Palace Grounds

The car took a sharp turn off the forest road and passed between two huge stone pillars that marked the end of a long wide gravel path. They had arrived at SOE Training Camp Beaulieu. The wheels crunched over the gravel as it slid to a halt before the palace house. Dozens of other cars lined up before the grand building, recently converted from Royal home to training ground.

With a wince and a quick grasp of his wounded knee, Menzies-Taggart levered himself off the back seat. His driver stood to one side and saluted.

‘Carry on, Simmons. I daresay there’s a pot brewing somewhere. I’ll find you in the mess in one hour.’

With a grin and a thank you, the young man bolted. Selwyn paused a moment to watch him go then reached back into the car for his walking stick and the dossier.

He slammed the car door shut and strolled up the steps of the palace. inside the giant front door, he found a makeshift reception area. A WAAF sergeant looked up from behind a desk and smiled at him. ‘Help you, sir?’

‘I hope so, miss.’ Selwyn leaned heavily against the table, easing the weight on his knee, and showed her his pass card. ‘I’m looking for section F.’

‘Righto, sir. It’s a bit of a hike. Would you prefer if I showed you the way?’

‘I think I would like that very much, sergeant.’ It’s funny, Selwyn thought, how the value of a woman’s smile, a remarkable commodity at any time, soared during war.

The woman stood and called a corporal forward, detailing the young man with taking over her post. After a moment she turned back to Selwyn. ‘This way, sir.’

She set off at a sympathetic pace, winding through corridors and finally reaching a long orangery. She threaded through one of the many doors in the glass wall and lead him out on to the top terrace.

Keeping up an amiable but neutral chatter, she led him down the terraces, past the walled garden, around the maze and on to the green. There, she turned towards the tumbledown ruin of old Beaulieu Abbey. The decayed church walls loomed over an array of obstacle courses and firing ranges. They were all bristling with people hurling themselves around. The chatter of small arms fire filled the air.

The WAAF sergeant paused a moment and pointed out to him the various sections in sight. Apparently, sections A and D were testing themselves on the obstacle course while Section F were practising pistol shooting.

Selwyn turned and thanked her. She rewarded him with another smile; as she walked away, his gaze lingered a little longer than propriety allowed.

A loud voice cut across the noise. ‘Cease firing.’ It could only belong to a sergeant-major. Selwyn skirted around the obstacle course and approached section F. They were standing and gathering around a large table, laying down their pistols and eagerly eyeing the next weapon for practise, the Sten sub-machine gun. Like so much of the British war effort, it was a new invention. Selwyn doubted they could have used it much since it’s introduction.

As he drew level with the group, he spotted the man he was after, recognising him from the photograph in his file. He tapped the tip of his cane against the brim of his hat. ‘Ah, Captain Weaver, I presume?’

The End

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