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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning
Part I
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    Part I

    The knife neatly slashed through the thin paper then tore a ragged line along the envelope, causing the contents to spill out over the dusty table. A pair of gloved hands picked through the detritus before coming up with a bulky reel-to-reel tape. The owner of the hands held the tape up to the trench-coated figure in the corner of the room questioningly.

    Receiving a curt nod in reply the man strode over to the boxy recorder in the corner while opening up the tape box, pausing to thread the tape through the machinery he reached out for the play button before stopping short. With his arm still hovering over the mechanism he glanced back at the trench-coat, waiting for permission to hear the contents. Receiving a nod he pressed the button, stepped back and listened as the machine took up the slack tape and a male voice emerged from the speakers;

    "Hello old friend. If you are hearing this I am dead."
     
    Part II
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    Part II

    "I asked my lawyer to give you this tape and the rest of the documents after I passed on so that my story would not die with me. If you think this is just the vanity of an old man then so be it, but do me one last favour and hear me out, I'm sure there are some who would be most interested in my tale."

    The glove wearing heavy saw a flicker of movement in the corner of his eyes, if he didn't know better he'd have sworn it was the ghost of a smile crossing the lips of his superior. The tape continued on.

    "So where to begin? My childhood, growing up among the vines of Libourne perhaps? Or my time at the Université de Bordeaux?" The speaker on the tape paused before chuckling.

    "Ahh do not worry my friend, while my ego may compel me to leave this testament I'm not so far gone as to think I have led an entirely riveting life. It is my memories of the war that will interest history, my part in the Fall."
     
    Part III
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    Part III

    "So to the war, something I was fortune to observe from a desk in the Ministry instead of from the end of Berthier rifle. It was, perhaps, a detached and comfortable war, though you of all people should know that at times it was anything but easy. However I'm sure I did more for France with my pen than I could ever have done with a rifle!"

    "Sometimes though, late at night after a good Armagnac from the old country, I find myself wishing I had fought my battles in uniform not a suit..." The voice tailed off leaving just the whirring of the tape and the background hiss of dead air. Finally the voice restarted.

    "But enough of an old man's self absorption, I set out to record the story of my war and that I shall do. So September 1939, the battle for Poland. For some in the ministry it existed as a series of telegrams, those in the situation room saw it as a flowing picture on a map, personally however I remember it as the changes on one man's face."
     
    Part IV
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    Part IV

    "The man was our Polish Military Attaché, a bull of man who strode through the ministry each morning for the early morning briefing, then strode back every night after the last signal had been received. Though much of that time has faded, some of it I think just through shear force of repression, his face and his stature are etched on my memory, even if his name is now lost to me. As he walked through he passed my desk and, as the war progressed, his demeanour changed to reflect the latest news. In the beginning anger dominated, glaring at the clerks he passed as if to blame us for the tardiness of France's promised offensive, an unpleasant experience certainly but, sadly, just a shadow of what was to come."

    "When Gamelin launched his Saar Offensive a flicker of hope crossed his face, soon replaced by contempt when Gamelin returned with his tail between his legs after a few short miles. At the time I though that phase was the worst, the disdain on his face was so visceral I dreaded his passing, each site of him forcing me see France's abandonment of Poland given human form. Looking back it is now the final phases that haunt me, his shock at the speed of the collapse then, worst of all, his resignation after the fall of Warsaw and the end of formal resistance. To see a proud man so broken down, his fire doused and his hope lost.." the voice trailed off, the emotion tangible across the years.

    "A terrible sight to see my friend, one made worse in my memory by the knowledge of my own, similar, descent scant months later."
     
    Part V
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    Part V

    "Thus Poland fell, her army beaten and a proud nation subjugated. Almost incidentally we in the Ministry were forced to confront the unfortunate reality that all our pre-war predictions had been quite spectacularly wrong. But did we let such inconvenient truths get in the way of our plans and schemes? No we did not." The speaker paused, his voice a mixture of contempt and regret.

    "To my shame I was part of that cosy consensus, drafting memos and reports in favour of ploughing on despite the evidence, and despite my own doubts. So while Germany digested Poland, and divided the spoils with the Soviets, we in the ministry re-wrote our old plans with new words, my fear of speaking out prevailing over my concerns. Logically I know dissent would have made no difference to official policy. Objectively I'm well aware it was far from the only bad decision I made. And yet not speaking out that Winter still weighs heavily on my conscience, all the rationalisation in the world will not stop the feeling in the pit of my stomach that by keeping quiet I was to blame for what followed."
     
    Part VI
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    Part VI

    "At the time though I swallowed my doubts and got on with my work, an attitude helped by the growing hope in the department. Indeed as the Winter turned to Spring I admit my faith in my superiors grew, the naval blockade was taking a terrible toll on the Germans. The Marine Nationale had outdone themselves; the North Sea was studded with the wrecks of German cruisers. Even the English had chipped in, proving their claims about conquering the U-boat menace had not been an idle boast."

    They heavy sighed and shifted slightly, his boredom overflowing and expressing itself physically. Why did the self absorbed ramblings of an old civil servant matter so much? Sneaking a glance at his boss he saw the usual blank mask, the features showing neither rapt attention nor bored disinterest. Mentally shrugging to himself he returned his attention to the tape, hoping the old man would hurry up and finally say something interesting.

    "It seemed too good to be true, I knew that, yet I hoped the blockade would work, that Germany could be starved out without recourse to bloody combat. The naive optimism of youth! I was brought back down to earth by the shock of Norway. By the farce of Norway."
     
    Part VII
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    Part VII

    "I should, I suppose, mention Denmark, but what is there to say? I had on my desk a large message tray into which the news of the night's events was deposited, the most recent events naturally on top. In that way I read of the capitulation before I even knew war had come to Denmark, much like the majority of the Danish public I suppose." The voice sighed in empathy.

    "With all apologies to those same Danes their biggest impact on the ministry was to embarrass us into action over Norway. Just as Poland had been the diplomatic line in the sand, so Denmark was for the military; no more nations would be allowed to fall to the Germans, Norway would be defended." An empty, humourless laugh emerged from the speakers.

    "An unfortunately apt metaphor! Our diplomacy failed to stop the march to war and going to Norway did not stop the Germans notching up another conquest."
     
    Part VIII
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    Part VIII

    "I called Norway a face, everybody does, but I must confess I never felt it a fair sobriquet. I always felt it was, on it's own terms, something of a high point in France's war, though I acknowledge competition for that title is hardly intense."

    The heavy stifled a snigger, it was hardly an appropriate reaction for a man in his profession. He hoped the trench coat hadn't noticed, but a quick look caught the shadow of disapproval crossing his superior's face. As he tried to concentrate the tape continued.

    "I must also admit to a certain amount of self interest; I was involved in planning the army's contribution and served as liaison to the navy staff. And it was in that role that I was present at Marseilles Docks as the task force was despatched."

    "Even now I can see it clearly, the streamers flying and the crowds cheering as the Force Expeditionaire and the cream of the Chasseurs Alpine departed in their transports for Norway. It was a sight to warm the heart, the flower of the army and the pride of the fleet steaming out of port with full pomp and ceremony. Not perhaps the wisest military move but just the shot in the arm the public needed for it sent a message; the fightback had begun." The voice paused before laughing hollowly.

    "I suppose technically the message was right, but not in the way we thought at the time."
     
    Part IX
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    Part IX

    "So the expeditionary force left as heroes and we mere civil servants returned to the our offices. I was one of the lucky few from the Ministry sent to the Operation Room to liaise and I must confess it was an exciting time. We all knew France had just entered a race, our convoy against the Germans, the first to arrive in Norway would most likely win the entire campaign. So rather than race for Oslo we went for the nearer Stavanger to get our men ashore first." The voice paused and started chuckling.

    "But of course the Germans knew about the race too, and after the bloody nose Darlan's ships had given them had good reason to avoid our fleet. So they too avoided the obvious and sent their main force to Stavanger as well! As if that wasn't enough the same thing then happened at Narvik, the British sent their reinforcements there and met German destroyers packed full of troops for a German diversionary landing!" The chuckling subsided.

    "I know it should be wrong to laugh at such things, certainly at the time those naval battles were tense, work stopped as the entire operation room waited for the next radio report. It's a miracle my nerves survived, every hit or near miss was cheered and every silence absolute, dozens of people holding their breath, praying the empty static didn't mean the worst. But in hindsight... In hindsight it was ridiculous and well worthy of being called farce. That so many good men died does not remove the humour, merely make it the very blackest of comedies."

    "But black comedy or not we won, the German Navy was duly slaughtered by the Allied fleets while on land we crushed those few Germans that had made it ashore. I remember walking out of the operation room elated, our first major victory had come and it was oh so sweet. But that feeling was not to last, while I had been so engrossed in Norway the war elsewhere had not stopped and my desk bore the grim evidence of that. On the very day we had saved Oslo the Germans had hurled themselves at Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. While we were winning the Battle of Norway the Battle for France was beginning."
     
    Part X
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    Part X

    "Though the Germans were smashing through Northern Holland there was still work to be done in Norway and so, though I longed to return to the Ministry and play my small part in what was clearly the main event, I was forced to continue on as liaison officer." A regret loaded sigh emerged from the speakers.

    "I must say the comedown for all of us was truly awful, days earlier we had been the toast of France, the first to defeat the Germans. Suddenly we were an irrelevance, our achievements meaningless in comparison to the events in the Low Countries. We went through the motions, we had professionalism enough for that, but our hearts were not in it, all of us wished to be back in the heart of the action."

    The heavy nodded along, he could agree with anyone who wanted action, even if his definition of action would have differed considerably from that of the speaker on the tape.

    "Eventually we got our wish, the strain on the civil service and the wrapping up of Norway meant the liaison staff were released and returned to the Ministry. It may seem ridiculous to outsiders, indeed it probably is ridiculous, but shuffling paper for troops fighting in Holland seemed far more important that doing the same for troops in Norway. And I suppose in a way it was." The voice hesitated before continuing.

    "So at last we come to it, the first of my reasons for making this tape, the first revelation."
     
    Part XI
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    Part XI

    "I have seen many reasons advanced as to why Gamelin drove our forces so far north, everything from his aggressive nature to a desire to keep the war of French soil. All of these may be true, there are others better qualified than me to answer, but one reasons I've never seen mentioned was political interference."

    The trenchcoat raised a quizzical eyebrow but continued to listen as the voice carried on.

    "Gamelin had opposed the Norwegian campaign and predicted it's failure, so when it succeeded he was left looking over cautious and out of touch. Conversely Prime Minister Reynaud looked a far sighted genius for so heavily supporting it, with the antipathy between the two men such a situation could never end well."

    "Matters came to a head when Reynaud ordered Gamelin, under threat of sacking, to be more aggressive and decisive in the Low Countries. I know this to be the case because the relevant Ministry memos crossed my desk, copies of which I have put in the pack this tape came in."

    The heavy rifled through the paper and came up with the relevant document, he flashed it at the trenchcoat who nodded approval.

    "It is not the biggest revelation in the world I know, and if it had been all I had to tell I may not have made this tape, but it would certainly cause old man Reynaud a few problems would it not? Hard to play the heroic elderstatesman when it emerges you were to blame for such a major disaster and then blamed it on a dead man?" The voice paused.

    "Now I come to think about it, Reynaud made quite a habit of such tricks."
     
    Part XII
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    Part XII

    "So the disaster of the Low Countries duly unfolded, our best and fastest armies rushed north, trying to save the Dutch until, when they were most vulnerable, the Germans unleashed their master stroke. Rushing through the supposedly impenetrable Ardennes they smashed Gamelin's covering force and raced through Belgium, capturing Brussels then driving for the sea." The awe in the voice was tangible.

    "Would Gamelin have gone so far without Reynaurd's orders? I do not know, though I am sure it was only Reynaud's guilt at issuing that order that kept Gamelin in his job. Ironic is it not? In trying to undermine Gamelin when he was doing his job properly Reynaud forced him to act improperly, thus generating a large clamour that the general be sacked. But by that point Reynaud couldn't sack him or Gamelin would reveal the earlier under-mining."

    The heavy started chewing his tongue as he tried to follow the convoluted logic, eventually deciding to give up while the tobacco stained lump he called a tongue was still intact. The voice continued.

    "The days and weeks that followed saw Holland then Belgium forced from the war and the better part of two French Armies struggle to escape an ever tightening pocket, to say we were in a panic would be an under statement." The hollow laugh emerged again before the voice continued.

    "But Reynaud had a plan, he would call upon the hero Petain to save us! Petain!" The voice dripped venom as it spat the name out.
     
    Part XIII
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    Part XIII

    "So Petain was appointed Minister for National Defence and I must say I was not happy about his arrival from the start. This is not hindsight talking, nor any claim to special insight at the time, merely an old civil service prejudice against a Minister with no Ministry to guide him. You can't let politicians run off un-supervised, who knows what damage they'll do?" The voiced asked.

    The trenchcoat gave another of his thin smiles in response then carried on listening.

    "Unfortunately, and against our strenuous advice, Petain was given an alarming degree of latitude and dismissed the help of those in the service who tried to assist. Apparently he wished to be free from 'bureaucratic distractions' and the government cravenly agreed." The voice was laden with contempt.

    "It was unfortunate as his mission from Reynaud was an important one, to steady the line, assess the situation and plot a way out of the mess France found herself in. It is no secret the government also hoped his presence would rally both the troops and the country, lifting morale as the people saw the old hero take charge!" The voice paused in reflection.

    "I suppose in a twisted way he did just that, just not as everyone hoped."
     
    Part XIV
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    Part XIV

    "Still, back to Petain's review. For us in the Ministry it was a decidedly unpleasant but mercifully brief affair. Petain would burst into an office, berate almost everyone for incompetence, blame everything on liberals and the decline in 'proper' French values then burst out again. I gather he was just as bad with the army commanders but was careful to remain suitably patriotic when inspecting the troops."

    "In hindsight I suppose that was an ominous sign, but we were too busy trying to balance hurt feelings and personal dislike for the man with our fervent desire he would succeed." A pause then the voice slowly continued, rich with the incredulity of hindsight.

    "We thought the fate of France rested on his shoulders, we would forgive him anything as we hoped the Great War hero would bring us victory." Another pause, long and uncomfortable.

    "Sadly for our hopes while he was writing the Germans were fighting, by the time he'd finished his first draft the Germans had left the Ardennes and reached Reims and were still going. Fearful for Paris the government made the fateful decision to order Petain to the front, telling him to stiffen the armies resolve and to help Gamelin hold the line on the Marne."
     
    Part XV
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    Part XV

    "The next part I'm sure you know, in fact I believe our beloved President has put it in the school curriculum. While out on a moral boosting tour Petain met his 'heroic' death, killed by the German artillery along with Gamelin while they were inspecting troops on the Marne."

    The heavy nodded. While he was still hazy on why being flattened by a 10.5cm shell was 'heroic' he had long since learned to accept there were many things he was never going to understand.

    "But now we come to the big revelation, the reason in fact I made this tape. For while Petain was impressing junior officers by the Marne his preliminary report was sitting on my desk. It's thin bluff covers giving no clue as to it's explosive contents."The voice trailed off into silence, followed by a long pause. Eventually the voice returned, quieter but grimly determined.

    "Quite simply the report stated the situation was hopeless, that any attempt at fighting on was doomed and baldy stated that France should seek peace with Germany at any price. Petain, the hero of France, figurehead for the movement and step-father to our own dear President was advocating unconditional surrender."

    The heavy gasped, struggling to comprehend the revelation. In confusion he looked at his boss and was amazed to see the trenchcoat's trilby bobbing as his boss nodded along.
     
    Part XVI
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    Part XVI

    From the silence the voice emerged again, louder and more agitated.

    "I know this sounds unbelievable, I know I would doubt it if I didn't know the truth. So I give you proof, in the envelope a copy of Petain's report, the copy I stole from the Ministry and which, in all the chaos, they never noticed was missing."

    The heavy began sorting through the papers looking for the indicated document. Though a decidedly unimaginative soul, such gentlemen are never picked for their empathy or insight, as he sifted he suddenly realised that the man on the tape must had done exactly the same thing while making the recording. Struck by this he suddenly felt a tenuous but very real connection to the voice which, in a different man, would have been accompanied by an intense pang of guilt.

    As it was the heavy shook his head to clear such thoughts and returned to his search but, not meeting with success, shrugged his shoulders at his superior. The voice carried on, growing more desperate as it continued.

    "Please old friend, whatever you decide to do with this, you must stop it from getting into the wrong hands. "

    The trenchcoat stirred himself and focused on the source of the voice.

    "Yes it would be a shame if it has gotten into the wrong hands." He said, then gestured at the heavy to collect the paperwork and retrieve the tape, he then put the whole package safely in his suitcase.

    This job done the two men walked out of the room, the heavy pausing only to kick the lifeless body of the rooms former owner out of the way so he could lock the door behind them.
     
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    Part XVII
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    Part XVII

    The trenchcoat dropped the file to the table, loathed as he was to admit it his search appeared to have hit the buffers. Through habit he looked up at the wall of face, the photos a mixture of official file records and illicit shots snapped through ancient telephoto lenses. Among the many connections between the men photographed was the big red cross over their faces and the neat script beneath detailing their cause of death. For each man there was a small story outlining the tragic accident, terrible fire and even in a few cases the 'natural cause' that was actually natural. The sole exception, the single un-crossed face, was that of Monsieur Montbel, the voice on the tape and the only known survivor of "The Swords".

    However with his home looted, his lawyer dead and no sign of the man himself it appeared he too had finally succumbed, either the DCRG or La Cagoule had got to him and taken the proof of Petain's treason with them. The only thing keeping the trenchcoat going, the sole crumb of hope, was the lack of a corpse. Hérain's protectors never bothered to hide their bodies, so why start now? He therefore reasoned it was possible, just possible, Montbel had survived somehow and taken his documents with him. With no other lead to chase there seemed little harm in chasing down the possibility.

    That decision did however leave the problem of where to find Montbel if neither friend nor family had seen him in weeks. Hoping to better understand his quarry the trenchcoat reached out for the portable recorder on his desk and threaded the tape onto it. He pressed play and leant back, letting the now familiar voice wash over him as he listened intently, hoping for a clue that would lead him to Montbel's sanctuary.
     
    Part XVIII
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    Part XVIII

    The words on the tape flowed past the trenchcoat as he laid back, eyes closed, barely listening to the voice as his brain worked on the problem of finding Montbel. While the story of Reynaurd's cynical abuse of the memory of Petain would have doubtless interested historians, and indeed the general public, it was of no use for a man hunt. As Montbel recounted the story of the famous "Fight on for Petain, Fight on for France!" speech and the applause of the hoodwinked deputies the trenchcoat would have looked asleep to the casual observer.

    However when the narrative moved onto the Battle of Paris his eyes snapped open and he sat forward, intently listening for a clue to a favourite location in the capital, a possible bolt hole for his quarry. As he concentrated Montbel continued.

    "If I were conventional I suppose I would say the defining moment was the destruction of the Arc de Triomphe, the German's artillery breaking it's back and the entire edifice collapsing into rubble. But I must be honest,I was in the Ministry's basement at the time of that collapse, sorting out paperwork and art for evacuation as the government fled the capital. In a perverse way I suppose that makes me somewhat unique, the only man in Paris who wasn't watching at just the right moment to have seen the Arc's collapse!" A dry, almost humourless laugh.

    "So if not the breaking of the Arc then what? An event I did see, and one which for me sums up France's entire war; the collapse of the Eiffel Tower. I was in a convoy heading for the main station when out of nowhere a Stuka appeared and seemed to head straight for us. I must confess I felt close to panic, I hadn't even wanted to be in the convoy and now I was going to be bombed. Fortunately for us as he approached he flew into a wall of flak from the guns on the Champ de Mars and how we cheered as the gunners struck home, the German plane flipping over into a death dive." A sad pause then Montbel slowly continued.

    "Our cheers froze in our throats as we watched the dying Stuka descend, heading closer and closer to the Eiffel Tower before, with a grim inevitably, crashing in a giant fireball at the base. The tower shuddered, swayed then elegantly collapsed onto the Champ de Mars, taking the flack gunners with it. If that doesn't sum up France's war what does?"
     
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    Part XIX
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    Part XIX

    The sad tale of the Eiffel Tower's collapse prompted the heavy to burst out laughing and even raised a rare grin from the trenchcoat. As they appreciated the dark comedy of Montbel's tale his voice continued in the background.

    "Such convoys were my entire life at the time, my waking hours were spent either loading or unloading the trucks and my only chance to sleep was when the trucks started moving. And can I just say it is amazing how quickly even a lifelong desk-bound bureaucrat like myself can learn to sleep anywhere when there are no other options. Such lessons in how far I could push myself were among the few bright spots in my own personal sea of darkness."

    The heavy nodded his appreciation, it was his considered opinion bureaucrats of all types would benefit from 'toughening up', a job he would willingly do for free in many cases.

    "The bombardment of Paris by bomb and shell continued, as our circuitous routes weaved through the city the truck's driver would shake me awake to see the most heart rending tragedy; the shattered roof of the Grand Palais, the de-towered ruin of Notre Dame, the crater where once the Lourvre had stood." The voice stopped and fought down the emotion.

    "Had it not been for the black humour of our military escort I doubt I would have made it, I still remember out outrider's laconic comment 'Well that's the 4th buggered.' as we passed the burnt out wreckage of Les Invalides. Though I suppose he was right, for all of the commanding general's optimism the 4th Armoured's desperate counter-attack barely reached the city limits before being thrown back. What was the commander's name? de Gaultier? de Galles? What does it matter I suppose? What is one dead general among a division of dead soldiers? Why is the leader more worthy of 'heroic' memorial than his men?

    It was a profound question, one sadly wasted on the heavy who had engrossed himself in the paper while he waited the next instruction from his listening boss.
     
    Part XX
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    Part XX

    "It is said no good deed goes unpunished, before the war I would have dismissed this as rank cynicism. Indeed even prior to the Battle of Paris I think I still had enough faith in natural justice to doubt it, at least I hope I did. In any event the Battle of Paris destroyed that faith once and from all." Montbel sighed and continued.

    "I wish it was something noble that trigged it, or at least something grand, the pointless sacrifice of the men of the 4th Armoured perhaps, but it wasn't. No it was my entirely personal upset that after my 'good work' organising the evacuation convoys I would not be going home to Bordeux with the rest of the fleeing government. Instead I was ordered to Nice to oversee the shipping of the convoys to Corsica and North Africa. My 'reward' for risking life and limb was the chance to take even more risks while being even less comfortable!"

    "While the convoy troops were sympathetic with my discovery of this universal truth they were not surprised and advised me to expect more of the same should I be successful again. Indeed one cheerful soul pointed out that undoubtedly the man who sent me and appreciated it would doubtless not make it while anybody I had 'blown up' would surely survive the war. Depressingly he was entirely right on that score."

    The heavy nodded his approval at the wisdom of this unknown soldier.

    "Possibly as an attempt to cheer me up, or perhaps for their own cynical sport, they advised I would soon get over it; soon I'd be too busy worrying about the Italians primed to burst over the Alps and over-run Nice to care about anything else."