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1943: the world is at war for the second time. Thousands of people are killed each day and Germany is slowly being beaten by the British and American troops. In a routine fly over an American Corsair crash lands in the heart of German territory. The Pilot survives but now has the daunting task of returning home alive without being captured by the enemy.
Diary extract April 4th 1943 (17:30h): Today has been the worst day of my war so far. I have crash landed in a forest in a remote area of Germany about a mile from a German army base.
They must have seen the crash and the following explosion so it was clear I had to escape the wreckage. I fear my leg is injured so I will need to carry out medical treatment on the way. For now I have to concentrate on getting away from my current location and into a safer position.
Conrad Barker had been born into a well off Canadian family.
His father owned a large building company and his mother was an assistant to a major contractor in the city. He never did like the cold and vast wilderness of Canada, so he left home at 16 to live in America. Life started off pretty well for him. He trained to be a pilot ad got a job in New York flying planes for an American trading company. He would fly goods from state to state in America, sometimes venturing into Mexico and South America.
When the war started he was called up into the army to be a pilot. No one really liked to be a pilot in the army. They all either wet themselves at the thought of being in a tin shell flying around shooting other tin shells with Germans in or they had all been crazy enough to join and found out why people didn’t want to join in the first place and were no longer around to tell the story. But Conrad relished the chance. He loved flying, it made him feel free and he felt as if all his troubles were left on the ground when he took off.
He was generally flying over Germany, dropping bombs and shooting other planes down and occasionally flying into other countries to drop a couple of bombs on them. Flying over Germany was how he ended up in this situation. Laying there trying to recover from the shock of the impact.
All was quiet in the forest apart from the rustle of leaves being whisked away by the soft autumn breeze and the steady beating of his heart, desperately trying to pump blood round his cut and injured body. He open his eyes a slither and immediately shut them again. The bright sunlight filtering down through the canopy of trees overhead hurt his eyes like burning knives. He tried to open his eyes again and forced himself to keep them open.
All he could see above him was a vast expanse of golden leaves gently pulsing in the steady autumn breeze. A single leaf floated down and landed on his face and it was then he realized how little energy he had. It took a massive amount of energy to just brush the leaf off and it left him feeling drained. He slipped an energy tablet into his mouth and instantly felt the effect. A minute later he was sitting upright eating a chocolate bar he kept for emergencies.
Now he was feeling a little better he set off escaping from this deathtrap of a forest. During training soldiers were always told that in this scenario the first thing to do was to radio in, so he did.
“Red 9, Red 9 this is foxhound do you read me?”
“I Repeat, Red 9, Red 9 this is foxhound do you read me?”
There was still no answer on the radio. Taking a look around him he realized that he was in a low part of the forest, if he could get to higher ground he may be able to get a better signal and, maybe this time a reply.
Diary extract April 4th 1944 (18:00h): I attempted to make contact with base camp but I could not make contact because the forest is so dense with trees. If I can make it to a higher position I will have more chance of making contact and arrange a pick up. I am feeling mentally and physically drained at this point. I don’t think any amount of chocolate can cure this fatigue. It is a deep, subtle fatigue that is slowly draining my stamina and my will to continue pursuing freedom. In the back of my head I keep considering giving up. Simply giving up and dying with the sound of birds and the rustle of leaves in my ears. For now I will continue on my journey.
After consulting his map he realized that half a mile north of his position he would be at a peak completely clear of trees where he would have a better radio signal. So he set off aware that at any time he could be ambushed but that was a chance he had to take. As he trudged through the forest it came to him that this could be the last thing he ever saw in his life. So with every step he took in the sheer beauty of the forest. He became even more cautious when he saw a bear trap concealed under some leaves. Traps were one thing to be worried about but it was what they were trapping that worried him more.
Eventually, after a seemingly endless walk he reached the peak. When he got to the top the view of the surrounding scenery was breathtaking. He was looking down over the forest, which was a sea of various shades of yellow and gold with the ugly eyesore of the army base on the horizon.
The radio bleeped on his hip. He had signal.
“Red 9, Red 9 this is foxhound do you read me?”
The seconds dragged on as he waited for a response and after what seemed like an eternity he got one.
“Foxhound this is Red 9 we read you loud and clear.”
Conrad breathed a sigh of relief.
“Red 9 this is foxhound, I have crash landed in a forest 1 mile north of the German base Auschwitz my current position is another half a mile north of my crash site on top of a peak overlooking the forest.”
“Roger that Foxhound you want a rendezvous site?”
“3 miles west of your position there is a clearing by some boulders. We can pick you up there.”
“Airlifted out by helicopter?”
“Tomorrow at 0700 hours”
“Roger that, over and out”
He tucked the radio back on his belt and checked his map. He traced his route with his finger and found that he would have to head back down into the forest on the other side, cross a river and then head another half a mile west.
The sun was setting now so he would have to reach his position and then camp out for the night. He knew that he had to head towards the setting sun, which would be guiding his way to freedom. But, just as he was about to set off a glint of light caught his eye from across the forest, towards the hills in the distance, instinctively he took up a low profile pose. He shifted his weight to his back leg and bent his legs slightly. This had probably saved his life because a split second later a bullet kicked up the dust next to his foot.
He ducked behind a nearby boulder. Conrad had enough training to know what was going on; he was being fired at by a sniper. He edged his way round the boulder and then headed down off the peak. Once he was confident that he was out of sight he headed west, as he was told, towards the setting sun. He now had another thing to worry about, that he was being chased by a German sniper.
Conrad made it to the river unscathed, apart from a stray bramble branch scratching his face. Now he had the task of crossing the river. The river was fast flowing and deep, so any attempt to cross it would have to be made without wading through the river directly. The only way he could see would be to jump on to the island in the middle and then jump far enough so that he reached the shallows on the other side. But, the first jump was at least two and a half metres and then the second would have to be possibly three meters.
This was a challenge normally, let alone in the state he was in. He quickly scanned the surrounding area for a better option, but saw none. So he went for it, taking a run up he just cleared the first jump and clawing his way onto the island once he had jumped. He had limited movement on the island, which made taking a run up about as possible as getting his dad up on a Sunday morning, impossible. Nevertheless he went for it he used all his energy to focus on converting all the power in his leg up and across the water.
He thought he had made it and when his upper body hit the pebbles he knew he had but, his legs didn’t stop when his body did. They kept sinking through the water, dragging him along in the current. He grabbed hold of a large stone and pulled himself out. He lay there for a minute, contemplating whether to carry on or just lay there until he was swept away to a better place. In the end his will to carry on won.
He dragged himself up off the floor and noticed that his radio was soaked. He tried turning it on and got no response. “Bugger” he cursed aloud. The only hope he had is that it would dry out overnight. So all he could do was continue to his pick up point.
After about an hour he made it to his rendezvous site. The only thing he could do now was sit tight and wait for daybreak.
Diary extract April 4th 1943 (20:00h): I have reached my rendezvous point and a pick-up is scheduled for 0700 hours tomorrow. So now I must rest. This has been possibly the strangest day of my life. I have been in unfamiliar territory and the day has been full of ups and downs. The best I can hope for now is that I will get a good nights rest and that my radio would dry out enough to work. My only fear is that I will be ambushed in the night by the enemy or by creatures of the forest. But that anxiety will only help me stay alert as I sleep. I will now sign off to prepare for whatever tomorrow will bring.
Conrad awoke to the sound of birds shouting to each other from tree to tree. He lay there for a moment, still as a stone, and simply listened to the birds. Slowly he opened his eyes. Everything was as it was last night apart from the pink and orange sunset had been replaced by cold, dark, iron grey clouds. Judging by the amount of light visible Conrad guessed it was about half six in the morning.
He had awoke several times in the night only to find that it had been a small animal running through the underbrush or burrowing down into their holes. So he had a decent nights sleep and felt refreshed. The radio bleeped beside him. This meant the radio was working and, that he had an incoming call.
“Foxhound, this is Red 9, do you copy?”
“Loud and clear”
“You made it through the night well done!”
“Yeah you have no idea how relieved I am at that”
“Roger that, we are about ten minutes from your rendezvous point, confirm you are there”
“Yes, I am at the rendezvous point”
“OK then let’s get you out of there!”
“Roger that over and out”
Diary extract April 5thth 1943 (0630h): Having the feeling that in ten minutes I would be leaving this nightmare really lifted my spirits. I don’t think I will feel apprehension like this ever again in my life. To have made it through this ordeal alive is an achievement I will never forget. I think it will make me appreciate life more. It will make me value what I have and live life to the full, no holding back, no regrets and never give up. Now I must go I can hear the beating of helicopter blades in the distance.
The steady beating of the helicopter blades was music to Conrad’s ears. The steady beating turned into a heavy roar as the helicopter came closer and eventually hovered overhead. Then it began it’s decent into the clearing. They all knew they had to be quick. As soon as the Germans caught wind of this they would be on to them in no time.
The helicopters wheels touched the ground and Conrad sprinted towards the opening door. Inside was a warm, glowing face Conrad instantly recognized as Chuck, one of the helicopters crew members. He shouted over the roar of the blades;
“We’re here for a Conrad Barker; his Mummy says it’s time for him to come home now!”
“Very funny Chuck, now just get me out of here” Conrad smiled and headed towards the aircraft. He was about to set foot in the door when he heard the noise he had been dreading to hear for days.
“STOP RIGHT ZERE”
Conrad slowly turned and as he did around twenty German soldiers popped out of places he never thought they could, all pointing nasty looking rifles at them.
“Hey, Chuck if this is you idea of a joke, I’m not laughing”
The helicopter rotors died down as the pilot turned them to standby.
The voice was coming from a tall blonde man with an olive green camouflage suit on and a sniper rifle in one hand. He walked out to the middle of the semi circle that the soldiers had formed around the helicopter. He walked with authority which meant he was highly ranked in the army or he considered himself highly ranked. He stopped in the middle and clasped the sniper rifle he was holding in both hands now.
“I tried to kill you when you made the radio call yesterday, but failed. Now I have the chance and will not fail”.
Conrad was surprised at how good his English was despite speaking German to his troops and having an obvious German accent.
“Me and my troops have been here all night, ever since you made that call yesterday evening. We have waited for the opportune moment to kill you and now it has come.”
He took the safety off his rifle.
Conrad and all the helicopter crew knew that the helicopter they were in could withstand any gunfire. It had a reinforced chassis and bulletproof glass all around. So, it didn’t surprise Conrad much that when the German raised his sniper he felt a jolt in his arm pulling him into the aircraft. The rotors roared again and the door slammed shut in front of him.
Unfortunately, this German was adamant on getting his kill, so when the American he was after was being pulled in he lined up his shot in his scope. Just as the doors were about to close he pulled the trigger. The bullet blasted out of the barrel and lodged itself in Conrad’s chest, midway down his ribcage on his left, just below his heart.
As the door slammed shut Conrad felt an excruciating pain in his chest. It was like a white hot dagger had been thrust in him. He found himself short of breath and coughing blood. Chuck appeared beside him.
“It’s ok buddy, the bullet has punctured your lung but I think it missed your heart”.
He smiled and squeezed Conrad’s hand.
“You’re going to be fine bud just hold in there”
As Conrad lay there, he thought about how peaceful everything had become. Chuck’s face was swimming in and out of focus and his voice sounded like it was underwater. Everything had become so quiet, the beating of the blades in his ears had gone and the pain in his chest had disappeared. It was like he had no cares in the world. The only care he had was that he was curious; curious about the lights that had now clouded his vision and were slowly merging into one brilliant light. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Then it all went black.
Sadly, Conrad Barker died that day. The bullet punctured his lung and caught his heart; he died of a collapsed lung and bled to death. He was rushed to hospital but did not make it in time; he was pronounced dead before he even got to the operating theater. Although his body doesn’t Conrad’s memory lives on. His story is one now known by everyone all over the world and he is remembered as a true patriot who never gave up even when faced with the impossible.
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