Prisoners of the Enemy
By the spring of 1942, the war had been carrying on for two and a half long years. The Battle of Britain, as the ministry had dubbed it, was over but there was still the constant sound of aircraft flying overhead, either patrolling the skies or heading off on bombing raids on the mainland.
On the farms of Britain, those who had not been sent to the war areas, either for medical or for other reasons, were joined in the work by women of the Land Army, who gave up their own lives to help the war effort. On Hope Farm, in the Sussex countryside, two such girls were Emma and Irene. Both had grown up in the city, but when the call had gone out they had come forward to till the land. Little did they know on this day their war effort was going to take a very different turn…
“Will you two be working on the top field today?”
Mrs Wilkins was standing at the stove, preparing breakfast for the three girls sat around the table. As well as Emma and Irene, her daughter Carol was sat there waiting for the bacon and eggs to come over.
“I think so,” Emma said as Mrs Wilkins put a plate of food in front of her. “We need to finish the ploughing so that the wheat can be seeded by Bert tomorrow.”
“That’s fine – I’m sorry Carol can’t help you today, but I need her to come into the market with me today to pick some things up.”
Both Emma and Irene were wearing the ‘uniform’ of the Land Army – olive green jumpers and trousers, with army boots and strapping around their ankles. Carol, by contrast, was wearing a cotton summer dress with a floral pattern on it.
“Don’t worry about it, Mrs Wilkins,” Irene said through a mouthful of bacon, “Emma and I will finish it up by the end of today.”
“Well, if I see Bert in town I’ll let him know he can come over tomorrow. Now eat up, all of you – the tea’s on its way.”
Some time later, Emma and Irene headed for the stables, and hitched the Clydesdale horse up to the plough before walking up to the field at the far end of the farm. Carol and her mother climbed into the old Ford car, and headed in the opposite direction towards the market.
On the far side of the farmyard was an old and very thick bush. From a small gap in that bush, a pair of eyes was watching the four women leaving.
“Lassen sie ganz jetzt gehen?”
“Ja haben die vier Frauen verlassen”
“Gibt es jemand sonst dort?”
“Nein - es sieht wie dort ist keine Männer dort im Augenblick aus”
“Angegangen dann - ich bin verhungernd”
Two men in military uniform slipped around the hedge, and warily made their way across the courtyard to the farmhouse door.
The bustling market was underway as Carol and Mrs Wilkins made their way around the various stalls. Carol’s mother was wearing a thick wool skirt and jacket, with a white blouse underneath and a scarf around her shoulders. Mrs Wilkins was carrying a basket, in which she had placed a few items of food, but what was really catching her eye was the number of soldiers that seemed to be in the area.
“What’s going on, Pearl,” she asked a friend as they met in the street, “There seem to be a lot of Redcaps around today.”
“Apparently, a couple of POWs have tried to escape from the camp. They won’t get far – they never do – but all these soldiers are looking out for them.”
“Oh dear – I know these boys don’t want to be here, but why would they want to go back there. From what Mr Churchill says, it’s not exactly a nice place with Adolf.”
“Well, they can stay out of my way if they know what’s good for them. Carol – come on, we need to get back to the farm.”
Carol was talking to some of the soldiers, but at the sound of her mother’s disapproving voice she turned round. “All right mum – I was just talking to the boys there.”
“Plenty of time to do that at the Saturday dances – today we have things to do at the farm. Now come on!”
Driving back, both the women could see teams of soldiers and Redcaps, or military policemen, searching the countryside for the escaped prisoners.
“Surely it’s their duty to escape, even if they are the enemy?” Carol asked her mother.
“I’m sure it is, but that doesn’t mean they can do what they want,” Mrs Wilkins replied as they drove into the farmyard. The two women left the car and made their way into the kitchen.
“Mum, do you hear something?” Carol asked as her mother placed her hat and basket on the kitchen table.
“Yes, I do – it’s probably just the cat moving about upstairs.”
“But the cat’s curled up in the corner over there – Mum, I think…..”
Carol turned to be greeted by a young blonde haired man in a military uniform, standing in the doorway that led to the front room and pointing one of her late father’s shotguns at her and her mother.
“Hände oben, beide von Ihnen,” he said waving the gun, and Mrs Wilkins turned to look at the man threatening her daughter. The two of them looked at each other, then slowly raised their hands above their heads.
“Hans, schnell gekommen - zwei der Frauen sind zurückgekommen” he called over his shoulder, and the two women saw a second man coming up behind him, dressed in the same way but with dark hair.
“Ah, I see the two women of the house have returned,” he said with a slight German accent. “Ladies, I’m afraid you must consider yourselves our prisoners for the time being. Please, come through and join us.”
“Are you the escaped prisoners the army are looking for?” Carol asked as she and her mother passed the two men, the gun levelled at them all the time.
“Well, I think it should be obvious to you that we are,” the dark haired lad replied. “Please, both of you, sit down at the table and keep your hands on your head where we can see them.”
Mrs Wilkins sat at one of the chairs at the large dining table, which had been pulled out by the prisoner, and Carol followed suit a few minutes later. Hans then took the gun from his compatriot.
“Gert, gehen sehen, wenn Sie irgendein Seil finden können, um diese Frauen mit oben zu binden - und ein kinfe, um es mit zu schneiden.”
The blonde haired man he had called Gert nodded and went back into the kitchen. Hans sat in an armchair, with the gun across his lap.
“Ladies, I must apologise for the fact you must be our prisoners, but both Hans and I need some time to try and get away from this place. You understand, it is our duty to try and escape and get back to our homes?”
“I understand,” Mrs Wilkins said, “but that does not give you the right to treat us like this. I demand you go and leave us alone.”
“Ah, if only we could, but with so many soldiers around we cannot take the risk. No, I think we will stay here until it is dark, and then make our way across country.”
“So what are you going to do with us?” Carol asked.
“That, Fraulein, is a very good question – we must make sure you cannot raise the alarm, and we both do need to try and disguise ourselves, so I’m afraid – ah, here’s Gert now.”
The young German soldier came back into the room, carrying several lengths of coarse brown rope and a large carving knife.
“So, as I was saying ladies, we need to make sure you cannot raise the alarm. My dear,” he said pointing the gun at Carol, “please put your hands behind your back.”
As Carol did this, he turned to Gert and said “Schneiden Sie eine Länge des Seils und peitschen Sie ihre Handgelenke zusammen sind gegen den Stuhl.” Gert took the knife, cut a long length off one of the ropes, and kneeling behind her chair he proceeded to tie Carol’s wrists together, securing the loose ends of the rope to the back of the chair when he had finished.
“Tun Sie jetzt dasselbe die ältere Frau an.”
Gert cut another length of rope off, then moved to kneel behind Mrs Wilkins. As she watched her mother having her hands tied behind the back of the chair, Carol tried to see if there was any give for her wrists, but the coarse rope only began to dig into her wrists, so she decided to wait and see what happened.
“You won’t be able to get far,” Mrs Wilkins said as the rope was tied against the back of her chair. “The countryside is full of soldiers, and we’re not alone here either.”
“Ah, you mean the two charming girls in fatigues we saw leaving the house this morning? Don’t worry about them – we have a plan to deal with them when they return, and we know they will return. Now, my dear young Fraulein,” he said looking at Carol, “Please do not move while we make sure you cannot run off.”
Gert had cut two more long lengths of rope, and taking Carol’s ankles he began to wind the cord around them in a figure of eight pattern. He then wrapped the cord between her ankles, before pulling it back and tying it against the crossbar at the back of the chair. This had the effect of raising Carol’s feet up until they were almost perpendicular to the floor, and her brown shoes slipped off her feet.
“Dort - das Sie vom Weglaufen stoppen sollte” he said as he moved over to Mrs Wilkins and began to bind her feet in the same manner.
“Where did you learn such good English?” Carol asked as she watched her mother’s feet rising from the floor as the rope was tied off.
“I was a student in Oxford before the war. I am sorry it came to that between our countries – together we could have conquered the whole of Europe, bad sadly that is not to be. Now, I am afraid we have to make sure you cannot raise the alarm and alert the other young ladies to your situation. Gehen Sie einige Servietten von der Küchetabelle erhalten, und wir benutzen sie als Gag.”
Gert went into the kitchen, and came back with some napkins that had been left on the table. He rolled one into a wide band, and standing behind Mrs Wilkins he placed it in front of her mouth.
“We have your word you won’t harm us?” she asked Hans.
“You have my word,” he replied, and Mrs Wilkins opened wide as Gert pulled the cloth into her mouth, tying it at the base of her neck. He then did the same to Carol, so that both women had their lips pursed over a wide thick band of cloth.
The two men then pulled the chairs of the bound and gagged women together, back to back, and with the remaining length of rope they lashed their chests together and around the chair backs. Carol and Mrs Wilkins tried to look at each other over their shoulders, but the rope was holding them too tightly, and they settled for holding each other’s fingers.
“So, ladies, if you will excuse me Gert will keep you company while I try and find some different clothes to wear.” Saying that, Hans left them with the other escaped prisoner, while he headed up the stairs.
“Well, I’m glad that’s done,” Irene said to Emma as they led the horse back into the yard.”
“Yeah, I could really use a cup of tea right now. You take the horse back into the barn, and I’ll go and put the kettle on.”
As Irene took the reins of the Clydesdale and walked him back into the barn, Emma went into the kitchen of the farmhouse and filled the kettle with cold water from the tap. Placing the kettle on the range, she noticed that the fire had died down a bit, so she fed some more wood in and fanned it until it burned strongly.
“Not like Mrs Wilkins to let that die down so much,” she muttered to herself as she looked around and saw a hat sitting nest to a basket of food on the table.
“Mrs Wilkins? Carol? Do you want a coup of tea?” she called out, and then she heard a knocking noise from the main room.
“Are you both in here,” Emma asked as she walked into the room, only to see the two women bound and gagged in the chairs and frantically trying to see something to her.
“Oh no, what happened to you?” Emma cried out as she entered the room, only to feel the barrel of a shotgun in her back.
“Where is your friend, Fraulein?” she heard a voice say in a slight German accent.
“She…. She’s out in the barn, tending to the horse.” Emma stuttered in reply.
“Gehen Sie zum Stall hinaus und kümmern Sie um dem anderen Mädchen - verwenden Sie dieses,” the voice said to someone else, before turning back to Emma and saying “Please, lie down on the floor and put your hands palm down on the floor beside you.”
Emma heard the sound of footsteps echoing across the stone kitchen floor as she did what she was asked.
“There, there, boy, you did a good job today,” Irene said as she patted down the big Clydesdale in the stable before pouring a sack of feed into the trough in front of him. “You enjoy your rest now, and I’ll go and have that cup of tea.”
As she turned round, however, she was greeted by the sight of a young, blonde haired man in a military uniform, looking at her and holding a ball of twine in one hand and a knife in the other. As they had been working in the fields, they had met some of the groups of soldiers searching the countryside, so she knew this must be one of the escaped prisoners. Grabbing a pitchfork, she pointed it at the young German and lunged forward a few times to try and protect herself.
A sly smile crept across Gert’s face, and he stepped to one side as Irene ran forward, grabbing the heft of the pitchfork as she went past. Pulling back on it, he made Irene rise a little into the air and land on a pile of hay that was nearby. Jumping on her back, he pulled one wrist behind and began to wrap the twine over the cuff of her jumper. Grabbing Irene’s other arm, he pulled that behind as well and began to wrap the twine around both wrists, creating a firm set of bindings to hold them together.
Still sitting on Irene’s back, the German soldier turned round and began to wrap the twine around her ankles, pulling tight each time to ensure they were held tightly together. He then moved off her back, and used the twine to pull hr ankles up towards her bottom. Wrapping the twine around the wrist bindings, he then tied it off so that Irene was in a strict hogtie. He then pulled the green woollen scarf off from around Irene’s neck, and used it to gag her.
Gert stood looking down on the bound Land Girl for a few minutes, before turning round and returning to the farmhouse. Irene began to roll around in the hay, trying desperately to loosen the twine that was biting into her wrists and ankles.
In the farmhouse, Mrs Wilkins and her daughter could only watch as Emma had her ankles crossed and bound by Hans. Her wrists were already tied behind her back with the coarse rope that had been used on them, and her elbows had been pulled together as well.
“Please allow me to help you to sit up,” Hans said as he rolled Emma over and took her by the arm. As Emma sat up, Hans helped her to scoot over and sit up against the old sofa that was in the room.
“You won’t get far,” she said as Gert came back into the room.
“Ich kümmerte um dem anderen kleinen Mädchen - sie wird nicht uns stören.”
“Sehr gut - jetzt gehen Sie und erhalten Sie dann gekommen geändert und stehen Sie Schutz, damit ich dasselbe tun kann.”
As Gert left, Hans went over and removed the scarf from around Mrs Wilkins shoulders.
“Forgive me, Fraulein, but I cannot risk you shouting out and raising the alarm.”
Emma looked up in fear as he rolled the scarf into a band, and tied it over Emma’s mouth blocking any understandable words from coming out.
“Once again, I am sorry that you all have to go through this situation, but we will be on our way soon,” Hans said as he picked up the rifle and sat where he could see all three of the women.
All three tried to loosen their bonds, but it only had the effect of tightening the rope around their arms and legs. Emma tried to ask the other two if they were all right, but all they heard was “mmph rght?” Mrs Wilkins, sensing what she was trying to ask, simply nodded her head and fixed her stare on Hans.
Gert returned in some clothes left behind by Mrs Wilkins’ son when he joined up, and took the gun while Hans made his way upstairs.
In the barn, Irene was struggling to try and get loose, but the twine was holding her firmly in bound. Shaking her head, she was unable to even loosen the gag in her mouth, and she was getting more and more tired. The sweat was flowing down her face, and the thick clothes she was wearing were starting to stick to her body as she moved around.
The snap of a twig made her turn her head suddenly, and in the gloom she saw a man in some form of uniform standing in the open barn door. Fearing that the escaped prisoner had returned, she tried to move towards the wall, but the man came towards her and cut the twine holding her legs to her wrists with a bayonet. Looking behind him, she saw Bert holding a finger to his lips to indicate that she should be quiet.
“We will be leaving now, ladies,” Hans said as he looked out into the gloom of the night. He and Gert were both dressed in ordinary clothes, and he looked at the three bound and gagged women. All were sweating from the effort they had made to try and escape, and Carol in particular was looking at the two escaped prisoners with pleading eyes.
“I hope you speak well of us when you are found,” he said as they headed out of the door. The women listened as the engine of the Ford was started, and the car moved slowly off into the night. All three looked at each other, and then Emma started to attempt to call out hoping someone would hear them.
Amazingly, somebody did as two soldiers ran into the room and started to free the women. As the gag was removed from Carol’s mouth, she called out “Bert – how did you know we were in trouble?”
The farmhand had come in behind the soldiers. “I was coming to check what was happening tomorrow when I saw this man in uniform coming out of the barn. I knew about the escaped prisoners, and I didn’t recognise the uniform, so I ran and found the nearest group of soldiers.”
“What about the prisoners?” Mrs Wilkins asked as she was ungagged.
“There’s a troop of soldiers waiting down the lane – they won’t get far.”
Irene came in, supported by a Redcap, as the three women rubbed their wrists to get the circulation going again. “I’ll stay with them while you get those two,” Bert said as the women sat down on the sofa and seats. Carol for one was glad of that – she was beginning to have a soft spot for the farmhand.
Down the lane, the two soldiers stood with their hands on their heads while a troop of soldiers covered them. For them, the war was over once more…