Extracts of Let Us Do Evil
(From Chapter 25 - Radio Traffic)
Calderwell, like the Templer, was also listening to the artillery.
“How close do you think they are?” asked Hare who was standing alongside him looking down at the airstrip at Burg el Arab where a Bombay transport had just landed.
“Oh it’s hard to say,” said Calderwell. “Ten miles or so. Wind can make a lot of difference, not that there’s much today”
“I suppose this could be it - Rommel’s big attack.”
“Doesn’t sound heavy enough to me,” said Calderwell, unable to resist playing the old soldier. He could see Hare was excited. They may have been much closer to death in the Italian air raid on Alexandria the night before but air raids were different. Civilians got killed in air raids.
“Well, I’ve just been told Jerry has reduced his radio traffic and apparently that’s sometimes a sign that he wants you to think he’s gone to sleep,” said Hare who had just returned from a signals briefing with a lieutenant-colonel at divisional headquarters. “By the way, they told me it’s all right to listen out for your spies as long as we don’t let it interfere with anything else. Quite intrigued by them they were.”
“How much did you tell them?”
“Just enough to make them co-operative. I thought they’ve got enough on their plate without Palestine’s problems.”
“Quite right,” said Calderwell.
Sergeant Dudek, one of the Polish interpreters, came up and asked Hare if he would please give him a chit, the word he used in his careful English, for him and his friend, Sergeant Szmid, to acquire rifles and tommy guns since, at the moment, they only had one revolver between them which did not seem correct.
Hare produced a message pad from a canvas map case he had over one shoulder and scribbled something in pencil addressed to the lieutenant-colonel he had just seen. “One of you better stay here in case we need your German,” he said, tearing off the page and giving him directions to divisional HQ as he handed it over. “See if you can scrounge us a Bren gun while you’re at it.”
“They were at Tobruk you know,” said Hare watching the Pole, a stocky figure, walk down toward the airstrip. Divisional HQ was a collection of trucks and caravans dug in about a mile to the west of them on the other side of the runway. “They were there during the first siege, before the South Africans took over. I expect they’re going to find us a bit tame. They called themselves the Carpathian Brigade after these mountains they’re going to have to cross on their way home.”
“Yes, he was telling me in the car,” said Calderwell. “They’re almost all people who got away to France after the Polish surrender and found themselves reforming in Syria as part of the Armée du Levant. When Pétain surrendered they escaped across the border to Palestine before Vichy could stop them.”
Under the camouflage net Lang, cross-legged on one of the blankets, was wiping the dust off the Winchester M1 carbine Hawkins had brought into their lives. His cloth was the pair of RAF issue blue serge knickers he had found in the WAAF's small pack. He had cleaned the Schmeisser first, stripping it down, unloading the magazine, wiping each round before reloading it, finding the pulling apart and putting together of the weapon as soothing as other men might find a string of worry beads. When he had finished with the M1 he went over to where the Siemens set was lying on the orange juice boxes. The Templer’s coded message was lying on top of the set ready to be sent.
Three times Lang had tried to call Athens. After the second attempt he had tried moving the aerial but all he got back was the same “QRJ” which meant his signal was too weak to read properly though they had obviously been receiving something. This was infuriating because they were now so much closer to Athens than they had been in Jerusalem. He wondered if the batteries had somehow run down. They had been fine when he last checked them. It was probably atmospherics. He would try again in a few minutes. He ducked out from under the net to tell the Templer about the delay.
The German was in the same position he had left him in, head and shoulders poking through the roof hatch of the Fiat’s cab while he surveyed the airstrip through his Dienstglasse. “I’ve been watching their transport aircraft come in,” he told him. “My God, they fly low. You can’t see them at all until they get out to sea and turn round. Next time you try and send that message you had better put a priority heading on it. Otherwise they will take all day to decode it. I know those cypher clerks in Athens. They can be lazy swine.”