I grunted.

“And besides, I am low on petrol, but I know where I can get my tank filled up.” He grinned.

“Of all the hare-brained ideas you guys come up with.” Major Pershing slapped himself on the thigh when I approached him with the suggestion a short time later. He grinned as well. “I’ve got about a dozen or so who would benefit. The others - well, we shall have to see what we can do about them.” He shrugged. “They are not well enough that we can move them over the rough road, especially not in an army vehicle.”

Bill Johnson left for Narvik at noon. There were eight wounded soldiers in the back. Nurse Appleyard accompanied them.

“Hold on there, fellows,” Johnson yelled as he let out the clutch and tramped the gas pedal to the floor. “We are on our way to England.” In a shower of stones and mud he cleared the driveway and was heading towards Narvik.

Later in the afternoon he was back and took the rest of the wounded who could manage the ride.

Petra Baird insisted on helping me get cleaned up. She would not believe that I was completely uninjured. I did not mind her fussing over me. I rather enjoyed it.

“Wait till you came back with me to Australia,” she said. “There you’ll be safe. This war can’t last much longer. They’ll be making peace soon.”

I did not have the heart to break her spirit and tell her that this conflict would go on for another five long years.

We slowly advanced along the road towards Rombak at the end of the Rombaksfjord. However, we never reached it.

Gradually the Germans were being pushed towards the Swedish border. In another two weeks we would be in full control. Alas, London had other ideas. They saw our position as untenable and acted accordingly.

We were harassing the Germans who fought a continuous rearguard action with us. The medical station had a steady supply of newly wound­ed. I had accompanied Johnson back to the Medical Field Station No. 2, Narvik, as it was still called, with three wounded of our own and a lone German. I felt pity for him as he was most despondent. I was sure that he expected us to shoot him which of course we were not going to do. It was evening by the clock but still as bright as the middle of the afternoon. I had not slept for close to twenty-four hours. I was more than pleased to accept Lieutenant Petra Baird’s offer to catch a few hours of shut-eye in her room, since she was going to be busy in the medical station. I got cleaned up, shaved - what a glorious feeling it was to be human again -and was asleep seconds after my head rested on Petra’s pillow. The faint hospital smell did not bother me at all.

A couple of hours later I woke up, but maybe it was only a dream. I was cold, chilled to the bone, when a warm body lay down beside me. I snuggled up to it and soon drifted off again.

I awoke from the cold. I had only one thin blanket to cover myself with, and it was quite a small blanket. Glancing at my watch I saw that it was three o’clock in the morning. I had slept all of five hours. When I came downstairs Petra was assisting Major Pershing with another newly wounded soldier. He wore a German uniform.

“You have five minutes to see him off,” Pershing said to the nurse. “I can manage that long by myself.”

Petra put the bandage down of the table and came over to me, pushing me through the door into the vestibule.

“I won’t be able to see you again,” she said, her voice breaking and tears running down her cheeks. “ We just got word, they are sending a convoy of trucks. I am to accompany the wounded back to England. Oh Carl! Take good care of yourself!” She hugged me tightly.

Gently I stroked her hair. “You’ll be safe then. I’ll manage to get by.”

There was a loud explosion in the woods on the other side of the road. The enemy field guns were still lobbing random rounds at our positions. Here we were at the limit of the range of their artillery. The windows rattled and the doors banged in their frames.

“I am so scared for you, Carl.”

“Nurse,” Major Pershing yelled from the inside.

“I must go,” she said, the tears streaming down her face. Once more she hugged me tightly, pressing her lips on mine. I put my arms around her and held her.

“Nurse,” Pershing shouted again. “The five minutes are up.”

“I’ll let you know where I am as soon as I can,” she whispered. Then she released me and wiped her red, puffed eyes. “So long, Carl.”

I gently stroked her cheek. “Good bye, Petra.”

I grabbed my submachine gun, slipped off the safety catch and turned towards to door to the outside. Just then another shell landed, farther away this time. On the threshold I looked back to her. She had the door to the inside half open. I blew her a kiss. The wounded German soldier groaned loudly as Doc Pershing bent over him.

And then Petra was the surgeon’s assistant again while I was the commander of my unit, constantly threatened by the enemy.

Bill Johnson was waiting by the Landrover. It took us ten minutes to cover the two kilometers to the front line. No longer was the road surface a smooth coat of asphalt. It was broken in many places with craters and holes from the shelling it had received over the last few days.

Even the weather was turning cold and chilly. A strong breeze had sprung up and the sky was beginning to cloud over.

“There’s a storm on the way,” Johnson was saying as we jumped to the ground. He had parked the vehicle beside a stand of aspens. “They figure it’s going to be bad one.”

I grunted a reply. My mind was still on Petra. Would I ever see her again? Would I ever get back to my own time? Would I want to? I must not burden my mind that way, I told myself. Here you are at the front line, being shot at from almost all directions. If you want to see Petra again the first order of business is to stay alive.

We had walked along the road for perhaps twenty meters when we came across a motorcycle hidden among the trees.

“Who could that be?” Johnson wondered aloud.

“That is Major Yonge,” somebody said in a clipped voice. “Ah, there you are,” the same voice continued. Major Yonge stepped out from behind the trees. “I shall have a word with you, Captain Kester.”

We walked a short distance down the road.

We, that is the British, would pull out of Narvik, beginning the next day at noon, the major informed me. My company was to insure the safety of the withdrawal. We were to avoid all further contact with the enemy, but if Jerry would attack, we were to fight a delaying action. He had arranged for a small convoy of vehicles to evacuate the wounded from the medical field station, those who could not walk. They would keep a skeleton staff at the station until the next day at noon. Then they would be withdrawn. There were a lot more details. Half an hour later Major Yonge was ready to leave.

He walked to his motorcycle. He put the goggles over his eyes, mounted his conveyance and pushed down on the kick starter. The engine roared to life. Major Yonge put his machine in gear, let out the clutch and shot onto the road. He swung around, facing down the mountain towards the city of Narvik. As the motorcycle gathered speed I heard a shrill whistle overhead. A hundred meters down the road the shell impacted in a giant explosion. Unfortunately Major Yonge happened to occupy the exact same location at the exact same moment.

According to orders we waited until noon the next day before we began our withdrawal. It was quite orderly and we were not even once harassed by an enemy patrol. As we approached the medical station it looked deserted.

“Johnson,” I yelled.

He was a short distance up the road standing beside the Landrover. He jumped behind the steering wheel. Starting the vehicle and putting it into gear he let out the clutch and gunned the engine.

Every once in a while the enemy was still sending a shell over. So far they had exploded some distance ahead or to one side. It was almost a quarter to three in the afternoon when I climbed into the seat beside the sergeant.

Let’s go and see if Major Pershing is still there,” I said to him. “If he is we’ll take him along with us.”

“Righto,” the sergeant replied.

The road had turned into nothing but craters. Even from the day before it had deteriorated markedly.

Johnson pulled into the driveway and parked the Landrover under the trees which had somehow survived. Amazingly the medical station was also still standing, entirely undamaged, although it was hard to see in the sudden snow shower.

“This won’t take long, Johnson. I’ll just get Major Pershing and you can take him to Narvik. We’ll make up the rearguard. They are demolish­ing the ore handling facilities and the harbor. We are pulling out.”

“We are pulling out? And let Jerry have it all, now that we have almost won?”

“Beats me too. That was what Major Yonge told me yesterday before the shell got him.”

I jumped down to the ground, ran to the building and climbed the few steps to the porch. The soiled Red Cross flag had already been taken down from the door. As I reached for the door knob I heard the shrill whistle of a falling shell. By chance I glanced at my watch. It was exactly nine minutes to three as I yanked open the door and stepped across the threshold. There was a bright flash behind me and I was ...

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