Crossing The Border
GEORGE MILLAR is the author of two exciting books about life among French Resistance workers in the last war. He was captured by the Germans in the Western Desert in 1942 and handed over to the Italians who took him to a prison camp in Italy. Later he was transferred to a monastery camp at Padula from which he made several attempts to escape. As a punishment he, like Airey Neave, was sent to a 'naughty boys' camp -- Campo V at Gavi, which like Colditz was an ancient fortress.
George Millar had not long been in Campo V before Italy capitulated and the Germans took over the Allied prisoners. With the new guards who did not know the fort, escape attempts were re-doubled and when the Germans gave the order to leave for Germany in half an hour Millar hid in the hope of being left behind. But the Germans were very thorough in their search and he was discovered and sent to Germany with the others.
On the journey to a permanent camp in Germany George Millar and another prisoner, Wally Binns, jumped from the train and made contact with a party of French prisoners from a working camp. These Frenchmen who were employed on the railway in Munich fed and clothed the two escapers and stowed them away in a train destined for Strasbourg on the French border. In Strasbourg Binns became separated from Millar who was befriended by a group of anti-German Italians. They fitted him out with clothes and false papers and passed him on to Paris.
After more adventures and many narrow escapes George Millar made contact with a British agent working with the Resistance and was passed along an escape line to Perpignan on the Spanish border. He made two false starts (one with a guide named Pedro who was later killed) before setting out with a band of American evaders to cross the Pyrenees into Spain. It was January, the worst time for such a mountain crossing! and the American airmen were out of training through lying hidden for so long. . . .
. . . Eight o'clock the following night found us once more at the corner of the ploughed field outside Perpignan where we had met Pedro.
The guide this time was a small, wizened man with a very high voice that had a hollow, conch-like tone. He spoke only the Catalan tongue, with a sprinkling of French, but thanks to my sketchy knowledge of Italian I dearly understood him. There was another man with him, a tall husky fellow who smellcd strongly of wine. This man carried an enormous rucksack which clinked when he covered rough ground, and which probably contained contraband in the shape of bottles of alcohol or perfume.
Our little guide gave no melodramatic instructions with regard to dogs. He only asked me to advise the Americans to relax as much as possible while they walked and to forget that they were covering the ground, because from then until dawn they would be walking all the time.
'How can we forget? ask him that' said Charlie.
"Think of God, or a woman' replied the old man.
'Ask him how we cross the River Tech.'
'We will cross nearer the sea than you did on your attempt with the ill-fated Pedro, and you win see that it is not difficult. Only I shall demand absolute silence, especially on the far bank, which is apt to be closely guarded.'
He set off, padding smoothly in espadriUes down paths which we had followed with Pedro. If anything, this man was more cautious than Pedro, and we reached the first river in good time without causing a dog to bark. The Americans were thoroughly broken in by this time, and they were walking well, although I knew that their feet must hurt Mine did.
The guide took off his shoes at the river, and waded in barefoot. I was glad, because I had earlier decided to do that in order to preserve my boots and make the walking more comfortable between streams. Also the level of this stream was much lower than it had been with Pedro.
He would not let us sit down for more than two or three minutes at a time.
'When you rest too much your legs get stiff. Just sit long enough to relax all the muscles. Then walk on. That is the way'
He himself seemed to flow across the ground with tiny, smooth steps. Like Pedro, he carried a long stick. He said that he was fifty-five, but the assistant whispered: 'The old one is vain, very vain, and likes to think that he is still young. He is sixty-five.'
This time we reached the north bank of the Tech before midnight. The river looked wider and shallower at this point. The guide asked us to follow him at thirty-yard intervals in case the enemy saw us and began shooting. The water was terribly cold and the stones cut our feet. I counted 290 steps on the way across.
We sat down in dense undergrowth on the south bank and were drying ourselves and putting cm trousers and boots and socks when a terrible shouting broke out. After a moment we realized what had happened. The old man had crossed first and had arrived farther down-stream. His assistant had followed him and all of us had followed the assistant Now the old man (who had demanded absolute silence) could not find us, and was screaming insults at the assistant, who answered in kind.
When we linked up with him ten minutes later three of the Americans had got lost There was more shouting until they arrived.
We walked on into the forbidden zone. We had not gone far when the old guide stopped so suddenly that we all cannoned into him. Three figures were crossing a field towards us. In a flurry the guide turned, barged his way though the Americans, and dashed back along the path we had been following. We all followed him in a mad rush for some 300 yards, when he cut off to the left down another track. He made a big circle, and soon we were on our original path.
By this time the Pyrenees were coming closer. But the closeness was deceptive. To get to the mountains it was necessary for us to act as counters in some diabolical game of 'Snakes and Ladders'. The rungs in our ladder were rivers which had to be waded or roads which had to be stalked and then crawled across. The guide was most careful with the roads. At one of them he turned to me and whispered: 'I once lost a bottle of Napoleon brandy here. A German bicycle patrol came round that corner just as I was crossing. I ran so fast that I left the bottle behind.'
'Was it real Napoleon brandy?'
'Of course not. It never is. But it was marked clearly on the bottle, and it would have fetched a Napoleon price in Spain. I won it at bowls: the bottle I mean. The brandy I had put in from something a little newer and more shapely in the way of bottles.'
We began climbing when we came to the olive-groves. It was hard work on the terraced ground. Then we left the olives and climbed up woodland paths. At one of our short halts I took off Pedro's oiled silk coat, which I had carried in a roll over one shoulder. I took it off to make a seat on the damp ground. And when we went on I forgot it. That forgctfulness might have cost me my life.
At 5 a.m. we cleared the woods, and the bare mountains were above us. The guide told us to sleep in some bushes while he and his assistant went to a cottage farther up the hill We had been walking for nine hours. All of us went to sleep among the sparse bushes and were awakened by strange noises like the barking of a small lap-dog. They were made by the guide.
'More climbing now' he said. Till your water-bottles passing the cottage. I apologize for leaving you outside. But there are often German patrols here. If they found us they would take us for visiting shepherds. If they found you they would kill everybody, bum the cottage, torture my friend's wife and eat his sheep.'
At the back door of the cottage a thin woman wearing a jacket of sheepskin and trousers of some soft leather filled our bottles with earthy-tasting water. Then we went on climbing up a narrow path over and through big rocks. Often tough thorn-bushes closed behind the man in front, lashing those who followed with tearing branches. It was bitterly cold, although we could see a stronglooking sun beginning to rise over the sea horizon. We were tired, but would have liked to go on climbing to keep warm. At eight o'clock, however, the guide said that it was getting dangerously light
He shepherded us into the thorn-scrub below the mountain path.
'You will enjoy several hours of sunshine here today,'he said. Tell your friends that if they get a good sleep and eat solidly in the evening, they should be in Spain tomorrow morning. Warn them not to drink too much water, because that is bad for crossing the mountains, and this crossing is never easy in winter. My friend and I are going back to sleep the day away in the cottage below. Au revoir, and don't move about That big house down there is the headquarters of the German frontier guards. They occasionally send patrols over the hills during the daytime, and some of them have dogs.*
I faithfully transmitted his instructions to the Americans. They had borne up bravely all through the night. Now they seemed to have an enormous thirst. Before the end of the morning all our water had been drunk. I attributed their thirst to their unfit condition. The one we had called Clark Gable looked quite ill He lay near me, heavily asleep, his face a greenish-grey against his mossy pillow.
The air at that height was cold and crisp, even when the sun was on our hill-face. A heavy coastal battery of German guns had firing practice during the afternoon. The shells fell a long way out to sea. The guns themselves were sited nearly a mile inland.
From our high resting-place we could see all our little milestones of the past three weeks stretched out below us in a huge relief map. We could sec Perpignan, the first river, the Tech, and the subsequent rivers. There were the two roads making a wishbone forking towards us from Perpignan. And down below us, where the hills ran into the sea, lay Port Vendres, such a dramatic little port in the Spanish Civil War. Pale wisps of wood smoke rose from its distant chimneys against the pale winter blue of the Mediterranean.
Although I could not sleep, I ate all that I carried and lay as relaxed as possible on the slope. At the beginning of this attempt I had not had enough money to buy provisions. I had left Perpignan with two tins of French Army meat, two small loaves and one of the cakes that Serge and I had bought for the second attempt The Americans wondered to see me finish my provisions, but I told them that it was better to have a full stomach before we set off on the worst part of the journey than to save up for a meal when we were across.
Within myself I felt an immense exultation, for I was convinced that in twenty-four hours I should be safe from the Germans.
The guides arrived promptly at five, but we had to wait until six before the old man considered it dark enough for us to begin climbing. The early going was good on a bare, rocky path.
We stopped at a spring to fill all our water-bottles. While we were there, three of the Americans got down on their knees and lapped at the water like dogs. When he saw this the guide stood on a rock above them and jabbered at them in his high voice.
'Bad, bad, bad. Water is bad on the hills. Much better drink wine.' He offered his wine-skin, but nobody felt like drinking wine.
The guide now wore a kind of fluffy woollen helmet, which covered all but his sharp nose and his restless eyes. He led us up small paths made perhaps by goats, perhaps by men. Sometimes he left the paths to slither across steep hill-faces. He explained that he did this to avoid German posts which were often placed on the high ground.
A bitter north wind cut into our backs. I deeply regretted the loss of Pedro's coat, for even with the climbing I could not keep warm.
'This wind is the tramontane? said the guide. 'It will get much worse and it will bring snow.'
We had been walking and climbing for two hours and a half when we stopped to rest in a small dark pine-wood. All of the Americans were extremely tired and were feeling their feet.
'Of what do thy speak?' asked the guide.
'They speak of the possibilities of victory next year,'1 lied.
'I know that they are talking about their tired limbs. That is because they have drunk too much water. Tell them they drink no more water. Let them ask for wine. Eh, ami go, pass your skin.'
His companion passed the wine with some grumbling, and this time we all drank, including the guide himself.
Tell your comrades to have courage, for with courage man conquers all,' he continued with a chuckle. Tell them I lost my brother here one year ago.'
My translation of his morbid injunction was met by hollow groans from the Americans, for their extreme fatigue could not yet prevent them from laughing at everything, including themselves.
After this rest we slithered down a hill so steep that it just failed to be a precipice. At the bottom was a raging torrent which had to be crossed by leaping from boulder to boulder. Two of the Americans, the Chauve Souris and Gable, fell heavily but followed on. The Chauve Souris had been lagging for some time.
We had not, it appeared, traversed the main block of the mountains, and we turned west, paralleling what the guide said was the last ridge before the Spanish frontier. This paralleling was the most arduous work of all, for there were continual high ridges running across our path so that we were like some infinitely small animals climbing in and out of the squares erf a giant honeycomb. Now, too, we were walking in snow, although it was not deep enough to present much of a handicap.
I explained to the Americans that we were working along the high ridge on our left, keeping well below the summit because there were German frontier posts and patrols there, and that the guide would turn up it at a place where he knew it would be safe to cross. But an exhausted man finds it difficult to reason and easy to complain. Our line grew more and more strung out The guide frequently had to halt to allow the Chauve Souris, Charlie and Gable to catch up. I would have liked to push on much faster, for it was the cold, not fatigue, that worried me. My back was freezing in the tramontane.
Charlie told me at one point that he had seen cows and I thought he must be going mad
'Can't you tell a cow from a goat?'
But a little later I saw them myself, a large half-wild herd of small cows. And I suddenly remembered Laurence talking with Alpine scorn of the Pyrenees as 'Montagues des vaches'.
The blizzard became so bad and so heavy with wet snow that the guide led us into a small cave in the hillside. Here there was just room for all of us to rest, squeezed together and dripping water from our soaking clothes. The others smoked. Some shepherd had left a crude oil-lamp there. The guide lit it and I was able to look at my companions.
My heart would have bled for them had I been less intent on surmounting this final obstacle. Except for Fritz, who seemed to thrive on the work, they were plainly in the last stages of exhaustion.
Gable, the biggest and toughest-looking of us all, told me that he could not go much farther.
' Why not?'
'My legs are passing out on me.'
The Chauve Souris and Charlie seemed to be equally miserable. The Trapper was little better, although he complained less since he came from tougher, less citified stock.
They begged me to ask the guide if we could either stop there for the night or if he could take us by a quick, direct route to the frontier.
'If we wait here we shall die from the cold' he answered. ( I must take you by the proper route. TeQ them it is only one hour from here to the frontier if this blizzard dies down, as I think it will very soon*'
The going was more difficult when we started out again, and the Americans, excepting Fritz, were slower than ever. At one short halt, when the guide left us for a moment to look at the crest of the ridge, Gable lay down on a patch of snow and shouted: 'I can't go on, I can't go on.' Fritz and I went back to him.
'My legs have given out,' he said. 'Ask the old man if he can give us five minutes' rest.'
'Certainly not,' said the guide indignantly. Tell him to be a man'
He now noticed that some of them were stuffing lumps of snow into their mouths. For although it was deathly cold and eerie and wet on the mountain-top, we were parched with thirst. 'If you drink like that you will die,' shrieked the guide.
So we moved on slowly to what he said was the last slope. It was very steep, and the snow was deeper and softer. The four weak Americans were in grave difficulties. Fritz and I had to divide all that they carried between us. They struggled bravely at the slope. But there were times when they all lay down in the hitter cold, and we despaired of ever getting them over.
The guide and his assistant did nothing to help. They only got angry, screaming at us and jabbering in fast, incomprehensible Catalan. I have never given so many encouraging discourses in such a short time. They sounded false to me, up there in the whistling wind, and they had little effect on Gable, who, poor soul, was now almost unconscious with pain from his powerful legs. The others somehow, little by little, managed to drag themselves up. The Trapper and Charlie hung together and kept going inch by inch with a rest every few yards. The Chauve Souris, brave spirit, negotiated the whole slope on hands and knees. This left the two of us to deal with Gable. At first he lay on the snow saying: 'I can't, I tell you.'
Walking with our help for twenty yards (Crossing the Border)
Fritz gave him a 'You're doing fine, boy,' piece of nonsense.
He responded by walking with our help for twenty yards, then he sank down again. While he lay there Fritz talked to him and the Chauve Souris passed us, crawling. I was reminded of the hare and the tortoise and bum out laughing. The old guide chose this moment to come back and scream that this was the most dangerous part of the whole trip.
'Kick him into activity. Does he want to kill us all?'
'Ask him to let me rest here for a half-hour, just a half-hour' moaned Gable, his voice trailing away slowly in a sleepy drawl.
'Restfr^slled the guide (I had not dared to translate the 'halfhour' Kpil). 'Rest, I'll give him rest, the pig.'
He danced down the slope and slapped Gable sharply several times on the face. This roused the poor man, and, supported by Fritz and me, he did another fifty yards.
Then he collapsed finally. Fritz and I tried everything we could think of, praise, vilification, encouragement, massage, wine from the Spaniard's skin, alcohol from Fritz's little bottle. The big man would not move. Tears oozed from his eyes.
'Leave me here to die, you fellows. I can't go cm.'
The Chauve Souris passed us again, going bravely on hands and knees. I pointed him out to Gable.
The only comment this drew was: 'Just give me a half-hour and I think I'll be OK.'
Charlie and the Trapper were nearly over the ridge. The guide and his assistant were ahead of them. The Chauve Souris was nearing the top.
Fritz and I managed to raise big Gable. He sagged. We each got a shoulder under him, twining his heavy thick arms like dead pythons round our straining necks. We gathered ourselves together and managed to stagger up to the top and over the ridge. He kept saying maddening things like: 'Let me be, fellows. Just let me rest. 1
The summit of the ridge was narrow and smooth: below it lay a few yards of scrub, then stunted pine-trees. The three of us fell in a heap. I lay there with the blood pounding in my ears.
When I picked myself up Gable again was asking for a halfhour's rest'.
Fritz and I worked on him. We ran the full gamut at first-aid, we talked to him lovingly, angrily. Nothing happened The other three lay around us in the scrub, offering advice. The two Spaniards stood sourly under a tree, watching us. Occasionally the guide hurled piping invective at us. At last he came over to look at the prostrate giant.
The Spanish frontier is thirty minutes' easy walking from here, 1 he said. * We go down to the burn below us, over it, up on the other side, and then across the plateau. At the far edge of the plateau is the frontier, and you can see the lights of the Spanish town of Figueras from there.'
'Why don't you leave me, then?'said Gable. I'll make it when my legs get some strength back in them.'
'We won't leave you. You must come with us now. It's too cold to lie here.'
I'll cover myself with leaves. See,' he began to scrabble leaves over his legs. 'After an hour or two I'll go on down to Spain. Now I got to get some rest . . .'
'Enough of this foolery,' screamed the guide. 'I have been taking men across all this winter and I never saw such women. This is the worst part Sooner or later Germans will pass here. Are you all going to throw your chance away for one weakling?'
He suddenly darted on Gable.
' I will make you go on,' he shouted. Before we could stop him he seized two handf uls of Gable's black hair and began to bash his big head against a tree-trunk. Gable only moaned gently.
'I don't care what you do to me. I can't go on.'
When I had translated the guide's remarks about German patrols to him he only replied: 'What do I care about Germans? My legs hurt so badly. Please go on without me. I'll be OK. I see the way. You none of you'll make it if you take me along. It's the only hope, to leave me. When I've rated I'll go on down into Spain '
After all the ground that had been covered I could practically see the Spanish frontier. After the help of Watty Binns, the French prisoners, the Strasbourg catf plotters, Ramon and Alban, Greta, Scherb, Dolores, Pascal, La Pepette, Xavier, Elizabeth, Ctement, Laurence, Serge, Estive, Cartelet after all that I was stuck here, almost within jumping distance of the frontier. Stuck, stuck, stuck! Because one American had been too lazy to do three deep knee bends each day that he was hidden up in Paris. Was my duty to this man, or to all that lay behind me and all that lay ahead?
I could not decide. I asked Fritz.
'I reckon we should leave him, as he asks. He may make it in the morning. If we stop here it may mean all of us get lost 1
I asked the Trapper, Charlie, and the Chauve Souris. They were all of the same opinion as Fritz. By this time the guide, who did not understand what this talk was about, was screaming: To perdition with you all, you bunch of women! I am going on. I will not throw myself away for you. . . .*
We covered Gable's body with leaves and left him what food and wine remained. We showed him the road to the frontier again.
The others moved off. He had relaxed, and looked much better now that he knew he was to be allowed to rest. When I was hurrying after the others, I bumped into a man in the darkness.
'Who is it?'
'It's me,' said the Chauve Souris. 'Listen, Lieutenant* I was in the same house with him for six months in Paris. I'm going to stay with him. Furthermore, my legs are just about all in too, and I would be a drag on the rest of the party. I could never make the frontier tonight. We'll go on down together in the daylight See you in Spain. . . .'
"Keep each other awake,'1 told him. 'It's too cold, dangerously cold, to go to sleep. If you go to sleep you may never wake. Drink all the wine and eat the food. Rub each other's legs and get on down as soon as you feel you can move. I'm glad you're staying with him. It's a good thing to do. A decent thing. . . .' But already we had separated in the wood, and I was running down towards the burn, after the others.
The Trapper and Charlie were both in a bad way, and the effort of carrying Gable had taken a lot out of Fritz and me. We worked our way slowly up the wooded slope beyond the burn. There seemed to be a numbness in my legs. The guide was nervous and ill at ease. He repeatedly hissed at us to be silent or to hurry.
At last we came out on the plateau. It looked unnatural, like the face of the moon. The bitter wind swept across it, bludgeoning us forward, stabbing us forward. The guide nudged me and pointed to a kind of hillock at the far edge of the plateau.
'Keep that on your left hand,'he said. 'It marks the Spanish frontier. But you must make them run across here. We are in full view. It's not far. Look. Only 300 metres.'
He and the other Spaniard began to run away in front of us.
'Run,' I shouted. 'That's the frontier. Run. Run'
The Trapper and Fritz ran on. Charlie was too tired. He stumbled after them. A wild exaltation gripped me, filled me, maddened me.
'Just 300 yards now, Charlie boy,' I shouted at him. 'Run with me.'
'Run. Run. Run.'
I took him by the hand and pulled him as you might an unwilling child. The pair of us broke into a shambling trot. I pulled and the wind pushed. Charlie responded nobly. Our speed increased. We crossed the plateau; and suddenly we were running away with ourselves as we dropped over the edge of the plateau into Spain.
But were we in Spain?
It was true that far below us, beyond the slope of the hills, stretched a great plain with splashes of light on it from towns and villages, startling splashes to eyes accustomed to war-time dark* ness. Louis had warned me, however, that we could not be certain that we were in Spain until we had actually descended to the plain itself. He had also hinted that the Spanish frontier guards might hand over to the Germans anybody whom they captured actually on the frontier.
When we stopped at a spring to fill our water-bottles I realized for the first time that I had seriously twisted my left knee, possibly when we had fallen with Gable. It was difficult to stand up again.
The spring was high up in the hills. I had doubts about my ability to walk far.
'How far to the farm?* I asked.
'A good fifteen kilometres [nine miles]' replied the guide.
' Is it certain that we are in Spain?'
'Certain. This is your first trip. I have been crossing these mountains for twenty-six yeans. But we must walk on, and fast, because here in Spain I am in more danger than in France. And you are all in danger too, at any rate in danger of going to Miranda jail and having your heads shaved and catching a dose of the pox.'
Td a hell of a lot rather catch that than keep on walking' said Charlie when I had translated. But they did keep on, he and the Trapper, although their feet were raw and they were nearly dropping. Crossing the frontier seemed to have given them a second wind, whereas for me there was emptiness and pain. True, every fifty yards I told myself that I was FREE, but my whole body seemed to be sagging, and the pain in my knee made me gasp for rest. After a time the guide noticed how lame I was, and he bound the knee up tightly with a crepe bandage.
Descending the hills on a good, wide, stony track, the tramontane came whistling down into our backs again, cutting into my kidneys. Despite the labour of walking, I was desperately cold and shivery. I imagined that I was sickening for some illness. Through the short temper and unreasonableness of fatigue we became very angry with the guide and his companion.
At one point, just before leaving the hills for the plain, the two of them dumped us in a small wood and went off To see if there were any of the Guardia Civil in the neighbourhood.' They came back when we had shivered for a miserable hour, and we were positive that although they said that they had found no sign of die Guardia Civil they had certainly found some good fellowship and much liquor, for of the latter they both smelled strongly.
The provident Spaniards had refuelled their large wine-skins, and the farther we progressed the better-tempered they became. They were generous with their skins and I drank freely of the wine, which had a tart, resinous tang that murdered thirst.
When we were on the plain the little man drove straight on for a time and then turned east towards the sea. Usually we were on tracks or small roads, but he avoided villages, and there were more icy streams to ford. The walk seemed endless.
It was 5 a.m. when we arrived in a large village and the Spaniards pushed us into an old cow-shed.
'Wait here, please' the guide said. 'There is a sale of wine in this village and I can assure you that it is a village famous for its wine.'
"But you cannot ask us to wait here. The floor is one metre deep in dung'
' Dung does not bite. And we go to buy wine not only for ourselves but also for you.'
'Let us accompany you'
c My friend, you would have me hanged. But listen. Here I will meet my son, who will take the message to have you met by your friends from the British Consulate in Barcelona.'
To pass the two hours that we waited in the dung we ate a tin of sardines which Charlie carried in his pocket, and the remnants of the bread the three of them had brought from Perpignan. The Americans were all three in good spirits, though we speculated grimly on the fate of Gable and the Chauve Souris, still up there in the cold wind.
Our Spaniards arrived, singing, and arm in arm. The guide began by hanging a large, full wine-skin round my neck.
This is my son' he said, presenting a dark young man in white shoes. ( He has been in touch with your people and tonight you will meet at ten o'clock a representative of the British Consulate.
He has also arranged for you to have a splendid dinner today. Now we will continue our promenade, but ask your friends to be quiet, for there is much police vigilance about here.'
We walked south-east for another two hours, and day was breaking when the guide stopped in a lane, pointed to a thicket of bushes and young trees on the left and said: 'You will be very comfortable in there.'
'For how long?'
'Only a short while. Do not fret now.'
Obediently we climbed through a fence and disposed ourselves about the thicket The three Americans lay down to sleep. But my leg hurt me too much and the cold had bitten too deeply into the small of my back. I stamped to and fro in the thicket, working myself into a really bad temper. The guide's companion had remained in the lane, as though he were keeping guard on us. My movements evidently worried him.
Tor the love of God, keep still,'he hissed into the bushes.
' I refuse to keep still. I am too cold. How long are we to remain here?'
'All day! I refuse to remain here all day. Are we not going to a farm-house?'
'Yes, tonight. What is the matter?'
'I am freezing, and I think I am sick. If we must remain here I will light a fire.'
The Spaniard stood up and peered in at me. Finally he shrugged his shoulders.
It is your own suggestion, so why not? And I will gladly help you,'he saidL
Fritz and I built shelter walls by hammering in long uprights and weaving brushwood, while the other three gathered wood. In this way we soon had a small enclosure, well sheltered from the piercing wind, and with an enormous fire in the middle.
I lay beside the fire and let the blessed heat soak into my back and my knee. All that remained in the way of food was French tinned meat, singe. We divided this into four portions, toasted it on long sticks, and ate it without bread. Then, having banked our fire, all four of us went to sleep. That was a life-saving fire.
Soon after 4 p.m. I awoke. The others were sitting up, complaining of hunger. My leg was very stiff. Otherwise I was stronger. We recalled the guide's promise to give us a fine meal that day. We laughed at his promise.
But at 4.30 he arrived with two more wine-skins and a large basket which he handed to us, saying: 'We bought these few things for you on the black market.'
The things were fried sausages, the English type of sausage, bananas, tangerines, and long loaves of white bread. We toasted the sausages until they were burning hot and tasted faintly of wood smoke, and I do not think that I have ever eaten a more delicious meal by way of contrast to what had gone before. He also produced for the Americans long black cigarettes.
At 6 p.m. the guide led us out of the thicket and headed southwest, tearing across fields and on the beaten tracks around vineyards with his now familiar dancing, quick little steps, and heading for the silver line of a big river in the distance.
'How far are we going?' I asked.
* We shall be there in four hours at this pace.'
Four hours ! All of us had thought that we were going perhaps one mile, perhaps two.
'Ask him if there are many rivers to cross,'said Charlie, for that was now our chief dread.
'Only two, but they are big ones.'
The four hours slowly passed and we stopped in a hollow beside another stream, but this time we were not going to wade it The guide's companion was going to his home by another route. Before he left he embraced us warmly, insisted that we finish all the wine that remained in his skin, and then embraced us once again.
A few miles farther on, the guide tapped with a long stick on a f aim-house window. A light went on iniide and then vanished. He tiptoed round to the front of the house, motioning to us that we must follow at his beds. When he had waited then; for a few minutes to make sure that we were unobserved, he led us quickly through the front yard into a byre where there were two cows and a bull, through the byre to a stable occupied by a pony, a mule and a draught horse, through the stable to a cellar filled with wine-casks and demijohns, and thence up a spiralling stone staircase to a long living-room where several people were gathered around an open fireplace.
A thin, nondescript Spaniard came forward, said in French that he was from the British Consulate in Barcelona, and asked us to fill in our particulars, rank, regiment, etcetera, on a paper he carried.
The Catalan women took charge of us* They gave us warm water to wash with and cooked us a copious meal on the open fire.
The firelight sparkled in a decanter of red wine, a decanter with a narrow glass jet sticking out of its normal neck.
'All black market a fine place this' the Spaniard from Barcelona remarked to me.
Tine, fine,'agreed our old guide testily. 'But not so fine as my home, Englishman. Only I am outlawed. Here I am twelve kilometres from my home, and not allowed by the Government to sleep with my own buxom wife I am an old man, but I believe in young wives, none of your scraggy old hens for me.'
'Where are you going now, then?'For he had eaten a little, had drunk considerably, and was now dressing for the road.
"Where am I going? Why, home, of course* Nobody can prevent me from climbing in at my own bedroom window. And tomorrow I cross the mountains again. Au revoir.'
'An astonishing man' I said to the Spaniard from Barcelona.
'There are many astonishing men in Spain, but not many like him.
'He was divinely made,' said one of the women. 'He forgets that he is old, so he is as young as his grandsons.'
They led us off to sleep in the hay. One of the sons forked down a lot of it; they spread blankets over this when we had flattened it out to make a big bed. All four of us lay down together; they put more blankets on top of us and more hay on top of that
'You will sleep more comfortably tomorrow night, if all goes well.' the Spaniard told us. Try to sleep most of tomorrow. I shall return in the evening and we shall journey on together. We have to be very careful. I should warn you that the Spanish Police are more clever than the Germans.'
We slept until midday, when one of the squarely built farm women brought us a splendid golden-brown stew with mutton, beans, garlic, onion, and pimento in it There were beakers of a strange pinkish wine, strong and sweet.
Our new guide returned at five o'clock. He led us into the country for a few miles and then made us crouch beside him in a wood not far from what appeared to be a mixture between a level-crossing and a station. Perhaps in England it would have been called a 'halt'.
'That town is Figueras,' he said, pointing to a glow of lights in the distance. 'We are not going to board the train there. But if the police search the train and arrest you, then you must say that you boarded it at Figueras, and your tickets, which I now give to you, will bear out that statement Is that understood?'
He waited while I translated.
'Next thing. We must not be seen by anybody outside the train while we board it at this station. We shall therefore leave this hiding-place just before the train arrives. It will slow down well before the station and we shall jump in while it is moving. You will follow me into a long carriage like a Pullman car. You will separate, and will sit singly in opposite corner* of the carriage. You will speak to nobody. I shall leave you in that carriage and sit in the carriage nearer the engine. The trip will take about two hours. When it is time to alight I will walk back through the carriage. I will say nothing. I will not even look at you, but you must all individually get up and follow me. Is that understood?
'Now listen carefully. We must not be seen alighting from this train. You will follow me out on to the rear platform of the carriage. The last of you will shut the door behind him, and we shall all jump off while the train is moving. Be careful how you do this. We will drop off the right side of the train. Let your right foot gently down until it touches the ground, then run. We have no time for accidents. Is that understood?
'We will then find ourselves in a town. You will follow me at one-hundred-metre intervals, but staggered That is to say that the man who follows me will be on the opposite pavement, and so on. When we pass the main hospital of the town we shall find a car waiting for us, a large black car. The car will allow us to pass, then will follow us to a piece of waste ground, where we shall all jump in. Is that clearly understood?'
'Oh, boy,'said Charlie, when I had translated the last bit Does that car sound good !'
Although his plans had sounded a little fantastic to tired men, everything went exactly as he had predicted until the bit about the car.
We passed the main hospital, we turned up a side street, we arrived at the piece of waste ground. But not a car was to be seen. Our guide was so angry that he could scarcely speak intelligible French.
There has been some accident. Wait here while I telephone for instructions. Remain standing against that wall, motionless and in absolute silence.'
It was so cold out there in the moonlight that it was impossible to remain motionless without demanding frost-bite. He had placed us against the wall because the moon was casting dark shadows. We stood there doing the cabman's exercise, and stamping our feet on the iron-hard ground.
Our position was made the more uncomfortable by contrast in that there was a laige block of wide-windowed flats at the edge of our waste ground. Through the plate-glass windows we could see men and women sitting around, talking or reading or sewing or wanning their buttocks by the dancing flames of large wood fires.
The guide's bad temper had not abated with his telephone conversation. All he would say was: That creature has trains on the brain'
At length he calmed down sufficiently to tell me that our plans had been changed ; we now had to jump a freight train.
This is no easy matter. How many of you have jumped freight trains before? Have you?
'No,' I said.
'No,' said Charlie.
'Yup,'said the Trapper.
'Ah, one at least. That one must mount last of all. You, Englishman, since you have a bad leg, will mount first. Now, follow me.'
He led us to the dark shade of a shelter in a cluster of miserable allotments. We were a few hundred yards outside a large marshalling yard and our shelter was fifty yards from the line. This guide was certainly an expert on trains. We waited for over an hour, and whenever a train pulled out of the marshalling yard he would peer at it in the moonlight.
'Confound it, not that one' he exclaimed. These Spanish railways are really damnable. Always late, never on time, I earnestly assure you.'
At last he shouted: This is ours. Follow me closely.'
He darted down to the railway, scaled the fence, and soon we were running with him alongside the train, which was picking up speed. I was carrying Charlie's parcel, and my first jump for the little iron ladder at the back of a truck failed because the weight of the parcels swung me round. At the second attempt all went well The others followed me. The guide hung on to the ladder for a minute.
"Count the stations,'he shrieked at us above the roar of the train. 'Just before the sixth station, jump off. I shall remain on the truck behind this one.'He vanished, climbing over the buffers.
Those Spanish freight trucks had tiny brake cabins stuck at the back, the roof of the cabin being raised some three feet above the roof of the truck. There was just room for the four of us to stand upright beside the heavy iron brake-wheel Any movement was out of the question. The top of the truck, stretching in front of us, was covered with a five-inch layer of gleaming white frost There were no windows on the cab. As we stood squeezed there, like tinned asparagus in a refrigerator, little icicles formed on our hair and our eyelashes. The language in our cabin was terrible. When the train stopped at small stations, railwaymen would walk or run past us tapping at the wheels, unhooking a wagon behind, or shouting at somebody in the distance.
We saw the guide leap from the train like an elongated monkey, and scuttle off the track. We all did our best to emulate him, and followed him along a path that circled the sixth station and then rejoined the railway.
'We have a walk of three hours in front of us, going fast,'the guide told us. 'Most of it will be easy walking along the railway line'
By this time my leg appeared to have got accustomed to walking, but otherwise I knew that I had a chill and no amount of fast walking could warm me.
We arrived in the early hours of the morning at a handsome farm-house with shuttered windows and beautiful wrought-ironwork on balconies and gates. The guide found a key in the garden and opened the door of a garage containing, of all things, an Austin 7. From there he led us through a hall which held a lot of shining old furniture and a suit of armour, and then into a large kitchen.
A middle-aged couple came out in woolly dressing-gowns to meet us. They lit a huge fire of brushwood and gave us coffee and white, home-baked bread with a lot of butter. The wife was pleased with me because she was French and I spoke her language.
'You have the red lights of fever in your cheeks and you must go to bed' she told me. She explained to the Americans in English with a powerful French accent: 'The Englishman must have the single bed tonight because he is sick. You three will have to sleep in the double bed, but it is a very beeg one.'
On the upstairs landing there was a portrait of General de Gaulle with the British, American and French flags hanging above it The bedroom was airy. French windows opened to a balcony with a view of moonlit hills and vineyards. There were linen sheets on my bed and coloured blankets edged with silk.
The following morning they gave me some kind of draught, but nothing to eat I slept most of the day, half -conscious only that my American friends were being spirited away from me.
I was alone when I awoke at three o'clock and Madame gave me a treble brandy with warm milk.
<You will be well enough to eat dinner,'Madame said. 'Many of our young men arrive in your state. Sometimes we get the doctor and he says that it is a physical state, but I do not agree. He says it is a plain chill caught in the mountains and exaggerated by physical exhaustion. That is why it always passes quickly, he says, when the sick man has time to rest and sleep in a good bed.
'But I look at the young men who arrive like that, and I believe that the thing he calls a chill is a symptom of mental strain, nothing physical. It is because the young man has been wanting so much to cross the mountains, and for so long. He crosses them and something that was taut inside him suddenly sags. The doctor says it is a chill But doctors are still groping in the dark. Now you are all right I will bandage your bad leg (the doctor must see it in Barcelona), then you will put on your new clothes which you see laid out there, and you will come down and eat a solid meal with us. Just me and my son. My husband has gone to Barcelona with your friends. We like eating, my son and I'
While I memorized a plan of the route from Barcelona station to the British Consulate, Madame made a few quick alterations in my clothes. They were new clothes, Spanish ones, so that I should not arouse suspicions on the way to Barcelona. Then we ate.
We ate first a risotto with mussels and oysters. Then for the three of us she brought in a platter with twelve large steaks upon it Each of us ate four steaks, underdone, rubbed with garlic and pepper and salt, and cooked in butter. Then we had salad with dressing made from olive-oil grown and pressed on the farm itself. I was surprised to find that I still wanted to sleep.
It was a small village station, and the passenger* waiting on the unsheltered platform when I arrived early next morning were going to Barcelona for the day's work. It was still dark. Now I was respectably dressed (according to the standards prevailing locally) and they had given me a second-class ticket, since those were the least crowded carriages on that train.
The only thing that worried Madame about my appearance was my long, straw-coloured hair, which stuck out in a kind of ruff over the back of my collar. I had not been able to have it cut properly since le cocu had taken me to the barber's shop near the cathedral in Strasbourg, three months earlier. It had been cut once at Les Daines by the tall railway policeman who had helped us to leave Annecy station. He had been a barber in civil life, and he claimed a barber's altitude record, for he had cut the hair of maquisards high up on Mont Blanc. But he had asked me: 'I suppose you want la coupe anglaise? And when I replied in the affirmative he shaped the hair around my ears but left the back uncut.
Long before my train arrived in Barcelona my carriage was filled with suburbanites. Once again I was obliged to feign sleep in order to avoid being drawn into conversation.
I hurried through the station, well-lit and imposing, and crossed the town by memory from the plan Madame had made me memorize at the farm. They had told me that I should have no help on this walk unless I lost my way, but that I should be watched. And half-way to the Consulate I saw our train-jumping expert on the other side of the street. He stopped to light a cigarette, and cast one glint from his black eyes at me.
I found the Consulate without difficulty and, as instructed, walked quickly past the Spanish policeman who sat in the hall and up the staircase. At the top there was a man behind a desk, and rows of well-dressed townspeople waiting to make inquiries or to see people.
I gave my name to the man behind the desk.
'Just step along to that door marked "Waiting-room'', Mr. Millar'
A young Englishwoman came into the waiting-room to find me.
'You are Geoige Millar. We have been waiting for you for a long time.'
I was almost home. . . .
... In Madrid George Millar learned that the two Americans, dark Gable and the Chauve Souris, had reached Spain and were in Miranda prison. Soon he himself was sent to Gibraltar and so to England where he heard that Wally Binns had been recaptured but had again escaped and was now in Switzerland.
Once home George Millar volunteered for special service and after intensive training was parachuted back into France to work with the Maquis. For his war-time exploits he was decorated with the DSO and MC and made Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur with the Croix de Guerre avec Palmes.