He took a deep breath and could feel his chest tighten against the straps of his knapsack. As the warm, humid morning air swelled his lungs, they seemed to fight against the weight of the knapsack which was felt through the cloth straps that ran over both shoulders. He could smell the charred fields around him; fields and land scorched black by the many bombs which fell from the sky out of allied planes. Colonel Atkins looked around with the hope of gaining some vantage point or at least determining how far his squad had landed from the target area. The sunlight streaming through the large tree to his right created a mosaic of light and shadow on his face. As he tried to look around in the dim light, he saw fields stretching far ahead till they appeared to merge with the hills and mountains, separated by fences and the occasional trench. Fifteen men were chosen for this mission, all from the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, and Atkins was their leader. The chance of failure was extremely high yet the importance of the mission’s success was even higher. The British army believed that it would play an integral role in neutralizing the German offensive, now spreading across Normandy.
The sound of rifles and artillery echoed in the hills nearby yet he swore bullets were constantly whizzing past him. Less than six hours ago, his men were floating silently over these fields looking down into the darkness below. Less than three years ago, Gerald Atkins was a fulltime dentist in a private office back in Sussex, London. Yet here he was crouching in a trench in the early morning, trying to find the remnants of his team and salvage his mission. He peered out of the trench with his helmet barely showing. To his right atop a tree, lay his parachute and some yards away lay another parachute with the cords still attached to a lifeless body. He crawled across to see who it was and saw that it was Harry Stilt, Cuckoo 16; Harry was twenty-four years old and lying dead here in France.
Fate had dealt them a hard blow from the beginning. Strong winds had caused them to be blown far off from the drop zone and thus further from the Lorde D’ireau radar tower. “Black Sparrow to Cuckoo’s Nest! Black Sparrow to Cuckoo’s Nest! Over!” he said over his SRC-536 walkie talkie. “Is anyone out there? Respond! Over!” he tried again. The mission was clear; the squad would get to the radar tower, disable it and retrieve the communications box. This would then be sent back to London to be analyzed, decoded and used in further countermeasures against the enemy. The men were all lightly equipped since as paratroopers they were expected to move quickly while staying as concealed as possible. Paratroopers had only a rifle and a handgun in case they ran into opposing ground forces. Gerald felt a sharp pain in his left thigh and looked down at his leg. As he looked at his leg in the dusty brown uniform, he saw no dark areas which meant he was not bleeding or injured severely. He then remembered while landing that he fell into a short tree and had to then cut himself free; he later hit his thigh on a small rock as he fell out of the tree. However, at the time the adrenaline that coursed through his veins during the somewhat suicidal jump in the black of the night made him feel invincible.
He was in pretty good shape for someone just barely over forty-three years old. The war had caused the number of conscriptions to drastically increase, especially those who had been in the reserve or had some military training. Atkins had spent four years in the reserve just before going to dentistry school; his dad who fought in World War I always wanted his son to go into the army yet Atkins wanted a different path. As he focused again on where he was, he picked up his walkie talkie and still heard nothing except for the faint static. I wonder what my wife is doing back in London at this moment and I do miss my son.
Suddenly, he heard a sharp crackle coming from his ‘talk box’. “Cuckoo 4 to Black Sparrow! Cuckoo 4 to Black Sparrow! Over!” The transmission repeated and the colonel grabbed the walkie talkie and responded frantically, “Black Sparrow to Cuckoo 4! Position and status! Over!” Some more static came through the speaker, then a short burst of garbled speaking intertwined with more static. “Cuckoo 4! Please repeat your status and position! Over!” Atkins was glad to hear that some of his team made the jump successfully but was worried about where they were and what condition they were in. “Cuckoo 4 to Black Sparrow! Three birds lost in flight! Five on ground engaged with enemy infantry! Over!” His heart dropped on hearing this as this meant that the chances of success were smaller than before. So far, he found out that three of his men did not survive the jump and now those on the ground were somehow ambushed by hostile forces. “Black Sparrow to Cuckoo 4! Move to Red Tree as soon as you can! Avoid further fire! Over!” he told his subordinates. He realized that they had to get to the radar tower quickly before they all got discovered. Red Tree! He chuckled to himself. Who comes up with these bloody names anyway? It’s just a radar tower! “Cuckoo 4 to Black Sparrow! Acknowledged! Retreating from fire and heading to Red Tree! Over and out!”
Colonel Atkins could see more around him as the sun rose. About forty yards away, something was reflecting the sun into his eyes causing him to squint slightly. He crouched out of the trench staying low to the ground and quickly moved closer towards it. At this point, he was trying to stay calm and assess the situation. As he grew closer, he saw three light-colored patches ahead looking like mushroom blooms in the middle of the field. As he got closer, he saw what was reflecting the light and shook his head in disbelief. As he looked at the body, the metallic insignia on the shoulder of the jacket was the familiar one of the Parachute Regiment. Atkins found two more of his men lying dead on the ground, with their parachutes still attached. At least ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ is fitting for this arse-up mission! Any bloke crazy enough to do this must be an eedjit! As he looked at the third parachute lying further away, he got excited as he saw the straps had been cut. He quickly scanned around for any sign of a body or a trail leading somewhere and saw another trench ahead. He moved to the trench and began calling out softly, “Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” This was one of their calls they used while on enemy ground, until they were sure it was clear. All he heard was the faint sound of gunfire he had heard earlier and wondered if that was where his men were currently engaged with enemy troops. Atkins heard a faint “Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” and moved towards in it hurriedly.
As he slid down into the trench excitedly, he saw it was Edwin Cromwell. “Colonel! You made it down safely!” Cromwell mumbled. “My God, man! What the divil happened to you, lad?” Atkins replied as he saw there was plenty blood around Cromwell’s left leg. “I landed over there and saw that Osborn and Sellick were lying dead on the ground. I cut myself loose and tried to get to this trench when after walking three yards, I heard a loud noise and then was blinded by this bright light. When I came to, I saw my left foot was gone! Fecking German mines!” cursed Cromwell. “At least, you’re alive, lad! We’ve got a mission to finish! Are you able to move?” Colonel Atkins asked his man. He knew time was at hand and the longer they stayed around here, the greater the possibility that more enemy troops would find them. He saw that Cromwell had managed to stop the bleeding by a crude wrapping around his ankle but still looked in pretty bad shape. “I can move, Sir. But are you sure we can even finish this mission? We should try to surrender and find the rest of our team.” Atkins turned towards him with a scowl on his face, “I like being here less than you do yet we have a mission to carry out. And now is not the time for such pansy talk about surrendering and such! You think the bloody Jerrys would keep us alive if they found us? We need to start moving!”
Atkins checked his map and found that he could now see some distinct landmarks in the morning light that earlier just looked like rolling fields. He put Cromwell’s arm over his shoulders and they both started to crawl along through the trench. They were not as far off as he thought he was from their target. After moving in the trench for twenty yards, Cromwell painfully said, “I don’t know if I can go on much further, Sir. We should surrender.” “Cromwell, we are not doing any such thing! Keep moving because I can’t leave you here in this trench to bleed to death.” Atkins said. Although he felt good that they were heading towards the radar tower, he now had this additional task of bringing his man along. He knew that this would also slow him down from getting there but was glad still to have some company. These marsh fields were dreary, cold, and foggy even with the morning sun shining on them. He felt better with one of his kind than alone and lost. They climbed out of the trench and crossed a low fence and went into another field. There was a road through the field which looked like it was regularly used but he decided to use the trench that ran near to the road. “Can you give me five minutes to catch me breath, Sir?” Cromwell asked. Sighing, the colonel agreed. Although he wanted to push on, he did not mind the quick break and decided to look at the map again. He looked across at Cromwell and saw his black hair cropping out of the side of the steel helmet. His young face looked a bit disheveled and scared yet he tried to muster up a look of courage. Cromwell reminded him of his own son Stephen who also was a soldier. They were about the same age, just twenty years old and at beginning of life’s journey. In fact, his son was the reason Atkins joined the war. He remembered sending his son off to fight a few years ago and how eager he was to walk in his grandfather’s proud footsteps. Now here Gerald was, just like his father and his son, fighting against evil and tyranny and for Britain and her allies.
They started to move again and kept crawling along the trenches towards the radar tower. Now, the tower was less than two hundred yards off and Atkins felt a surge of adrenaline again. “We’re almost at Red Tree, lad! Up with you now!” “I don’t think I can go on any further, Sir. I’ll stay here. You go on ahead and leave me.” Atkins could not simply leave his ‘son’ here though he wanted to go ahead and reach the Tower. He then heard “Cuckoo 4 to Black Sparrow! Over!” as his walkie-talkie sprang to life. “Black Sparrow here! Status and position, lads! Over!” “Two cuckoos left in the nest! Trying to move to Red Tree. Still in enemy fire! Over!” Atkins again felt a wave of despair as his other men were getting picked off one by one by German forces. They probably still had not made any progress towards the radar tower since the last transmission. He knew it was definitely up to him to complete the mission. Five of his men were still unaccounted for and who knew what had happened to them or where they were.
Cromwell turned on his back and said, “I can’t do this anymore, Sir! We surrender! We surrender!” He started to shout frantically into the morning air to whoever may have been in the fields nearby. Atkins turned around angrily, “Be quiet, man! Have you gone mad? Are you trying to get us both killed!?” He knew German patrols were nearby because the random rifle shots seemed closer than before. “We surrender! We surrender!” Cromwell again shouted as the delirium started to take control of his mind. “Son! That’s enough from you!” Atkins growled while placing his hands over Cromwell’s mouth. He was right as he looked up and saw that about seventy yards away some German soldiers were coming in their direction. The tower still lay to the right of him within reach but now he had to stay still and avoid being seen. Cromwell began to be an issue. He could not afford to be captured as he was a ranking officer and had valuable information that could not fall into German hands. He had to finish this mission and he had to finish it now. Cromwell was also losing a lot more blood than before and his ‘bandages’ had become undone. The physical exertion of moving and crawling was making his heart pump faster and this only made things worse.
The German soldiers were closer now and if luck had it, they would simply pass to the left of the road and not see them in the trench. However, Cromwell was still making a lot of noise even with Atkins’ hands over his mouth. If he kept it up, they would definitely be captured and probably killed. Cromwell was already half-dead yet Atkins was still very much alive and longed to see his wife and still missed his son. It came down to either the mission being completed and living or being discovered and dying. He had to quiet Cromwell. He took his knapsack off his back and looked at Cromwell’s face again in this sunlight yet all he saw was Stephen’s face looking up at him. Rest well, my son. I still miss you and will see you again one day. These bloody Germans took you away from me and here I am fighting for us and your revenge. He straddled Cromwell’s chest and placed the knapsack over his face and held it there. Tears came to his eyes as the struggling became less and less intense and the place got quieter. Cromwell would no longer be in pain. Goodbye Stephen. I’ll complete this mission for you. He took his knapsack, looked at his map, looked up at the sun as the tears ran down his face and began crawling along the trench towards the radar tower.