Edith Smith

 

September 13, 1918

 

The city of Reims is almost as close to the front one can get without actually going into occupied territory. Indeed, lying awake this morning in the dim light of dawn, the distant rumble of artillery echoed like a relentless storm, a deep, thunderous growling that seemed to shake the very air.

Not a particularly peaceful way to start one’s day.

Recently, I’ve moved from trainee to trainer. Despite my initial hesitation, Captain Smithwick reassured me that I was up to the task. After all these years, his had the skill and  experience to train women as new recruits. I suppose he’s right.

The training location is in a discreet farmhouse on the outskirts of town, repurposed for the needs of British Intelligence. The air inside is always musty, a mix of dust and mouse decay.

The recruits were already gathered when I arrived. Five young women, each a blend of nerves and determination. They stood in a loose semi-circle, their eyes reflecting the faint light that filtered through the dusty windows. They reminded me of myself a few years ago - eager, yet unaware of the weight that the future held. They are a diverse lot - a Belgian farm girl whose hands were roughened by labor, a Parisian artist who had swapped her paintbrushes for the promise of freedom, a nurse from Lyon, and a schoolteacher whose classroom storytelling time had been replaced by the stark reality of war.

And Edith Smith, though I doubt that was her real name. She entered with an air of aggressive confidence. Her hair is a cascade of chestnut curls, her eyes sharp and observant, moving with an intelligence that speaks of a keen mind.The other girls tended to avoid Edith, as if they sensed it wise to be afraid of her.

I began the session with basic stances and moves, emphasizing the importance of agility over strength. The floorboards creaked as the recruits followed, their movements unrefined but earnest, their faces etched with concentration.

We progressed to defending against knife attacks, a skill I stressed was crucial. "Always be aware of your surroundings," I instructed. "And remember, your reaction time is your best ally." The sound of breathing filled the room, punctuated by the shuffling of feet.

As they paired up to practice, I watched closely, correcting postures and offering encouragement. When it was Edith’s turn, I could see her focus, her determination to get it right. Her partner, Gerda, the Belgian, was hesitant as she held a dummy knife. It was obvious she was intimidated by Edith and it showed. Her movements were slow and uncertain.

“Deflect and disarm,” As soon as I said this, Edith pounced forward and grabbed Gerda’s wrist, wrenching it back with an awkward, but forceful movement.

“Ow!” Gerda yelled, stepping back and rubbing her arm. Her hand, however still held the dulled blade.

“Not quite right,” I said to Edith. “If Gerda was a German soldier, all you'd have managed to accomplish was to make him angrier. And you Gerda, you looked like you were about to ask Edith for permission to stab her. Let’s try this again. Gerda point the blade of the knife at me, now Edith, watch me carefully please, remember you step forward with your left foot.”

I made sure she saw me shift my weight onto my left foot, and then I mimed the movement of sidestepping and spinning around while simultaneously using my left hand to forcefully grab Gerda’s wrist and force it upwards. Then with my back to her and gripping her knife hand with both of my hands I brought her elbow down on to my left shoulder which forced her to drop the knife or risk her arm breaking.

“Once again, Gerda, I’m afraid you were not exactly convincing as an attacker.” I said, as I picked the knife up from the floor.

“Okay, this time I will hold the knife. Imagine that I weigh fourteen stone and I am the ugliest German soldier you’ve ever witnessed. I have yellow teeth, bad breath and a nasty disposition. I want nothing more than to drive this knife through your belly.”

I held the knife out in front of me and gestured for Edith to come closer. I nodded for her to act but she was too erratic in her movement to grab my wrist, not shifting her weight properly and not striking my wrist in the proper spot. I easily stepped back and twisted out of her grasp, but in doing so, the knife caught the inside of her wrist.

“Oh!” she said.

The knife was dull but sharp enough to cut through the skin. A  jagged line of red appeared, stark against her pale skin. She stared at me with surprised unbelief.

Time seemed to freeze. The room fell silent, except for Edith’s sharp intake of breath. I was at her side in an instant, I tore off a strip of my underskirt and pressed it against the wound. "It's not much more than a superficial wound,” I said, though my heart raced with the fear of what could have been. The wound was deep enough to require stitches, and frightfully close to a prominent vein. 

As I watched the medic tend to Edith, I couldn’t help but feel the weight of responsibility. These women, barely in their twenties, looked up to me. They saw me as an expert, a survivor of countless missions. But in that moment, I was reminded of the fragility of our line of work. A simple mistake could cost us everything.

Edith  would always have a scar there now. She was brave and didn’t seem at all concerned about it, insisting she was fine and eager to continue training, despite her injury. But I could see the pain in her eyes, a reminder of the danger we all faced. As her wound was bandaged, I offered a silent prayer for God to protect these recruits in this grim war.

The rest of the session passed without incident, but the mood had shifted. The recruits were more cautious, their movements measured. I saw it as a harsh but necessary lesson. In our line of work, every action, every decision, could have dire consequences.

As the day came to an end, I watched them leave, a mix of determination and fear in their eyes. They walked back into their lives, each carrying a piece of what they had learned, a part of what they had to become. I stayed behind, alone with my thoughts. The training I provided could save their lives, but it was also a reminder of the risks they were about to face.

We train for effectiveness, but we also train to survive. And sometimes, survival is the hardest lesson of all.

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2 comments

Thank you for writing these journal entries for us.
I love reading how Ginger grew to be the Ginger we know now. I’m currently in Higgins & Hawke’s world. I love your strong, successful, independent women. The Gingers & Haleys of the world fought hard for our rights and independence. We should honor all those ladies. My girls are turning 18 & 21 yr soon & I’m teaching them to grow into strong, independent, honest women just like Ginger. I want them to know their voice matters and want to keep saying “well at least your honest” even when I’m questioning their sanity. I especially want them to know that sometimes it’s perfectly fine, if not expected, for them to roll their eyes and snort if someone looks down their noses. 😂 My sister is a ginger named Ginger. She’s absolutely the strongest person I know. We all know who the boss of this family is. Hint, it’s not me. You create the most beautiful worlds full of wonderful people. Thank you for sharing them with us.
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Shop Lee Strauss replied:
This does my heart good! Thank you for sharing about your family. I love that you have a sister named Ginger!

Dennise Franklin

I have enjoyed the Journal almost as much as the books. And I have read every one of the Ginger Gold, Rosa Reed and Higgins & Hawke books (Always hoping for more!). I realize the Journal must come to and end eventually, I just hope it’s not too soon!
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Shop Lee Strauss replied:
* So happy to hear you’re enjoying my books! Does my heart good.☺️ *

Dick Fredlund

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