Helpless

September 30, 1918


The village of Bar-le-Duc lies about fifty kilometers from the front lines. Part of the Voie Sacrée" ("Sacred Way”), it’s a critical supply route running to Verdun, used to transport troops, ammunition, and supplies. I’ve been stationed here to liaison with members of the French underground network to help facilitate the escape of prisoners of war. A large POW camp is situated in the town of Stenay, about sixty kilometers on the other side of the front.

This is my assignment, and as dangerous and frightening as the prospect of such a rescue mission is, the source of my distress is brought on by other news come to me by Captain Smithwick. We spoke earlier today, in a small brasserie where I found him eating a bowl of Ratatouille.

“Mademoiselle LaFleur,” he said with a forced smile. “Quelle surprise.”

“A little birdie told me you would be here.” I sat in the empty chair next to him, not waiting for his invitation. Lowering my voice, I continued, “I hear you have planned a raid in north eastern France involving both the French Underground and British troops.” I knew that region was where Daniel was stationed, and I needed to learn if his platoon was to be included.

Captain Smithwick wiped his chin with a white napkin. “Terrible bits of news we’re getting from some areas along the Marne River. Some are calling it ‘The Chemists War’ now.  You’ve heard of it, no? New forms of mustard gas that can penetrate protective gear are being used by both sides. Nasty business. Bloody evil if you ask me.”

“Yes, I’ve heard about that.” I had the feeling he was trying to dodge the subject of the new mission. I stared hard. “You’ve avoided my question.”

Glancing about the room to make sure no one was close enough to hear any of our conversation. “Mademoiselle LaFleur, you are a brave woman, fearless, really, to the point of flirting with subordination.”

I ignored his subtle chastisement. “I’ve been told that there might be a raid planned in the area of Saint-Mihiel?” A mission dubbed La Plume.

Captain Smithwick frowned deeply. “It never fails to amaze me how you know things that you’re not supposed to know.”

“Daniel…”

“You know I can’t tell you…”

I snorted in defiance. “Yes you can. You owe me that much. You know I’m not a security risk, especially for a mission that’s soon to take place. I’m here with you, not in occupied France.”

The captain blew out a long breath and regarded me with a slow shake of his head, as if I represented the most frustrating part of his life.  Pushing his empty bowl to the side, he made a show of removing a cigarette from his silver case, and striking a match to light it. After an inhale and demonstrative exhale, he said, “A section of the railway lines in the region of Saint-Mihiel, especially near the Meuse River, is being held by the Germans, and used by them to get supplies to their troops in the front.” He tugged on his cigarette and its tip reddened in response. He continued, “Targeting the railway lines would disrupt reinforcement efforts for the Germans. This is of extreme importance to us, particularly in light of an upcoming offensive planned by the Americans. It is thought that if we work together with the French underground, who can blend in with the local population, we can maximize our efforts. The first raid is planned early next week.”

“And Daniel?” Ginger pressed.

Captain Smithwick sighed as he tapped ash into the ashtray. “Yes, his platoon is involved.”

“Where exactly is this mission to take place?”

“Pont de Valmercy,” He stopped to look at me, his eyes narrowing, “You must not speak of this to anyone.”

“Of course not. But I know that bridge!” Anxiety built within me like a storm gathering.

“Do you?” the captain said with a slight arch of his brow.

“Yes, it is well known to the people in the nearby village of Chênevert. If you recall, I spent a week in a nearby village surveilling German troop movements a few years ago.”

“Oh, that’s right, I almost forgot.”

“Surely you could’ve chosen another bridge!”

“This one is very strategic, Mademoiselle. Why on earth are you…”

I challenged him. “Are you aware that it serves as a critical communication hub for the Germans?”

“I am.”

“The bridge has communication lines, wired with extensive telegraph and telephone networks.”

“Yes, I know.” Captain Smithwick stubbed out his cigarette butt with undue intensity. “That’s one of the reason’s it’s being targeted.”

“But that means increased security! The area around the bridge has unusually strong German defenses, including fortified positions with machine gun nests, and regular aerial reconnaissance patrols, making any approach highly perilous. I’ve seen these myself.”

“Every mission has its perils, Mademoiselle LaFleur.”

“This one seems especially fraught with danger! Even the terrain is very difficult to cover. There are steep cliffs and a fast-flowing river, making the approach to the bridge exceedingly hazardous for the operatives. Has anyone on your planning team actually seen the bridge? Scouted the area?”

“We’ve consulted maps of course.”

I huffed in frustration, and felt a quiver attach to my voice. “Captain, this is a bad idea.”

“Now see here, You are not in a position to tell me how to do my job.  Just because your husband is involved doesn’t mean there should be special preference.”

“I’m not suggesting that,” I said, struggling to stay calm.

“I think you are.” Captain Smithwick’s voice lowered to a harsh whisper as he glanced furtively around the place.

I dared to disagree. Daniel’s life was at stake. “I’m well aware that Daniel could be called upon at any time to risk his life. I’ve dealt with that truth since the very beginning of this blasted war. What I find unacceptable is that he and his comrades are put at risk unnecessarily. There are other bridges and rail lines in that region. You could…”

“The plan is in place, and that’s the end of this discussion!” Captain Smithwick tossed coins onto the table, then grabbed his hat, before marching out the door. I shook with rage and frustration, feeling destitute with helplessness. There was nothing more I could do, no one to whom I could deliver my protest. No one to whom I could bring a charge against Smithwick of having reckless disregard for human life. 

This was the truth about war. It wasn't fair or just. And I, a faithful and devoted agent to King and country, could do nothing to help the person I love the most.

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1 comment

Are there more journal entries coming?

Thank you,
———
Shop Lee Strauss replied:
Yes, there are a couple more journal entries coming, but we are very near the end!

Donna Farmer

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