June 1, 1915
One never knows which way the wind will blow! Two weeks ago, I believed my service to my country was tied to a long panel of switchboards sitting in a row with other quick-minded operators, but here I am two weeks after encountering Captain Smithwick, a student at a spy school!
The training takes place in an unassuming, presumed-abandoned hotel outside of a village in north-western France. There are eight recruits, six men and two ladies. I’m being purposefully vague; I can’t disclose the exact whereabouts or the name of the village in case this journal somehow gets into the hands of the Bosche, but I can say it’s a lovely view from my second story room which I share with my roommate. The two of us get along famously. She’s a very clever, funny girl from Newcastle, and for the purpose of this recording, I shall call her “Jane”, though that is not her real name. At any rate, I feel fortunate to have found such a good comrade to help navigate through these challenging days.
This time of year in France is simply wonderful. The morning sun shines off the village rooftops making everything look bright and cheerful. Quite in contrast to the business at hand; that is, training to become British Intelligence operatives! Oh Mercy. I still can’t believe I am here. To become a spy!
I’ve learned that the incident in the Bar du Bassett with the fight between soldiers was staged purely for my benefit! Officer Pomeroy (not his real name, I now realize), started that fight with the other man just to see if I would react and if so, how. I’ve seen him once, sans spectacles, chatting mysteriously with Captain Smithwick, but he never engaged with any of the recruits as far as I know. At least he hasn’t with me.
Another thing I’ve learned is that nothing is as it seems. Which, apparently is the point, because all our studies here have to do with the art of deception. Either that or the art of combat: how to shoot a weapon, or even more daunting, how to make one’s own body into a weapon.
Since my arrival, I’ve trained to fire European made guns (the German Luger 9mm and the British made Webley Mark V. I prefer the Luger), decipher code, pick locks, write messages on tiny bits of rice paper, read and draw maps, make and read invisible ink, and how to flip a man onto his back just by grabbing his wrist in the correct way.
And we are not yet finished!
I was also given a new identity card. I am now officially a French born woman and not an ‘Étranger’ in this country. Antoinette La Fleur. I like the sound of it, how delicately it rolls off the tongue. I’ve been coached in local customs and culture and tomorrow I start intensive training on assuming a false identity. I must be able to act, talk and walk like someone who has been raised in France. Apparently my British-American accent seeps through a litte into my French, so I am meeting with an expert soon to work on fixing that particular problem which, apparently would be very dangerous for me in the field of operations.
The hardest part of my new life is that it’s imperative that Daniel never learns about it. This goes against every fibre of my being. How I long to sit at the fireside at Bray Manor with him and talk about all of this over a good glass of brandy. I miss him more each day and wonder constantly about his whereabouts and if he’s well. Is he safe? Is he fed and warm? Is he thinking about me?
Jane also has a husband who is serving the British somewhere in France. We have often mused about how perhaps our two brave men are stationed together somewhere, fighting side by side against the Bosche in some fierce battle unaware that their wives are also side by side, getting ready to enter into the fray.
We’ve decided that after all this mess is over and done with, the four of us will sit together in a fine French restaurant in London and have a jolly good time recounting our war exploits. I’m sure the conversation would go into the wee hours of the morning with Jane having us all in stitches.
One does need to laugh on occasion. These are heavy days.
A tap on the door presents Jane, a smile of delight on her face.
“We’re going shopping. For clothes!”
“Oh?” I felt a tingle of joy, as I’d been rotating the same three frocks since I’d came to the hotel.
Jane switched to French. “They’re getting us ready for our first assignments, Antoinette.”
Her use of my new name stirs within me with a twisted thread of anticipation and dread.
“I hope we’ll be together,” I said.
A small cloud past behind Jane’s eyes. “That would be nice, but I wouldn’t count on it. Let’s just enjoy the time we have together, shall we?”
“Yes, we shall,” I said. “As far as training goes, shopping is something I know well!”
Our laughter echoed throughout the stoney stairwell as we decended. I didn’t take our good humor for granted. It could very well be our last time of joy spent together. A theater of war awaits.