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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 81 - To The Train Station

John Illingworth continues to take risks in his attempt to smuggle a young Jewish girl out of Poland, away from the invading Nazis.

To read earlier chapters of John Waddington-Feather's novel please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

By chance, he heard at the embassy of a British businessman who had been rescuing Jewish children from the Gestapo; bribing the Nazis to let him take them for adoption in England. Hundreds destined for the concentration camps had been got out of Europe. He had succeeded in saving children from Austria and Hungary, now he was operating in Prague and John discovered there was a trainload of children leaving Prague the very next week.

The day following Schleicher's visit, the embassy was informed that Flight Lieutenant Illingworth was persona non grata and had fourteen days to leave the country. His apartment was watched around the clock and he was followed wherever he went by Gestapo agents. But with the help of his neighbours, he kept Miriam well hidden and was able to smuggle her out the day before he left Prague, the day the refugee train left the city and he made sure Miriam had a place on it.

He always parked his car outside his apartment, and at first light on the day he got Miriam away, his neighbour, wearing John's air-force coat and hat, hurried out and drove off in his car. Two men in leather overcoats pulled out from the rank of parked cars and tailed it.

As soon as they'd gone, John slipped out the back way with Miriam and hurried down the block where he'd hired a friendly taxi-driver to take him to the station. Once in, they sped off to the station.

The ride seemed an eternity. Steel-helmeted troops patrolled every road, sometimes in lorries sometimes on foot, stopping and searching at random. One of them flagged down his taxi and asked for his papers. It seemed an age before he handed them back and scrutinized John and the girl. But he waved them on and John breathed freely again.

Throughout the ride, Miriam remained wide-eyed and silent. She had been briefed to call him daddy if questioned but there was no need. John cuddled her close, keeping her out of sight, praying they wouldn't be delayed and miss the train. And all the way there, memories of when Miriam's mother had been dragged off by the Germans, kept returning. He had considered many times, too, what would happen to the likes of the Goldsteins if ever the Fascists got into power in England.

He spoke at times to the little girl in his broken German explaining what would happen when they arrived at the station. She would be looked after by friends on board the train and taken to England, where relatives would meet her. She asked after her parents and John lied, saying they were safe. Years later, she discovered the truth.

After that initial fright, all went to plan and they arrived safely at the railway station. As he left the cab, he tried to look calm but found himself hurrying the girl along, almost running along the concourse, stiff with soldiers, searching for the right platform, reading one destination after another till he got on the platform bound for London.

No one stopped him till he reached the barrier. Beyond it, he could see the train preparing to leave. The engine driver was leaning out of his cab watching the guard, who was looking at his watch. John pressed forward with the last of the people rushing to catch it, when he was halted by a hand on his arm.

"Your papers, please, sir," said a German officer. John turned and the German saluted as he saw his rank. He handed the officer the papers he had had prepared at the embassy and watched him with his heart in his mouth. The German was a mild man, quite unlike Schleicher, a conscript who had been a teacher in civilian life. Once he had gone through the routine of examining the papers, he handed them back with a sad smile, looking at Miriam again to check her against her photograph. And the way he stared made John suspect he knew the truth, for he turned immediately to a list he carried and ran his eye down that. It stopped at a name and his eyes returned to the girl. He smiled again speaking to her in fluent English, but she didn't understand and looked blank. When he repeated his question in German she answered at once.

"Strange, sir," he murmured with that sad smile, "your daughter prefers to speak in German. I'm honoured. She speaks it well, too. Please hurry. Your train is about to leave." Then he waved them through.

John thanked him and saluted, then hurried to the waiting train, looking for the contact he had to make. The only direction he had been given was to go in uniform to the train, with the girl and wait until he was approached by a Mr Smith. He would then take charge of the girl.

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