Secret Army - Robert Muchamore
As 1941 dawned Nazi Germany dominated Western Europe. Britain was under siege. Bombers blitzed cities from the air, while U-boat packs preyed on merchant ships bringing vital supplies across the Atlantic.
The previous year, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had given the order to ‘set Europe ablaze’, by creating the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The job of this secret army was to gather intelligence and plan sabotage operations inside Nazi-occupied Europe.
Besides a large headquarters staff based in London’s Baker Street, SOE set up secret training campuses throughout the country. The most controversial of these was situated at the edge of an artillery firing range deep in the English countryside. It was home to Espionage Research Unit B, under the operational command of Charles Henderson.
Henderson had already worked undercover in Nazi-occupied France. To complete his mission he had enlisted the help of four youngsters, and came to realise that children were valuable in undercover operations because adults didn’t suspect them.
Henderson’s original team comprised twelve-year-old French orphan Marc Kilgour, Paul Clarke, aged twelve, Paul’s thirteen-year-old sister Rosie and fifteen-year-old American fugitive PT Bivott.
When Henderson returned to Britain, he came under the command of SOE and began to recruit and train more boys for undercover operations in France.
‘Stand by yer beds!’ Evan Williams shouted. ‘Lights out in seven minutes.’
He was a small Welshman with one big eyebrow. Twenty-four boys lived in his dorm. They hurried barefoot over the cold lino, putting toothbrushes in foot lockers and draping towels over radiators before standing at the end of their metal-framed beds ready for inspection.
Each bed was immaculately made. Belongings had to be packed neatly inside a foot locker, with boots or plimsolls cleaned and resting on top in a ten-past-ten position.
Each boy snapped into a rigid position. Ankles together, eyes forward, shoulders back. Williams would have liked the boys to wear matching pyjamas, but clothing was short and newer arrivals wore whatever they’d brought with them.
‘Not bad,’ Williams said grudgingly as he passed the first pair of facing beds. At the next he reached under the mattress and dug two fingers between the rusted bed frame and mattress.
‘In the name of our lord!’ Williams gasped. His giant eyebrow fired upwards as he jabbed a rusty finger under the nose of a thirteen-year-old with curly brown hair and deep-set eyes.
Troy LeConte knew he was being fitted up: the beds were old and you could reach under any of them if you wanted rust stuck on your finger. It was Williams’ way of showing that he could get you, even if you stuck to all of his petty rules.
‘Well, LeConte?’ Williams demanded. ‘Cat got your tongue? What is this?’
Troy didn’t know the English word for rust, but reckoned a quick answer beat none at all. ‘It’s your finger, sir,’ he said, with a heavy French accent.
This raised cautious laughter from the other boys and Williams looked irritated.
‘I know it’s my finger, you stupid frog,’ he roared. ‘I’m asking you what’s on my finger.’
Troy went cross-eyed as Williams dabbed his chunky finger against the bridge of his nose.
‘I don’t know the word,’ Troy explained.
‘You little retard!’ Williams shouted, as he grabbed the neck hole of Troy’s string vest, yanked the lad forwards and cuffed him around the head. ‘Cold shower, five a.m.,’ he barked, before letting go and moving up to the next bed.
Troy rubbed his head before standing crisply back to attention. He hated Williams, but had seen plenty of lads come off worse during inspection. He turned his head as far as he dared, watching the relief on each boy’s face when Williams passed them by.
‘Mason LeConte,’ Williams said, when he was almost at the opposite end of the room. ‘Well, well, it seems stupidity runs in the family.’
Troy’s brother Mason was only eight, but that didn’t stop Williams from twisting his ear and yanking it up until he dangled on tiptoes.
‘The blankets are crooked, you stupid boy,’ Williams shouted, as Mason gave a howl that turned his older brother’s stomach.
Troy felt guilty as Williams ripped off his little brother’s sheets and blanket. Mason was the youngest in the dorm and Troy usually helped him before inspection, but he’d been sent upstairs to fetch candles by the night matron and had barely had time to make his own bed.
‘I’ve never seen such a shambles,’ Williams roared, as he took the metal lid from Mason’s foot locker and threw its contents across the floor. ‘Are you feeble-minded, boy?’
‘No, sir,’ the boy sobbed, as Williams upended Mason’s