More than a thousand miles away in the North African desert, the boy's father, Major Bernie Sloan, a British officer and the commandant of a German and Italian POW camp, meets captured German Colonel Hans Dieter Reichmann who tells an unbelievable story. Sloan, a Jewish man, harbors a deep hatred for Germany and its people. Sloan finds it difficult to believe that Reichmann may have actually saved a Jewish family by smuggling them out of Germany.
Both father and son are about to discover that in war, as in life, things are not always as they appear, and people can't always be judged by the uniforms they wear. Or can they?
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HONOR KNOWS NO BORDERS
By John Sharer
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 John Sharer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe battle had raged for two days and two nights. When dawn broke on the third day the North African desert was strewn with destroyed German and British tanks, many still burning. Tank crews and supporting infantry lay dead in close proximity to the twisted and broken tanks. Some were killed by gunfire as they tried to escape their mortally wounded tanks. Some were burned to death. The carnage was overwhelming. Hardened veterans on both sides never forgot those terrible days and most could never bear to talk about them.
Early on the third day, the remnants of the German column broke off the encounter and retreated toward their own lines some thirty miles away. The British formed a line facing the retreating Germans, but did not pursue. That decision was necessitated by diminishing fuel supplies and the necessity of reserving adequate quantities to reach their own lines.
Five of the German tanks had been cut off from the rest of their force and had the line of British armor between them and escape. One of the five flew the pennant of the commander of the German column. Despite the dire fuel situation, thirty-five of the British tanks were ordered to pursue the cut-off enemy tanks. It seemed unlikely that the small German force could outrun the larger British contingent when luck intervened. A devastating sandstorm suddenly arose, reducing visibility almost to zero.
The commander of the German column, Colonel Hans Dieter Reichmann, radioed to the other four tanks.
"Continue in your present direction for two thousand meters, then turn right ninety degrees and run laterally for a thousand meters, then another turn of ninety degrees toward our lines. I will run back and forth firing intermittently in the direction of the British. Hopefully they will believe that all five of us have turned and decided to take a stand. With this reduced visibility, you may very well be able to flank the British and get back to our lines without being seen."
"Colonel, we would prefer to stay with you and fight it out. We don't want to leave you here alone," radioed back Captain Kraemer.
"What I just told you was an order-not a suggestion for discussion," barked Reichmann.
His tone was harsh, but inwardly he was proud and grateful for the loyalty of his men.
"Get going. Now!" he shouted. Then in a lower voice, he said, "Good luck."
Reichmann's tank moved back and forth, firing into the wall of sand with no real chance of hitting anything. After twenty minutes his gunner reported that the ammunition was gone.
"What about the machine gun?"
"Half a belt only."
"Short bursts every twenty seconds."
Eight or nine minutes later the belt was gone.
"Run laterally to the British and we'll try to outflank them, but I fear we have less chance than our comrades."
As if on cue, the sandstorm started to lift and visibility improved noticeably. The British tanks were clearly visible as was the lone German tank.
"Turn away and we'll try to outrun them," yelled Reichmann.
It was hopeless. The chase was over in two minutes. One shell tore off the left track, leaving the tank immobile. The second shell scored a direct hit on the turret, setting the tank on fire. It slowly keeled over on its side. Reichmann was stunned and had a deep cut over his left eye. He quickly checked the remainder of his crew. They were all dead. He crawled out of the tank and rolled over on his back. After a minute or two he saw enemy soldiers approaching and he reached for his pistol. A young corporal stuck the muzzle of a rifle in his face.
"Touch that popgun Fritz and I'll blow your bloomin' 'ead off. Your choice, mate."
Chapter TwoThe constant heat during the day in the North African desert was unbelievably oppressive. It was unrelenting and there was no shelter from it. The sand got into everything-shoes, eyes, ears, armpits, and up a long-suffering soldier's behind. But it was the flies that provided the ultimate torment. An open mouth and one or more flew in. They swarmed around the latrines and there was no way to keep them out of the food. As a result, dysentery was a constant threat. Water was the scarcest commodity. One helmetful was the ration for each soldier per day. With that helmetful, the soldier had to wash, brush his teeth, and save enough for his canteen. It didn't matter if you were a private or a field marshal, all you got was one helmet of water.
Major Bernie Sloan, the commander of a British supply depot, remembered his introduction to the desert when he first arrived. Sergeant Buckley, who was to become his chief clerk and who had been there from the beginning, told him about the way to determine how long a British soldier had been in the desert. It wasn't the depth of his tan or the length of his beard. It was his tea-drinking procedure. With the limited daily ration of water, the soldiers could only spare enough for one cup of tea a day. To any British soldier, that cup of tea was sacred. Buckley said that it was inevitable that a fly would get into the tea before the soldier was finished drinking it. Soldiers who had only been in the desert for a short time would throw the remaining tea away. Those who had been there longer would fish out the fly, throw it away, and drink the tea. "But the real old timers," said Buckley with a straight face, "they would squeeze the fly out before throwing it away and drink the rest of the tea." Sloan had a good laugh at this story and he came to appreciate that Buckley could tell some corkers with his Lancashire accent and always with a straight face.
With sweat pouring down his face and onto the documents he was reading, Sloan was trying to determine whether the supplies the unit had just received were what he had requisitioned.
"Bloody hell!" he exclaimed. "Buckley, get in here."
Buckley came on the run, stopped, stiffened, and threw a perfect salute.
Sloan reluctantly returned the salute less stiffly and definitely less perfectly. "Buckley, you don't have to salute every time you come in here. Let's compromise-once a day and that's it."
Buckley was a career man and, while he was not partial to Sloan's disregard for military protocol, he liked and respected him and would do anything for him. Of course he didn't know that Sloan was Jewish. Nobody in the desert did. Sloan had long since convinced himself that he was not hiding the fact, but he certainly didn't go out of his way to reveal it. It probably wouldn't have made any difference to Buckley if he found out now. He had grown to be fiercely loyal to Sloan. He had never known any Jews-at least not to talk to. He had grown up on a farm and had joined the army as a teenager. The pre-war army had few Jews and he hadn't met any.
"Didn't we order a thousand tubes of zinc ointment?"
"Yes sir, we did."
"Well, instead they've sent us a thousand tubes of shaving cream. We've got enough shaving cream lying around here to shave our army, the German Army, and every male over the age of eighteen in Egypt. Are you sure you ordered the right stuff?"
"Yes sir. I have my copy of the 759/3a/498.1 requisition form that I sent in. Do you want to see it?"
"No, that's not necessary. Call around and see if anyone wants to trade any of their zinc ointment for shaving cream. Tell them we'll throw in a few hundred pair of excess socks that we also didn't order. We need that ointment. A lot of the men are coming down with some type of rash on their bottoms and the MO says that ointment is the only thing that will help."
Chapter ThreeMajor-Major Sloan."
Sergeant Buckley was yelling when he was still twenty yards away from Sloan's tent and running as though a raging lion was chasing him. He burst into the tent panting so hard he could barely talk. He hadn't run that hard since basic training and that had been many years ago.
"What in heaven's name is it, Buckley? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Buckley didn't come to attention, didn't salute, and-without being asked-collapsed into the only other chair in the tent. He realized his place and immediately jumped up.
"You've gotta come with me sir-right now," he gasped.
Sloan followed him out of the tent and, at something more than a quick march, followed him past the larger tents that held a variety of supplies. One tent contained soft goods-desert uniforms, knee socks, battle dress, and the like. Another contained non-perishable foodstuffs-powdered milk, powdered eggs, battle rations, etc. There were a number of other tents containing various items. Beyond the tents were rows of tanks and motorcycles. They were replacement vehicles fueled and ready to go when needed. Beyond the vehicles self-propelled Bofors guns were neatly lined up in rows with the guns perfectly pitched at identical angles. At least that is the way they were supposed to be lined up. But they weren't. The guns were tilted at various angles in a crazy, disorganized pattern. The guns were supposed to be mounted on a platform with four inflated tires at each corner. A small cab with an engine in the back made the guns drivable and maneuverable. At least that was the theory. It was immediately obvious that most of the guns were missing most, if not all, of their tires.
"What do you suppose happened?" asked Buckley.
"I heard about something like this happening a month or so ago at an Aussie supply depot over near Benghazi," replied Sloan. "They never found out what happened, but they suspected it was Arabs. Turns out the tires on the Bofors fit most passenger cars. Rubber is completely unavailable to the civilian population in the Middle East. The Aussies believed Arabs came in the night, removed the tires, and sold them on the black market at exorbitant prices in Cairo."
Sloan stopped and thought for a moment.
"The Aussies got new tires on the self-propelled vehicles and all their guns were due to move up that day and did. Because they had no more Bofors guns, they did nothing about it. Our guns aren't scheduled to move out for some time so we can't just put new tires on and hope that nobody pinches them. Who was in charge of the guard detail last night?" Sloan asked.
"Lieutenant Harris," Buckley replied.
"Tell him to come to my tent immediately."
Harris came on the double. He was a young officer just out of Sandhurst and was the son and grandson of Sandhurst graduates who had gone on to illustrious careers-the grandfather in the Boer War and the father in world War I.
"Have you seen the Bofors guns this morning?" snapped Sloan.
"I have, sir. I was just making out my report," stammered Harris.
"Well, what in blazes happened to the bloody tires?" Sloan said, his voice raising several decibels.
"I don't know, sir. They were there yesterday."
"Really?" Sloan's voice dripped with a mixture of sarcasm and anger. "Didn't your sentries hear or see anything?"
"Sir, we are severely undermanned. I used all the men I can on nighttime guard duty, but that is hardly enough of them to patrol the whole area-and we can't use any lights."
Sloan's voice softened-he knew the debacle was not Harris' fault and he knew that he had used too angry a tone.
"I'll see if I can get you some more men. You can go."
"Buckley," he yelled. "See if you get me Colonel Simpson at the provost's office."
A few minutes later he had Colonel Simpson on the field phone. Sloan explained the situation to Simpson and told him of the similar experience of the Australian outfit. Simpson had heard that story previously. Sloan pleaded with him to send him some additional men to beef up his security perimeter.
"Sorry, old man," said Simpson, "but I've no one to spare."
There was pause and then Simpson said, "Half a mo. I have an idea. A battalion of Gurkhas came in this morning. I think I can spare you ten or twelve. Only for a few nights, mind you. These are combat-tested troops and they are sorely needed at the front. As you know, they are bloody fearless and ruthless. They carry scary looking blades called Kukri knives. If they take those knives from their scabbards they are required to draw blood before returning them to their scabbards - even if means cutting themselves. Maybe they can scare the bastards away."
"Much obliged, Colonel. I owe you one," a relieved Sloan said.
"Well, I'm not taking payment in zinc ointment or old socks, but a bottle of scotch would suffice," joked Simpson.
New tires arrived that afternoon and were installed on the gun carriages. Ten Gurkhas also arrived that afternoon under the command of Sergeant Raviv Singh. Sloan explained to Singh what had happened with the tires the night before. Singh said that he would deploy his men around the entire depot, but would focus specifically on protecting the guns. He assured Sloan that his men were very well trained and would be very diligent. He also asked Sloan to be sure that Sloan's men stayed away from the supply tents and particularly the guns. Singh noted that there was to be little moon that night, that it would be very dark, and that Singh did not want there to be any mistaken identities. After Singh left his tent, Sloan told Buckley to give those instructions to the men.
Sloan inspected the guns in the evening and, with their new tires in place, they were again symmetrically lined up with all their barrels pointed in the exact same direction and at the exact same angle. When Sloan inspected the guns the following morning, they were still symmetrically lined up with all their barrels pointed in the exact same direction and at the exact same angle. There was, however, something completely new and, to Sloan, totally unexpected. Laid out in front of the guns in a perfect row were the bodies of eight Arabs all precisely equidistant from each other and all with their throats neatly cut. While Sergeant Singh and Major Sloan had lunch together that day and dinner that evening, they talked of a number of things, but the killing of the eight Arabs was never discussed. Sergeant Singh and his men left two days later. Sloan never saw them again. The depot was never again bothered by thieves.
Chapter FourThe field phone rang in Sloan's tent. Actually, it was more like a loud rattling. No one would confuse the sound of a field phone with one's telephone at home.
"Bernie, that you?" said the cheery voice on the other end. "It's Joe Corcoran."
Sloan had flown into Tobruk from London with a number of officers, including Colonel Joe Corcoran. During the long wait in the holding area at Croydon and the fourteen-hour flight to Tobruk, Sloan and Corcoran had gotten to know each other rather well and had come to be very friendly. They talked incessantly during the flight, interspersed by a couple of short naps by both of them. Their lengthy conversations and their friendliness was all the more surprising in that they appeared to have absolutely nothing in common other than the same uniforms and the same language. Even that latter similarity was questionable. Corcoran was a blue blood, born to wealthy landowners with palatial estates in both London and Cornwall. He had been educated at Harrow and Cambridge-as had his father, grandfather, and several earlier generations of Corcorans. He spoke with what is commonly referred to as an Oxford accent-or more properly, received pronunciation Where Sloan grew up such people were referred to as toffs and the way they spoke was said to be la-di-dah. After leaving Cambridge, where he took firsts in Romance languages and medieval history and got his blue in rugby, his well-placed connections got him a senior position in the city. He had joined the army at the start of the war, had taken officer training, had covered himself in glory (and medals) in the evacuation from Dunkirk, and had been promoted at an amazingly rapid rate. Sloan, on the other hand, had left school at thirteen and worked in his father's tailor shop. Unlike Corcoran who could trace his English ancestors to the crusades, Sloan's parents had emigrated from Poland just before the turn of the century. His accent was unmistakably cockney, although it had become less so over the years. He was ten years older than Corcoran and had got his commission and promotions primarily because of his demonstrated, though unexpected, skill in organization and expediting matters pertaining to the outfitting, arming, and otherwise supplying combat troops.
"Joe, how nice to hear from you." Sloan was genuinely pleased to renew acquaintance with Corcoran. "How is the battle?"
Excerpted from HONOR KNOWS NO BORDERS by John Sharer Copyright © 2010 by John Sharer. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book gripped me from the moment I started reading. The author does such an amazing job of bringing the reader into the story; that I actually felt like I was living in London during the Blitz! There is one chapter in particular where my hands were sweating as I eagerly turned the pages. This is an amazing book that I highly recommend to anyone interested in an exciting adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat. I finished the book in two nights, unable to put it down and wishing it was longer. Thank-you to my good friend for recommending it!!!