. 1945 .
Susan turned to see Corporal Davies standing behind her.
"It's Private Hughes. Physically he's all right, except his arm of course, but he won't get up and he won't listen to me when I tell him it's best for him if he does. I wonder if you might come and talk to him."
"Yes, all right Mary, I'll come."
Susan followed Corporal Davies into the ward, which was really the nave of the church they were given when the British had first taken Hamburg. They had about thirty patients in the nave, lined up on cots where the pews had been.
It has been a long haul, Susan thought. She had come ashore in France a little less than a year ago, on June ninth. The complete carnage from the harrowing first days of the Normandy invasions had shocked her. There were burns, bullet holes, poor soldiers completely blown apart and some untouched, yet strange in the head. She had never been on the front lines, but she had heard the thunder of artillery in the distance and once or twice in the past months, German shells had landed on her ward. Had killed her patients. Once, as she tended the head wound of a captured German soldier she had asked why he had fought.
He had looked at her blankly, then shrugged, "der Fuehrer."
But it was reported that the Fuehrer was dead, that he had shot himself in the head in May, as the allies surrounded Berlin. Yet the War was still in motion.
"Private Hughes?" Susan looked down at a young patient in the painted sunlight from a stained glass window. His right arm was missing from the elbow down.
"Corporal Davies tells me that you won't get up," Susan continued.
"You'll never get better if you don't get up. You don't know what wonders walking around will work."
"I don't want to get better." Private Hughes said very quietly. "I'd rather just die then go home like this."
"That's the most outlandish thing I've ever heard," Susan said sternly. "I've seen far worse injuries then yours. I met a man with two amputated arms and he was perfectly happy when they sent him home. My brother is in the RAF and he knew a pilot who lost both his legs and was still able to fly. I won't say that you won't miss your arm, of course you will, but I think that you will be able to lead a pretty normal life without it."
Private Hughes looked out the window.
"I ought to have you court marshaled for insubordination, Private." Susan said.
"I wish I'd just died." Private Hughes glanced at the next bed over. The patient was sleeping. He looked back up at Susan, "My girl won't want to have anything to do with me now."
"Of course she will," Susan said, "Why wouldn't she?"
"How would you know, you're not even married, Sergeant." Private Hughes said darkly.
Susan half smiled. She kept her wedding ring on a chain around her neck because she was always afraid of losing it.
"I am married, Private, though it's none of your business," she said, "My husband was the master of an oil tanker and he was badly burned when his ship was bombed in the Mediterranean. He looks a little different now, but he's still the same inside."
"Sergeant Bradding!" Corporal Davies stopped behind her, "Captain Powel wants a word with you. He seems very upset."
"Oh," Susan turned, then stopped and looked back at Private Hughes. "I'll be back and you're going to walk around before the day is through."
Susan made her way out of the ward. She loved being there somehow; it was so quiet and beautiful. The majority of the stained glass windows were still intact and the nurses in their crisp uniforms looked a little like angels bathed in multicolored light.
Susan found Captain Powel standing with his hands behind him in the entrance of the church. His cap was off; he always took it off before coming inside.
"Good Morning, Captain," Susan said, "Corporal Davies said you wanted a word?"
"Yes I did," Captain Powel's face was taught with excitement, "I have some very important news…"
Susan's head whirled, her heart pounded, her breath came fast. She did not know what to think. She groped for a stool near her and sat down. She had expected it all the while, yet now that it had come, the enormity of it nearly knocked her over.
"You want me to tell the ward?" Susan asked, breathless.
"Yes, yes, if you would," Captain Powel said. "I was just thinking that if you have any really seriously injured men you might not tell them yet, but I will leave that up to your discretion."
"Yes sir, thank you, sir."
He was gone in a moment and Susan found herself wiping away tears.
"Sergeant, sir, are you all right?"
Susan felt Corporal Davies' hand on her shoulder.
"Yes, yes, perfectly all right," Susan said standing up. "Will you gather the nurses and meet me in the ward?"
Susan wandered back into the ward, her head still whirling. How would she tell them? She stood in the middle of the floor staring at everybody. Everybody stared back. No one was asleep now; they all knew that something had happened.
The nurses gathered around her, their faces questioning, worried, hopeful.
Pictures flashed through Susan's whirling mind; her older brother, the captain of a destroyer, even now supporting English troops in the Pacific. Her younger brother in the RAF, his plane might even be the one she heard roaring in the distance. Her father at Whitehall, an Admiral mixed up in some sort of top secret work. Her mother at home, wondering where they all were and praying for them every day. Faces, faces blurred through her mind, family, dear friends, acquaintances…and the questioning faces in her ward.
"I've just been informed…" Susan started; she stuck and started again, her voice echoing through the white washed nave of the church, "The Germans have just signed an unconditional surrender to the allies. The war in Europe is over."
Silence met her words and in the distance she heard the droning throb of aircraft engines increase tenfold. The ground shook and she saw a huge 'V' of fighter planes roar past the high stain glassed window before her. Corporal Davies was crying, they all were. A hoarse cheer, almost muted by the throbbing of a hundred props, came from behind her and suddenly, Private Hughes clambered out of bed, grabbed her around the waist with his good arm and swung her around and around. Disrespect to an officer didn't even occur to her.
It was over! It was over! It was over!
Susan's war was not over yet.
Sixteen miles outside of Hamburg was a secret of the war. It was the Neuengamme concentration camp. Susan had never seen it, but she had heard that it was a great expanse of electrified barbed wire and narrow wooden huts that had been packed with miserable humans. There were gassing chambers where over a hundred thousand victims had died and there were cremation chambers where the bodies had been dumped when they were dead.
And why? Because they were Jews.
When Susan saw the first patient from the camp come through the doors of her ward she had wondered how he could possibly still be alive. He was little more than a skeleton stretched over with transparent skin.
No, her war was not over, but his was and he had paid in full.
. Author's Note .
In 1945, nearly a year after the D-day landings in Normandy, a lot of people were wondering when the war would be over. When Victory in Europe was announced on May 8, 1945 they were wild with joy. Huge bonfires were lit all over England and bombers dropped flares in celebration. People were allowed to buy bunting without a ration stamp as long as it was red, white or blue. Bells were rung for hours. Thousands of people gathered in London; in Trafalgar square, outside Buckingham Palace, or around Big Ben. The celebrations lasted for hours until a rainstorm put an end to it just before midnight. The Police reported that criminal activity was almost nil.
Neuengamme concentration camp really existed sixteen miles outside of Hamburg and over a hundred thousand people died there. But Neuengamme was only one of twelve hundred similar camps. When Hitler was told that many of the Jews that were being killed off in concentration camps were top scientists, Hitler is reported to have said, "We will go without technology for a few years."
One of the biggest ironies of the war was that Hitler was a quarter Jewish himself.
The army, navy and air force nurses during World War Two were faced with an awesome job. The first nurses went ashore in Normandy only a few days after the landings. They operated in the worst conditions; making bombed out houses their wards and treating patients with only minimal supplies. As with everything else, there was a shortage of doctors and the nurses had to fill the role.
Though V-E day marked an important milestone in the history of the war, the war itself was not over yet. Many thousands more died in the battlefields of the Pacific before the final end of the war was made on the decks of the USS Missouri.
Thus ended the hugest conflict in the history of the world.