When the plane was ready, Metz led the others to the
squadron headquarters, which was a low building made of
concrete blocks with a curved corrugated-iron roof covered
with camouflage netting. Most of the floor-space was the
operations room, in which metal chairs were ranged in front
of a blackboard and a map-easel. Metz instructed his men to
bring four chairs through into his personal quarters, which
were not much more than a dimly lit cubby-hole containing
his camp bed, a wardrobe and a chest of drawers. A slightly
garish colour-tinted photograph of Adolf Hitler hung on
the end wall. On the chest, an almost-full bottle of Cognac
and six glasses, a framed photograph of a handsome young
Luftwaffe pilot with dark hair flopping almost to his eyes,
and a wind-up gramophone with a horn like a huge brass daffodil.
Metz told the others to sit, then served them generous
measures of brandy. He cranked the gramophone and lowered
the needle onto the disc. The four men sat and listened
to a piano sonata by Beethoven, the Appasionata. During its
quieter passages, the gasping and collapsing of burning aircraft
was clearly audible. During its turbulent finale, Metz,
his eyes closed, made vaguely musical gestures with his fists.
When it was over, he remained in his chair for several long
moments, seemingly mesmerized by the blip and hiss of
the gramophone. At last he got to his feet and deliberately
dragged the needle across the surface of the disc, ruining
it. The brass daffodil screeched in agony. Metz then stood
to attention in front of the Führer's portrait, jabbed his right
arm out and said, or rather yelled, "Heil Hitler!" The other
men hastily, if less enthusiastically, followed suit.
The Oberst picked up the photograph from the chest,
tucked it under one arm and led Sammer and the others
briskly out to his plane. The radiance from the white-hot aircraft
carcasses wobbled the air. He shook hands with each
of the men in turn, wished them good luck and climbed
up into the cockpit. When the engines were firing steadily,
Sammer pulled the chocks away from the wheels and Metz
taxied bumpily onto the runway.
Metz's last orders to Sammer had been to take his
- Metz's - staff car and catch up with the rest of the evacuated
squadron. Sammer disobeyed. As soon as the Junkers
was airborne, the sergeant returned to the Oberst's room
and stripped the sheet from the bed. He attached it to a
tent-pole, and with this white flag of truce sticking out of
the front passenger window, he and his colleagues drove
south, not east. They surrendered to the first Canadian
troops they came across, who apparently treated them as a
bit of a nuisance. I was a little surprised that Sammer jovially
admitted to all this in his memoir, which ends at this
point. I've patched together the end of Metz's story from
other sources, one of which is my imagination.
Metz flew extremely low over the North Sea in an effort to
sneak under British radar. At first the weather was on his
side: it was very murky. It cleared, however, just before he
reached the coast of East Anglia, and he was spotted by a
coastguard station just north of Great Yarmouth. (He could
hardly have been missed; he nearly took the station's radio
mast off.) Seven minutes from his target, he came under
attack by three Spitfires.
That target was RAF Beckford, and Metz's plan was
simple: he would dive his plane onto the damned place and
purge it with fire. That he himself would die was no matter.
To all intents and purposes, he'd been dead for almost two
years already. This had to do with the photograph that he'd
propped up in the co-pilot's seat, the beautiful young flier
with the tumbling hair. The boy had joined the squadron in
the autumn of 1942, and for six months Metz had experienced
an agonizing happiness. He'd felt a need to nurture
and protect that went against the grain of himself. The friction
had been delicious.
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