I have just finished preparing the last part of Undercover in Austria for publication on this Web Site. It is perhaps worthwhile recording how the material which makes up this account came into my possession.
Throughout my childhood (and indeed to this day) I delighted in the company of my Aunt Gillian, my mother's older sister. She never married, but, perhaps surprisingly, she always seemed to enjoy the company of children. My younger brother and I were frequent visitors to the country cottage where she lived.
On occasions, Aunt Gillian would have another visitor, another woman much older than her. I called her Aunt Flora, although she wasn't related to me either by blood or by marriage. At times, Aunt Flora seemed as much of a child as my brother and I. She had a permanent twinkle in her eye and a ready smile, often broadening into a mischievous grin.
One of the delights of Aunt Flora's company was that she could perform magic tricks. It was only much later that I discovered that in her younger days, she had been a stage magician of some renown as children we took her tricks for granted as part of the attention we expected adults to lavish on us.
In 1998, at the age of 93, Aunt Flora decided that she was getting a little old to look after a house by herself and moved into a residential hotel at the seaside. She had all the creature comforts she could wish for but little space for the accumulated flotsam of a long and active life. Her surplus possessions were accordingly redistributed to whatever good homes she could find for them.
Amongst the items that Aunt Flora passed to me, was a four-drawer filing cabinet packed full of diaries and notes. She explained that any sensitive or secret material had either been destroyed or sent to the appropriate authorities, but that what remained might be of interest to me as a writer. I did not understand what she meant until I opened the cabinet the afternoon it arrived and began to read the papers she had given me. It quickly became apparent that her career had combined the roles of stage magician and secret agent. Enthralled, I read far into the night and resolved to publish her story.
Most of the material contained in this account is a straightforward editing of Flora MacKenzie's personal account of her adventures in Austria in 1938. However, a few of the people mentioned in the story are still alive and the historical background it is set against echoes through time to the present day. It has therefore been necessary to disguise people, places and events to some extent. Astute readers may therefore find some inconsistencies and non-sequiteurs in the telling of the tale.
The narrative nevertheless describes a true story of courage and daring in the face of great danger. Flora herself has enjoyed reading it I hope you will too.
Copyright © 1999 Gillian B
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