Norma Rogers Ch. 06bynorthlander©
The continuing story of Norma Rogers, living through the Second World War as a young mother alone, raising twins while holding a job as the head of a Voluntary Ambulance Unit in London. Also serving as an ATS officer she teaches methods of patient rescue from damaged buildings and transporting them. She has now been called upon to make contact with a German officer who, disgusted with what he has seen in Russia and how his family have been treated, wishes to provide information to the Allies, who are planning the invasion of Europe. This story is fiction, the creation and property of the author, and is not based on the persons or actions of anyone, living or dead, rather being an amalgam of the many heroic actions of WW2
I'm Pat Rogers, wife of Jake Rogers, writing the story of Jake's grandparents, Norma and Jim Rogers, as Norma outlined it for me. Most of it is in her own words, except where emotions crept in and I had to write the sense of what she said, rather than the words she had difficulty expressing through her tears. I felt privileged to hear what she told me, much of it unknown to the members of her family other than her deceased husband. She had been bound by the British Official Secrets Act not to make most of her wartime experiences public for 50 years, so I was the first to hear of her secret life.
Norma, Chapter 6
The crossing from Holyhead to Dun Loaghaire was pretty much what I had expected for December; the waves in the Irish Sea tossed the ship around quite heavily, and we adults didn't get a lot of rest. At least we were not seasick. We had booked a cabin so the babies could sleep, and they were quite comfortable, as we had tucked them into the one berth tightly so they didn't roll about in the berth. When I thought we should be getting close to shore, I went up on deck for a last cigarette, feeling the motion of the ship easing as we entered Dublin Bay. A short distance away off the port bow I could see the lights of Dun Loaghaire, far brighter than the limited lighting that was allowed as we had slipped out of Holyhead. I wondered what the next few days would bring. I had mixed feelings, but couldn't help feeling a little excitement at the thought of what I would be called upon to do. I never would have dreamed what life had in store for me when I volunteered for the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service.
When I finished the cigarette and my thoughts, the ship was well into Dublin Bay and a lot closer to port. I went back down to the cabin to help my parents prepare the babies for disembarkation. While we were doing this, the ship came alongside the quay and, as it was tied up, the engines cut to a quiet rumble. Preparing to disembark, I stood with John in my arms on the deck close to where the rails had been opened to allow the gangplank access. The top of the gangplank was swung inboard and secured, and as soon as the bottom was lowered to the quay, a car drove up to it and stopped. Mhairi and John got out and looked up at us, but all that really registered with me then was the smiles of welcome on their faces. I was carrying little John, Mum was carrying Angela and dad followed on with a couple of bags while one of the crew followed us with the last of the luggage. Oh, it was trying work to travel with everything for twins. As we set foot on land, Mhairi just stepped forward and enveloped John and me in her arms. "Och, welcome, my dears, it's just fine that you can spend the holiday with us. The whole family is waiting to see you again and meet Angela and Tom. The entire village has been talking about youse for days! Tom, Angela, you are being made honorary Irish, but watch it in the pub, there are some rare scoundrels in there, so there are."
"Mhairi, It's so good of you to let us come over and stay with you; it will mean that on the first Christmas the babies really are aware of, they will be surrounded by family."
"Sure, it's a real pleasure, and besides, I'm sure your mum brought her recipe book over so we can cook up a storm."
Mum laughed, "I did that, Mhairi, and it's going to be a pleasure if you will let me share a kitchen where there is no rationing."
"I'll let you share, but the last word is with Annie O'Leary, our cook and housekeeper. She started with John's family when he was a child, and when we married and took over the farm, she came as part of the bargain. She is a lovely woman, a widow who has never remarried, and while it may be our house, it's her kitchen. She is a wonderful cook, and if you make a friend of her she'll never turn down an offer of help. I'm sure she would be happy to give you her recipes if you became her friend!
A young man who drove up with a small lorry interrupted us. John came over to introduce him. "This is Sean. He is giving us a hand on the farm right now, and will be taking the luggage so there will be enough room in the car for everyone."
Dad interjected, "Well, if it will help, I can go along with Sean and make more room for Norma, Angela and the babies."
John spoke up, "Tom, that would be great in the morning, but right now we are just going to a hotel where we have rooms booked; that's a lot easier and safer than trying to navigate our country roads during the night. Anyway, I bet all of you are tired out after your rough crossing, so we'll get some rest and get on our way after breakfast."
The room was really welcome. Mhairi had arranged for two cots, and as soon as the twins were changed and down, they were off to sleep. I didn't take long either - as soon as my head hit the pillow I was out, and I didn't wake until I heard a tapping on the door. I looked at my watch to see it was 8am. Who wanted me awake this early? Opening the door, I found Mhairi, all dressed and ready for the day. She smiled and said, "Well, lass, now that I have you up you can get cleaned up while I look after the twins for a wee while."
"Oh, thanks, Mhairi, that's just what I need, a quick bath after all that travelling. If the twins wake up, there is some juice for them in that small bag. After I'm done, we can get them cleaned up and changed."
I gloried in the hot bath, something I had sorely missed during the many times in London when fuel was short. After quickly getting dried, I went back to my room. Mhairi was in her element, sitting on the floor with the two babies beside her, feeding them some cereal and milk that she had ordered from room service. I walked over and sat down beside them. "Oh, you two, whatever will I do? Granny is spoiling you already!" The twins just looked at me with the cute baby grins they make. That just made me feel all soft inside, not at all like the woman I have to be at the ambulance and fire station. That wasn't the first time it had made me feel like I lived two lives, one the wife and mother trying to raise two children without their father, and the other as the tight and demanding ATS officer, demanding more of herself than of those working for her. Oh, this damn war! When will it be over so that we can get back to normal? Come to think of it, what will normal be like? Some things will never be the same ever again. I just hope that my work will be of some help in ending this.
Mhairi put Angela beside her on the floor and took my hand. "Child, something tells me that there is more to this trip than meets the eye. You are troubled, my dear, and the look in your eyes is far, far away. What is on your mind?"
"Mhairi, I have to ask you to trust me. I can't tell you the whole story, but I have to meet someone on the 15th in Galway. I have been told that it is vital to the war effort, and the person will only meet Jim or me. As Jim is in India, it has to be me. I'm scared to death about it, but I have to do that first. Then, hopefully, I will be able to relax and enjoy the holiday and your company."
Mhairi spoke, keeping her voice low."I don't think I would need to have three guesses to name the person. I can think of only one German who would ask for Jim or you, and that is Rudi. If it is, you will find him very different. We met him at a function in Dublin about three weeks ago. He was injured on the Russian front and is now very serious, quiet and thoughtful, not at all the boastful officer that he was the night you met him at the reception. I actually pitied him rather than felt any hard feelings. But, girl, rest assured you won't be going alone. We will make sure that you are very well guarded. 'Tis a good thing that I arranged to have a nanny for the wee bairns to give you a rest while you are here, so they will be well looked after when you have to make the meeting."
"Mhairi, you're the best mother in law a body could have! A nanny yet! I've never known such luxury. I can never repay you."
"I would never let you pay me, my dear, and besides, it gives Mairead some pocket money for when she goes back to the hospital. She is just finishing her nursing training in Dublin and has a few weeks off. It gives us a chance to help her in a way that she will accept. She jumped at the chance to make a little money. You will meet her later today at the farm."
We took the babies to the bathroom and bathed and changed them, getting them ready to travel. I quickly washed out their nappies, putting them in a waterproof bag together with the rest, telling Mhairi that the first thing I would have to do when we got to the farm was wash children's clothes. Then, ready to face the day, we went down to breakfast. Mum and Dad were already there with John and Sean, and the waiter started serving us as soon as we sat. The breakfast was wonderful; bacon, sausage, eggs and toast, things we could never get in London, and the cook even made a little scrambled egg for the twins. The sea voyage must have made me hungry as, for a change, I ate everything on the plate. That was very different from my first trip over, but this time I wasn't pregnant.
After breakfast, we loaded the car and the little lorry and set off for the farm, Dad and Sean muffled to the eyebrows as the driving compartment was open to the weather, arriving at the farm around midafternoon. To Mum and Dad, it was a beautiful area that they had never seen before. Even though it was a winter day, the sun was shining and, while the trees were bare, the fields were still green and the hills had the purple tinge of heather. In that particularly gentle light that seems to be reserved for Ireland, it looked so beautiful. No matter where I have travelled since, the light has never been quite the same. Immediately on getting out of the car, I could smell the peat smoke as it burned on the fires. We walked into a warm kitchen, the peat fire augmented by the stove on which simmered a pot of soup with the tantalizing smell of ham and peas.
The door had been opened by a short, grey haired woman, and as I walked in, she gave me a broad smile. "You must be young Mrs. Rogers. I'm Annie O'Leary. I missed you when you were here on your honeymoon as I was away to my sisters while she was sick. Mairead is away up the stairs putting the baby's beds straight, so they can go up if they are tired. Now, you sit yourself down and I'll fetch you some tea and biscuits; herself will be wanting them anyway."
I returned her smile, "Annie, please I'm Norma to all. Mrs. Rogers is my mother in law, and I'm just not used to the title yet."
Mhairi broke in, "Now, Annie, don't be making me out to be a poor hostess and housewife! I'll help you with the tea, for sure. Let me introduce you to Mrs. Angela Walker, Norma's mother. As she has made me welcome in her kitchen, she is also welcome in mine. I'm sure that we will all get along. The gentleman is her husband, Mr. Tom Walker. Being the perfect gentleman he is, he left the car to the ladies and rode here in the lorry with Sean. He deserves his tea first, the poor man, having had to ride in that cold and bumpy thing for so long."
As we sat down in the living room, a young woman dressed in a nurse's apron came down the stairs. She was slim, dark haired, very pretty, and had a warm welcoming smile. Mhairi stood and introduced her, "Norma, this is Mairead O'Riley from the next farm. I took the liberty of asking her to be a nanny for the bairns while you are here. I've known her family for years and seen her grow from a bairn to this beautiful young lady."
I interjected, "Mairead, please call me Norma. I'm curious, but isn't this an imposition for you? Mhairi told me that you were on leave from a hospital in Dublin where you are studying nursing. Surely that doesn't give you a lot of spare time."
She smiled back at me, "To be sure, Norma, and I'll admit that I can use the money when I go back to Dublin, but it is no imposition at all. I would only be at home studying and looking after the young ones anyway. I'm walking out with a young man who will be finishing his training as a doctor in six months. He hopes to get a position with a doctor for a year to see if he wants to be in general practice or to specialize. I want to go on to take midwifery training, and that will be another year at the Rotunda, so we are trying to save as much as we can to get married after himself makes his decision and I qualify."
"I hope that my twins are not too much for you."
"Sure and haven't I had a lot of experience looking after my wee brothers and sisters since I was 8 years old? I'm the eldest in the family, and Ma surely saw that I was well practiced so I would be good with my own children when they should come along. Now, can I take those wee mites off your hands for a while and get them cleaned up?" Away she went up the stairs with a child on each hip, talking to them as if she had known them all their lives, with them holding on and taking in this new person who held them.
Mhairi looked at her as she left. "She impresses me as a lass who has decided exactly what she wants, and I've no doubt that she and her young man will make quite a team when they are trained. She looks as if she will make a good midwife, and an even better wife and mother." I couldn't help but agree.
John and Sean came in with the bags, and Mhairi went upstairs with them to show them where to put them. When they came down, she said, "Norma, you and the twins will be in yours and Jim's room where you were last time. Tom and Angela, you will be getting young John and Mary's old room. We had two labourer's cottages knocked into one for them, so now they have their own house. With the two young ones, they surely needed it and it made things much quieter for John and me." The last she said with a wicked little grin that left us with no doubts about what she meant. Her fiery red hair and well toned body just hinted at the undercurrents that lay beneath her easy attitude. John just listened in and gave a big smile.
We chatted for a while about how we had been, how we were enjoying the respite from the German bombing and how the repairs were progressing in London, with the transport system coming first, then various government ministries getting priority. Whole streets were being cleared in the East End, which had suffered a great deal of damage, and when they would be rebuilt was anyone's guess, but likely not until well after the end of the war. I told them the latest that I had heard from Jim, and as I hadn't told them of the hand delivered letter, I showed it to them. After reading it, John said, "Reading between the lines a little, it looks as if those troops could be facing a fair bit of danger. It doesn't seem to be the most hospitable corner of the world, and if the troops you count on as allies don't have their heart in it, that makes it more difficult to do the job. You have to watch your backs as well as your front."
When Mum and Dad went up to get cleaned up, Mhairi got more serious as turned to John, "John, Norma might have a problem." His head shot up and he looked at me. "No, you great amadan, not that kind of a problem," she continued with a smile. "She has to meet with someone from the German Embassy. We think it is Rudi Von Ansel, but she is going to need protection. She didn't want anyone from the British Office as they would stick out like a sore thumb."
He thought for a minute, "I suppose we could use John, and Donald O'Leary would likely do it if I asked him. Both are fair shots with pistols if needed. Norma, why do you need to meet him? Can you tell us that much?"
"He asked for either Jim or me to meet him, and that is why I think it will be Rudi. It seems he may have had a change of heart and wants to help. The only way to judge how serious he is, is to meet him and talk to him."
John looked at me, "Yes, but why you or Jim? You left him with no doubts about how you felt the last time you met."
"I suppose he feels that having met Jim and me before, he can maybe trust us more than some stranger, after all. He did really ask only for Jim. They had been together before for several years, even if only in school. I'm just a replacement, as Jim is in India."
John replied, "I still don't like the idea of you meeting him alone."
Mhairi interjected, "Sure it is just the fact that you don't feel that they should be relying on Norma to meet the man. Anyway, she is meeting him in a lounge bar, and he doesn't know either young John or Donald. One of them could be in the room to keep an eye on things."
"It isn't that at all. Let's face it, women have played their part in war right through history, but I just don't like the idea of one of our family being involved, and I think of Norma as family, even though her country is at war and we are not."
I spoke up, "I think of myself as part of the Rogers family, but this is something I have to do. Eventually we are going to have to invade Europe, and that will involve the loss of many lives. If the meeting helps save even one life then it is worthwhile, and I'm sure that if Jim were here he would back me up."
Mhairi looked over at her husband. "John, I think you are outnumbered on this one, but it would be fine if you could arrange for it to be more secure. Do you think we could arrange something with the Galway Hotel? We are there often enough."
"I'll call them tomorrow. It isn't a busy time of year, so I don't suppose that they would mind keeping the room as empty as possible."
I spent the next two days just relaxing at the farm. Between Annie and Mairead I was relieved of all of the usual baby chores, and just took them out in the pram Mhairi had acquired, for afternoon walks. It was enjoyable, the weather balmy, as the Irish say 'A fair day, and the games of cards in the kitchen at night were fun, but at the back of my mind was always the thought of the meeting. Wednesday dawned cold and clear, and after lunch we set out for the hotel with John senior, John junior and Donald, a shorter man who seemed darker complexioned than Jim's family. He was carrying a small case which I later found contained two revolvers and ammunition. I appreciated the irony of the situation; here I was, a British officer in the Irish Republic going to meet a German officer who, I hoped, would supply information, all the while guarded by members of the IRA.
When we got to Galway the two Johns and I went to another hotel for our evening meal, while Donald went to the Galway Hotel and had his dinner in the dining room there. That way, if he was seen later in the lounge as well, he would be regarded as a guest rather than a stranger. After supper we went to the Galway Hotel and just before the time of the meeting, young John took a walk through the lounge bar. He left by another door and came back to us in the lobby.
"Your man is there, sitting at a table about half the way down the room on the right, reading a book. Donald is on the far side of the room beside a small bar, just as if he is a guest having a beer. There is nobody else there, and there won't be once you go through the door, we'll make sure of that now."