29 NOVEMBER 1940, Page 10



THERE are legendary figures in this war of whom most of us know nothing. Secretly, week by week, they fight against the evil things: against Vultz, the mad German inventor, Poyner, preparing to unleash plague-stricken rats on India, the sneering sarcastic Group-Captain Jarvis, who was really Agent 17 at Air Base B. Billy the Penman; Nick Ward, heroic son of an heroic father; Steelfinger Stark, the greatest lock expert in the world, who broke open the headquarters of the German Command in Norway; Worrals of the W.A.A.F.'s; Flight-Lieutenant Falconer, with a price of 20,000 marks on his head, " framed " as a spy; Captain Zoom, the Bird Man of the R.A.F.—these are the heroes (and heroine) of the unknown war. This can never at any time have been a " phoney " war : from the word go, these famous individualists were on the job.

It is not surprising in some of these cases that we know little or nothing about it: even his fellow schoolboys are still unaware of the identity of Billy Baker. His biography records one occasion when he was rebuked in class for an untidy piece of dictation. " The Headmaster would have got a shock if he had known he was scolding the boy who was known as ' Billy the Penman,' the handwriting genius of the British Secret Service. That was a secret shared by very few people indeed." (It was a fine piece of work which enabled Billy the Penman to substitute 500 " lines "—" I must do my best handwriting "—for the details of a new anti-aircraft gun before the Nazi plane swooped down to hook the package from a clothes-line.) On the other hand only the extreme discretion of his school- fellows can have prevented news of Nick Ward's activities reaching the general ear. Nick Ward, because of a certain birth-mark on his body, is considered sacred by Indian hill- men, and periodically he visits the Temple of Snakes in the Himalayas to gather information of Nazi intrigues. (To Ward we owe it that a plot to enable German bombers to cut off Northern India failed.) Unfortunately on one of these journeys he was spotted by enemy agents. " It was because he had been recognised and because the Headmaster wished to protect him that all the boys at Sohan ,College had been ordered to wear hoods over their heads. It had thus become impossible for the Nazi agents to pick out Nick from the others. Later, Nick discovered that the local Nazi leader was Dr. Poyner, the school medical officer." Only a school medical officer, I feel, was capable of conceiving the dastardly stratagem that nearly betrayed Ward into enemy hands. Hill- men crept up to the dormitory with pegs on their noses and blew sneezing powder into the room, so that the boys were forced to take off their hoods. (The pegs on their noses prevented the Indians being affected.) Perhaps the spirit of these heroes is best exemplified by a heroine—Worrals, who shot down the mysterious " twin-engined high-wing monoplane with tapered wings, painted grey, with no markings " in area 2I-C-2. Her real name is Pilot-Officer Joan Worralson, W.A.A.F., and we hear of her first as she sat moody and bored on an empty oil drum, complaining of the monotony of life. " The fact is, Frecks, there is a limit to the number of times one can take up a light plane and fly it to the same place without getting bored . . ." Boredom is never allowed to become a serious danger to these lone wolves: one cannot picture any of them ensconced in a Maginot line.

But the man who inspires one with the greatest admiration is Captain Zoom, ,the lone flyer who beats away on his indi- vidualistic flights born up on long black condor wings, with a small dynamo ticking on his breast. Even his mad enemy Vultz couldn't withhold admiration. " For a pig-dog of a Briton, he must have brains! This is a good invention. By the time I have improved it,it will be fit to use. Ja I " it should be explained, was engaged in building a tunnel from Guernsey to Britain. " The Nazis, since their occupation of the Channel Islands, had thought out a new scheme for invading Britain. They were tunnelling from Guernsey to Cornwall, using an entirely new type of boring-machine in- vented by a brilliant engineer named Vultz. This machine made tunnelling almost as quick as walking. Vultz, a fiend in human form, had a fixed hatred of R.A.F. men, and for this reason employed them as slaves in the tunnel." No wonder Nick Ward on another occasion exclaimed that " the Nazis stopped at nothing. They did not mind how foul were the tricks they tried or how many helpless victims died." Listen to Vultz himself : " It is here we must finish our tunnel," he croaked. "Portland Bill is the place. I don't care what the High Command says. If they want me to help them they must listen to me It is the shortest distance across Channel from here."

" Ja, that is right, Herr Vultz, but they say —" began a red-faced colonel.

" Bah, I will hear no more of it," screeched the greatest engineer in Germany. " I don't care what they say. You can tell them I will build my tunnel to Portland Bill, or nowhere. It will be finished one week from today—if only they send me some more prisoners of war to work for me."

The second man spoke up.

" We have hundreds of thousands of prisoners of all kinds, British, French and Polish. We can send you thousands of them, but you demand R.A.F. men. Not enough R.A.F. men are being captured to supply you, Herr Vultz. Why will you not use someone else? "

The face of the mad engineer became twisted like that of a demon He thumped the table.

" Because my boring-machine kills those who work in it. It shakes them to pieces, and I like to see R.A.F. men shaken to pieces. I have reason to hate them. I will have R.A.F. men or none. If they cannot capture enough, they must do so in some other way. I want five hundred R.A.F. men."

In fact Vultz lost even the men he had : they were rescued by Zoom, and the Guernsey tunnelling camp was pounded to pieces by the R.A.F. " The Birdman had succeeded in his biggest job the saving of Britain."

But Vultz, one assumes, escaped. None of the leaders in this war ever dies, on either side. There are impossible escapes, impossible rescues, but one impossibility never happens— neither good nor evil is ever finally beaten. The war goes on: Vultz changes his ground—perhaps in happier days he may become again only a Pirate captain sniggering as his lesser victims walk the plank: Falconer, the air ace, is condemned to the firing squad, but the bullets have not been moulded that will finish his career. We are all of us seeing a bit of death these days, but we shall not see their deaths. They will go on living week after week in the pages of the Rover, the Skipper, the Hotspur, the B.O.P., and the Girls' Own Paper ; in the brain (If the boy who brings the parcels, of the evacuee child scowling from the railway compartment on his way to ignominious safety, of the shelter nuisance of whom we say: " How can anyone live with a child like that?" The answer, of course, is that he doesn't, except at mealtimes, live with us. He has other companions : he is part of a war that will never come to an end.