Five times Newkirk and LeBeau miscommunicated, and one time they didn't.
It was LeBeau and Newkirk's first meeting that proved Newkirk's language ineptness
The British Corporal had just arrived at Stalag 13; civilian rejected, battle ridden, and freshly briefed for his new assignment of underground espionage. He was threatened by the impossibility of escape by Kommandant Klink, manhandled by Shultz in the manner that he would be if he tried to escape, then thoroughly reminded by his new Officer Colonel Hogan that his purpose there was to never attempt escape.
As he settled into Barracks 2, Newkirk found his fellow prisoners slowly making their way to him, introducing themselves and offering advice on the agent life in turn. Some advice he heeded: Hogan's hard-knock speech on the importance of confidentiality, Kinchloe's formed impressions of the Gestapo; some he accepted with a bit more caution, such as Carter's stress-relieving strategies, all of which were explosive-related.
Just as he was reaching the end of his settling in (he didn't have much to unpack, after all), a last man wandered over to him. Or at least, Newkirk presumed the man had wandered over. He hadn't actually seen him until the solder was directly to his side. The man was short, not even reaching Newkirk's shoulder, and a glance at his beret gave him away to be French.
"How do you do, chap?" Never wanting to be rude on a first impression, Newkirk held out a hand, ready to shake. Rather than take the outstretched arm, though, the latest man glanced down, inspecting the gloves Newkirk wore. Suddenly, recognition lit up his face and he grabbed the British man's hand.
"Toulouse! Parlez-vous français?"
A strange front came over Newkirk's face as he withdrew his hand from the stranger.
"Jolly good. Wait just a moment here, would you now?"
The Frenchman stood politely as Newkirk slipped over to his new operations leader. "Colonel, a word?"
"Yes, Newkirk?" Hogan grimaced at the new arrival's uncomfortable face. Was there trouble already, not even an hour after arriving?
"Well, sir, there's a bit of a problem in the gearwork here. You see, I was told all the men speak English here, sir, and there this one guy 'ose trying to talk to me in some other language!" Newkirk gestured wildly over to where the problem lay.
Hogan glanced over to where the short man still stood, sighed, then returned to Newkirk.
"That's LeBeau, a corporal, like you. He speaks English, no worries about that. Probably just seeing if you know French. You know how the belief goes: Americans speak American, but the British know French, German, or both!"
Rather than laughing or taking pride in the view of his countrymen, Newkirk skewed his features up in distaste. "Well that's a daft belief!"
"Yes! I've never believed I could speak another language for a moment in my life!"
With a strange, new determined glint in his eye, Newkirk marched over to the waiting LeBeau. Thrusting out his hand with surprising force, he spoke loud enough for the entire barracks to hear him.
"Hello, LeBeau. My name is Peter Newkirk. It's pleasure to meet you, and I'm proud to say I don't speak a word of French."
It was LeBeau and Newkirk's second week knowing each other that solidified Barrack 2's belief that the British and French were never meant to communicate properly.
Their observations began when the tunnel under the doghouse was growing too large, threatening to have the structure above fall into the cavern beneath.
"Newkirk! Carter! Get over there and add some supports around the edge of the tunnel!" Colonel Hogan's order promised a fix of the problem. "LeBeau, go along with them to keep the dogs calm!" With varied degrees of enthusiasm, the men responded 'yes, sir' and headed to their duty.
It wasn't a job that required much time, and less than an hour passed before the three returned, though in odd spirits: LeBeau, slightly irritated, Newkirk, holding in a scowl, and Carter in the rear, glancing anxiously between the other men. As the first two separated to their own beds, a quick call "Carter" and a nod from Hogan called the younger officer over.
"What happened between LeBeau and Newkirk? Disagreement over how to place the supports?"
Carter hastily shook his head. "No sir! They got along great actually, chatting like two pals as Newkirk and I worked and LeBeau calmed the dogs outside. Actually, it was more like I worked and LeBeau introduced Newkirk to a bunch of the dogs. Gee, I wonder how the dogs got so-"
"Carter." A warning from Hogan.
"Sorry boy. Sir. Anyway, so everything was keen, but then suddenly the doghouse started to kick down some dirt, and I saw the corner start to come down! Well, LeBeau was right under it, so Newkirk just dropped his support and rushed over! He knocked LeBeau out of the way and held the doghouse up until I could get a support for under it. It sure was impressive, I'll tell you that!"
Hogan nodded, waiting for Carter to finish his narrative. As he stayed silent though, the Colonel finally had to prompt him.
"And the two are angry because...?"
Carter's face sparked with remembrance. "Oh yeah! So LeBeau was grateful, and said "Merci", like anyone would. Well, like any Frenchman would. Or anyone thanking a Frenchman. But then Newkirk got this confused look on his face and said "do I really act like I'd drop this on you?" After that, they just stopped talking."
By the end of the day, Newkirk and LeBeau were getting on like friends again, but as the days went by, more and more reports came to Hogan on the pair's bizarre behavior.
There was Sergeant Kinchloe with Newkirk's defense of his character after LeBeau thanked him for carrying his shovel during work detail.
There was Sergeant Davis's report of the rumor that Newkirk refused to finish tailoring LeBeau's pants after the Corporal gave him a hearty appreciation.
Even Sergeant Shultz expressed confusion after hearing LeBeau thank Newkirk, which in response Newkirk yelled back "I don't want to hear it!"
It had finally gotten to the point where Colonel Hogan had to talk with Newkirk; morale was going to begin sinking soon.
A rap on Hogan's door came soon enough. "You called, Colonel?"
"Yeah, I did. Come in, we need to chat."
A click from the knob and the door opened, Newkirk entering. "It's a right good thing you called me 'ere sir. There's something I need to discuss with you."
His frankness caused Colonel Hogan to raise an eyebrow". "And what's that?"
"Well...it's LeBeau, sir." The Englishman began to pace, clearly concerned at what he was saying. "Well, we're on good terms, but lately when I try to help him, he acts like he thinks I'm going to hurt him!"
The other eyebrow raised in disbelief. "Why's that?"
"Well sir, he always asks 'mercy!', like he thinks I'm going to hurt him." The corporal stopped pacing and leaned over towards Hogan. "Between you and me, Colonel, I think he lacks self-confidence from being so short. If you could get the men to stop berating him, I'd be quite grateful." He stepped back to where he had originally stood, voice back to normal. "Now sir, what was it you wanted to talk about?"
There was no answer at first; Hogan was near stunned at the turnout of the conversation.
"Er...nothing, Newkirk." He finally dismissed. "I'll talk to them men. Just...let LeBeau say what he wants, okay?"
"He may have forgotten you don't speak a word of French."
"Well, LeBeau, your ol' pal Newkirk's done it now! Feel free to sing my praises any time now!"
From the table he was sitting at, LeBeau scoffed into his meal, not even glancing up at Newkirk's extravagant arrival.
"And what have you done now? Alerted every Gestapo agent to our base with an accidental radio transmit?"
Newkirk scoffed, lounging against the table. "Hardly that. No, it's good news. You remember those Red Cross packages the Colonel promised we'd be getting before the week was out?"
"The ones that will have more cooking spices in them? How could I forget?" The Corporal's answer tugged at the ends of Newkirk's mouth.
"Typical Frenchman- always thinking with your stomach. Yeah, these 're the ones, but I've been prodding Shultz about them, and he's let it slip that certain boxes have spare socks in them. With a few more well-placed questions and bribes, I've ensured that we, my good man, are two of the lucky men who will receive boxes with that little extra in them." Newkirk finished in a proud nod, satisfied with his efforts.
Finally, LeBeau looked up to meet the other's eyes -having been staring, red faced into his soup for the whole of the tirade- and gave an abashed grin at the Brit.
"Thank you...mon ami."
The last half was nearly whispered out, as if LeBeau hadn't intended to say it. Indeed, the moment after it was murmured, the Frenchman jolted with mild horror.
"I'm sorry! I didn't- you don't mind, do you?"
Through the one-sided burst of emotions, Newkirk had been slowly stiffening, his face becoming more and more stony. Finally, he offered his response.
"Oh, no problem, chap." He spat. "I'm glad enough to see how grateful you are."
Not bothering with another word, he spun around and stormed out of the barrack, leaving behind a bereft LeBeau.
In fact, Newkirk continued to storm his way through the Stalag, past a befuddled Sergeant Shultz, past a sulking Kommandant Klink, and into a crowd of his fellow P.O.W.'s, effectively interrupting them.
"Blimey, chaps! You won't believe what LeBeau's on about now!"
"The question is: what are you on about now?" Kinch jested, but Newkirk paid no attention to the jab.
"So I'm treating him nice, like chaps do, right? You know, reserving Red Cross packages for both of us-"
"I thought Colonel Hogan said we couldn't do that anymore!" Carter broke in. Newkirk paused.
"I must not've been there." He concocted, continuing on. "But the moment after I tell LeBeau and he's thanked me, he mutters "moan me!". Like what I've done is some sort of insult to him!"
Newkirk was livid; retelling the story had reconjured his anger. "I mean, you chaps get it, right?"
His story only brought only raised eyebrows from the others.
"You say he said "moan-a me"." Kinch clarified. "You mean 'mon ami'?"
"Well sure. Same thing."
The disbelieving silence was lost on Newkirk, who waved the response off. "I just wonder what he's going to say when he tries to talk his way out of this."
"Looks like you won't have to wait for long!" Carter pointed cheerfully to the distance behind Newkirk, where, sure enough, LeBeau was on his way over. Newkirk glanced over, then back, giving the group a look of exasperation.
"I'll just 'ead over there and give LeBeau a good talking to. No need to scold 'im with you lot all here."
With a final roll of the eyes, Newkirk departed to the Frenchman, who, with every step closer, was looking more and more nauseated. As the two came together, the gathered men quickly turned their backs, willing to give the quarreling soldiers privacy of sight, but certainly not of sound. If they didn't talk, didn't even rustle their jackets or shuffle their feet, they could just make out what was being said between the two.
"Newkirk-I- what I said before-"
"You were taking me for granted!"
"Oui! But I was so sure that you thought the same of me!"
"Rubbish! With all I do to help you, I thought I made it clear you're not just some random soldier I choose to hang around with."
"So...it's not that you think I said you were 'mon ami' out of place..." LeBeau's face lightened with comprehension. "It's because I said it while taking it for granted I was your 'ami' back!"
Narrowed eyes peered back at LeBeau. "Louis, I don't know what it is you're going on about, but it just rubbed wrong for you to say that needlessly."
"Of course! But..." Newkirk's face softened, and it was a moment before he continued. "But it's all right, I suppose, in the grand scheme of things. You're not just some chap I loiter around with 'ere; you're me best mate, through and through."
LeBeau hesitantly raised his arm, making sure Newkirk was finished before nudging him, a gracious smile on his face. "Amis...mates...let's just call it friends."
As the two men started away, to Barracks 2 or elsewhere, the listening men looked at each other in a mix of wonder and disbelief. It was a marvel; the persisting friendship between the two soldiers. What was truly spectacular was the two men's dedication to it, even though it obviously pained LeBeau to adjust his language...just because Newkirk didn't speak a word of French.
It was a thoroughly miserable day at Stalag 13; rain was pouring down in masses, and the cold air leached heat from anyone who was foolish enough to step foot outside, or anyone who was unlucky enough to be posted on guard duty. Sergeant Shultz was secretly taking cover in the cooler, Kommandant Klink was boarded up in his quarters, and all the barracks were lazing about, moping over the hours ahead with nothing to do.
However, there was one barrack breaking the trend. Barracks 2, seeing the weather dangerous for sabotage, had Colonel Hogan directing his men to hone other, less spacious skills while cooped up.
Spaced across the barrack in pairs, sitting at the table, in front of the stove, or even sitting side by side, crammed on bunks, the men tested each other on basic German phrases. As time wore on; however, the pairs would slowly merge with others, abandoning lessons for the more popular topics of choice: girls, cars, and weekend passes, lasing until Colonel Hogan would shoot a disapproving glare. The only group to remain isolated was crammed on a lower corner bunk, consisting of two increasingly frustrated men: LeBeau and Newkirk.
"Ahh..." LeBeau racked his memory, trying to come up with a question that hadn't been asked yet. "Ah! Wo sind Ihre Papiere?"
Newkirk nodded as he thought, then gave a wide smile. He probably meant for it to be charming, but LeBeau recognized as clearly as he could identify all the other types of smiles Newkirk had at his disposal. At the current question, he had shifted into the same grin he wore whenever he was bluffing through something. LeBeau's classification was found correct, confirmed the moment Newkirk answered.
"Yes! Quite right, chap!"
The Frenchman sighed, his hand finding its way up to rub his temple. "You can't answer every question the Germans ask with 'yes', mon ami. Especially not when they're asking where your papers are.
Newkirk's face fell immediately. "We've been on this German practice of the guv'nor's for over an hour! Me brain's tired! Surely I'm allowed a break!"
"Not if you've answered every question I've asked you this past hour with an answer that doesn't match up!" LeBeau protested. "The moment you answer five questions- no! Two!- in a row correctly, I promise we'll stop. But for now, it's your turn to ask."
"Oh, bloody..." Newkirk trailed of, forming a question of his own. "Welche Stadt kommst du?"
"Hamburg." LeBeau answered without hesitation. "See, Pierre, this is what I don't get! You can ask questions as well as any German, but you never answer a single one I've given you!"
"Let's just say I 'ave a better time speaking German than understanding you- it." Newkirk compromised. "But if we're going to take a break here, you mind if I pop over to the Colonel for a moment? There's something I've been meaning to ask him."
"We weren't taking a break..." LeBeau reminded him, but let him go with a wave of his hand. With a rush, Newkirk made his way around the tongue-tied Carter and Private Phelps, past Kinch and Johnson, over to where Hogan was supervising, his talents lying with plotting, not German.
"Colonel?" Newkirk asked, breaking Hogan out of whatever thoughts he had been in. "Can I perhaps ask a small favor of you?"
Hogan looked at him, glanced over to where the Englander's language partner sat, then back to the Corporal. "This doesn't happen to have anything to do with LeBeau, does it?"
"Actually, sir, it does." Newkirk's voice dropped drastically. "I was hoping that you could give me and LeBeau new partners. I'm having a mite trouble understanding working with him right now."
Hogan cast another glance to the sitting Frenchman. "I thought LeBeau was at an advanced German level. For that matter I thought you were too!"
"Well, sir, the problem's not as simple as a little vocabulary..." Newkirk began shifting his weight from side to side. "But the truth's a little embarrassing."
"For you, or LeBeau?"
"Well..." at this point Newkirk decided it would be best to give in."LeBeau speaks fine German...I think. The thing is...he speaks it with such a thick French accent, I can't understand a word!"
Hogan was silent, determining his decision. Finally, he spoke.
"Request denied. You're going to stay partners with LeBeau." His voice was firm, leaving no room for argument. "It'll help you as much as him to sort his accent out. Besides..." a rare, tender smile graced his face. "You're always going to be the best partner for him."
The words effects were immediate. Newkirk's face blossomed from embarrassment to an abashed grin.
"Right then, sir. I'll just...you know...head back over there."
With a final, red-faced, schoolboy grin, Newkirk snuck back to LeBeau. Hogan watched him go, prior irritation now open amusement. Sometimes he wondered if fate way toying with those two men, testing to see if the language miscommunications between them could turn them apart. But, just like it ought to be for two soldiers who've faced capture, glory, torture, and death together, Newkirk and LeBeau were holding through together. No matter how disadvantaging it was to Newkirk's life that he didn't speak a word of French.
"Hey Carter, could you help me with something?"
Carter glanced up from his book to see LeBeau in front of him.
"Sure, LeBeau! I'm a little surprised to see you! Not like that, though, I mean...it's strange to see you without Newkirk. You two are like peas in a pod. Or croissants- they're more French. Or tea, which is more-"
"I know Pierre's not here. I wanted to make sure to talk to you when he wasn't here." LeBeau clarified. "I was hoping to surprise him, and to do that I need you to teach me some things."
Carter's face contorted with disgust as he set down his book. "I'm thinking of two things you might mean, LeBeau. One I don't have the slightest idea how to do, and the other I can't teach you either, because explosives are very dangerous."
"No...nothing like that." LeBeau quickly dispelled both of the scandalous ideas. "It's just...I wanted to try and learn some British slang to talk to Newkirk with. You know to try and make him feel more at home, try to impress him...take your pick. I thought you might know some, being you're so smart and all."
Carter blushed in modesty. "Well...I wouldn't say I know too much...but I'd be glad to help."
With a nod of thanks, LeBeau sat down beside Carter, prepared to learn the lexicon of the British.
He couldn't have been less prepared. Hours later, he was finished, rewarded with a buzzing head, a twisted tongue, and a pity for all the British youth who were thrust into England's streets, expected to know all the words he had just drowned down.
"I hope I was a good help!" Carter wished LeBeau as the Corporal headed to the door. The Frenchman just gave a nod of thanks, not about to lose the words he had learned before he found Newkirk.
Stepping right out the door, he nearly ran into the man he was looking for. Immediately to the side of the barrack was the Englishman, lounging against the wall, smoke in mouth, digging in his pockets for a light. With a deep breath, LeBeau started towards him, ready to impress.
"Bounce around the bush, Newkirk! How're those crumpets treating your bugger?"
The Englander froze, unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. "Run that by me one more time, would you?"
"Crikey, I've been plucking the old men for a crummy rumpet learning these for you!"
"Learning what? How to sound like an idiot?" Immediately Newkirk regretted his insult, seeing LeBeau take on a hurt expression.
"I've been learning British slang to talk to you with." LeBeau pouted. Newkirk just scoffed, finally removing the cigarette from his mouth.
"From who? Sounds like you've been taking lessons from a drunken Colonel Crittenden."
"It was Carter." LeBeau admitted. "He was very polite, saying he didn't know too much-"
"LeBeau..." Newkirk shook his head. "When Carter says he doesn't know much, it's not modesty. It's the truth."
"So..." Newkirk began to chew the end of the smoke. "You just spent the last few hours learning British slang that wasn't really British?"
"I suppose so."
To LeBeau's surprise, instead of further jabs, Newkirk just nodded empathically, pulling out a box of matches. After finally lighting his cigarette, he turned thoughtfully to LeBeau. "If you're still interested in learning, I could teach you a bit. Of the slang, you know."
LeBeau's interest was caught immediately. "Now?"
"Sure. Why not?" Newkirk took a drag before beginning. "So, starting with what you were saying before: we're going to skip that 'bouncing' business and move straight into 'bugger'..."
Even as he spoke, teaching LeBeau the obscure slang of England, Newkirk had to admit to himself that he was starting to find a blessing out of not being able to speak a word of French.
With a clash, the cooler's door clanged shut, incarcerating two men inside for the next twenty-four hours.
"It was worth it!" The first, Corporal Newkirk, hollered after the German guard as the enemy marched away. "You should've seen bloody Burkhalter's face!"
"That's enough, mon ami." Beside the Englishmen, LeBeau patted his shoulder in an attempt to calm. "We don't want to get more time in here than we have to."
"I suppose, mate." Newkirk stepped away from the door, moving instead to sit on the rusting bunk. "Why're you in here anyway?"
"Wrong place, wrong time." LeBeau shrugged. Then a childish look came over his face. "Also because they probably think I could've stopped you from pouring that wine all over the General."
A self-satisfied smirk grew on Newkirk as he thought back. "Yeah, it was bloomin' spontaneous, wasn't it."
Reminiscing back brought mirth to the two men for a short while as they situated themselves better in their cell; however, the laughter died down as reality set in on the consequence they had.
"Only one bunk? Do they think we're fairies or something?" Newkirk looked distastefully at the meager provisions given. LeBeau quickly joined him in examination.
"But there's two blankets, at least. We won't have to worry about sharing there."
"Good! I 'aven't been that deprived of a bird's company!"
Their jesting continued much the same way for the first few hours, at least until the sun set out of sight from the barred window above their heads, and the temperature quickly began dropping. It wasn't long before LeBeau commented on the sudden change.
The two sat in a new silence, until Newkirk poised a question. "Barrack 2's on work detail, isn't it?"
"Yep. They're the only ones with a tunnel to this cell."
"You know, I think there's an actual danger of us freezing here."
"That's probably why they call this the cooler."
The quiet morphed into a stony silence.
"That wasn't very funny."
"It wasn't. Sorry."
The stillness of the room discouraged further talking, directing the men to retreat into their own minds, though it was obvious that was unacceptable to the Englishman.
Every so often Newkirk would make a short humming noise, or mumble an agreement to some unspoken question. Even blowing into his hands was turned into a noisy task. Finally he decided to break the silence entirely. "Do you think they'll fetch us?"
LeBeau scoffed. "Who? The guards? Shultzie? I doubt it. They've never done it before."
"But it bloody freezing here! We might-"
"Die?" LeBeau barked out a laugh. "What's the lives of two P.O.W.'s to them?"
"You're so bitter."
"I'm surprised you're not."
That was the end of the souring conversation.
This time, the silence that resulted was complete. There wasn't even the tick of time to listen to, the men's watches having been taken away before being shoved into the cell. Minutes, perhaps hours could have passed, bitterness distorting all time for the soldiers.
Newkirk glanced over to LeBeau, who was bunched up at the foot of the bunk. With every breath clouds of smoke came out of his mouth, only serving to remind the men how arctic their surroundings were.
As if he could feel Newkirk's eyes on him, LeBeau glanced up. As he pulled his blanket around himself, he revealed his fingers: cold and white. Unsure if their stubbornness was meant to continue, he glanced nervously between his comrade and his own hands, stuck between a punishing pride and a desire for forgiveness.
Newkirk could be seen struggling with his own internal conflict; torn between letting his friend's harshness punish himself, and seeing him suffer. The two continued to stare, neither wanting to break the standoff, until LeBeau suddenly turned.
It was barely a movement, but in the silence and stillness of the cooler, every small thing was monumental. Hesitantly, the Frenchman opened his mouth, letting out one soft, meek word.
With that plea the past was forgotten, as Newkirk immediately scooted over to LeBeau, taking his own blanket and draping it over them both.
"I know, Pierre."
No further words needed to be said as the two shifted closer. If the others in Barrack's 2 had been around to see this display of survival, it would have humiliated the two soldiers to no end; but as the two remained alone, there was nothing awkward as they took in the other's warmth. They felt no discomfort in the lack of words spoken, no discomfort as LeBeau rested his head on Newkirk's shoulder, no anxiety as the two slowly drifted off into the deep sleep of the innocent.
And no one disturbed the two, not in the early hours of dawn when Carter snuck in through the tunnel to check up on the men; not at the rouse of roll call, when Sergeant Shultz hefted himself to check that the prisoners were still accounted for in their cell; and not when Colonel Hogan talked his way into a short visit with his men, to give them morale in their incarceration.
Anyone who saw the two resting knew was no need for worry, no need to concern, no need to offer morale to the two men who continued to sleep in peace. That innocent peace developed from such a faithful friendship; built on miscommunication, pulling through to a time when few words were said.
For once, it hadn't mattered that Newkirk didn't speak a word of French.
One notable oddity is that it always appears to be winter at Stalag 13: the windows are never seen without frost, and there's always at least some "snow" (sometimes a lot) on the ground and rooftops. This may be attributable to budget restrictions, or perhaps merely to laziness or carelessness of the production staff preventing the crew from ever thoroughly redressing the outdoor set areas.
Thank you for your random knowledge, Wikipedia :)
Also, thank you Google for correcting me, that 'French' is not capitalized when it's written in French.