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Across The Threshold by Jack Bode
Chapter 8

On the 13th of May the French began another offensive. They left Elvenes at the end of the Gratangerfjord where they had been stationed to link up with their Foreign Legion Brigade which had been landed at Bjerkvik at the end of the Herjangsfjord. A few days later the French who had held the high ground at Ankenes where we were stationed pulled out to be replaced by Polish troops.

During all that time my company took it easy. We were dug in halfway up the mountain and had a great view of the Beisfjord and the city of Narvik still in German hands. Second Lieutenant Earl Mackenzie was quite concerned about the morale of the troops.

“It does them no good at all, this lazing around,” he told me for the hundredth time. At last I gave him a free hand to improve the morale which he tried to do by mounting strenuous patrols, several each day.

I used the free time I had to become better acquainted with Petra Baird. We were making good progress, too. I told her about Canada and my life there, but omitting the fact that I had lived almost sixty years in the future. From my descriptions she got the impression that Canada was a fabulous country. She talked a lot about Australia, the Australia of the 1930’s. I was very much interested in it, of course. It seemed to me that her family must have lived in the most primitive of conditions imaginable, at least from the viewpoint of the late twentieth century.

Subtly, and without either of us being aware of it, our familiarity grew to much more than friendship. The days had lengthened until there was no real night any more. Dusk changed to dawn and after an absence of perhaps an hour or so the sun rose again almost due north. It did not make for a romantic environment, true. But it was wartime and we took the breaks as they offered themselves. From what I could observe, Bill Johnson’s eyes became dreamy each time he caught a glimpse of the pretty American interpreter, Louise Yasuda. They spent a good deal of time together, and not just because the fighting of a war demanded it.

I even heard through the grapevine that Major James Yonge was rather friendly with a Norwegian lady. There was considerable specula­tion as to the nature of their liaison.

Only Second Lieutenant Earl Mackenzie had no eyes for members of the opposite sex. He was in his element mounting patrols.

As with everything in this imperfect world of ours the somewhat idyllic situation at Ankenes came to a rather sudden end shortly after midnight near the end of May. Of course there had been plenty of rumors of what was going to happen. And plenty did happen all the time - to others. We were the forgotten force, or so it seemed.

We, that is the British, feared that the Germans with the help of some Norwegians belonging to Vidkun Quisling’s group, the Norwegian who collaborated with the enemy, had tapped our telephone lines. Consequently only routine communications were entrusted to the tele­phone. Really important news were carried by messengers.

Shortly after midnight on that particular day a motorcycle roared up the track to where I had my command center. It sounds grand, command center. It was nothing more than a lean-to, camouflaged so that the German observation posts in the mountains across the Beisfjord could not locate us too easily and the German aircraft could not pinpoint us. The enemy’s command of the air was proving to be an increasingly dangerous thorn in our side.

The motorcycle came to a halt amid a small avalanche of dirt and gravel. I had just returned from a visit to Petra and was preparing to go to sleep. We slept at our posts in those days as Ankenes was not really a town or village but rather a location. The few buildings there were need­ed for other purposes, like the medical station, a supply dump and so on. We had four men to each post, two on duty and two resting. Sergeant Johnson - I still had not received a replacement for Lieutenant Hiber who had been killed in an engagement almost a month ago - and Second Lieutenant Mackenzie each had six men at their posts, I had eight.

When I heard the racket outside I got up again from my cot and walked to the curtain which was our door, to see what was going on. As I stepped through it I almost collided with Major Yonge.

“At ease,” he barked when everybody suddenly stood at attention. His feet were soaking wet and the front of his uniform was splattered with mud. We relaxed although I felt strained. I knew that Major Yonge was an avid motorcyclist. Still, to inspect our position shortly after midnight seemed a bit odd.

“Captain Kester,” Yonge said after having mustered every man at my post. He jerked his head a fraction to his left side, indicating I was to follow him. He halted ten steps behind his conveyance. To call it a motor­cycle was kind. It certainly had seen better days.

“Look there,” Yonge said, “what do you see?” He pointed at the panorama before us.

I strained my eyes. I could not make out anything new. Everything was the same as it had always been.

“Well?” Yonge asked after the pause began to stretch out.

“Nothing, Sir. I see nothing.”

“You see nothing? Are you sure, Kester?”

“Yes, Sir. Down below is the water of the Beisfjord and on the opposite shore there are mountains, the same as yesterday. I see nothing going on.”

“And over there?” He indicated the peninsula jutting out in the half-light of dusk or dawn.

“There is nothing there either but the city of Narvik, still held by the Germans. We have been watching it for over a week now, Sir.”

“You are almost right. Across the fjord you will find the coastal high­way. After you have crossed the water you will follow the Polish division into the city of Narvik and occupy the rail yard. Then you will push on towards the Swedish border. This is going to be the end of Dietl and his mountain troops. Yo u will hold the rail yard at all costs. Listen, do you hear anything?”

I tried to catch a sound, any sound. Far to the north was faint thunder and lightning. It looked like a distant thunderstorm.

“No, Sir, I can’t say I do except for the electrical storm up the Herjangsfjord.” I glanced at the cloud laden sky. “It seems to be coming this way.”

“Again you are almost right. That is General Bethouart and his Foreign Legion Brigade. The attack on Narvik has begun.”

He outlined to me in great detail what was going to happen and my part in the action. Te n minutes later he climbed back on his motorcycle, tramped down on the kick starter, revved up the engine and in a shower of mud and gravel was gone.

We had exactly one hour to reach the beach.

“Johnson, Mackenzie,” I hollered.

Five minutes later they were facing me. And five minutes after that we were on our way down the mountainside. Unfortunately we had to abandon two machine gun positions as we could not carry all the equip­ment. For years after the war had ended local Norwegians and tourists coming up to Narvik to ski would run across these abandoned posts in the rugged mountains all around Narvik and the fjords.

We reached the beach with barely a minute to spare.

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