Whitmore Abbey, Western England, Great Britain, April 1942
It was just past midnight when seventeen year old Gordon and Cathy ran through the cold night as fast as they could. Although not obscured by any clouds, the shine of the moon provided little light, but it did not matter to Gordon. He firmly locked his hand around Cathy’s as he led them along the outside walls of Whitmore Abbey.
He could feel her hand tremble under his grasp, their desperation gliding their steps through the dimly lit trail they followed. They had waited for their chance, Gordon using the time to memorise the route to each detail. The opportunity seemed like it would never arise, but tonight they finally got their chance.
The young couple instinctively ducked as the German fighter bombers flew overhead to raid the nearby mine. The first bombs hit close by and Gordon’s head snapped back quickly as the abbey began ringing the bells in alert. The two young orphan teenagers knew that this distraction would allow them to sneak out of the abbey unseen, for whatever future may lay ahead of them.
Reaching one of the corners of the wall, Gordon and Cathy pressed themselves against the stones just as another grenade exploded with a thunderous roar in the distance. They could hear the fighter planes up in the sky, but their attack was not matched by any anti-aircraft defences. Gordon remembered that it would take the Royal Air Force at least ten to fifteen minutes before they could pursue the intruders.
Gasping for air, Gordon looked back the way they had come. The teenager’s eyes scanned the wall as far as the darkness would allow, but he did not see any signs that they were followed. Somewhat relieved, he looked at his panting girlfriend. Cathy had her eyes closed and struggled to catch her breath.
“How are you doing?” Gordon whispered as another detonation ripped through the night.
“I’m okay”, Cathy gasped, her hand bracing her belly, “I just need another minute.”
Gordon placed his hand next to hers, and for the first time that night they both smiled at each other. Cathy was carrying their child and, being four months pregnant, it would be impossible to hide her condition any longer from the monks and sisters in the abbey. Having spent most of their life behind those walls, they knew that they would never have a chance to be a family and care for their child.
With another bomb hitting close to the mine, Gordon focussed on the next section of the trail. He was suddenly unable to hide his concern as he squeezed Cathy’s hand for reassurance. They would have to cross a couple hundred yards of open field before they would reach the safety of the old forest. He knew that the darkness of the night would hide them from being seen, but he never considered the greater threat.
Gordon and Cathy instinctively ducked as another bomb detonated in the field, sending a shower of shrapnel in the air the moment it hit the ground. Gordon glanced back to Cathy. She swallowed hard, then offered a weak smile. Gordon decided that it would be better to stay closer to the old abandoned maintenance sheds of the mine. It would mean a slightly longer route, but they could take cover behind the wooden structures if they had to. Gordon knew those buildings were no longer used by the miners, and he took comfort that they would be of little interest to the German fighter pilots. He surveyed the area to quickly plan another route, and his jaw tightened when he reached the resolve. This was the only way. He waited until the next bomb detonated with a deafening sound before he took Cathy’s hand again.
“Okay, let’s go”, he said and they both sprinted into the open field.
Inside the nearby mine was chaos. The war had created a high demand for the precious resource, and the men worked around the clock to meet the orders. They knew that their mine was a strategic target and they all feared nights like this. The moment they heard the detonation of the first grenade they rang the alarm bells. They tried to get above ground as fast as they could. With the carriages overfilled, some older miners hung on to them, while many of the younger workers sprinted for the exit.
The miners knew the first wave of attack from the German fighter pilots was to dial in on their target. While the first wave of grenades hit the surrounding area without causing too much damage to the mine entrance, they knew the second wave of attack would be more precise. Praying to whatever power they believed in, and hoping to see their families again, the men dashed to the open field.
The last of the men were just a few hundred yards away when another series of loud detonations shook the whole mine. With a loud thunder the cribwork in front of them collapsed, sealing their small group inside the mountain. The miners slowly got back on their feet, holding up their lanterns.
“What a bloody mess”, one miner moaned and looked at the survivors. Nobody seemed to be seriously wounded. Although muffled by the caved-in mine, they could hear that all the detonations of the third and final wave of attack were in the immediate area.
Unaware of what had happened inside the mine, Gordon and Cathy ran through the open field. Gordon knew they would soon come upon the remaining structure of an old well. Just seconds later he could see the silhouette of its old stones rising from the ground. With desperate energy, Gordon tugged Cathy behind the old well as the third wave of attack sent another shower of shrapnel around them. Cathy pressed herself against her boyfriend, her whole body shivering in fear.
Gordon peeked over the little wall to determine the safest route to the nearby forest. For a brief moment he even glimpsed inside the well. He knew that this well was fed from the same underground river as the wells inside the abbey. One was in the gardens and the other deep inside the catacombs. Gordon and his friends had discovered it during one of their night time strolls inside the abbey. He could still feel the pain of the severe punishment that had led to. Back then he had wondered if they could have used the wells to escape, but it proved to be impossible.
Another loud detonation ripped him out of his reverie and Gordon quickly looked around before he checked on Cathy.
“How are you doing, love?” he asked with concern in his voice.
“I’m good, let’s do this!” she replied courageously, peeking over the well.
Gordon nodded and they both started running again. They were about two hundred yards away when they heard the whistling sound of a dropping bomb.
“Over there!” Gordon yelled as he pulled Cathy toward one of the old derelict maintenance sheds. Cathy crouched to the ground and Gordon covered her with his thin frame as best he could. With a deafening roar the bomb hit the same well they were just hiding behind barely a minute ago. The impact of the detonation propelled most of the old stones up in the sky before they rained down again. The teenagers flinched as some of them hit the little shed they were hiding behind. Its old wooden walls and rotten roof crumbled under the force of the falling stones, sending a myriad of splinters through the air.
A loud scream reverberated from deep within Gordon as a sharp pain rose from his leg. Like a fire, the pain burned up through his hips as he rolled on to his back in agony. He cradled his leg and fought against the tears that stung his eyes as a wave of nausea overcame him.
“Oh my God! Let me see!” Cathy yelled at him as he writhed under the torturous pain. Looking at Gordon’s leg she realised that he had caught the shrapnel that would have otherwise wounded her.
“Let me look at it”, the young woman demanded again as her boyfriend twisted in agony. Cathy saw a large amount of blood already staining Gordon’s pants. She pushed Gordon’s shoulder back, forcing him to lie still long enough that she could look underneath his hands. The blood froze in her veins as she recognised a large piece of wood sticking out of Gordon’s thigh. Her hands shook with helplessness, she knew there was nothing she could do except leave it there.
“How bad is it?” Gordon moaned.
“I…I don’t know”, Cathy stammered as she frantically looked for something to use as a dressing, but with no success. “You will be fine.”
Cathy pressed her hands on Gordon’s in her attempt to stop the bleeding. She motioned for Gordon to move, but the moment he did the blood started to flow again. Almost ten minutes passed since the shrapnel showered around them. Cathy frightfully applied more pressure on his leg, fearing they were running out of time. They could hear one of the abbey’s bells ringing, signalling that the air raid was over. Soon enough volunteers would swarm the area, looking for wounded and assisting those at the mine. The young couple knew that someone would discover them within minutes if they didn’t move.
“Dammit!” Cathy cursed after another failed attempt to move her boyfriend.
Tears streamed down her face as Gordon placed his hand on Cathy’s shoulder, “Go, Cathy! You have to run! I will find a way, but you have to run! I cannot make it today, but you can! I will come later and I will find you, okay?”
“No!” Cathy cried, shaking her head in protest.
“Yes, you have to! Do it for us! Do it for our baby! Please!” Gordon begged her. Cathy’s voice caught in her throat as tears burned against her cheek. She knew that he was right. If they catch her, there would be no chance for her and her baby to escape those walls again. Gordon would have a much better chance to flee once he was healed up again.
Gordon and Cathy both looked to the abbey. They could see a small number of people with lanterns heading towards the mine, towards them.
“I love you, Cathy! I will find you! But please, run!” Gordon whispered in a commanding tone that prohibited any further discussion. His thumb rubbed against her cheek. Gordon was uncertain when he would see her again, “Promise me that you will not stop!”
Cathy kissed him passionately, her heart fluttering with fear. She looked deep into his eyes and nodded, her tears striking against her cheek. She kissed him one last time before she rose to her feet and ran towards the forest. Gordon’s eyes trailed after her as she disappeared into the tree line. He stared blankly to the forest as the voices neared him.
“Over here! I found one”, one of the miners yelled, shining his light at Gordon.
“Don’t worry, mate, you’ll be fine!” the miner reassured, as he opened a first aid kit and tended to the teenager’s wound. Gordon groaned under the sharp pain as the miner continued. “What were you doing out here during a raid? You must be mental! We’ll get you to the abbey. They can take care of you.”
Less than one hundred yards away, Cathy hid behind a large uprooted tree to catch her breath. She watched closely as three lanterns illuminated four men placing Gordon on a stretcher.
“Oh God, please don’t”, her cracked voice stammered as she watched them carry him back to the abbey. Her heart beat erratically as she watched the gates of the abbey close behind them, confining Gordon behind the old stone walls again. Tears ran down her cheeks as her stomach heaved with fear and anguish. Gordon was locked behind walls that were built to keep evil out of the abbey for centuries, the same walls that had kept Cathy, Gordon, and dozens of other children from freedom.
Cathy forcefully turned around and ran through the forest, determined to get as far away from the abbey as she could.
EuroSecCorporation, London, Tuesday, May 6
Natascha lay helplessly on her back. With both her arms stretched above her head, her assailant bound them tighter with his hands. Natascha panted heavily and threw her head from side to side, trying to escape the hold. The weight of her attacker pressed her to the ground, and his head was moving as he leaned forward. His face was now only centimetres away from hers.