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Across The Threshold by Jack Bode
Chapter 5

I jumped out of the Landrover and approached my superior officer. Johnson and Litvak took the shortcut to our shelter.

“Major Yonge, what gives me the pleasure?” I said, saluting. Yonge returned the salute and frowned. He was of the old guard and very class conscious. My free and easy North American way did not fit well into his world.

“An inspection tour,” he replied in his clipped way.

“Ah, then you have come to the right place. We sight at least one patrol a day from here. Will you stay until evening?”

“I am afraid not. What took you so long? Your second in command said that you were due back an hour ago.”

I looked at my watch. We had been gone for well over three hours. If the major had been waiting all that time - no wonder he was not in the best mood.

“I - ah, we went to the medical station. We ran into a problem. I am sorry that I am late.”

“What were you doing at the medical station? And what sort of a problem?”

Across the Ofotfjord I saw the explosion of a shell against the side of the mountain. Major Yonge saw it too but he did not comment.

“I suffered a minor injury a few days ago, Sir. I had to go and get it checked.”

“After several days? It can’t be ...”

“No, no. I got medical aid right away. Major Pershing ordered me to report to him today. He wanted to take a look to see whether the injury was healing properly.” I held me hand up to the major. “And then on the way back we ran into a Jerry patrol. That medical field station is rather exposed.”

“Which one is that?”

“Medical Field Station No. 2.”

“Oh, that one, yes. We’ll be doing something about it. The German patrol, what was it after?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the Jerries are running short on medical supplies. Maybe they were trying to capture the station. They sure were close enough.”

“You beat them back, I trust.”

“We killed two of them and captured one. The others escaped.”

“You took a prisoner? Where do you have him? We need the intelli­gence.”

“I am afraid he is not in a state to give you much information. He got shot up rather badly. Doc Pershing is trying to save his life.”

“You took him to the medical station?”

“We were the only ones to render aid, Sir. After all, he is a human being.”

Major Yonge grunted to that. We had begun walking up the path towards the shelter. Suddenly there was the shrill whistle of a falling shell, followed by an explosion a hundred meters up the slope. Yonge halted next to a dwarf birch tree. Now he looked back towards the fjord and the city of Narvik to the east. There was not much to see. The haze was clos­ing in again. The sunshine of a couple of minutes ago had disappeared.

“Did you suffer any casualties in your encounter with the enemy patrol, Kester?” the major asked after a moment.

“No, Sir. We only lost the front tire of our vehicle. They shot it out. We would have never noticed them otherwise.”

“Oh - well. Make out the report and send it down to operations. We need to know what goes on. By the way, there’ll be a briefing at 1600 at the divisional headquarters. Be there.”

“Yes, Sir.”

We had reached the shelter. Next to it a motorcycle was parked. It had a sidecar. A sergeant lounged near it. Yonge halted as did I. For a few seconds he looked at me.

“Carry on, Captain,” he said.

“Sir,” I replied and saluted. He returned the salute and walked towards the sidecar. The sergeant started the motorcycle, the major climbed in and seconds later they were gone. I made my way to the shelter.

Early in the afternoon it cleared up. The sun was surprisingly high in the sky. I had always visualized that in summer above the Arctic Circle the sun would circle the horizon or some distance above it. But not so. It climbed into the sky, almost reaching the zenith, and as evening drew near it sank towards the north to disappear behind the mountains. In another three weeks it would not set but rather approach the northern horizon before it would begin to rise again. Even now the nights were no longer dark. Dusk would change to dawn sometime around midnight or not long thereafter.

The short jaunt to divisional headquarters in the afternoon went without incident. While I took part in the briefing Johnson went to stores to see if he could obtain a replacement tire for our Landrover.

At the briefing I learned that the Germans were apparently infiltrat­ing our lines all along the front. General Auchinleck had given orders to clear them out and thus we would begin our offensive the next morning at dawn. On our side north of the Ofotfjord we would move east towards the Herjangsfjord. When we reached it we would follow it northeast until we linked up with the French forces attacking from Foldvik and Elvenes. Once we had taken Bjerkvik we would pause before continuing along the opposite shore of the Herjangsfjord towards the city of Narvik.

It sounded simple when Major Yonge outlined it all on the opera­tions map. What was not shown on the map was the rugged terrain and the snow and the mud. The map was merely a piece of flat paper with lines and symbols printed on it. It showed blue for the water and predom­inantly brown for the land.

After the major had given us a general overview he outlined to each company its objective and how it fitted into the overall plan. My unit was to sweep down the mountain until we reached the Herjangsfjord. Our primary objective was to protect the medical station and to help in moving it forward as required. It did not appear to be overly difficult.

When I went back outside around six in the afternoon Bill Johnson was waiting for me, a grin all over his face. He had another tire for the Landrover and a couple of boxes stashed behind his seat.

“We are going to celebrate tonight,” he informed me.

“We are going to celebrate?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“What did you have in mind to celebrate, Johnson?”

“Our survival this morning, of course.” He rubbed his hands and grinned even more. I shook my head as I climbed into the seat beside him. There I saw that the two boxes contained liquor. For a moment I paused. But then I thought, why not. Who could tell how many of us would still be alive tomorrow this time!

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