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Their Finest Hour by Cassius Alcinder
Chapter 3 : Wheels in Motion
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 19


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The lone truck rambled on as the sun baked down on the vast expanse of desert sand.  Lieutenant John Evans scanned the horizon; there were no signs of life in any direction, but he had to remain on the lookout all the same.  A few short months ago, Evans was finishing his English degree at the university and starting to look for teaching positions; but he had a major change of plans when the war broke out.  Now he found himself fighting that war in middle of the Egyptian desert.  It was certainly a long way from home.

  Sitting next to Evans and driving the truck was Sergeant Nigel Bromhead.  He was a hardy and sturdy man who did not put up with nonsense; the type of man that had once built the British Empire.  He was an experienced soldier who had been in the regular Army before the war, and he was often needed to keep the new recruits in line.  Two of those newer recruits were behind him in the back of the truck; Duncan MacDonald, a young ginger Scot who had been a cab driver in Glasgow before the war, and Will Reynolds, who had been a farm hand in the Australian outback.  Together, they made up the newest squad of the British Army’s Long Range Desert Group, a unit formed to carry out particularly challenging and difficult missions during the war in North Africa. 

  To the outside observer the men were a ragged bunch.  They had just spent several weeks on a deep cover mission monitoring the movements of the German army, and they had not had a proper shower or shave in quite some time.  So far the war was not going well in this theater, and the British Army had been continuously pushed back by German forces led by General Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox.”  But despite all the setbacks, the British troops continued to fight back in any way they could.  Units such as the Long Range Desert Group were carrying out dangerous and important missions, and already making quite a name for themselves.  With one such mission complete, these exhausted men were returning to their unit’s forward base to await their next instructions.

“Oi,” called out MacDonald as he held up an empty tin, “Who ate all the biscuits?”

“You slovenly soldiers,” called out Bromhead, “in my day we would never have biscuits in the first place. The Army’s gone soft I tell you.”

“But in your day you rode dinosaurs into battle,” said MacDonald, “Reynolds, I bet it was you, you fat Aussie wanker.”

“I believe the correct term is ‘portly Australian gentleman,’ and I wouldn’t eat your ghastly short bread,” said Reynolds, who despite the taunts was far from overweight.

“Oh that’s right, you only eat kangaroos,” said MacDonald.

“Calm down lads,” said Evans, realizing that this probably wasn’t too different from teaching in the classroom after all, “We’ll be back at base soon enough and then we can have some real food again.”  After several weeks of canned rations, the men were salivating at the prospect of a hot meal, even if it was only army food.   

Evans pulled out his map and double checked his calculations with his compass.  It was always very challenging to navigate in a desert environment with no discernible landmarks to speak of, but the Long Range Desert Group was at the forefront of innovating new techniques, and their system had worked well enough so far.  If Evans was correct, they would soon be approaching the safety of British lines and the familiarity of their unit’s base. 

“I think it’s time to take sides on an important issue,” said Reynolds, “Hedy Lamarr, or Vivian Leigh?”

“Vivian Leigh, she’s fit,” said MacDonald.

“Ugh, haven’t you seen Gone with the Wind?” said Bromhead, “She literally whinges non-stop for the entire movie, a lot like you two actually, my vote’s for Lamarr.”

 “Mr. Evans, please break the tie,” said Reynolds.

 “Have to go with Lamarr, I mean they say she’s working for the government inventing new torpedoes, you really can’t top that, she’s bloody brilliant,” said Evans.

“Lieutenant Evans once again demonstrates why they put him in charge,” said Reynolds as he jotted down the results in his notebook.  Ingrid Bergman was still clinging to small lead over Ava Gardner for first place in his official table.   

Bromhead reached for his canteen to take a big sip of water, only to spit it all out when he realized he had gotten a mouthful of Bovril.  “Bloody hell, that’s disgusting,” he said, as MacDonald and Rennie burst out laughing at apparent success of their prank.  Bromhead simply turned towards them and said, “Guess who’s cleaning the latrine when we get back?” which was predictably met with disappointed groans. 

After rambling on for hours the truck finally reached the familiar group of tents on the outskirts of British lines.  Bromhead pulled to a stop as the men grabbed their gear and stumbled out of the truck.  After weeks on patrol, there was nothing they wanted more than a cold shower and a hot meal.  “Oi Frankie,” Bromhead called out to Sergeant Frank Bryce, who was currently on guard duty.

“Glad to see you lot back,” said Bryce. 

“So, what’s been happening?” asked Evans, who was starved for information after the isolation of their recent mission.

“Rommel launched another assault; the whole Army’s been retreating across the front, took some pretty heavy losses too.”

The men nodded at the grim but mostly expected news as Bryce continued, “But the Desert Group’s starting to strike back, B squad hit an airfield the other day, blew up thirty German planes on the ground.”

“Now why can’t we be doing cool stuff like that instead of counting trucks on the roads?” asked Rennie.

“Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or die,” Evans reminded him.

“Aye aye Professor,” retorted MacDonald. 

The conversation ground to a halt at the sudden approach of Captain Reginald Whittington.  Whittington, who was Evans’ immediate superior in the unit, was a highly ambitious officer who did everything by the book. 

“Lieutenant Evans, your men are absolutely filthy,” said Whittington in disgust.

Evans badly wanted to offer a response about how obviously they were filthy because they had, you know, been out in the desert on a mission without running water and that maybe Whittington would get dirty himself if he ever stepped out from behind his desk, but instead what came out was, “I’ll see to it they’re cleaned up sir.”

“Well I would not allow your lot to be seen in this state, however, Colonel Collingwood has demanded to see the four of you in his office immediately,” said Whittington, as he turned and walked away. 

Evans noticed MacDonald and Reynolds mocking Whittington’s pompous tone, realizing that he should probably reprimand them, but deciding against it.  Bromhead, meanwhile, was deep in thought.  “What do you think that’s about Mr. Evans?” he asked.

Evans ran through several possibilities in his head.  Usually a summons to meet with a senior officer in this manner was a prelude to massive flame spray.  However, Evans could not think of anything they had possibly done wrong on their recent mission, perhaps the Colonel was just having one of his mood swings.  The men filed inside and adjusted their disheveled uniforms before entering the Colonel’s office and standing at attention. 

Evans snapped a crisp salute, “Lieutenant Evans, reporting as ordered sir.”

 “Stand at ease, and don’t worry you’re not in trouble,” replied Colonel Collingwood, sensing Evans’ obvious nervousness.  “You lads are in for quite a treat actually, we have just received a direct cable from London requesting a squad for ‘a very important, possibly dangerous, and highly secret mission’ as they put it, every other squad has assignments already, so you four are the lucky winners.”

“Sir, may I ask what type of mission it is?” Evans inquired.

“I’m afraid that’s well above even my pay grade,” answered the Colonel, “Your orders are simply to report to Headquarters in Cairo and await further instructions.”

“May I ask who authorized these orders?”

“It was authorized by special request of Prime Minister Churchill himself,” replied the Colonel, as the four men before him had a look of incredulous shock.  “You are dismissed, and I think you have some packing to do.”

Evans saluted and made a sharp turn as they filed out of the Colonel’s office and starting walking back towards their living area. 

“So, any guesses what we’re doing?” asked Reynolds

“If I had to guess I’d say we’re going to knock off Rommel,” surmised Bromhead.  Rumors had already been rife that the Long Range Desert Group was going to attempt the assassination of the sly German General. 

“That would be my guess too,” added Evans, “but why would they have to go over the Colonel's head for that? This has to be something bigger.”

“Aye lads, we’re not thinking big enough, obviously we’re going to parachute into Berlin and assassinate Hitler himself, we’ll end the war in one fell swoop, and they’ll give us all medals and statues in Parliament,” said MacDonald. 

The four men looked at each other, equally flummoxed.  The fact that they were about to embark on the orders of the Prime Minister without having any idea what those orders were was somewhat frightening but also very exciting. 

“Well there will be plenty of time for speculation, right now I believe some of you have a latrine to clean,” said Bromhead, to the disappointed groans of Reynolds and MacDonald. 

 

***

                 Dumbledore had returned to his cluttered office at Hogwarts to pack what he would need for his mission and tie up loose ends.  Headmaster Dippet recognized the necessity of Dumbledore missing much of the coming school year, and it had been arranged for Professors Slughorn and Merrythought to cover his classes.  He had stuffed all manner of informational books, potion ingredients, and other useful tools into his enchanted bag, which appeared to be the size of a normal handbag while holding much more than that. 

After cleaning off most of his desk, Dumbledore paused as he looked at his pensieve.  As he prepared for the mission he was about to embark on, he couldn’t fight the urge to revisit its origins one more time.  He plunged into the swirling mists of the stone basin and found himself in the sleepy village of Godric’s Hallow, looking at a much younger version of himself.  He was on the grounds of his family’s home, and his brother Aberforth was there, as well as Grindelwald.  The three of them were locked in a bitter argument; wands were drawn and curses were flying. 

Dumbledore knew what would happen next; he desperately wanted to turn away and yet he couldn’t stop himself from watching.  Dumbledore winced in agony as he watched his poor, troubled sister Ariana run out of the house, attempting to make peace, only to be stricken dead by a wayward curse.  He tried to call out to her, to warn her, knowing that she could never hear him.  Even in this memory, it was still not clear who was ultimately responsible, but he would never forget the reactions.  Aberforth, who had always put family first, was absolutely devastated.  Meanwhile, the course and unfeeling Grindelwald was completely unfazed.  It was only then that Dumbledore was able to see Grindelwald for what he truly was.  He was ashamed to think that he had once been friends with the man, invited him into his home, and even shared some of his anti-muggle views.

With great effort, Dumbledore extracted himself from the memory and returned to the present day.  He slumped back in his chair, deep in contemplation.  He had been reluctant to confront Grindelwald knowing that he would be confronting either his sister’s killer, or the knowledge that he himself had killed his own sister.  Despite all of Dumbledore’s great powers and accomplishments, this uncertainty was too much to deal with.

Dumbledore was also forced to address a dark chapter of his past; the fact that he was once a willing collaborator in Grindelwald’s plans for the subjugation of muggles and other “lesser beings.”   To an ambitious young wizard, the abstract ideas of such a system had a certain attraction.  But now that Grindelwald’s plans were actually coming to pass, and millions were now under the yoke of his oppression with many more millions directly threatened, Dumbledore could no longer deny that he had an obligation to act. But despite all this, he still did not feel strong enough for a direct confrontation.  What he had discussed at the Ministry was true; Grindelwald’s allies were likely assembling a magical army in North Africa and defeating this army would deal him a major blow.  Dumbledore hoped against hope that the defeat Grindelwald’s army would leave him weak enough for other wizards to finish the job, although he knew that he would eventually have to do it himself. 

Dumbledore went back to thinking over the logistics of his mission.  It was no surprise that a loyal friend such as Doge was so eager to aid him, and his knowledge of the local magical community would prove invaluable.  Dumbledore was actually supposed to accompany Doge on his journey to Egypt all those years ago, before tragedy struck his family. 

He was still unsure if including the British Army in his planning was a wise decision, but when it came down to it, it was pretty much unavoidable now that he was getting involved in a conflict that was very much a muggle one as well. 

Satisfied with his packing job, Dumbledore walked out of his office as his footsteps echoed in the long empty corridors.  Soon they would be bustling with the activity of a new school year, and for the first time in ages, he would not be there when it started.  Hogwarts had always been his safe place, a refuge from the chaotic world.  And now, he was forced to leave it, for the greater good. 


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