22 SEPTEMBER 1939, Page 13



WE just made it! Yugoslavia, Italy, Switzerland, France, the Channel and Victoria Station—we just made it. It all started on Sunday. You can guess which Sunday. We were lying in a Dubrovnik cove, dry- ing in the sun after our last plunge off the rocks, when we heard it. The skiff, bright blue and manned by two sun- tanned natives, shot round the tiny point and skimmed towards us.

" You've done it! " cried the first breathless sculler. " You're going to beat up Germany. May we give you a drink? We'd be proud to! "

Most things were on the house that day. Most things except a way home. Our Croat and Serbian friends were celebrating the settlement of their autonomy difficulties with bands and bunting and firecrackers under a brilliant sky. But they still had time to show they were proud of us. We had never been so popular. But there was no way home. For two days all boats to Italy had been cancelled. Five Englishmen were going back through Greece. " You won't get through Italy!" they said. "Come to Greece." But the idea of travelling in exactly the opposite direction to start our journey home was shocking. Every extra moment outside England had suddenly become intolerable. When a sailing up the Adriatic to Susak was announced for Monday we booked.

Never, I suppose, shall we forget that Sunday. All the afternoon I lay on the beach, stretched out on the hot sand with the blue water lapping at my heels. On one side of me lay a young German, on the other a lawyer from Belgrade. The lawyer said: " It is St. George and the Dragon again! You are fighting this wicked belief, the belief that the German race is superior and no smaller nation has a right to what Germany needs. This is the most beastly, the most horrifying creed ever presented to any people. Germany has become a monster threatening the world." The German said: " And I must go back! Because I am German in blood and spirit I must go back and fight at the orders of this beast, with the sure sense of losing against a just cause. Ah, my friend, how happy you can be! " We had a fine send-off. Our Yugoslavian friends gathered on the quay and cried: " We shall meet in Berlin." This led to some awkwardness on the journey. On board the enemy outnumbered us about twenty to one, and well they were conscious of it! The man at our table asked furiously to be moved. He snarled and grimaced and blew fiercely into his soup. The waiter laughed, and so did we.

We had been rather fearful of Italy. Yet it was the easiest part of our journey. Straight through the Customs, through the Passport-Office on to a 'bus in Fiume. A Fascist official on the 'bus said, could he help the English travellers? Thank you, but we were boarding the Simplon-Orient Express, and going straight through from Trieste to Calais. Good luck to us, then. Bon voyage! The Orient Express was not running. All wagon lits were off. There was only a slow train through to Paris over the Simplon route. We took it. Outside Venice we saw Italian reserves on a troop-train arriving. The rallying-cry, and we heard it taken up from window to window, was " Abasso la Guerra! " (Down with war!) In Milan there was an evil caricature of Hitler, and underneath the word " Enough! " We were happy because we were going straight through to Paris. In pelting rain and with no po:ters we made a midnight change at Domodossola, Swiss frontier. We were in Switzerland. " Now," we said, " we're all right. Straight through from here."

We were pretty tired of things, and it was still raining, when we changed at Brig. There was a drizzle over Lausanne, but boy scouts and little rosy girl guides helped us, in the grey dawn, to shift our luggage on to the Vallorbe train. Vallorbe would have been all right, but the frontier was closed by the French and there was no train on. " Eack to Lausanne," advised the boy scouts here. Back in Lausanne on Wednesday afternoon the British Consular Service showed us its paces. " You might get a train on Saturday," said the British Consular Service. We broke away from five hundred other rampaging Britons and made for Geneva. The Palace of Nations. Emptiness. Tiny figures in a vast and fabulous mausoleum.

The British Consular Service in Geneva said neatly: " There are about seven hundred British subjects dammed up against this frontier. You'll be lucky if you get through in three weeks." We said " We are British Reserve officers returning to our regiments. We intend crossing the frontier today. We count on your help." The B.C.S. in Geneva was young, with a soft brown beard and a visiting-card which said St. James's Club. What could the B.C.S. do?

A letter to the French Consul asking for a Laisser Passer for three! We got it. We put our foot in the door of the French Consulate and got our Laisser Passer. That night we were over the frontier and in Bellegarde frontier village. We boarded the Paris train, we must change at Culoz at 14.30.

We woke at 2 a.m. " All change! " in a pitch-black station.

Where was Culoz? Culoz was sixty miles behind us. Were we Italian refugees? No, by Heaven we were not! Why should we be? Because this was Chambery, an hour from the Italian frontier, and bang in the opposite direction to Paris. And the moving, rustling darkness was packed with Italian refugees, their goods and chattels and infants. Didn't we want to go to Italy?

" Ahl" said the stationmaster, with a bow, " If you are British there is no difficulty for you!" How nice, we said, was there a train for Paris? But certainly, there was a train for Paris at 15.2o, direct, without change, very fast. We took it. How worn-out we were!

Five hours later we came to again. In the carriage was a French N.C.O. Did he know when we got to Paris? " Paris?" he said, " Do you know what station we're just coming into now? Bellegarde!" We took it marvellously.

One of us simply said, " Tell me if I'm right. We have just travelled for twelve solid hours, rushing through the night at immense speed and in acute discomfort, and now, on this bright September morning, we are exactly where we started? " That was all. And it was true.

We took another train that morning. It was the last train for two weeks. We changed quite a lot of times. We were awake for another twenty-four hours. But we got to Paris in the morning. Paris, except for blued glass and gas-masks at the hip, was unbelievably normal, but draughty with rumours. Hardly a military uniform in sight. " The only country," we reflected, " taking this war seriously is Switzer- land." We remembered that north-west corner of Switzerland, crawling with troops, the little copses alive with machine-gun nests among the green, the steel-helmeted sentries on the bridges who waved to us as we passed, but looked as grimly martial as anything we could imagine. The Swiss are ready. Germany doesn't come across her land.

" No trains for Calais," we were told in Paris. " Service off. Go to Boulogne." We steamed into Boulogne rather late. " Now," I said, " We're all right. Straight through from here." Then it happened. The boat-train arrived. The boat had left! Hardened travellers all, we were shocked and shaken. Boats just did not leave before their boat-train. But this one did. We could stay the night and take the after- noon boat on Saturday. On Saturday morning I was up and out to reconnoitre. I trusted nobody, and well it was. This time our boat had been taken off. She was replaced by a trawler-type steamer which could hold 115. About 25o wanted to go. The Board of Trade official at the gang-plank was almost in tears. Some of the crowd were in floods of them. Most of the porters were in Paradise. There was a rule about life-jackets, and no more passengers could go. We crept away with inside information.

A dash across France in a taxi to Calais. There was a boat. It was running for the last time. And aha! since last night there had been a new rule ; special visas, obtainable only in Paris, were necessary before anyone could leave France. But aha again! We still had our Laisser Passer. We were on the boat. We sat at the bar in life-jackets, care- fully not saying that it was all right now. But it was all right, and at half-past ten we steamed into the blackest Victoria we had ever imagined.

" Heavens," said someone, looking out, " It's Bellegarde!"