On leaving training, they had been warned that they were going to a war zone. Their lecturers, veterans of the last war, had been careful to point out that the Luftwaffehelferinnen stationed in France would be confined to base most of the time. They had been reminded that they would be expected to work “front-line” hours – which could mean around the clock in a crisis. They would be subject not only to military discipline but to military justice as well – and that meant they could be sentenced to death for infringements of the military code.
A stern Stabsfeldwebel had warned them, too, that they would very probably be subject to enemy air attack. The “bestial British” had already bombed unprotected cities, aiming at “innocent civilians.” It was only to be expected that they would soon target the bases of the planes that would – in due course – be launched against them. By the time they boarded the train in Berlin, Klaudia and Rosa had almost had second thoughts. After all, the Helferinnen stationed inside the Reich lived at home and worked “normal” shifts with regular days off – and they were safe.
But as Klaudia and Rosa passed through Paris and rolled through the rich, green countryside of Normandy, all doubts vanished. Even if they only had half a day off each week, what an opportunity! Surely, they could get down to Paris now and again. Klaudia, after seeing a map, thought too of Rouen Cathedral and Mont St. Michel, which she knew from pictures in one of her father’s books. In Falaise itself, of course, was the oldest castle in Normandy, seat of the Dukes of Normandy. It was the castle from which William the Conqueror had set out to conquer England. Surely there could be no better omen for the impending German invasion of the impudent island? Klaudia and the other girls were absolutely convinced of it.
And now this. They were picked up at Falaise station by grinning Luftwaffe airmen, who gallantly carried their things and escorted them to a bus, which took them straight to their new quarters. This was nothing like the barracks of the Reich- sarbeitsdienst! The 1st Staffel, III Gruppe of StG 2 was stationed at an improvised airfield just south of Falaise itself, directly on the banks of the river Orne – and they were to be housed in the wonderful old Chateau in which the officers were also billeted. Admittedly, they were put up in three cramped servant’s rooms under the eaves, and they had to share a single bath and toilette between them, but what a place!
Klaudia and Rosa, who were sharing one of the little rooms, looked about themselves and couldn’t believe their luck. There were two narrow beds under the eaves with a dormer window in between. Everything about the room – the low beams, creaking floorboards and flowered wallpaper was romantic. They even had a view out of their window across a somewhat overgrown but still discernible formal garden to the meandering river that glistened in the late afternoon sun. Beyond the river, cattle grazed peacefully in the long, green grass bathed in golden afternoon sunlight. It was like a painting. “Isn’t it beautiful!” Klaudia exclaimed.
“You must be used to it,” Rosa remarked with a sidelong look. She still couldn’t quite make head or tail of Klaudia. She ought to have been arrogant, self-important, spoilt and lazy, but she was none of those things. She had even helped Rosa with the theoretical subjects that had almost brought her to ruin. Without Klaudia’s help, Rosa would have washed out. In turn, Rosa helped Klaudia with the Nazi stuff. They had worked so well as a team that Klaudia had graduated top of her class and Rosa in the respectable middle field. On account of Rosa’s experience as a leader in the BDM, however, she had been promoted directly to Oberhelferin and entrusted with disciplinary responsibility for the six girls assigned to this base.
Rosa had been astonished by how thrilled Klaudia had been for her. Not once had Klaudia suggested that her birth entitled her to privilege and power. That surprised Rosa, who as the daughter of a Communist activist, had been raised to think of aristocrats as “the class enemy.” But Rosa supposed much of what her father had spouted off all those years was nonsense. He was certainly wrong about the Führer and the Nazis, the silly old fart!
“Oh, our house is nothing like this,” Klaudia assured her new friend sincerely. “It’s much smaller and nothing grand at all. This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen!”
Just then, with a suddenness that made both girls jump, three aircraft roared right over their heads – so low that they instinctively ducked. The airfield, it turned out, was just on the other side of the house, and a “Kette” of three Stukas had just taken off. Before their eyes the lead aircraft of the tight vic seemed to stand on its wingtip and start banking sharply away to the right. The two wingmen clung to the leader’s wingtips in perfect, precision flying. The engines roared and the windowpanes in the old chateau rattled. Gone was the idyllic peace of the French countryside, and back was the thrill of being part of Germany’s magnificent air force.
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