My Name is Eva

Evelyn stares hard at the scene from long ago. His face had looked cruel from the time she first met him, but she hadn’t fully understood that was what it was then. He had just seemed cold and efficient, like so many of the commanding officers she had encountered in the service. And although his reputation had preceded him, she had not realised just how calculating he could be until she had seen it for herself.

She begins to tear the photo in half, then stops and peels off just the right-hand quarter, the section that contains the figure of Robinson, standing on the edge of the group, slightly separated from the other three figures. She places this strip on top of her folded newspaper, then picks up her pencil. She tests the tip with her finger, then sharpens it to a needle-like point and then, with the pencil clenched in her fist, she stabs Robinson’s face. Into both the eyes she goes, into that nose and into that hard, unsmiling mouth, until the fragment is tattered and unrecognisable. Satisfied with the destruction of his features, she tears the image into tiny pieces and, clutching them in her hand, shuffles into her bathroom and flushes the scraps away in the toilet.

Then she hobbles back to her chair and picks out the single picture of the blonde child from the tin. She compares it with the one she kisses every night, the one hidden in her bedside table drawer beneath the Bible. She holds both the tiny snaps side by side, trying to decide which is the better picture.

She had often walked past the garden, trying to get a glimpse of the child, and before she finally left Germany, she had decided to take some snapshots around the village. If anyone asked, she could say she was returning home shortly and wanted to remember the years she had spent at Wildflecken. She didn’t really care about recording the houses, the oxen ploughing the fields or the church; she only wanted to keep the ones of the child.

‘Lieselotte,’ she whispers. ‘They called you Lotte, but you were always Liese to me.’ She kisses both of the little photos and puts one back in the biscuit tin with all the other old family pictures. Pat can wonder all she likes, but she will never tell her.

Part II

Clever and good-looking (6,3,9)


20 November 1943

My dearest, darling Hugh,

This letter will never leave this country, let alone my possession, so I can say whatever I like without fear of reprisals or censure. All this time, ever since that terrible day when I was told you had gone for ever, I’ve been blaming you for taking risks, cursed you for not making it back home to me, but now I know that it was not your fault. Today, I found out that you and the others were terribly betrayed.

He didn’t want to ‘spill the beans’, as he put it, but your friend Tim McNeil came to see me this afternoon. He said he’d promised you that if he managed to get back home and you didn’t make it through, then he would call on me. He’s such a sweetie and it’s a great comfort to know that you were good friends and supported each other. I told him the only thing I’m grateful for in this whole sorry business is that you weren’t captured like the others. It’s a mercy of a kind that you were shot trying to escape and were never tortured.

Tim and I met for tea at the Coventry Street Corner House. You must remember it, darling, we went there soon after they opened the Old Vienna café and we were both unsure whether we would like the Aufschnitt or other foreign delicacies on the menu, so we ordered the special salad, full of prawns, egg and ham. That was four years ago, before the war even started. I wasn’t sure if I could manage to go back to where we had once been so happy but I decided to make an effort and wore my tailored uniform, the one Mama insisted I should have made. I think she thought I’d let the family down in my regulation kit. I’m not sure what she’d think if she knew I’m down to my last pair of stockings. If I wreck these, it’ll be Bisto seams for me like everyone else!

Tim was very kind when he arrived and I told him he should eat as he appeared awfully thin and pale. I tried the Spam fritters and he had a Welsh rarebit, which looked dreadful. The cheese we’re getting now is ghastly and I think they’d mixed it with powdered egg and tried to make it more palatable with mustard.

Then things got even more ghastly when our order came, as Tim suddenly told me he believes you and the others were betrayed. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’d just been waffling on about how I kept trying to console myself with the thought that you were doing important work. I said I liked to think that you and your fellows really did ‘set Europe ablaze’ as Churchill directed and that though I knew you couldn’t tell me much about your work, I knew you were excited to be really doing your bit for the war. Then I said I knew you and Tim were sent out on special missions, so he didn’t need to worry about what he might let slip.

And that was when I noticed that Tim wasn’t eating his food. He was stirring his tea, but his spoon just kept going round and round as if he was never going to stop. He looked awful, so I asked if something was wrong with his meal and suggested perhaps he should order something else and then he looked straight at me and said you and the others never got the opportunity to set Europe ablaze. He said that he and some other chaps were convinced that your last mission had been set up to fail deliberately, to mislead the Germans.

I tried to stay calm, but I couldn’t help myself. I dropped my knife and fork on my plate and made a terrible din. I felt sick and had to hold my napkin over my mouth. I couldn’t believe what he was saying. But eventually I forced myself to speak and asked him why on earth would they want a mission to fail? He said he wasn’t exactly sure, but he believes that some clever double-double-cross agent manoeuvring was going on. He said it’s lost them a dozen or so men and women, plus networks.

It was such a shock, I tell you. I closed my eyes and half-thought I’d have to excuse myself and run to the ladies’ cloakroom. But what good would that have done? I’d have locked myself in a cubicle and howled the place down for hours. So I decided I simply had to pull myself together, grit my teeth and learn more. I was desperate to hear what Tim knew, so I breathed deeply, folded my napkin on my lap and said I couldn’t believe it. After hand-picking recruits with special skills and languages, after all that training, did he mean all of you were considered to be disposable? I was trembling and I know my voice was a bit shaky, but I simply had to know.

Tim took a moment to answer then said it wasn’t quite like that, it was more a game, where the risks were unreasonably high. And I said did he mean it was a gamble and he agreed. I was still feeling dreadfully shaky and Tim looked even more uncomfortable, then he suggested we should get the bill and we go somewhere quieter, so we left the restaurant without finishing our food and started walking along Piccadilly, towards Fortnum & Mason and Green Park. Neither of us said much for a bit, then, it was silly of me, I know, I was suddenly reminded of that night you and I had dinner at Quaglino’s, the same night that the Café de Paris was hit. I think it was the way the setting sun was glinting on tiny shards of glass in the gutters as we passed the turning into Bury Street. So I told Tim about our lucky escape and how we caught what must have been the only taxicab out in the West End that terrible night, because you had to catch the train to Edinburgh from King’s Cross. I said I hadn’t realised it at the time, but maybe that was when you first started your special training.

Tim gave me a funny look, then said he was so sorry you didn’t make it back and that he thought you were a fine chap. And I asked him again about his earlier remarks about lives being risked in that mission. And then, gosh, I can hardly believe this even now, he said your lives weren’t just risked, he believed they were sacrificed. He stopped walking and said he shouldn’t be telling me anything, but the head of the whole operation is a chap who firmly believes the end justifies the means. Tim said this chap knew jolly well that our men were highly unlikely to make it back.

Honestly, darling, I felt sick all over again. I could feel those awful fritters I’d tried to eat heaving in my stomach. I must have looked ghastly and I remember slumping against the window of Fortnum’s. Goodness knows what people must have thought of me. But I was determined not to be sick in public, so I breathed slowly, till I felt a bit better, then asked Tim if he was quite certain. And Tim said he was utterly serious and that if this fellow had played his hand differently, he was quite sure you and the others wouldn’t have died.

Can you imagine what a shock it was for me hearing this? But when I recovered (and I wasn’t sick, I just took breaths of cold air), I had to ask Tim who this man was. I looked him straight in the eye and demanded to know his name. I was pretty dramatic, I tell you – I think I said I wanted to know who had gambled with my husband’s life.

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