Bill's Diary 1946 (Part 3)
First edition: 2012
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1946
Type: Continuation Books
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1946
Type: Continuation Books
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We carried on over the ledge and a then scrambled down a little way past an odd looking tree and along a very narrow and quite dangerous ridge that led round a steep part of the mountainside. Those kids ... they just seem to attract incredible adventures! I found myself wondering how on earth Lucy-Ann had found the courage to attempt the climb. Reaching more stable ground Philip led us into a copse of trees and then veered to the side with us all following in single file until we emerged from the greenery onto a rockier part of the cliff that led upward some more. Passed a large, very tall rock that stood out from the others and then after another bout of climbing a ledge was reached where there was a hole that led into the mountain itself.
Philip nodded when I asked him if this was the entrance to the treasure caves and we prepared ourselves. Al produced a rope that he had tied round his waist and we used it to lower ourselves into a smaller cave that led off into blackness. Snapping on a torch and leading the way with Philip just behind me, we set off in a line through the passage that twisted a little as we walked further downwards. Pete's compass told us we were directed towards the very inner part of the mountain and a few minutes later there was a sudden halt. Before us was an extraordinary sight: a cave with masses of stalactites hanging down all over the place and below them stood corresponding stalagmites, some of which gave the impression of immense supporting columns as, over the years, they had risen to link with the stalactites that hung over them. We're all used to strange sights but somehow in the darkness of this cavern lit only by our torches, there was an atmosphere of eeriness that conveyed the impression of an underground cathedral, or perhaps a secret meeting place where strange rituals are practised in the ghostly setting.
As we moved on down a track that ran through the middle towards a tunnel at the far side, there was another abrupt stop because the sound of a voice was heard and then noises as if someone was running. Philip whispered that the men could be in the adjoining cave so we drew our revolvers and crept forward. I yelled out an order and then we received an enormous surprise. Jack, Lucy-Ann & Dinah were standing just inside the entrance and looking petrified, but only for a moment! Lucy-Ann squealed my name and I was immediately engulfed as she threw her arms around me and held on like an octopus. Jack & Dinah came up with broad smiles etched on their faces and I also noticed an elderly couple hovering in the shadows. Lucy-Ann kept hugging me but I could understand. She and the others had been living in a kind of limbo knowing little of where they were and with constant threats hanging over their heads. She looked up at me to make sure her world had become safe again and then noticing Philip, she flung herself on him, nearly knocking the boy to the ground. Dinah and Jack showed visible relief as they ensured for themselves that a rescue was definitely in progress and it wasn't just a dream. The silent troupe of men behind Matt and myself convinced them it was not, and their spontaneity brought smiles of amusement as we all relaxed for a few moments.
The setting was strictly Elysian - columns of white behind us and now tiny pinpoints overhead that glowed like stars and it took some getting used to despite Philip's previous descriptions. The old couple befriended by the kids, were escorted gently towards us. They were understandably frightened but relaxed a little once I'd introduced them to Matt who was studying the esoteric surroundings with interest. His German is better than mine and he spent a minute or two "interrogating" them both before announcing that we now had to turn our attention towards the plunderers and locate them immediately.
Shouldn't have worried - not with those kids around. Why did we bother coming ... they don't need us! Jack made an extraordinary revelation: he'd locked the men into a section of the caves blocked by a great wooden door. I looked at him, wondering if I'd heard right but he confirmed his statement by relating to us how they'd escaped from the section where they were being accommodated by the old couple and then he described what had taken place afterwards including his brilliant idea of trapping the whole gang. He also told us how the fellow we came upon near the old cowshed had ended up trussed like a chicken. I clapped the boy on the back and congratulated him while the chaps looked on in awe. Heard Alan mutter, "Give him a few years and we can take him on board ... place bets on how fast he'll rise through the ranks!" Could have acknowledged that remark very positively if I hadn't known of Jack's ornithological interests.
Matt got the rest of the men together and introduced them to the kids although the boys knew Jim of course, but there wasn't really any need for introductions because we were all in it together and the tense atmosphere enveloping us had already produced a bonding process. The strategy proposed received tacit approval from Matt and it involved using the information Jack had furnished – we'd get at the men from the rear seeing there was an entrance into the cave from the other end. We got moving - Jim and Pete were to stay behind to cover this side and Philip would remain with them. Meanwhile Jack would guide us to the place where we could approach the men from the other side. The girls were to stay behind and the elderly man and woman were instructed to remain with them until we'd sewn everything up. They appeared quite happy to follow orders from "people in authority" who were about to root out the invaders of their mountain home. I told the girls to keep close to them and they were only too glad to do whatever was requested now that departure was imminent and it looked like they'd soon be leaving the remote valley.
We left with Jack and retraced our steps back through the caves to the entrance and after some scrambling about on the cliffs we eventually reached the fern covered cave that Philip had mentioned ... the little place they've called "home" for the last week or so and quite a pleasant little shelter it is with one or two shelf-like ledges set in the walls and a mossy carpet for the floor. Then came a struggle to follow the route that Jack led us along. We had to wriggle through a hole at the back of the cave into another amazing complex that was a natural sounding board - everything we said or even whispered, echoed back to us. That irrepressible Kiki bird got a little carried away and almost deafened us with squawks and whistles that, fortunately for us, the enemy wouldn't have heard. Handed Al's rope to Jack and gave him a boost up to a gap in the cave ceiling where he made it fast so that we could all climb up and moving on we finally reached a part with a hole in the wall. After crawling through it into another cave where the guardians had their lodgings, we grouped together for final orders. Matt explained the hastily evolved procedure and I added a few suggestions before we began moving carefully along with revolvers at the ready.
It was a memorable walk, not only because of the strange environment, but also for what we saw in the dim greenish light that seemed to emanate from the upper walls. An Ali Baba collection of treasures confronted us as we filed through the first cave that contained reinforced wooden chests of what at first glance appeared to be gold coins. Moving in to another we came across stacks of old and beautifully bound books, manuscripts, and documents that must have come from well-endowed academies or related institutions. A third grotto yielded priceless Old Masters some of which had been removed from their frames and worth, no doubt, thousands of pounds ... perhaps millions if the few that we saw as we passed were representative of the contents. They had to be originals, but there was no time to waste determining their vintage because the sound of thuds came to our ears - obviously the men were making an all-out effort to free themselves by trying to batter down the door that blocked off their freedom. Once again I mentally congratulated Jack for his presence of mind.
Nodding at the chaps, Matt and I led the way as we crept into an adjoining and rather spooky cave that contained dusty old statues covered with precious jewels ... more stock from a host of religious establishments or perhaps museums. Luckily we were prepared because the effigies produced a creepy feeling as if the cave was full of gowned people but looking towards the rear we saw more figures lined up against a massive door that were very real indeed. Battering and pounding the great barrier with their shoulders were the men we were about to capture and because they were making such a din we didn't really need to be quiet as we approached from behind. Ordered Jack to get off to the back and then, moving right up, I barked out the order,
"Get your hands up!"
The men received a terrible shock. Ceasing their attack on the door, they swung round, raising their hands immediately when they saw guns pointing right at them.
There he was, after countless investigations conducted by hand-wringing officials in various parts of the Continent - Juan Fierro, a ringleader of the cartel that, if the latest evidence is accurate, has ties with a Sicilian branch of the Cosa Nostra. A professional "pain in the neck" for governments who have more than their fair share of intrigue to worry over in these times. The man stood there with dark eyes moving from one face to another and I took note of his black oily-looking hair, lined forehead, and sweaty vicious face. Like the others, he was in his shirtsleeves, with hands raw and bloody as if he had been trying to tear his way to freedom.
The men knew only too well that we'd shoot at the slightest provocation so they just stood there. I yelled for the door to be unbolted and it swung open to reveal the three "gatekeepers." Jack wasn't able to keep himself away from the action and I saw him from the corner of my eye, moving nearer but remaining in the shadows hard up against the wall of the cave. Bruce and Pete were ordered to cover the men while the rest of us closed in, quickly disarming and handcuffing the villains but not before one of them, a Latino with a moustache, took a swing at Leo. Couldn't have picked a worse person to attack because Leo The Lion had spent a year with the SAS and been through one-to-one training in the Applegate system with Rex himself, no less. Say no more ... except that he downed his assailant with a blow that happened so fast, only a few of us would have caught it. The guy, writhing on the floor, was extremely lucky he hadn't received a bullet and that's only because Leo was between him and Bruce.
Pete, marched them off with orders to use his firearm if there was any hint of trouble from the rough-looking lot who were disheveled and dirty from crawling about the cave trying to find other ways to free themselves and not being aware that one actually existed. They filed past us with a couple of them supporting the rogue that Leo had struck, and muttering amongst themselves in their native tongues - what they said will not be recorded here. Recognized another from a photograph I had seen when reviewing the case - Luis Costa. He has a record that would rival any king of crime so I instructed Pete to make sure he was watched very carefully although I didn't really have to seeing Pete had identified him as well. Bruce went along with them.
Once they'd gone, the girls joined us and we spent an absorbing forty minutes or so exploring the caves and examining some of the goods. Jack suggested the guardians might be able to help the authorities in determining where it should all go as they're apparently well versed in the history surrounding many of the priceless objects. That resistance man, Muller, should be able to supply information as well. Would like to have hung around longer but there were pressing commitments and the most urgent on the agenda was to reunite the kids with Alison. The gang also had to be processed so we passed through to where the guardians of the treasure were waiting patiently and Matt spent some time explaining to them that it was imperative they accompany him to a city where their knowledge of the treasure can be evaluated by the proper authorities. We expected some opposition because they'd obviously become recluses over the year or two since the resistance leader had stationed them, and a sense of "duty" to remain was evident but possibly their reluctance to leave the treasure was overruled by "awe." I think they attributed almost God-like status to these "Government Officials from Afar" due no doubt to the fact that their horizons had become so stunted. Matt assured them they'd be rewarded and then returned sooner rather than later to their home city where anything else would be attended to by their great friend Muller (Julius Muller). That settled it for them – Muller was another "God" in their eyes and after being escorted to their lodgings they packed a couple of bags and followed us like lambs with one or two of the chaps lugging some of their other possessions.
We left the cave of stalactites and surfaced into the fresh air and sunshine where the old woman (Elsa) required assistance now and again on the trudge back to where the planes were waiting. A decision to bypass the township was made as, according to Elsa's husband, it had suffered from bombing and is still very sparsely populated with the governing body shifted elsewhere. Our work is done and the diplomatic services of Krimml, or perhaps the Salzburg Department of State, can handle any claims on the mountain treasure with the assistance, if necessary, of the Foreign office.
The kids' suitcases were retrieved on the way down and when we got back to the hut the prisoner Diaz was fetched and placed in Leo and Alan's aircraft. After refreshments had been distributed from a pile of food stored in the hut we lost no time entering the planes and readying for takeoff. Kiki the parrot was placed in a box found in the hut seeing her basket had disappeared. Don and Pete had three of the prisoners, as did Leo and Alan. Cliff and Dan took the third of the men's planes with two prisoners, and Bruce, Rod and Jim took the fourth. Matt accompanied Henry together with the elderly couple and the kids boarded my plane. They asked if ours could leave last of all and who was I to deny their request? One by one, four aircraft rumbled across the grassy stretch and rose into the air moving slowly around to head west. Henry waited and then took off with instructions presumably crackling through his radio at that very moment, requiring him to fly east towards Vienna.
Rolling down the makeshift runway and taking off into a sunlit sky, I managed a fairly commendable take-off and climbed to a height of 5000 feet with a minimum of turbulence whereby we left the Mines of King Solomon behind us. The children crowded the windows and looked down upon the silent valley where they'd spent the last ten days and when I suggested a description might be needed for the newspapers that would soon be spreading their adventures all over the world, it was Jack who christened their lonely outpost - the Valley of Adventure.
Sounded all right and then I heard Lucy-Ann mention someone called Martha. Did a double-take because I was unaware of anyone else who was supposed to be with us but it turned out that Martha was a hen the old couple owned! Now that was a surprise - and a relief. It must have been stowed away in one of the bags the old couple took with them. Kiki was let out of her basket for a fly around and she didn't cause any trouble but sat contentedly on Jack's shoulder clucking like a hen and making little remarks that seemed to fit in with the general tenor of conversation, until Philip's lizard stuck his nose out of the boy's pullover at one stage. Then she screeched!
One more incident can be recorded: Jack produced a handful of coins from his pocket and proceeded to distribute them in equal amounts to Philip and the girls. Being in loco parentis I asked the boy to bring them to me so that I could make a calculation. I knew he wouldn't have taken any of the gold and I was right. He'd apparently found the coins on the floor by one of the treasure caves but as far as I could see they were of fairly recent currency and wouldn't have been worth more than a few pounds - but not necessarily, so I told him the souvenirs could be retained only if the authorities allow it. I suspect they will.
Have to arrange to have the diary transcribed tomorrow after copying out the relevant data – might even put in a claim for writer's cramp! Wonder if it'd go through. Henry and Matt will enjoy their little side trip seeing all they have to do is to deliver the couple and arrange for their repatriation after being debriefed, and they'll also be bringing a colleague back with them. Wouldn't have minded going as well but my desire was outweighed by the thought that I was about to deliver the children as quickly as possible to Allie who was waiting for us in England.
ADDED FROM SUPPLEMENTARY NOTES:
The August 28th installment was written up in full over a period of two days and this particular collection of excerpts extends only to the point where the personnel and prisoners made their exit from the valley.
For the purposes of naval operations, a false rumour was leaked that ABC (Viscount Cunningham) was on board a ship stationed near the Santa Catarina coast, from August 20th to 24th, 1946. It is recorded that his influence played a considerable part in determining the help that would be available from intelligence agencies normally used for select operations.
IRC (International Rescue Committee) acknowledged officially the part played by Matthew R. Wootton, William W. Cunningham, and their team.
A statement was issued pertaining to the fact that four children who were instrumental in recovering a cache located in the Hohe Tauern mountain range were to receive a Baden Powell Bronze Wolf. This has been discounted but there is confirmation that an award was made from another source.
Thaddeus Rogers of Broadstairs received a gift that recognized his diligence, no doubt spawned by his interest in aircraft schedules and routes. An analysis of his charts assisted with the conviction of two more criminals who produced almost unassailable alibis when indicted for the smuggling of artifacts during which an assassination had taken place.
One, Danyor Faa, travelling knife-grinder, is father to the young heroine Tassie mentioned in the Cunningham Diary. Because of the child's bravery during a war-related operation in Scotland (1945) a special benefit was awarded to the family thus enabling the breadwinner to shorten his periods of absence. As his spouse could not be persuaded to move from her hometown a modern cottage nearer the village was purchased for them. Donated funds are covering the cost of their daughter's education in Porthcawl.
Only one day after the Wootton/Cunningham mission left Austria, S.Y.P.R.A. revealed that the 101st Airborne Division when based in Kaprun (1945) had been aware of references to a cache located in their sector but no follow-up was possible at the time.
It was further learnt by the Organization that intelligence emanating from the nearby town of Kitzbuhel had a direct bearing on the case. Were it not for Master Philip Mannering's sudden appearance in Britain, it is believed the authorities would have acted on the information within a week.
It appears the designation S.Y.P.R.A. may have been a combination of the surname initials belonging to the persons who founded it. The intermediaries, who gathered and passed on what they had learnt, were usually unaware of its ultimate destination. The Organization has now yielded to the passage of time and to more modern forms of communication but knowledge of its makeup is still scarce although this may be remedied. Prof. Seil of Heidelberg has amassed a considerable amount of related material, which he intends to publish once the necessary authorizations have been sought out.
In reply to a request from the Ministry of Information, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre has confirmed that Greta Schwab, a relative of Frederich & Elsa Kraus, was confirmed as lost at the Mauthausen Camp in or around 1944.
The plundered treasures were stored in various caves, salt mines, and bunkers by the Nazis and their agents. The hoard discovered by the children was unusual in that it had been hidden in a country other than Germany and then discovered by the authorities before being targeted once again by looters. The Kraus's had been recruited to guard the collection until it could be repatriated but a roadway through the Krimmler Tauern pass was unusable due to bomb damage. The elderly man and his wife have been repatriated to their home city of Linz.
Information extracted from documents found on the looters was instrumental towards the arrest of several agents who were involved with the fledgling organization known by the code name - ODESSA.
The sentences handed down at the Palais de Justice to three of the criminals connected with the Project Artifacts operation are as follows:
Pepillo Diaz – Eighteen years for Armed Robbery, Assault, Plunder, and Car Theft.
Luis José Costa – Seventeen years for Armed Robbery, Assault, Plunder, Burglary, and Weapons Offenses.
Juan Fierro – Twenty-two years for Armed Robbery, Assault, Plunder, Weapons Offenses, Grand Larceny, Embezzlement, and Injury with Intent.
Pepillo (Pepi) Diaz under interrogation brought forth evidence leading to the conviction of two more plunderers who had attempted to hijack at least three Nazi hoards. His assistance could not be rewarded to any large degree as he was considered one of the ringleaders, but a remission of three years was allowed.
Herr Otto Engler who retired from service at the Bundesministerium für Inneres in 1942, survived his ordeal but required ongoing care for a considerable period after release from hospital.
The secrecy of any information revealed in the diaries does not apply now and during the relevant time span it was separately recorded and then transcribed with the originals being kept at the War Office for a stated period of time. Det. Inspector Cunningham's minor infringements in his personal section were excused due to the information being fragmentary and part of a record that was later categorized as "Official Data."
© T. Gustafson