War Clouds Gather by Peter Watt – Extract

War Clouds Gather

Prologue

Central Queensland, Australia

My name is Wallarie; I am a Nerambura man of the Darambal people, and you stand on the place of my Dreaming, where I lived for almost a hundred of your whitefella years.

I no longer hunt in the brigalow scrub for wallaby and goanna, but I am with the ancestor spirits as a light you whitefellas call a star. Sometimes I return to soar in the blue skies over the sunburned plains as the great wedge-tailed eagle, and I look down upon the people who now walk the red earth of my ancestors.

My blood flows in the mighty warrior, Tom Duffy, and his daughter, Jessica. Sometimes I visit Tom in the dark places of the night when he sleeps and dreams his nightmares of a whitefella war. I am saddened to see my spirit brother toss and turn screaming out the name of dead cobbers in the cold and lonely night.

There is another generation of the two families who know nothing of me and the Old Ones. The lands are now silent of the laughter of the people who were my people. They are all gone but the whitefella who are young do not see the storm clouds gather when fire will once again fall on them.

Part one

1936

1

Berlin, Germany 1936

The room in the Berlin government building was sombre in the Gothic style popularised by the German leader, Adolf Hitler. But it also reflected a decadent opulence, with its expensive wood panels and plush leather lounges. The mandatory portrait of Hitler had prominent place on the wall, and a clock ticked the seconds away in the silent inner office.

Two men, dressed in their finest Savile Row suits, sat sipping coffee from delicate china cups. Both were in their late middle age but the Australian was the younger of the two. The American was taller and showing the first signs of balding. Despite their different nationalities the two men shared a common link, albeit a distant one, of family.

‘Sir George,’ the American said, ‘I hope you enjoyed the Olympic Games our hosts staged a few weeks ago.’

Sir George Macintosh returned a faint smile. ‘I had little opportunity to attend the Games due to business meetings, but my son and daughter enjoyed them enormously. Our hosts were very generous in looking after them.’

‘I must confess that I, too, missed most of the Games as my time was taken up with various German bankers,’ James Barrington replied. ‘But we are both businessmen and the wheels of enterprise must grind on.’

Sir George Macintosh was about to comment when the door to the office opened and two men entered. Sir George and James Barrington rose respectfully for the President of the Reichsbank, Herr Schacht. His thick hair was greying and he wore pince-nez glasses and a starched white collar. George knew that Schacht controlled the finances of Nazi Germany, despite his well known outbursts against military spending by the Führer and his treatment of the local Jewish population. This was George’s second meeting with the powerful German banker. The younger man with Schacht, his translator, had slicked-back blond hair and wore a pin in the lapel of his suit, proclaiming his membership of the Nazi Party.

‘It is good to meet you again, Herr Schacht,’ George greeted in German, a language he spoke because of his family’s Prussian relatives. ‘May I introduce my American friend, Mr James Barrington.’ Sir George tried not to sound smug but he knew that he had just one-upped his American colleague with his knowledge of the language.

Schacht held out his hand to Barrington and the young translator turned to George. ‘I did not know that you spoke our language,’ he said, and George sensed a certain arrogance in his tone.

‘I have relatives in this country,’ George replied. ‘You may know of them, the von Fellmanns, formerly of Danzig.’ ‘Ahh, General Kurt von Fellmann,’ the translator answered, some of his arrogance disappearing. ‘A fine man, and leading member of our military. You have an esteemed relative, favoured by our Führer.’

‘I didn’t know you spoke German,’ James said, looking at George with open curiosity.
‘Given we have close connections through our two families, old chap, I thought you would have known that about me,’ George said, referring to the fact that a distant cousin, Captain Matthew Duffy, was the father of James Barrington’s grandchildren. The twins, James Jnr and Olivia, now nineteen years of age, had grown up with all that money could buy: luxurious homes, the best education, the finest of friends from other influential families. James Barrington had wisely seen the stock market crash coming and had been able to divest his fortune into enterprises that survived the disastrous economic tsunami that had left millions of people destitute. With the trip to Berlin for the Olympic Games, James Barrington intended to show his beloved grandchildren how the hard work of the German people, under their new leader, had dragged the nation out of a shattered postwar economy. James Barrington Snr was an ardent admirer of the new German leader for the ruthless way he had put Germany back on the world map, and the American was one of the first to invest in the Third Reich. ‘Gentlemen,’ Herr Schacht said, gesturing to the leather couches, ‘please take a seat. We have much to discuss and I must apologise that I do not have a lot of time.’ The translator interpreted for the American’s sake.

‘Sir George,’ Schacht said, taking a seat behind his desk and adjusting his pince-nez, ‘I have been informed that you have a record with the German people for your financial support during the war. I also know that your support would have proved very dangerous to you had it come to light in your own country. Our own great leader once faced your soldiers on the Western Front and was lucky to survive. I feel that our Führer has always been destined to rule our people and that fate spared him that terrible war.’

George had lost a father and brother on the fields of northern France and was aware that his investment in wartime Germany might have helped fill the exploding shells with chemicals. But the deaths of his father and brother had proved fruitful to George, allowing him to take control of the family estates.

‘I am a businessman,’ George replied in German. ‘War is of little concern to me in such matters.’

‘Fortunately the Führer is a peace-loving man who does not wish to ever see war again, and your shares in our chemical industry will be richly rewarded,’ Schacht replied. ‘You invested wisely.’

‘Thank you, Herr Schacht,’ George replied. ‘The German people have a friend in my family company.’ As George glanced across at James Barrington he noticed that the American was shifting impatiently on the lounge. ‘I am sure that my American friend has much to raise with you, and I would hope for a future meeting in private.’

‘Certainly, Sir George,’ Schacht replied, ‘I believe that Donald and Sarah are currently in the company of Mr Barrington’s grandchildren, taking in the hospitality of our country.’

George looked at his host in surprise, although he should have guessed that German officials would have him and his family under observation while they stayed in Berlin. It was to be expected in a nation so strictly controlled by the new regime of the Nazi Party.

‘Well, I will excuse myself and make an appointment with your secretary,’ George said, rising from his chair.

‘Herr Schacht says he will speak with you now, old chap, I hope you have fruitful outcome to your discussions with him. I will see you tonight at dinner in the hotel.’

Barrington nodded and turned to Schacht as George took his hat from the stand by the door and left the room.

*

The café garden overlooking the river was the perfect venue to laze away the afternoon after a day of sightseeing around Berlin. Numerous red flags with white circles enclosing a black swastika fluttered gently on the autumn breeze. The specialty of the house was Bavarian cuisine and the proprietor wore the traditional Bavarian dress of leather knickerbockers and braces. A portly man in leather shorts stood behind the counter while his pretty blonde daughter – her hair in long plaits – served customers at tables located on the green lawn, bordered by tiers of colourful flowers.

James and Olivia Barrington shared the table with Donald Macintosh and his younger sister Sarah. The four of them had met during the Olympic Games and had been inseparable ever since. It had been a fun-filled day, taking in the sights and shopping in the commercial centre of Berlin, which was much quieter now that the Olympic crowds had departed.

James Barrington Jnr was of medium build with a fair complexion and looks that made him attractive to the young women he met. He was also athletic and intelligent. His twin sister Olivia was striking with long red hair, and pretty features spattered with a trace of freckles.

At twenty, Donald Macintosh was the eldest of the four. He was the tallest, too, and had a slim build. He was also dashingly handsome, which had turned many a young Fräulein’s head in the past few weeks.

His sister Sarah was the youngest but already had the promise of her mother’s beauty, as they sat, sipping their tea.

They were not alone in the garden as a few tables away a tall, well-built young man wearing a pair of slacks and an open-neck shirt sat drinking coffee and reading a German newspaper. He paid no attention to the little party, despite their laughter and high spirits. Sarah found herself staring at the young man sitting alone. He was not handsome in the classical sense and he had the look of a man used to hard manual labour, but his face was pleasant, despite his crooked nose and slight scar above his right eye. He had thick wavy brown hair and his skin was tanned, which Sarah thought unusual as summer was disappearing from the northern hemisphere.

‘I say, old man,’ Donald said. ‘I think you and I should head off tonight to have a look at Berlin by neon light.’ His sly smile was quickly interpreted by James, who looked away uneasily. He knew that his Australian friend was hinting that they should seek out the red-light district and this was something his strict puritan religious teachings told him was wrong.

‘I think that would be a grand idea,’ Olivia Barrington cut across with a wicked grin. ‘Can I come with you?’

Donald scowled; he was about to dismiss the idea when the café garden was suddenly filled with a crowd of drunk brown-shirted men spilling in from the street. They slumped in chairs at the tables surrounding the four tourists and shouted orders at the Bavarian proprietor. The Barringtons and Macintoshes had started to notice these brown-shirted men more and more often in the streets once the Games had finished and the visitors had begun to leave.

One of the brownshirts stood up and raised a mug of beer he had brought with him into the café. He rambled on in a loud voice and finished with the salutation, ‘Heil Hitler.’ All of the troopers rose and thrust out their arms in the stiff military salute of the Nazi Party. Only the Barringtons and Macintoshes remained seated, as well as the giant sitting at his table, reading the newspaper.

The drunken man in his early twenties who had initiated the toast turned to the table of four, and shouted something, spittle flying in the air. Sarah and Donald paled and turned to the others to translate the German into English.

‘We must go,’ Donald muttered to his American companions, but James resisted.

‘We are guests in this country and have a right to remain here,’ James said.

Donald looked desperately at his American friend. ‘They are drunk and want to know why we did not stand when they toasted Adolf Hitler.’

‘That is because he is not our leader,’ Olivia offered bluntly. Just as she made her statement the German SA trooper with the beer mug pulled away from his comrades and lurched over to the table, eyes staring with fanatic anger. Donald immediately attempted to pacify the drunken soldier, explaining that they were visitors to the country and did not know all the customs. This only seemed to make the man angrier and suddenly he tipped the contents of his beer mug over Olivia’s head, drenching her. His gesture was met by a chorus of jeers from his companions.

Olivia sat in shock, her face slowly reddening.

James rose from his seat. ‘I say, that was not called for,’ he said with as much bravado he could muster. ‘I shall report this matter to your authorities. My father is a respected guest of your government.’

The German SA party clearly did not understand English and this protest fell on deaf ears.

‘Leave them alone,’ said a deep voice in German, and the large man with the crooked nose strode towards them, a dangerous determination glinting in his grey eyes. He was beside the table in a heartbeat, face to face with the drunken brownshirt.

‘You should go and leave these people in peace,’ the big man said.

‘Or what, Englisher?’ the brownshirt asked with a sneer, obviously detecting that the man had an accent.

‘I’m not an Englishman,’ the man snarled. ‘I’m a bloody Australian – so shove off.’

As he spoke, the Australian was aware that the largest member of the SA party had risen from his table and was walking over. He was the Australian’s size and build, and by his confident expression he clearly thought he would soon frighten off this intruder to their drunken fun. He had a scarred face that spoke of street brawling.

‘Australia is nothing,’ the big German said. ‘You won only one Olympic medal, a bronze in the triple jump.’

The Australian shifted the weight on his feet. ‘We would have won a medal in the heavyweight boxing if I’d been able to register early enough,’ he said, keeping his eyes on the threatening German. There was a hush in the garden now.

‘Ha! You think you could have beaten our champion?’ the scarred man said with a laugh, spitting on the ground to emphasise his disdain. He took a step towards the young Australian.

Three bone-breaking blows caught the German completely by surprise, and he wobbled on his feet before collapsing on the grass with a moan.

The Australian rubbed his knuckles and hoped that he had not broken any bones. ‘If you have any more punching bags for me this afternoon, I would like to keep going,’ he said in his accented German, but the stunned looks of the remaining SA men told him that they would not challenge him.

Sarah could feel her heart pounding. She had never seen such violence before. When she looked up at the Australian he was looking directly at her, and his eyes were now gentle. A smoky-grey colour with flecks of gold.

‘I think you should leave,’ he said. ‘The coppers will arrive soon and I have some explaining to do. You don’t want to get caught up in all that.’

‘Thank you,’ James said, extending his hand in gratitude. ‘We were a little outnumbered. I gather from your accent that you are an Aussie like my friends here.’

‘You don’t have to thank me,’ he replied. ‘I don’t like these bastards and was itching to have a go. And yes, I am an Aussie.’

He smiled grimly as the brownshirts dragged their felled champion away to their table and slapped his face to awaken him.

‘You will pay for this, Englisher,’ one of them shouted from a safe distance.

‘What is your name?’ Sarah asked, rising from her chair. ‘We must thank you in some way.’

‘I’m—’

‘You!’

All attention was focused on two German police officers who had entered the garden and were shouting at the Australian. ‘Stand where you are,’ one of the police officers commanded. ‘You are under arrest.’

The mysterious Australian shrugged and turned back to Sarah. ‘Time you all got out of here before they turn their attention to you.’ He felt the hand of one of the police officers on his shoulder and did not resist.

‘We will come with you to the police station,’ one of the SA men said to the arresting officers. ‘We will need to give a statement concerning the unprovoked attack on our comrade. Heil Hitler.’

The Australian looked over at the Bavarian proprietor who was wringing his hands. The man must have contacted the police, worried there would be a full-on brawl in his restaurant. His pretty daughter gave the Australian a look of frank admiration and he winked at her, causing her to break into a shy smile.

*

On the pavement outside the café James turned to Donald. ‘That was one helluva guy,’ he said. ‘Bad luck for him that those brownshirts are going to the police station with him. I think we should find out where they’re taking him, and try to help.’

‘The Germans are civilised people and with a reliable legal system,’ Donald replied. ‘Besides, I doubt that they would dare cause any harm to a visitor. Not good for tourism if they did.’

‘I’m going to inform Father,’ Sarah said. ‘He will be able to help the young man.’

‘I don’t think that is necessary,’ Donald said. ‘He looks like he can handle himself.’

‘Does it shame you that you were unable to defend us?’ Sarah countered quietly. ‘Is that why you do not wish to mention the incident to Father?’

His sister’s words stung with truth. Donald’s face reddened. He had never felt as helpless as he had in the café garden, facing brute violence beyond the reaches of all his family’s wealth and influence. He had been terrified, but fear was not something his father would tolerate. ‘I think that the matter is over and we should put it behind us,’ he answered feebly and saw the look of disgust on Sarah’s face. They walked in silence back to the hotel.

*

The young Australian experienced fear as he felt the first blow jar his head. His hands were tied behind his back and the rickety chair he was pinioned to almost collapsed. The blow hurt; it had come from the big SA man he had felled in the café garden.

Behind the SA thug stood the two arresting officers, and they both looked nervous and frightened.

‘We rule here, Englisher,’ the SA thug said, stepping back to deliver another punch. Blood dripped from the Australian’s split lip onto his white shirt. ‘You need to learn respect for our Führer.’

The helpless prisoner’s obscene reply brought another smashing blow to his head, making him wish he had kept silent. He was afraid now that this man might beat him half to death before the police officers stopped him.

‘Leave him alone,’ an authoritative voice called into the room. The Australian lifted his head to see a German Luftwaffe officer standing in the doorway. Through swelling eyes he could see the pilot wings on his chest. Behind the German pilot a familiar figure leaned on a cane, a cigar clamped between his teeth.

‘Young David Macintosh,’ Sean Duffy said in an almost tired voice. ‘I wonder why I ever let you come to Germany with me.’

David spat out a mouthful of blood and grinned at the Sydney solicitor. ‘Ah, Uncle Sean, it is good to see you,’ he said. ‘Who’s the flyboy?’

‘I am Hauptmann Fritz Lang,’ the German officer replied

in English. David knew that he was the equivalent rank of an air force flight lieutenant in Australia. ‘Herr Duffy has called on me to free you from custody.’

‘How did you know I was here?’ David asked. He glanced over at the SA man who had been beating him, who stood aside with a surly and resentful look on his face. ‘Captain Lang,’ Sean replied, using the English army equivalent of the German aviator’s rank, ‘has friends in many places and was quick to inform me of your predicament. You have him to thank for the fact that I was able to muster the legal resources to free you so quickly.’

‘I didn’t start this one,’ David said as one of the German police officers stepped forward and untied his hands from behind his back. ‘I was just minding my own business.’

Sean raised his eyebrows, then took the cigar from his mouth and rolled it between his fingers. ‘Captain Lang, could you please thank the police for their hospitality towards Mr Macintosh, and let them know that we will not be reporting this incident to any higher authority.’

As Fritz translated, an expression of gratitude appeared on the officers’ faces. They were men used to enforcing the law, but many police officers resented the growing power the SA had over them. Only the even more feared SS now kept the SA’s power in check.

When David was on his feet he rubbed his wrists and turned to the SA man who had delivered his savage beating. ‘You and I might just meet one dark night down an alley, and if that happens only I will be walking out of it,’ he said in German.

The SA man glared back at David. ‘I will be waiting, Englisher,’ he replied.

‘Calling me an Englishman is enough to get you killed,’

David countered, and followed Sean and Hauptmann Lang out of the dank interrogation room.

*

The three men stepped out onto the footpath. Darkness was already falling. The multitude of red, white and black flags lay against their flag poles. Fritz excused himself and left, shaking hands with both Sean and David first.

‘Uncle Sean,’ David said painfully through his split lips. ‘How in hell did you get hold of a German officer?’

Sean limped beside David and they slowly made their way down the street. ‘It’s a long story that has its roots back in Palestine with your father’s cousin, Captain Matthew Duffy, during the war. After the war, Matthew asked me to track down the family of a German fighter pilot he had sat with as he died. I was able to use this visit to track down the pilot’s widow, and son, and to pass on a letter Matthew had written to them. The pilot’s son is, of course, Fritz.’

‘What happened all those years ago?’ David asked. His own father had been killed in action on the Western Front, which was where Sean had lost both his legs, and his mother had died in the terrible flu epidemic of 1919. David had been raised in New Guinea by his maternal grandmother, Karolina Schumann, on a family copra plantation, but had been schooled in Australia and looked after by the family solicitor, Sean Duffy, who had no wife or children of his own. Sean had become like a father to David.

‘It seems that when Matthew was shot down he stumbled on a Hun pilot who had also been shot down, but was dying from his wounds. Matthew stayed with him, and in the pilot’s dying moments promised to contact his family for him. I have kept that promise for Matthew. Hence, we have at least one good friend in this country, although I do not know Fritz’s attitude to Jews.’

David flinched. His mother was Jewish, which meant he was technically Jewish too. His grandmother had not raised him strictly in accordance with the Jewish faith. But David had been circumcised and he had, out of curiosity, read the Torah. He knew that it did not pay to advertise this aspect of his life in Hitler’s Germany, despite the fact that he had barely stepped inside a synagogue. He was a young man who preferred the pleasures of life to thinking about the restrictions of religion.

The two men walked side by side into the dark, unaware that the simple incident in the café would change the course of both of their lives forever.


Excerpted from War Clouds Gather by Peter Watt. Copyright © 2013 by Peter Watt.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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