I do not own any of the characters from the series Hogan's Heroes. However, I claim ownership of any original characters appearing in this story.
A response to Kirarakim's "More than just Mavis" challenge; the basis being to assume that when Newkirk claims to have nine brothers and sisters ("Go Light On The Heavy Water"), he's actually telling the truth...
Mavis came walking down Esk Road with the brisk walk of a young woman who has no time to waste in dawdling. She nodded to old Mr Cawbey as he tottered past on his way to the off-licence, and agreed it was a nice day for it, but she didn't stop. Once you started chatting to Mr Cawbey, you could forget about getting anything else done that day. Talking to him was wearing; the poor old codger was deaf as a post, and thanks to a near miss during the worst of the Blitz, Mavis' hearing wasn't so good, either. So she excused herself before he got well started, and went on her way.
She paused for a moment at the front of Number Twenty-Seven. It was almost two weeks since she'd been to see her mother; her last visit had ended in such a terrible row between her parents that Mavis had deliberately stayed away longer than usual. But she'd had a letter from Peter, and she knew Mam would want to read it. Anyway, it was quite likely Dad had gone off again, to wherever it was he sloped off when life at Esk Road got uncomfortable. He had another woman somewhere; Mavis was sure of it.
Probably more than one. The Newkirk men liked to spread their investments around. Even Noel, who had just turned nine at Christmas, had a whole string of girls languishing over him. Arthur didn't seem interested yet, but Harry was notorious around Stepney, and for quite a distance beyond. As for Peter, he might be incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp in the middle of Germany, but Mavis had no doubt he'd have found some way to come to grips with the enemy, as long as the enemy was female.
She was still hesitating, when a high-pitched, blood-curdling scream from across the road alerted her to the approach of her two youngest sisters.
"Margaret – Lilly – pack it in." Mavis's reprimand rebounded from the terrace houses opposite, bringing the two little girls to an immediate stop. They gazed at her wide-eyed.
"She's back," observed Lilly. "Told you so."
"Hello, Mavis. You back, then?" said Margaret brightly. Of the two, she was the one you had to keep one eye out for. Mavis always knew where she stood with Lilly; generally nowhere. But Margaret had the art of social dissembling down pat. Or to put it another way, she waited till you weren't paying attention, then put the boot in.
"Not to see you two. Or hear you," replied Mavis. "You're an absolute disgrace, the pair of you. What's all that racket for?"
"Just practicing, for when the Germans invade," explained Margaret coolly. "Lilly's going to shriek at them, then while they're looking to see what all the fuss is about, I'll sneak up behind them and whack 'em with the coal shovel."
"Oh, well, as long as you've got a good reason," sighed Mavis. "Off you go, then."
She went on into the house, down the narrow hallway to the tiny kitchen at the back. Her mood lifted when she saw the room seemed to contain more people than it actually had space for. It probably meant Dad had gone off again; when he was home, his kids were generally elsewhere.
Mam sat at one end of the table, shelling peas. At the other end, Gwenneth, looking half-asleep, lolled with her elbows on the table, rousing herself occasionally to snap at one or other of the twins. From all indications, she'd stayed out late the night before. She was starting to do that too often, these days. There were just too many ways for a pretty girl of nineteen to entertain herself in London after blackout. Still, she'd be called up soon, she might as well get it out of her system.
Arthur and Alice were supposed to be doing homework, but that was just an excuse to hang around, listening to their elders talking, and adding their own opinions. Noel, the youngest of the family, was sitting on the back doorstep, trying to prevent the cat from escaping. Noel never had much luck with cats, they inevitably viewed him with deep mistrust, and took the earliest opportunity to scarper. But he never seemed to get discouraged.
The result was chaos, barely contained. And half the family wasn't even there. Peter was in Germany, of course. Kathleen had joined the Land Girls, and had been sent to Lincolnshire; from her letters, you'd think the entire national potato crop was dependent on her efforts alone. Lilly and Margaret had run off somewhere, doubtless trying to work out how to dig a tank trap in Bickerstaff Lane. Assuming the invasion ever actually took place, catching their very own Panzer would certainly raise the family prestige.
As for Harry - well, nobody ever really knew what Harry got up to.
"You missed the old bat," announced Gwen, looking up as Mavis appeared in the doorway.
Mavis didn't need to ask; the whole family knew who the old bat was. "Thought Gran was laid up," she remarked.
"She's always laid up when it suits her," replied Gwen spitefully. "Then as soon as she hears one of us is disgracing the family name again, suddenly her gout's all better, and she's back on the broomstick."
Mavis sat down opposite the twins, so that Mam was on her left. "What's Harry done now?"
"Don't pick on your brother," said Mam. "He means well." After forty years living in Esk Road, she still retained the soft Glamorgan lilt of her childhood. She stood up and went to put the kettle on, while Mavis, without thinking, took over the peas.
"We had the Old Bill round," put in Noel. He'd be boasting about it at school for the next fortnight; if his schoolmates thought the coppers had called to see him, instead of his brother, so much the better.
"Again?" sighed Mavis.
"Just a misunderstanding," put in Mrs Newkirk, as she warmed the teapot. She had no illusions about any of her boys, but it was a mother's duty to defend her offspring, even from each other.
"Anyway, as far as Gran's concerned, Harry can do no wrong," Gwen went on bitterly. "Just like Peter. The sun shines out of both their arses."
Mam turned her head to look at Gwen over the top of her spectacles. "You watch your language, young lady." Gwen rolled her eyes, and slouched back in her chair.
"Gwennie's got a new boyfriend," remarked Alice. "Gran doesn't like it."
"He's a Yank," added Arthur. He'd given up on his essay on Dombey and Son, which he'd only read three pages of anyway. He was now drawing up a plan for defending the Crown and Anchor from the German army by punching holes in barrels of petrol, rolling them down Coalhatch Street towards the approaching enemy, and setting fire to them by shooting Molotov cocktails from a home-made trebuchet. Arthur wasn't yet old enough to drink at the Crown, but he wanted to make sure it was still around when the time came.
"Gwen only likes him 'cos he can get nylon stockings for her," Alice went on, in a rather petulant manner. Alice hadn't yet outgrown her adolescent gawkiness, and she was inclined to be jealous of Gwennie, who hadn't ever gone through an awkward phase.
"Yes, and you can keep your grubby fingers off them, miss," Gwen snapped back. "They're not for little girls."
"That'll do." Mam didn't raise her voice. She didn't need to. Anyone who disobeyed when she used that tone of voice did so at their peril. She returned to the table with the teapot in its knitted cosy, and began to pour. "Mavis, did you hear from your brother this week?"
She asked the question in a neutral tone, like it was just a casual enquiry, but Mavis wasn't fooled, nor Gwen. Mam had always tried not to play favourites, but Peter was her oldest boy, the only one who'd been born before the last war took her husband away to the battlefields of France. Albert Newkirk had returned home at last, but something about the trenches had changed him. He'd grown increasingly erratic and unreliable, disappearing from home sometimes for weeks or months at a time. Mam hadn't intentionally turned to Peter for support, but from the moment her seven-year-old son had set eyes on his new baby sister Mavis, he'd known Mam would need his help; and without a word he'd stepped up to the mark.
Even when his father had thrown him out at the age of fifteen, he'd continued to send money home, and visited as often as he could, to keep an eye on things.
Without saying a word Mavis took Peter's letter out of her handbag and held it out.
"Oh, read it out, love," said Mam, just as if she wouldn't have preferred to take it away to her own room for a private read, and a private weep.
Mavis smiled as she extracted the letter from its envelope, and unfolded the thin sheets.
"My throat's a bit sore, Mam," she said. "It's hard on the voice, being on the buses. You have to shriek, or the passengers don't hear you. Arthur, you read it, there's a good lad."
Arthur suppressed a grin as he took the letter, and Mavis shifted a little in her seat, so her good ear faced towards the twins. Even though she had read it through a couple of times, she wanted to hear Arthur. Of all the family, he was the most like Peter in looks and manner; if they couldn't have Peter, letting Artie read his words was the next best thing.
Well, they say it's nearly the end of winter, but you'd never know it round here. It's been snowing for days. My mate Carter - I told you all about him before - he says it gets a lot colder back at Crabapple Junction, wherever that is. I don't think I'll ever go there to find out. Round here is quite chilly enough for me.
While I'm on the subject, can you let Arthur know that whatever it was he wanted me to ask Carter about, the censors didn't like it. There were so many holes in the letter, we could have used it as a colander.
"What did you ask him about?" demanded Noel, who had abandoned the cat to come and lean over his brother's arm.
"I just wanted his opinion on putting soap in petrol bombs to make the stuff stick," replied Arthur. "Smudger says egg whites are good, but we can't get any. And dried eggs don't work. We tried."
"Where'd you get the petrol?" Noel asked, but the question went unanswered.
"Arthur, I've told you before, I won't have you making petrol bombs in the house," said Mam crossly. "What you do at Smudger's house is his parents' problem. I just finished papering upstairs, I'll not have the place burned down."
Arthur snickered, then sobered up and continued.
The Christmas parcel turned up at last, two months late. It was very much appreciated, especially the fruit cake, which was delicious. At least, so I was told. I didn't even get a smell of it - Sergeant Schultz decided it was suspicious, and took it away for examination. He reported back later that it was found to be harmless after all. He had a plum pudding Rita sent, too.
"That Rita's still got her claws in, then," observed Gwen, a scowl spoiling her face for a few seconds.
"She's nice. I like her," said Noel, pushing in between the twins.
Alice shoved him back. "You just would. Go on, Artie."
If Schultz had anything to do with it, I'd waste away to nothing. But you don't have to worry, Mavis. We've got one of the best cooks in the entire army in our barracks - Louis LeBeau. French, of course. I never let on how much I enjoy his cooking. He's got a high enough opinion of himself already. But I'm really going to miss him when we finally get out of here. Not just for the food, either. He's a good little bloke.
"Does that mean Peter's coming home soon?" Noel interrupted again, wide-eyed.
"Probably not, Noel, love," said Mrs Newkirk.
It's funny when you think about it, Mavis. You take this war, it's just rotten all through. But if it hadn't started, I'd never have ended up here, and I'd never have met LeBeau or Carter. Or Kinch. You'd like him, Mavis, he's one of the quiet ones, but whenever things are as bad as they can get, Kinch is the one who always knows what to do.
And then there's Colonel Hogan. I never got on with officers before - couldn't see the point of some jumped-up, full-of-himself so and so setting up to give orders that made no sense. But Colonel Hogan's different. He doesn't act like he's better than the rest of us, but somehow when he gives an order, you just go along with it. And it nearly always turns out to be right.
He knows how to get things done, too. Anything we need, or any problems, he goes to the Kommandant and gets it sorted. Sometimes without the Kommandant even knowing. (I'd tell you what I think of Kommandant Klink, but he gets to read our letters before they go out, so maybe I'd better not.)
"What a stupid name," said Alice. "Klink."
"Stinky Klinky," added Noel, giggling.
"Oh, shut up, Noel."
"Mam, she pushed me!"
"One more word from either of you, and it's early bed, and no supper." Mam was standing no nonsense.
So you can tell Mum not to worry about me, I've landed on my feet as usual. It's not exactly a holiday camp, but there's plenty of blokes worse off. And there's ways of getting hold of a few little extras, if you know how to work a dodge or two.
"Trust our Peter," said Gwen tartly; but her lips twitched slightly as she tried not to laugh.
"Oh, you're all the same for that," replied Mam. "If any one of you got lost in the middle of the Sahara, you'd have a market stall set up in ten minutes, selling sand to the natives. It must come from your father."
"At least he was good for something," muttered Arthur. Mavis gave him a reproving look, disregarding the suppressed giggles from her sisters. Artie smirked back, and went on.
Well, it's nearly time for lights out, Mavis, so I'll have to sign off now. Give my love to the kids, and tell Harry to look out for Mum, or I'll sort him out when I get home. I'll try to send a note off to Kathleen in the next few days, if I have the time, but if you're writing, you might let her know I haven't forgotten about her. She's a real little trooper, to take on that kind of work. You take care of yourself, and watch out for Gwennie as well. And tell Mum - well, never mind that. She already knows.
All my love,
There was a moment of silence. Mam took off her glasses and cleaned them, keeping her eyes on the task.
Artie folded the letter, and returned it to its envelope. "He never says anything about what he gets up to," he remarked.
"I expect it's not very interesting," said Alice. "I mean, it's a prison, isn't it? There can't be much to do."
Noel leaned across the table. "If it was me, I'd start digging a tunnel."
"You already did, in the coal cellar," Alice snapped.
"That wasn't a tunnel. That was a bunker," Noel protested.
"Now, then, you three." Mam had put her glasses back on, and was herself again. "Noel, you were playing with that cat all afternoon, go upstairs and wash your hands. Twins, put your books away, and go and tidy up. Mavis, will you be staying for tea, love?"
"I can't, Mam," said Mavis. "I'm working the late shift."
"I don't like you being on those buses at night," observed Mrs Newkirk. But she let the matter go. After all, there was a war on; someone had to do the job..
Mavis went back along Esk Road towards the high street, and the bus which would take her to the depot. She was thinking about Peter's letter, and about all the previous letters since he'd been a prisoner in Luftstalag 13. When the bus arrived, she hurried upstairs, took a seat at the front, then took the letter out and read through it again.
Artie was right. Peter never said what he was doing with himself. It wasn't as if he was the kind to sit around doing nothing. He had a restless energy, and a need to be occupied with something. Yet in one letter after another, it was the same; plenty of description of place and people, but no hint of any activities.
Of course, it was a prison camp, there might not be much to tell. But Mavis was beginning to wonder. Peter always had some scheme or other going, before the war. If he was staying true to character, then he must have something to keep him busy.
On the other hand, it might be something he couldn't mention in a letter the Germans were going to read. For instance, he might be planning an escape attempt. Mavis's heart beat a little faster at the thought. She missed Peter dreadfully; but if he wasn't free, at least he was safe. If he did get away from the prison camp, but something happened before he reached safety...
That possibility was more than she thought she could bear. She gazed out of the window. It was still light, and the streets were fairly crowded; in London, it was business as usual, in spite of nightly air raids. They took it more or less for granted now; but in some ways, life in Esk Road was more precarious than in Luftstalag 13. If they were anxious about Peter, he must sometimes be frantic with worry about them.
Mavis straightened up, and pressed her lips together. Had she known it, she looked very like her mother just then. The entrepreneurial spirit in the Newkirk family might have come from their father, but they'd inherited something else from Mam: the willpower to face up to whatever came their way.
If there was some scheme going on over there in Stalag 13, Peter would be right in the thick of it, with the mates he talked about in his letters. And Mavis was sure, whatever it was, it would work out.
It might take a long time, but one day Peter would come home to Esk Road; and his family would be waiting for him.