Eagle Day - Robert Muchamore
15 June 1940 – 16 June 1940
Germany invaded France in May 1940. Within six weeks Paris had fallen and French troops were in full retreat. Millions of terrified civilians had fled south ahead of the invasion.
leave-behinds. After withdrawing its beaten army at Dunkirk, France’s ally, Britain, laid plans for a network of spies inside German-occupied Europe known as But the swift German advance led to the capture of British intelligence headquarters in Amsterdam, and details of the entire spy network fell into enemy hands.
MI6 operatives in Belgium, Holland and France were either captured and executed or forced to flee. By the time the Germans took Paris on 14 June only one British spy continued operating in France, a thirty-three-year-old Royal Navy Commander attached to an obscure department known as the Espionage Research Unit. His name was Charles Henderson.
Henderson was tasked with stealing the blueprints for a revolutionary miniature radio transceiver. On the night of 15 June Henderson reached the port of Bordeaux, less than a hundred and fifty kilometres ahead of the German invaders. He had a leather case containing the prized blueprints, three young companions, and the Gestapo on his tail.
Henderson secured passage aboard the last steamer plying the route between Bordeaux and England, but twelve-year-old Marc Kilgour had no passport and French officials refused boarding. Henderson entrusted the blueprints to his other companions – eleven-year-old Paul Clarke and his thirteen-year-old sister, Rosie.
SS Cardiff Bay, While the siblings boarded the Henderson stayed behind with Marc, intending to get him a passport and take the next steamer to England
It was eleven at night, but the port of Bordeaux crackled with life. Refugee kids slumped in humid alleyways, using their mothers’ bellies for pillows. Drunken soldiers and marooned sailors scrapped, sang and peed against blacked-out streetlamps. Steamers lined up three abreast at the wharves, waiting for a coal train that showed no sign of arriving soon.
With roads clogged and no diesel for trucks, the dockside was choked with produce while people went hungry less than twenty kilometres away. Meat and veg surrendered to maggots, while recently arrived boats had nowhere to unload and ditched rotting cargo into the sea.
A man and a boy strode along the dock wall, alongside rusting bollards and oranges catching moonlight as they bobbed in the water between a pair of Indian cargo ships.
‘Will the consulate be open this late?’ Marc Kilgour asked.
Marc was twelve. He was well built, with a scruffy blond tangle down his brow and his shirt clutched over his nose to mask the sickly odour of rotting bananas. The pigskin bag over Marc’s shoulder held everything he owned.
Charles Henderson walked beside him: six feet of wiry muscle and a face that would look better after a night’s sleep and an encounter with a sharp blade. Disguised as peasants, the pair wore corduroy trousers and white shirts damp with sweat. A suitcase strained Henderson’s right arm and the metal objects inside jangled as he grabbed Marc’s collar and yanked him off course.
‘Look where you’re putting your feet!’
Marc looked back and saw that his oversized boot had been saved from a mound of human shit. With a hundred thousand refugees in town it was a common enough sight, but Marc’s stomach still recoiled. A second later he kicked the outstretched leg of a young woman with dead eyes and bandaged toes.
‘Pardon me,’ Marc said, but she didn’t even notice. The woman had drunk herself into a stupor and no one would bat an eye if she turned up dead at sunrise.
Since running away from his orphanage two weeks earlier, Marc had trained himself to block out the horrible things he saw all around: from mumbling old dears suffering heat stroke to escaped pigs lapping the blood around corpses at the roadside.
The port was under blackout, so Henderson didn’t see Marc’s sad eyes, but he sensed a shudder in the boy’s breathing and pressed a hand against his back.
‘What can we do, mate?’ Henderson asked soothingly. ‘There’s millions of them … You have to look after number one.’
Marc found comfort in Henderson’s hand, which made him think of the parents he’d never known.
‘If I get to England, what happens?’ Marc asked nervously. He wanted to add, Can I live with you? but choked on the words.
They turned away from the dockside, on to a street lined with warehouses. Clumps of refugees from the north sat under corrugated canopies designed to keep goods dry as they were loaded on to trucks. Despite the late hour