May 28, 1917
Five days ago, I arrived at Ostende where I’m staying with an older Flemish couple. The man, whom I will call Monsieur Audelet, is in his early sixties and owns a fisherman’s supply store near the beach. I was posing as his shop assistant, a distant relative from France, who sadly, had recently lost her fiance on the battlefield. Monsieur Audelet and his wife Lenora lost a son to the Bosche two years ago and have been working with Belgium, Dutch and British operatives ever since.
The ocean beach in Ostende is long and flat. The spring weather seems to have come early to Ostende and I take long strolls with the warmth of the sun on my face and the sea air filling my senses. On the very warmest of days, one can even walk barefoot. The sand feels marvellous on my feet. I can walk several kilometres without coming to a Bosche checkpoint if I stay on the beach.
As I stare out across the ocean, I think and pray for my dear Daniel, matching the rhythms of my heart to the crashing waves that pound the shore. I often imagine what our reunion will be like, and perhaps someday, when peace returns—for it simply must return—we will walk along this same beach together. It’s a happy thought. I haven’t heard any news from him in over two months. I need all the happy thoughts I can get right now.
This war has been dragging on for three years. When will God hear what must surely be millions of prayers to please, please, please bring it to an end? I can’t dwell too much on that question lest I fall into a depressive spirit out of which I fear would be hard to climb.
I don’t know a lot about the fishing trade, but Monsieur Audelet had promised to teach me everything I need to know about it in the space of a single day. Thank goodness the couple speaks fluent French or it would have certainly taken a lot longer than that. I don’t speak a word of Flemish, but I’m told that most people in the city also speak either French or Dutch, and even some English. So far that has held true.
My assignment is to meet with a young man I will call “André” who is to aid me in ascertaining the Germans’ artillery strength in Ostende. He was born and raised in Ostende and knows what the coastline looked like before the Bosche invaded. He is to help me observe and record the latest battery instalments. I’ve been told that the British high command is trying to convince its allies to focus attacks along the Opal coast, in order to thwart any plans the Bosche might have to launch large scale offensives on Dunkirk and Calais, ports absolutely vital to the British army.
That was all I knew about André until last night when we finally met in person. We sat on a sandy escarpment high above the central coastline area as the sun was starting to go down where we could see for miles in either direction along the coast. In his mid-thirties, André has a lanky build, blond hair and walks with a limp. His left leg was disfigured from an artillery shell, but he gets along very well with a wooden crutch. His zeal was due to his remaining life objective: to gain revenge for his wife and son/.
“It was the damn fence that took them,” he said while brushing a lock of blond hair out of his eyes that were as cold afternoon breeze that blew around us. I pulled my wool blanket I had brought, a little closer around me.
“Our son wandered into the fence one morning and was electrocuted instantly. My wife Eloise, tried to pull him off. She also died instantly.”
I knew the fence of which he spoke; the famous “Wire of Death” that the Germans had erected early in the war in an effort to stop smugglers, clandestine mail-deliverers, resistance fighters, and refugees. It reached from Knokke to Aachen and had proven grimly effective. Fifteen British spies had been killed by the wire so far.
André threw a small pebble at his feet. “I’ll never know why my wife had taken our son so near the fence that day, just that they were visiting her sister in Waregem. I was in the south at the time, lying helpless in a French field hospital.“ He gestured to his bent leg.“I didn’t find out about it until three days after it happened.”
“I am so sorry for your loss.” The words didn’t seem like enough, but no amount would be.
After a moment he reached beside him, picked up another pebble and tossed it at sea, then pointed down the coastline.
“Let’s start with the new 280mm guns you see there. They were installed just a month ago. Your ship commanders should worry about them the most, I think. They have a range of eighteen miles and can sink ships.”
I made a mental note of everything he told me. Writing down the information would be far to dangerous, should it fall into the wrong hands.