MacKenzie and Marks' American Tour

MacKenzie and Marks' American Tour

by Gillian B

Chapter 6: The Vanishing Act

7.45 pm Friday 11 October 1940
The Hotel Excelsior, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

As I worked to release the Canadian servicewoman who had tumbled out of our wardrobe bound and gagged, I reflected morosely on the number of times this situation had arisen already on our mission. The message was clear enough: our enemies knew where to find us, despite the rigorous security precautions which surrounded our mission.

It took a few minutes to get the woman free. Her wrists were crossed and bound behind her back with rope then her arms lashed tightly to her body. Her legs had been bound at the ankles and knees. Even that much binding would be debilitating if it had been endured for any length of time but her captors had made it much worse for her. She had been folded up with rope under her thighs and round behind her back so her knees were almost touching her chin. Her ankles were similarly tied back and finally a length of rope linked her wrist and ankle bindings, pulling brutally hard on both. The gag was a simple but effective combination of a rag filling her mouth and another drawn tight between her teeth to hold it in place.

Once I had hacked all the ropes away, we helped the woman sit in an armchair. She seemed to have no obvious injuries apart from cramp and rope marks but I asked Diane to find a medical officer anyway as a precaution. The woman shook her head emphatically. "Too public," she said weakly. "Help me get to Intelligence so my people know what's happened."

"You're with Canadian Military Intelligence?" I asked stupidly.

"You weren't supposed to know," she replied, "and, anyway, I really do work with ENSA."

"She can't go out in that state," Sarah observed. Sarah was right; the woman's uniform was very crumpled, one shoulder seam had split and at least two buttons had come adrift. Her wrists were red and raw from the ropes and there were dark bruises either side of her mouth.

"My greatcoat should cover most of it," Diane offered. "It's certainly long enough."

The woman looked Diane's lanky frame up and down. "Long enough, certainly, but Air Force?" We all laughed, relieved that she felt well enough to joke.

We helped the woman to her feet and eased her arms stiffly into the sleeves of Diane's RAF blue greatcoat, which came down to her ankles, hiding the torn stockings. A scarf pulled up over her chin and my navy blue watch cap helped hide most of the ravages to her face.

With our assistance, the woman was able to walk, a little unsteadily, to the stairs then stiffly and painfully to the lobby.

8.15 pm Guests of Military Intelligence

As we walked, the woman introduced herself as Lieutenant Michelle Leclerc, formerly attached to the Mounties in Montreal but transferred to Intelligence on the outbreak of war.

A short distance from the hotel, we stopped at a rather undistinguished bar filling one corner of the ground floor of a grim-looking brick tenement. A military policeman eyed us carefully as we entered.

The heat, noise and dense tobacco smoke within assaulted all our senses at one. The bar was packed with men and women from all branches of service and many nationalities. By some sort of consensus, the men were crowded along the bar and the women were mainly around tables along the opposite wall. Both sexes seemed to have no trouble ensuring a steady supply of alcohol.

Lt Leclerc directed us to a door at the far end of the room. It opened into a dusty corridor which evidently served the toilets. She led us to a door at the end which looked as though it should be a broom cupboard. Glancing behind, she ushered us in and shut the door behind her. After a moment's darkness, she switched the light on; we were indeed in a broom cupboard, surrounded by brushes, mops, buckets and bottles of bleach. Lt Leclerc felt under one of the shelves. There was a barely audible click. As she pressed against the back wall of the cupboard, it swung back to reveal a dimly lit corridor beyond.

Lt Leclerc directed us to go through the hidden doorway then doused the light in the broom cupboard and closed the door behind her. I noticed that this side of the disguised door was steel plated and close fitting. Almost immediately, we were joined by two Military Police sergeants: a man covering us with a Webley revolver, and a woman.

"Keep your hands in sight and follow me, please, ladies," the woman sergeant commanded.

"Sorry about that, but it's standard procedure when we have visitors we don't know," Leclerc explained apologetically. "It's obvious we have security leak and I need to be sure it isn't you three."

We walked a short distance, with the silent and unsmiling military policeman following our every move with his gun, then turned into a side room, apparently a guard room of some kind.

The policewoman invited us to remove our coats then patted each of us down, placing anything that could conceivably be used as a weapon in a tray. She asked us for our service identity cards which we dutifully handed over. She opened the top drawer of an old steel filing cabinet in the corner of the room and removed something with a loud clatter. My jaw dropped as I realised that she was clutching a bunch of handcuffs. "Sit down, please," she invited, indicating a row of chairs.

Lt Leclerc was apologetic again. "We need to check you are who you say you are. We've had Germans claiming to be Poles and all sorts through Halifax. I'm really sorry, but it shouldn't take long. We've had some close calls with people we brought in for questioning, so we don't take chances now."

The woman sergeant was meantime busy handcuffing our wrists behind the backs of our chairs. As she did so, I realised that each chair had a U shaped metal staple attached to the back, through which the cuffs could be threaded before being fitted to the prisoner. She followed up by cuffing our ankles, taking the chain of the cuffs behind the bar between the front legs of the chair as she did so. As I watched Sarah being cuffed, I realised that the chairs were also bolted to the concrete floor. They were clearly taking no chances whatever.

"Can we trust you to keep quiet while you're waiting?" Leclerc asked. "Only, with prisoners, we usually gag and hood them till we have them in the cells."

"We ought to gag them at least, Ma'am," the woman sergeant hissed.

"But this is just a precaution; they aren't prisoners," Leclerc returned.

"They will be if they don't check out," retorted the policewoman.

This argument sounded as though it could run on for some time, so I joined in. "Take whatever precautions you feel are necessary. We won't hold it against you," I assured them.

They decided that we should be gagged but that hoods were unnecessary. Strips of terry cloth were produced, clearly cut for the purpose, each about two feet long with a large knot tied in the centre. We were assured that they were clean as the knots were eased into our mouths and the ends knotted behind our necks.

The male military police sergeant sat down on a chair facing us, holstered his revolver, folded his arms and watched us impassively. Lt Leclerc and the woman sergeant went off to verify our credentials.

As we sat waiting, I reflected on the irony that as a result of rescuing Lt Leclerc, we appeared to be prisoners of our own side. I still harboured faint misgivings as to whether they really were our side.

8.45 pm Honoured Guests

I recognised the voice even before I could pick out the words. It was not a particularly loud voice but penetrating; the sort of voice you could pick out across a crowded room.

"Yeah, that's them for sure," the owner of the voice announced as he entered the room where we waited patiently in our handcuffs. He was a slightly built man with sandy coloured hair and a ready grin whom I recognised immediately.

"You do realise who you've got there, don't you?" he went on. "This is about the finest bunch of escape artists you're ever likely to see. Frankly I'm surprised they've put up with this nonsense and kept them bracelets on."

Sarah and I exchanged glances and would have been grinning broadly by now if we hadn't been gagged. We brought our hands out from behind our backs to show that in fact we hadn't kept the bracelets on. The looks of disbelief on the faces of Leclerc and the two sergeants were worth any amount of applause.

I reached up and untied my gag. "Captain Mason, you are a good man to know in a tight corner," I told him as soon as I could speak.

"Major now," he corrected, pointing to the crown on his shoulder. "Perhaps you'd better tell these people how you did that so they don't get nightmares."

"Well, I don't usually give away my secrets," I replied with a smile, "but perhaps I'll make an exception in the interests of Canadian national security."

I reached round behind me and produced a steel hairpin. "As soon as I realised those handcuffs were meant for us, I pulled a pin out of my hair in readiness."

"Me too," chimed Sarah, who had also removed her gag.

The sergeant who had cuffed us was looking seriously rattled. "But I checked your hands before I put the cuffs on. I always do, just in case someone has something to use as a lock pick."

"And so you did," I continued smoothly, "but you didn't look at the tail of my jacket, which was where I had clipped the hairpin."

"Mine was on the end of my sleeve," Sarah added.

"They are modern double-lock handcuffs, so the traditional method of forcing the ratchet open with a shim won't work. However, the keyholes are wide and the locks open easily once you push the spring back."

There was a click and a rattle from the vicinity of Diane and her hands came into view, her handcuffs still dangling from one wrist. "Done it!" she exclaimed in triumph as she pulled her gag down.

"Diane is still learning the business," I commented, "and I think that may well have been her first public handcuff escape."

The military policeman who had been guarding us spoke for the first time. He had a surprisingly soft voice for such a large man. "So you got your hands free but how would you have gotten past me?"

"Not hard," I replied. "I'm sure you would have come across to help if I was choking on my gag. We've all had unarmed combat training, so with two or three pairs of hands on the job and you not expecting anything, you would have been dead before you knew what was happening."

The policeman blanched visibly and there was a sudden and profound silence.

"It's not a big issue," I reassured them. "You just need to realise that the enemy will try to kill at every opportunity unless there is a good reason not to. I'm sure someone in the Canadian military will be able to give you training to deal with this."

9.00 pm Strategy and Tactics

I had been hoping for a more relaxed meal than the corned beef sandwiches and mugs of tea we were served during our discussion of what had gone wrong.

Lt Leclerc had largely recovered from her ordeal, although she would carry the bruises for a few days. She was adamant that her instructions from London were that only she should know of our arrival in Halifax. Mason confirmed that he had been totally unaware of our arrival until that evening. On the face of it, it appeared likely that the leak had occurred in London rather than locally.

Major Mason's job was as a general sniffer-out of Central European people who might not what they seemed (a role for which his previous experience as attaché in Vienna had well prepared him). He had not been aware of anyone behaving suspiciously or any unusual interest in the Excelsior. However, with so many people about, an individual, if careful, could slip past the net.

We asked Leclerc to describe what had happened to her. Her recollection of the attack was clear but ultimately unhelpful. She had gone to the room at the Excelsior where we were to be accommodated in order to carry out a search for anything amiss or suspicious.

She had already done an initial sweep of the room and was doing a more painstaking search through cupboards and other nooks and crannies when the attack occurred. She was actually checking under one of the beds when she heard someone enter the room. She wriggled out immediately but felt the muzzle of a gun pressed to her back as she emerged.

As a well-trained police officer, she grabbed the initiative. I knew from my own experience that if you know exactly where a gun is like that, you can still gain the upper hand. She flipped herself over, so that she was lying on the gun, twisting it out of its owner's hand as she did so. Her assailant, a woman, was completely unprepared and found herself seized by the throat with Lt Leclerc's thumbs on her windpipe. It would have ended at that point had there not been a second intruder. Leclerc found that there was a man standing over her, calmly aiming a gun at a point between her eyes. Reluctantly, she let go of the woman's neck and had no choice but to submit to the brutally severe binding which followed.

Lt Leclerc's instructions had come directly from the Admiralty in London. This surprised me, as I would have expected the War Office to deal with Canadian Army Intelligence. However, most of the work done by the office in Halifax was to do with shipping or people passing through the port, so the direct link with Naval Intelligence made sense. Checking out our room at the Excelsior had been Leclerc's own initiative but her instruction to take care of us until we boarded the train to the USA had come from Lady Gillian Beaumaris and had been given verbally in person via the scrambler phone.

I was puzzled. The source of the leak had to be in London unless Lt Leclerc was herself a traitor. It was, of course, not impossible that she was a traitor, but for there to have been a whole chain of incidents hampering our journey and for them not to have a common source was just stretching probability too far. Everything seemed to point towards Lady Gillian being that common source as she was our primary point of contact and the only person who knew our planned itinerary in advance. It was unbelievable, but as Sherlock Holmes pointed out, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

I concluded reluctantly that if we were to succeed in our mission, we would have to sever contact with London. I was not supposed to make contact with London directly myself, but it should not raise too many eyebrows if I did it from a secure environment like the Military Intelligence office in Halifax. I considered sending a written message, but concluded that a brief spoken contact with my father would be better as there would be no risk of clerks or telegraphers wondering about the contents of a message.

I asked for Lt Leclerc to arrange a scrambler phone call to be set up for me direct to Rear Admiral Alexander MacKenzie at the Admiralty, even though it was still only about 4 am in London. Half an hour later, a clerk summoned me to the soundproofed room where the scrambler phone was kept. Even then I took no chances. After greeting my father, I gave him a verbal report apparently expressing my concern about dockyard security at Halifax. In my report I referred to risks from dive bombers, from divers attacking from below and from submarines approaching after diving a long way off the coast. Dive, dive, dive was our agreed code signal that I was about to go undercover and drop out of sight even from Naval Intelligence. He thanked me for the report and told me it would receive careful attention then mentioned that one of his staff had a broken leg through falling off the stage in an amateur show. Break a leg is the traditional show business wish for good luck before going on stage. I was cheered that he had understood my message and seemed to be giving me his blessing.

8.00 am Saturday 12 October 1940: Going it alone

We returned safely to our hotel room after our run-in with Canadian Military Intelligence and the remainder of the night passed uneventfully.

At first light, Sarah, Diane and I had a conference to agree our next moves. Our next public appearance was at an ENSA concert in Toronto on the Monday night and we proposed to drop out of sight until then. Lady Gillian had handled all the contact with us so far by arranging for agents to meet us but for us not to know who they were in advance. We needed to be able to avoid detection by these agents but ideally to be able to identify and observe them ourselves.

Our immediate needs were twofold. We had to break away from possible surveillance by Lt Leclerc and to merge invisibly into our surroundings.

Lt Leclerc arrived at 8.00 am as arranged. She was impressed to see that our cases and trunks were already closed ready for departure. She was, however, less pleased to see my service revolver levelled at her chest. She raised her hands with a puzzled frown on her face.

"I'm sorry," I told her, "but we need to break away from the official schedule for our tour and we need to keep you out of circulation while we disappear."

"So, I get tied up again? The second day in a row?" There was a note of exasperation tinged with anger in her voice.

"We'll do our best not to make it too uncomfortable for you, if you co-operate," I promised.

"As if I had a choice," she replied resignedly. "OK, you better get on with it."

By this time, Diane had placed a sturdy upright chair in the middle of the room and Sarah had retrieved the bundle of binding materials we had hidden under one of the beds.

Michelle Leclerc stood impassively like a small child being undressed as Diane removed her greatcoat, scarf and cap. Underneath, she was wearing an olive v-necked service sweater in place of the uniform tunic which had been damaged in the previous day's escapade. Diane politely requested Lt Leclerc to sit down and then glanced at me. I nodded in reply to Diane's unspoken question; Leclerc's sweater and skirt should be comfortable for her and should allow us to bind her securely but without causing her undue distress. We were ready to begin tying her up.

Sarah started by tying a rope around Lt Leclerc's waist, securing her to the chair back. Diane supported her arms out of the way while two more bands of rope were added, one just below her bust and one above, passing just below her armpits. Not taking any chances, Sarah doubled a long length of rope and fastened it to the top centre of the chair back before leading it down over Lt Leclerc's left shoulder. She fastened the rope to each of the three coils securing her body then brought it back up in the same way to pass over the right shoulder and be fastened off where it started.

While this was going on, I laid down my gun and started tying Lt Leclerc's legs together. I bound and cinched her ankles first, then just below her knees, leaving quite long loose ends to the ropes each time. Next, while Diane supported her feet, I carefully wrapped Lt Leclerc's skirt tightly round her legs then wound a long coil of rope around them. I tied off the ends of the ankle and knee ropes to the chair legs so Lt Leclerc's legs were held firmly but gently in place. Lastly, I wound a coil of rope over her lap and under the chair seat.

While I had been finishing off binding Lt Leclerc's legs, Diane had started on her arms. She had found a pair of woollen gloves in the pockets of Lt Leclerc's greatcoat and had made her put them on. Next she had unfolded the cuffs of her sweater and pulled the ends of the sleeves down over her hands, partly to disable her a little more and partly to afford some protection to her wrists. Diane supported Lt Leclerc's arms behind the chair back while Sarah bound her wrists together, crossed just above the joint. She took great care to bind the wrists both vertically and horizontally, finally cinching between them. Sarah and Diane knelt down to get a closer view of their work and between them carefully positioned Lt Leclerc's bound wrists and secured them to the ropes around her body and the chair back, so that the bindings supported the weight of her arms. This was partly for comfort but also prevented her getting any leverage on the ropes. Two smaller coils of rope securing Lt Leclerc's upper arms to the side members of the chair back completed the job.

While Sarah and Diane carried out a final inspection of the knots, I prepared a gag. I decided to sacrifice a clean pair of winter-weight black woollen uniform stockings. I rolled one stocking up into a ball and slid it half way down inside the other one. I looped the ends of the stocking into a half hitch and pulled it tight against the ball then tied another half hitch to complete a reef knot. I now had a tightly wrapped ball of stocking about two inches in diameter with a knot on one side from which emerged the remaining top and toe ends of the outer stocking.

I turned to Lt Leclerc and, apologising as I did so, eased the ball into her mouth, gently working it past her teeth. I knotted the loose ends behind her head securely, but not unnecessarily tightly. Diane was ready with Lt Leclerc's own scarf, which she wrapped across her face, covering it from the bridge of her nose to her throat, and tied it firmly at the back of her neck. Sarah experimentally pinched Lt Leclerc's ear lobe. The resulting yelp was almost inaudible, suggesting that the gag was sufficient for its purpose.

I debated with myself whether we should also blindfold Lt Leclerc, but concluded that it would not materially improve the security of her binding, while it would add considerably to her ordeal.

Apologising again, we left Lt Leclerc to await eventual rescue, preferably after we had put as many miles as possible between ourselves and Halifax.

I turned the key in the lock as we left the room and, to impede access as much as possible, used a pair of pliers to twist the key until it snapped off deep inside the lock.

9.30 am Protective colouring

We dispatched our cases and trunks to the railway station in a taxi to be deposited for an hour or two while we did some shopping.

We were very conspicuous in our British service uniforms and almost equally so in our civilian clothes which were not only of a very obviously British cut but also of noticeably poor wartime 'austerity' quality. We had plenty of Canadian dollars, so paying for new clothes would not be difficult. More problematic was the fact that it was a Saturday, when few shops opened in Canada in those days.

We scouted the streets unsystematically then found a small women's clothing shop in a side street that seemed to stock what we were looking for: good quality but not outrageously up-market and stylish without being ridiculously high fashion. The only problem was that it was closed. However, we could see a woman working away in the back of the shop sorting out goods. I decided to ring the bell and see if we could entice her to the door.

After I had leaned on the bell for some seconds, the woman bustled up to the door with an air of irritation. She opened the door a few inches and spoke sharply to us through the gap. "Sorry, we do not open Saturdays. Come back Monday morning."

"Well, I realise we are imposing on you..." I began ingratiatingly, but was cut off immediately.

"I know you!" the woman exclaimed. "You're Flora MacKenzie; I saw you on stage in Toronto back in '35." Her irritation and formal tones had vanished and been replaced by a warm friendly manner and an almost impenetrable Canadian accent; she managed to pronounce Toronto with almost no vowel sounds at all.

"Come away in," The woman continued, flinging the door open. "What can I do for you all?"

I had hoped for co-operation and I was pleased by the change in atmosphere, but I had also hoped that we could have remained more anonymous than this. As it was anyone trying to track us down would be able to gain more information than they could dream of when they interviewed this woman.

The shopkeeper was still in full flow in her excitement. "I was just thrilled seeing how you got out of all them ropes in that show. I can tell you my man and I had lots of fun with ropes after we saw that, but I never could manage to get out of them at all myself. So, are you putting on a show here in Halifax?"

I decided to shelter in half-truths and to try to appeal to the woman's loyalty to persuade her to help us. I explained that, regretfully, we not be performing there but hoped to do so on the return leg of our tour. However, and I emphasised confidentiality here, we were doing military work too and needed good but inconspicuous civilian clothes in order to disappear under cover convincingly. With a note of disappointment in my voice, I added that I feared she could not help us because she would be able to describe exactly what we were wearing to anyone who was following us and that might be the police as easily as Nazi agents.

The woman seemed to have a decided taste for adventure and melodrama as she leaped to suggesting a solution to our dilemma without questioning any of the less plausible aspects of my story. "Well," she began, "if you ladies were to choose clothes by yourselves, and I didn't know what you took, then I couldn't describe what you might be wearing. I wouldn't even know what was gone without checking through all the stock. And," she added excitedly, "I could even wear a blindfold to make sure I didn't see."

"But how would we know how much to pay you?" I protested.

"Roughly right would be good enough," she replied. "I'm sure you wouldn't diddle me."

"But won't it be terribly suspicious if the police come asking questions and you tell them all that?" asked Diane.

The shopkeeper's face clouded as she thought for a moment, then brightened. "Well, she began tentatively. "If they come asking on Monday, you'll be long gone and I'll just deny everything and they won't be able to prove a thing. You can trust me." She looked at each of us. We all nodded to show we had understood and I knew that for some reason, I did indeed trust her.

"But," she continued, "if they come asking today when you've just gone, it could be really awkward. Unless," she paused for effect and we all nodded encouragement, "you were to leave me tied up like you'd taken the stuff without any help from me. And that would be nearly true, now, wouldn't it?"

She was so intense and serious, it was hard not to laugh, but her suggestion would at least delay anyone following too closely on our trail and might well pose little risk for her if she was found before too long. She assured us that her daughter would be coming to the shop in the afternoon and would rescue her.

With slightly raised eyebrows, we agreed to the woman's plan.

While Diane started selecting clothes for herself, Sarah and I put the shopkeeper's plan into action. She was a woman in early middle age, comfortably rounded in her figure and wearing a sensible black skirt and soft white blouse, topped off with a cardigan in a surprisingly vivid shade of cerise. I judged that she was probably not particularly fit and that we would have to be careful not to put her body under any strain.

"I thought you could put me just here," she told us, indicating the area of floor behind the counter and still with that edge of excitement in her voice. "I'll be out of sight from the door, but Lucy will find me easily." Lucy was apparently her daughter. "It'll give her quite a turn when she finds me, I'll warrant!" She almost hugged herself with glee in anticipation.

There was a huge spool of twine in a cast-iron dispenser on the counter and that was the obvious binding material to use. I began by tying the shopkeeper's wrists crossed in front of her. String is paradoxically quite tricky to use as a binding material; it is very easy to make apply a little more pressure with each of the many successive turns needed and end up with either a dangerously tight bond or one that is escapable because of uneven tension. I ensured that the twine was applied to the cuffs of the woman's cardigan rather than to unprotected skin.

A long length of twine on a spool is difficult to manage without introducing snags and tangles, so I was glad of Sarah's assistance in controlling it. With rope, the classic body binding is a series of bands encircling the arms and chest but thinner material does not lend itself so well to this approach. Instead I built up a web of twine enveloping our prisoner's arms and body. I started by tying a strand twice around her waist then spiralled up to her shoulders and down again five or six times. Every so often instead of simply wrapping the string round her, we formed a half hitch, so that a single break would not cause the whole thing to come apart. I finished off by cutting the string and knotting the loose end to the double strand round the shopkeeper's waist.

The increasingly immobilised woman took advantage of a pause in the proceedings to see just how much freedom of movement she had and was surprised at just how little there was. "Fancy that!" she commented. "I never knew you could do this with just a bit of string!"

I bound the shopkeepers ankles next, winding the string round quite loosely and relying on a dozen or so cinching turns to tighten it. While Diane helped support the woman, Sarah and I repeated the technique we had used on her body, to cocoon her in a web of string from waist to ankles, finishing with a few turns under the soles of her shoes.

Wrapped up as she was, it was difficult for the woman to bend at all, so it took all three of us to lay her down gently on her back on the floor. At her suggestion, we blindfolded her with her own scarf, hanging with her coat on the back of a chair behind the cash desk. It was a narrow black wool scarf which made a suitably dramatic blindfold.

We were beginning to worry about time and worked quickly to choose and then change into suitable civilian clothes. I luxuriated in the mid calf length skirt and hip-length jacket I had chosen, the real silk blouse and the magnificent double breasted overcoat just added to the pleasure. I was surprised at the remarkably clingy feel of nylon stockings, only having been used to silk or wool previously. My shoes were a little plain and shabby, but would have to pass for now. I studied my reflection in a mirror and adjusted the tilt of a surprisingly broad-brimmed hat. I tidied up the cashmere scarf I had tucked in at the collar of the coat and worked on my make-up a little, giving it more of the American emphasis on eyes and lips than my usual style. I was pleased with the result. I was not sure how convincingly Canadian I looked but my appearance no longer screamed British! at everyone.

Diane kept her uniform tunic and skirt on for the time being, but hid them under a new coat.

I did a rough calculation, added a generous gratuity and then told the shopkeeper that she would find 250 Canadian dollars in a bundle tucked underneath the till. She gasped at the amount but I told her that the King was paying and he could afford it. It was very nearly true too; the Canadian currency was perfectly genuine but had been issued to us directly by H.M.Treasury and had been nowhere near the Canadian National Bank.

We were about to leave when the shopkeeper reminded us that we had omitted to gag her. I had not thought it necessary, but it was apparently an essential part of her adventure. Again following her own suggestions, we stuffed a new crisp linen handkerchief into her mouth and bound it in place with a stocking. It almost broke my heart to use a new nylon stocking like that; they were like gold dust in England.

10.15 am Departure

We speeded our journey to the railway station by hailing a passing cab. On the short journey, we had a whispered discussion about the tactics to follow.

At the station, we split up. Diane shed her overcoat in a brief visit to a ladies' rest room, revealing her WAAF uniform, then retrieved our luggage from the depository and left it with Sarah.

While this was going on, I was undertaking the riskiest manoeuvre. I queued at the ticket office window and then booked three single tickets to Boston, Massachusetts, presenting myself as a French-speaking Canadian (complete with passport to prove it) and hoping my mastery of idiom and accent was enough to fool an English-speaking Canadian from Nova Scotia. I was lucky and got away with it.

Meanwhile, Diane used our official travel warrant to obtain the tickets we were entitled to for our intended journey to Toronto. She resumed her civilian coat before joining us and we booked our luggage in under assumed names, presented our passports which declared us to be Canadian residents (they were British passports as there was no separate citizenship for the Dominion of Canada in those days) and signed the appropriate customs declarations.

We finally relaxed as we settled down in our seats in a through carriage belonging to the Boston and Maine Railroad and the train pulled out of Halifax.

Copyright © 2002 Gillian B

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