I'll See You Down There
Tunisia. November 1942.
Gott admired the flawless beauty of the boy's copper coloured skin, his flashing black eyes. He didn't yet have a beard, just a slight hint of a moustache beginning. At the camp gate Gott had estimated his age as fifteen, perhaps sixteen.
"Tell me… How old are you?" Gott asked.
Such beauty would not last long in the African sun and desert wind. It must already be fading.
With a sigh he squeezed the boy's hand and said quietly…
"I must return to camp soon… There is a war to fight in the morning."
"For sleep… first you will need a bed." The boy said it with a smile.
"You have a bed?"
"Come…" The boy said.
It was a very simple room, behind a stable…
"My donkey." He stopped to stroke the animals ears. "My friend!" Gott patted the donkey's flank as they passed.
The boy took Gott's hand again and drew him into the room. He closed the door, with a simple latch. In other circumstances Gott would have preferred fewer gaps in the woodwork and perhaps a lock, but with hashish in his system he no longer cared.
"I should give you a present…" Gott was suddenly shy, it was the first time he had paid for sex in Africa with a boy… and a beautiful boy at that!
The boy said that he charged more for Gott to be inside him… or if he, the boy was required to shoot for Gott…
"If I do that then you will be my last man tonight… If I don't, then I can serve one more man before I sleep."
"I shan't need to enter you… But, I want you to be happy that we met, so I'll pay the full sum, and then we can do… whatever we do."
So they did.
Gott sat on the stool at the foot of the bed and drew the boy to him. He lifted the hem of the djellabah, the boy slipped it over his head, removing his headgear at the same time. He stood there, fully aroused and gloriously… young? aroused? virile? handsome? perhaps beautiful. Yes, beautiful! Glossy black hair, huge black eyes, and… yes, most definitely beautiful!
Gott hadn't wanted someone so much since Crete… or before Crete. Maybe this boy was only a stand-in for his lost love, but he could hold him, stroke him… and make believe he was with Gerhard, that they were back in the woods beside the lake, before it all started to go wrong.
The boy came to him, and Gott took him in his arms.
It had been such a long time since he had felt this way about another man. The death of Gerhard still weighed heavily on him. It depressed him that if he hadn't saved Gerhard from the SS by keeping him for himself then he wouldn't have been parachuted into Crete, and wouldn't be dead.
Gott accepted that not being at Crete wouldn't have guaranteed Gerhard's survival.
The alternative to death on Crete had been service with the SS and the possibility, perhaps probability of his homosexuality being discovered. In that case the best he could have hoped for his friend was service in a penal battalion, the worst was a pink triangle and striped-pyjamas in a concentration-camp.
Life offered very few certainties for our young friends. The only real certainty was that not all of them would survive.
But… at this moment Gott lay with one of the most beautiful boys he had ever seen. Sigi was plain (it has to be said, manly but plain), a boy in Monte Caprino Park in Rome had been glorious and well worth the money, but this one?
Until the djellabah came off and his hair fell loose, Gott had only a face and fine-fingered hands to judge him by… Now, by the light of a candle his skin positively glowed, his hair shone, his eyes smoldered and between his thighs positively roared the boy's own need for the young German soldier.
Gott's experience had been almost entirely with friends whose appetites were familiar. He had seldom gone with a complete stranger whose needs he didn't yet comprehend. A boy who so plainly wanted sex with him as much as he needed the boy, was a completely new experience.
The boy's need was something Gott hadn't expected and hadn't experienced since Gerhard. The boys in the park in Rome had been straight-forward street prostitutes. They had no need for lust, no need even for an erection. If you wanted them to have an erection, then you needed to pay extra… for the use of their body. Most times the boy's own preference was that his customer would want to be sucked. It took less effort than using his hand, and was more profitable. Added to that, if he did it well the exquisite pleasure he could give would mean that the man would seek him out again in the future.
As it was, Gott's grief over Gerhard had meant that all he wanted was to close his eyes and dream that the mouth that encompassed his need was that of his lost friend. The grief that came after his orgasm, what the French call le petit mort, always hit him particularly badly. The moment he came and opened his eyes… those were not Gerhard's eyes that were looking up for his approval.
But tonight, the beauty of the boy overwhelmed him.
This boy he needed for himself not as a replacement for another, not just for pleasure but to pleasure. He kissed his way down the boy's hard young body, taking him in his mouth. The boy arched his back and gasped, not the fake gasp of a skilled prostitute but the genuine enthusiasm of a young man whose Saturday evening had turned out quite differently to what he had expected when he went out to work the bars and coffee-shops.
He could feel that Gott was bringing him to a most unprofessionally swift ending and quickly pushed the German's head away…
"Slower… slower… You've paid for a slow one!"
Gott lay quietly while the boy's near-orgasm subsided… then…
"I haven't asked… What is your name?" Gott asked.
The boy considered the question…
"Mustafa." He said. He always told customers that his name was Abdul, but this time he wanted to tell the handsome German his real name. He wanted the German to remember him and say to himself "In Africa I lay with Mustafa, I remember Mustafa, I liked Mustafa!" He wanted to be remembered as a person, not as a prostitute.
Mustafa reached over and took Gott in his hand. He kissed him gently on the cheek, then he ran his fingers along the scars on Gott's ribs from a near miss on Crete, and the one on his knee from… Rome.
"How did this one happen?" He asked of the rib.
"I was slow. I let a Tommy's bayonet get too close!"
"And, this one?" of the knee.
Gott laughed. "I fell, getting out of a train in Rome!"
"You fell over?"
"Yes, I had too many bags… I fell over one. The first time I ever injured myself falling!"
"You fall a lot?"
"I'm a Fallschirmjäger, a parachutist." Gott pantomimed a parachute, drawing one in the dust of the floor.
Mustafa started to laugh… then he lost all control and laughed until he cried…
"You fell out of train!" Then he laughed again.
"Next time… take a plane!"
Gott decided that he liked this young man who could laugh at his customer without unkindness.
Gott felt comfortable. The boy was playing with him gently.
"How did you learn this?" He said with a gesture towards Mustafa's gentle hand.
"Do you think I am a town boy?" He replied, almost irrelevantly.
"Of course, you live here."
"No… I am Tuareg… I come from the desert!" Mustafa said fiercely.
"My people wear blue and kill strangers…" Then he went on quietly… "But I am no longer with my people. I am not welcome in their tents."
Gott held him closer, breathing in the smell of jasmine-oil in the boy's hair.
"What did you do that angered them?" He asked.
"In the desert the nights can be very cold. When we are young it is natural for us to share our bed-roll with a friend. My friend was the chief's son. We slept together for warmth and because we were friends."
"No-one objected?" Gott asked.
"No, we were boys, we were young. Among our people, fathers only worry about their daughters!"
"But it went wrong?" Gott asked gently.
"Yes, as we grew, we grew closer… we were never apart. When he was old enough to be considered a man, the chief gave his son a tent of his own… So that he could prepare to marry." Mustafa said.
"So, you were left alone." Gott sympathized with the boy's loss.
Mustafa laughed… perhaps it was a laugh.
"No, indeed I was not left alone… I moved into the new tent with my friend… His father was not happy. He went on finding brides, and each one was rejected… It was I who did the cooking and kept the tent clean. But, it couldn't last, it was not the Tuareg way."
"One night, his father was smoking hashish… It should have calmed him but instead it released his anger. He heard me playing a flute… he knew it was me, his son had no musical talent. He came storming into our tent… He found me playing the flute… while his son was playing mine.!"
Gott smiled… "You had a flute in your mouth, while his son had your… flute in his?"
"Yes… his son was being wife for me… It was not the Tuareg way. If I had been acting the woman for his son it might have been different, but…"
"He was angry?"
"He chased me into the desert, he shot at me but the hashish spoiled his aim…" Mustafa gestured at a small scar on his bicep.
"But, you returned when he was calmer?"
"No, he would have killed me… I watched… He went back and killed his son!"
Gott could feel warm tears running onto his shoulder and hugged the boy. After all, he was only a boy, and a boy who had seen his first love murdered. Gott could understand how that felt… and thought of his own loss.
Mustafa paused in his story, to get his emotions under control. Crying in front of a stranger was not the Tuareg way either.
Then he continued his story.
"God is merciful. It took me three days to reach an oasis… Thanks be to God, desert-Arabs are hospitable. They knew my voice was Tuareg, but I said I had escaped from them and they assumed that I had been a slave. I stayed with them for a year and then came here to the town. I supply their oasis with food and oil. Business with them and your camp… and my evenings here… it is enough."
He no longer sounded sad. He was Tuareg after all.
"I lost my friend too, on Crete."
Gott quietly told Mustafa of the love that started at school and how they had joined the Fallschirmjägertogether. He told of how he had killed the British Tommy who had killed his Gerhard.
He told Mustafa, that he was the first boy that he had truly wanted since that day under the hot Greek sun.
Mustafa smiled and took him in his mouth. When Gott was fully aroused, Mustafa rolled over and offered him his bottom. Gott rolled him back to face him, shaking his head sadly.
"Gerhard and I, we promised each other that one day we would lie like man and wife together. We agreed that we would never do it with anyone else." Gott whispered, almost to himself.
"But, he is gone… and you are alone… We are both alone?" Mustafa asked
"Yes, we are alone, but this is enough."
Gott bent to take the Arab boy in his mouth. Mustafa turned his body to do the same for the German.
Gott had expected his trip to town to end with a bang or a whimper… In fact, it ended with whimpers, gasps and finally… tired grins.
"You will come to town again?"
"I shall come to town again!"
Gott was nearer to being happy than he had been for a year.
'Harald would be pleased!' He thought.
Then he thought of Harald and Sigi and wondered if they managed to get together. It had been a long time since he had been able to think of them as a pair without reminding himself of the loss of his Gerhard. Yes, he hoped they were happy.
The Arab boy had been good for him. His trip into town had been more than a success.
Talking with Mustafa, his natural talent for languages had allowed him to forget that they were speaking a foreign language. Admittedly he had to keep it simple, and Mustafa seemed able to help in the same way. Then they would pause in an effort to introduce and explain a new word. It had been a most enjoyable evening. Tomorrow morning, he would be able to order more than oil, milk and eggs. He would be able to chat to Mustafa and organise another... lesson in Aarabic.
He smiled to himself as he dressed.
When they parted at the door, the boy clearly expected an embrace, and then a kiss.
"Turn right outside. The road will take you to your camp." There was still a lot of hand waving and signing amongst the Arabic, but Gott had learnt so many languages in the last two years that they just overlaid one another… He had calculated that he knew eleven different words for butter! Yes, tomorrow he would organize more than milk and eggs, the Arabic word for butter would be the twelfth… He was tired of olive oil on bread.
The following morning, he went for an early walk and met the boy Mustafa on the road. He learned the word for butter and their hands lingered as money was exchanged. The donkey stood patiently while they negotiated prices and then agreed on how to meet that evening. Gott knew that any encampment was temporary, and last night was such a memory that every evening was now too valuable to be careless with.
He wasn't in love… It was inconceivable that a German paratrooper could fall in love with an Arab street-trader, but… Gott cared, he cared a lot. Mustafa could never replace Gerhard but he could make the loss easier.
If anything, by relieving his ever present need for sex, Mustafa made the memory of Gerhard purer, less driven by the memory of lust.
He decided that Mustafa was good for him.
It was two weeks later. Gott was sitting quietly in the moonlight outside his usual coffee-shop. The locals now accepted him as a regular. They didn't disturb him and he didn't talk to them unless one of them was sitting alone. In that case, he politely asked if he might sit and whether it would be acceptable to buy the man a coffee.
They would of course have agreed by this stage that there was no God but God, and that He was good. It was possible for him to be reasonably sincere… As wars went this was a particularly pleasant, if brief, interlude.
So, there he was, sitting quietly, when a man he recognised as Mustafa's landlord came running up the road. He was waving one arm while holding his djellabah out of the way with the other.
"Tuareg! Tuareg!" He shouted.
Gott's ears pricked up… Mustafa had said that he was Tuareg… that he was hiding from the Tuareg.
Gott ran into the road… "What Tuareg?… where?" He demanded.
The landlord continued to wave his arms.
"Mustafa… young Mustafa! The Tuareg are killing him!"
"Where?" Gott demanded. "Mustafa's room! He broke into Mustafa's room! He's killing him… Tuareg! Blue devils from the desert!"
The man was all but incoherent and promptly sat down in the road.
Gott waved to the coffee-shop owner… "I'll return!" and ran to Mustafa's lodgings.
He could hear shouting, it seemed one sided.
An older rougher voice was shouting. "You made me kill my son… Filth! Filth!"
"He was to be chief … you made me kill him!"
"Filth… You ran away!… Now I've got you!"
Gott ran at the door kicking it off its hinges.
He found Mustafa lying on the floor, badly beaten. Standing over him was an older Arab. There appeared to be no mark on the older man. Mustafa seemed to have put up no fight at all to defend himself against what appeared to have been a brutal attack.
The Arab was a startling sight, he looked like no-one Gott had encountered. Fierce eyes stared out at him from a narrow gap between turban and face cloth. But the startling aspect was that unlike all the natives in the town that Gott had encountered, this one was blue! The others wore a dirty white djellabah and head-piece, a white whose purity depended on wealth and the ability to pay washerwomen. This one was a deep, deep blue.
As he gathered his wits the older man swung the rifle that was pointed at Mustafa's head towards Gott. But, long before it was in a position to do any harm Gott had closed the distance between them, swept the muzzle of the rifle away from him, and… kicked the blue-coated man where it would inconvenience him if he planned to return astride a camel. Gott had been in attack-mode as he broke in and the whole thing only took a few seconds to play out… he barely broke sweat, was hardly out of breath.
As things quietened, Gott asked the boy… "Are you alright? Shall I kill him?"
He asked in Arabic, and was startled to receive a reply from the blue figure on the floor…
"Kill me… go on kill me! God is merciful."
"Why?" Gott asked… He needed a good reason, although in truth the state of his young friend was reason enough.
"He disgraced my family. He shamed our tribe. He's cost me my son!"
Gott suddenly understood… "You are the father, Mustafa's tribal chief?"
Then, after a pause to consider his options, Gott asked…
"You came all this way to find him?"
"No! I came all this way to kill him!"
"But why all this killing? Don't you have enough trouble fighting the desert, and the Legion? Why go to all this effort for one young boy?"
"He killed my son!"
"I thought it was you that killed your son."
"Only because of that filth!" He spat in the direction of Mustafa who was now crawling to safety.
"Without that filth, my son would be alive, the tribe would have a future chief and I wouldn't be shamed."
"All this because your son loved another boy?"
"It was haram! No-one would follow my son as chief. No-one would marry their daughter to him. I have to kill that filth! My people expect me to kill him!"
"With this old thing?" Gott waved the antique rifle in disgust.
"It is enough!" The old man spat again.
Gott took the rifle, inspected it and then abruptly snapped the stock across his knee, put the muzzle in the door jamb and folded the barrel in two.
"I don't think it's enough now!"
"I should have killed you!" The old man said quietly.
"If I'd been regular infantry you might have, and, if I'd been SS you would be dead. But… you are old and slow and I'm Fallschirmjäger, so here we are." He said it with some amusement. Mustafa was looking somewhat better, and the evening was at least interesting… and, tribal customs interested him.
"What shall I do with you?" Gott had a problem.
He didn't want to kill the old man, but the old man seemed too dangerous to ignore.
It was Mustafa that solved it for him.
"Please…" He said through his split lip, sitting up painfully. "Please don't hurt him… He's my chief. It was his right… he's my chief."
Then he passed out again.
The old man looked as if he was not going to be a problem, but Gott was too experienced to take his eyes off him. He remembered the old man he had shot on Crete. He had been beating a wounded parachutist to death… with his walking stick! Taking his eyes off the old man might not be a good idea.
Understanding the problem a little better, might be.
"What are your people expecting? That you kill Mustafa, as well as your son?"
The old man nodded.
"If you kill him, you can return to your tents and lead them again?"
The old man nodded again.
"Then go! Your son is dead… and as far as I can tell, Mustafa is dead… he certainly isn't talking!" Gott pointed at the bloodstained bundle of rags on the floor.
"Go now… Go while he is dead!"
Gott grabbed the old man by the arm and dragged him to his feet. He hurried him to the edge of the desert, where the old man's camel was sleeping under the last of the palm trees.
"A young Arab is joining the German army tonight… Remember, he's ours now. He's no longer Tuareg. He isn't your problem… Your problem is dead!"
"Don't come back. If I see you again I will kill you and then I will tell your people that you were too weak to kill Mustafa… I'll say that he beat you and drove you back into the desert! Understand?"
The old man nodded his head and hit the camel with his whip. The camel at least did as he was told. The two of them disappeared into the bright moonlight.
Gott returned to Mustafa's room.
He splashed some water on Mustafa's face and sat on the bedroll while the boy spluttered and woke up.
"Where is the chief?" He asked.
"Gone." Gott replied. "He came to kill you, so we agreed that you are dead. He has his honour and you are no longer Tuareg."
Mustafa sat and thought about that.
"Thank you for not killing him. But… If I'm not Tuareg, then… what am I?"
"Tonight you are a native-auxiliary attached to the Fallschirmjäger… Tomorrow? Next year?… I have no idea where you will be. I have no idea where I shall be. But, tonight you are safe. My corpsman will tend to your face."
"Come along, it's going to be a long night. I have to explain our new recruit to my major."
Gott shook his head ruefully at the complexities that had just come into his life.
Had he recruited an orderly, acquired a lover or adopted a son?
Only the future would tell.
For Mustafa's safety and the dignity of the chief, he also needed to keep the boy out of sight. Hopefully, news of his non-disappearance would not reach the Tuareg too soon, if ever. The chief, if he was wise, would adopt another town to buy supplies. This one held too many secrets now.
"First things first… Who owns the donkey? You will need the donkey."
The boy would need him for transport as well as for fetching eggs. The army would need to move on soon. The men would never get used to the idea of a street-Arab riding in a truck with them. They might not be SS, but there were limits to their tolerance.
"The donkey belongs to the landlord… He rents him to me."
"Stay here, and stay quiet!" Gott said. Then he went in search of the landlord.
"The Tuareg chief has taken Mustafa back to his encampment. He left money to pay for the donkey. He needed the donkey to take the body back." Gott gave him a handful of local currency. The landlord counted them with obvious pleasure.
"The boy is dead?" He asked.
"The chief had beaten him senseless by the time I got there. He seemed sure that the boy was dead."
The landlord was a wily old bird, who immediately understood. "I will tell that to the village. If sometimes a dead boy with a donkey buys eggs and milk from me before dawn then I shall believe he is a djinn from the desert. If he only comes to me for supplies then the others need never know" The landlord was indeed worldly wise.
Gott smiled his appreciation. "Thank you… He is a good djinn. I'm happy you fetched me!"
He gave the man a gift of money that both pleased and surprised the old man. He eyed the soldier speculatively.
Mustafa had disappeared… into the desert or into the German army? Did it matter?
As it happened, the townspeople had more to worry about than one street-Arab. Their recent source of sudden wealth was about to disappear as well.
Orders arrived the next morning… the Fallschirmjägerwere to break camp and advance towards the east. The intention was ultimately to squeeze the Allied forces between themselves and Rommel's Afrika Korps, defeat the British and merge the two German forces. It was probably their last opportunity to avoid both German army groups being caught between the Allies of Operation Torch in Morocco and Algeria, and the English forces operating out of Egypt.
Mustafa spent the night sleeping in a tent next to the sick-bay where Gott had taken him to be treated by a bemused orderly.
"Isn't this the egg and milk boy?" He asked.
"Indeed it is, and from now on the eggs and milk will be the freshest possible… He's working for us now." Was the careful reply.
The major did his best to be supportive when Gott explained, with a great deal of vagueness, how the boy came to be known to the regiment, how he had been injured… and why he would make a useful auxiliary.
"We don't employ auxiliaries!" The major said.
"Maybe I could employ him personally then, as a… servant?" Gott asked.
The major grinned… "A valet? To help you dress… and undress?"
"No sir, to help us buy food, find water, forage for the horses, camels and drivers… He understands my mix of Arabic and German… He would be a perfect addition. He could be our eyes and ears in the market-place."
"In that case, I'm sure I could occasionally find money for a native translator and informer. But… where would he sleep?" The major persisted in finding difficulties.
"That is a problem. We can't leave him to sleep in a tent outside the camp because his chief may still be after him… and he can't sleep with the men because he is… well it wouldn't work. I think the best thing is to attach him to me as a sort of orderly. I'm sure I can make good use of him. He can pitch a tent within shouting distance"
"I feel sure you can make it work… Just, don't work him too hard!"
The long-suffering major was grinning at Gott's attempts to make sense of a fairly ludicrous arrangement, and this time Gott risked a rueful smile in return.
The major returned to finding difficulties. "Pay? What about pay? We can feed him, but he ought to be paid. The regiment can be seen to have servants, but not slaves!"
"We can allow him a profit on what he buys for us." Gott proposed.
"And… What about when we're posted away from here? We've uprooted him, how will he survive? We could hardly take him with us to Germany."
"At the end, when all this is over, if we can't take him with us, I shall give him the donkey… It's enough to earn him a living… I'll make sure that he doesn't lose by looking after us." That was Gott's solution. He hadn't really considered the matter further than the need to save Mustafa from his chief's wrath.
The major risked a weak smile.
"You'll need him tomorrow morning, that's certain. We have orders to advance towards the east. One of the Führer 's favourite generals is expecting us."
The major smiled to himself as Gott saluted and exited. His brightest subordinate had been terribly depressed ever since Crete. But, for the last few weeks he had been a different man, and now the major suspected that he knew why. He was pleased for Gott's sake and thoughtfully wondered what the men would make of it.
He trusted Gott to be discreet… In his experience such men were almost always discreet. As far as the major was aware, Gott had always been the soul of discretion.
He knew the official version about Gott, Gerhard and the boxing match. But, he suspected that there was a lot more to the story than Gott's service-record held. The very fact that the Napola had lost a senior instructor-officer as a result, and that Gott's career had been unaffected told the major a lot about this man's charmed life and the power of his sponsors.
'I guess another major somewhere turned a blind eye to that indiscretion too.' He mused.
He wasn't to know exactly how blind that eye had been.
So, that's how Gott stopped having nightmares. Gerhard was still there in his heart, but Mustafa was in his bed.
Now, he only had grief to worry about, and that was easier than a mixture of grief and unsatisfied lust.
As much from force of habit as from conscience, they still didn't indulge in what had ended for Mustafa when the chief's son died, that long ago Gott had promised to keep for Gerhard. It was a boundary that Gott and Mustafa left uncrossed. It was a silent acknowledgement that their commitments to their first loves were still there, even when they were biting the pillow to preserve the silence of the desert night.
For Mustafa things were slightly different. He had no reservations about selling his bottom to anyone that could afford it. He didn't have much to sell, just his body and his good looks. His bottom looked good and was the most expensive thing he possessed, so… selling it was simply good business.
But Gottfried… Mustafa couldn't call him Gott… He understood the joke, but for him it wasn't funny, for him there was just one God, and he couldn't joke about him.
So, Gottfried… Was Mustafa offended that Gott wasn't after his tail? Well, the answer was no. Mustafa felt exactly the same way about the chief's son. He had enjoyed fucking his friend. Being an orphan himself, Mustafa's friend had been not only his only love before he met Gott… he had been the only person that he felt any affection for. So, therein lay the difference… his bottom he sold to the highest bidder, but his body as a gift… that, he gave only to Gott.
Thereafter, once Gott had saved Mustafa's life and brought him into the camp to live, Mustafa refused all payment from him. What Gott received, he received as a gift. There would have been just one limit to his gratitude… Mustafa could sell his bottom, but he would only give it away to someone who loved him unconditionally. Until Gott loved him as much as he loved Gott, his bottom he would keep for later.
Each day Mustafa prayed that Gott would love him enough to want him more than he wanted the memory of Gerhard. He waited. He hoped that it happened before the German soldiers left North Africa. But, what then? He could only hope that God was indeed merciful.
For reasons that he didn't really fully understand Gott was sublimely happy. Occasionally the memory of Gerhard saddened him, but those occasions were rarer now because they used to come to him at night. Now that he shared his bed with Mustafa the sad memories had less opportunity to intrude.
Mustafa on the other hand was a little less happy with life. He enjoyed Gott's company and the love-making. He just wished that he were certain that it was love… and that it would, that it could, last.
Mustafa didn't trust the future. He couldn't see how all this could end well. Their column was getting further and further from the coast. More and more supplies were a problem. The men now came to him asking him to obtain strange things… toilet-paper, soap, shaving equipment, even oil for the stoves. It was clear that their supply lines were stretched to breaking point.
Gott saw that the boy worshipped him, and was happy with that. The sex was good and he was fond of the lad, but he could never replace Gerhard… could he?
The French still provided little or no opposition and were largely ignored. The British on the other hand made a dash towards Tunis and Bizerta. The Germans raced them, and won. It was easy to predict that the next thing to happen would be an immediate attack by the British, so the Germans attacked first.
For once they also had tanks and artillery. Under their leader Rudolf Witzig, they now formed up as Kampfgruppe Witzig.
In mid-November 1942 they were ready, and set out for the east. The overall German force was considerable with Witzig in command of the north-western column of a large combined force.
At first, they faced French troops. They drove past the large French garrison at Ferryville… who simply allowed them to pass.
Thirty five miles after Ferryville they reached Mateur where their entry into the town was far from opposed. They were greeted with an enthusiastic reception by Arabs and Italian settlers. That was when the wealthy Italian settler gave the keys of his white sports car to Witzig…
"If all goes well you can give it back, if not, it's lost anyway." Witzig used it as his staff car until April 1943.
The smooth unopposed run to the east didn't last very long. Hitler's old enemy General Winter was waiting for them. Rain began in early December and both Axis and Allies were rapidly bogged down in mud. It might be Africa, but in December only the rain was tropical.
Eventually they would reach Djebel Abiod. They were so confident that the place was unoccupied that they didn't even reconnoitre. They should have. The British opened up on them with mortar and artillery fire.
Djebel Abiod and Witzig's position were as far east as the Germans ever got in their Tunisian adventure.
The Fallschirmjägerhad been reinforced with Italian parachute troops. They should have been the best of the Italian army but to the Germans they seemed of poor quality. In fairness, that was probably because they were all that was left of the ones who had survived the Second Battle of El Alamein. Despite their impressive experience, they were of little use and were unkindly referred to, by the Germans, as Die Spaghetti Kamaraden .
Despite dogged fighting by the Fallschirmjägerand the Italian paratroopers, the "fast, accurate and unrelenting" British artillery was holding back their advance.
They would advance no further. Rommel, the target of their efforts, was beyond their help.
On the last day at Djebel Abiod, Gott and Harald were sent to lead a reconnaissance patrol to find the strength of the British defences. That was as far as anyone ever penetrated. Ever after our boys claimed to have been further east and nearer to relieving Rommel than any other German in that campaign.
"We were as near as Rommel got to receiving reinforcements… nearly two thousand kilometers!" A drunken Harald would remark in later years.
That was a day that also altered their relationship with Mustafa.
Harald had taken the lead, with Gott and his two platoons spread behind him.
Aerial reconnaissance had said that the British were at least a mile away. That was so badly wrong. It was the British guns and mortars that were a mile away… The British infantry was not.
The first they knew was when a single shot rang out and the man to Gott's right fell. They dived flat and then when no more shots followed, they crawled to the wounded man. It was a waste of effort. Half his face was gone. He was very dead. They took one set of dog-tags and his papers and left him where he had fallen. A wounded comrade they would have tried to help, but a dead one… that would have risked getting more of them killed.
Harald decided to crawl forward to see whether the sniper was alone. He wasn't.
They saw a British helmet poking above the edge of the tussock grass. Gott was about to shoot, but Harald rested a hand on his arm… "It's just a helmet… perhaps it's a decoy… "
Then the helmet moved. Presumably it had a head in it, so Gott fired.
He had been aiming for maybe a minute before the helmet moved. There had been plenty of time to get the shot right. He saw the small hole appear in the helmet, and then it fell forward, towards the sand and grass.
It was a good shot and presumably had done what it was intended to do. The rear of the helmet's rim stuck up for a moment and then disappeared. His companions had pulled him down out of sight, where he should have been in the first place.
The man's companions were clearly unhappy. Shots came from across a broad front.
Their patrol had run into a defensive position, a forward skirmish line. A fierce fire-fight followed.
The British called for mortar-fire support, but that soon stopped when a round landed very close to their own line. The two lines of men were too close for anything but rifle fire and hand to hand combat. Hand to hand wasn't going to happen either. The land between them was completely open, impossible to cross. They were going to spend all day trading shots across open ground, both sides waiting for the darkness that would allow them to withdraw safely.
The two forces lay there in the unseasonable heat of the afternoon, shooting at each other as the opportunity arose. It might not be summer yet, but the sun continued to beat down, and they soon felt the lack of shade. To Gott's left a man collapsed with what looked like heat-exhaustion.
This could not last long. They had set out with only a small canteen of water each and most of them had been drinking thoughtlessly… until the British pinned them down.
Now they were just taking sips, but it was a bit late for that.
Gott was beginning to despair of ever getting his men out before thirst weakened them when he heard a movement behind him. He rapidly rolled over and prepared a grenade.
The noise came from the only place behind them that offered cover for their retreat. If the British had found it then he and his men were in real trouble.
He pulled the pin and held the arming trigger closed while he waited to see a helmet or a backside, something he could aim for.
The backside he saw was white! He paused, unsure what he was seeing. He didn't have many grenades. He couldn't risk wasting one on a goat.
A wavering voice came from the region of the backside…
"Effendi, effendi… Gottfried! Don't shoot… don't shoot! "
Mustafa appeared through the grass. He was crawling, dragging a rope with more than a dozen water-canteens tied to it.
When he reached Gott, he grinned and said "Water… no charge today… Free water!"
Gott grinned back, slapped his bottom and replied…
"Keep your arse down, You can't sell it tonight if you get it shot off!"
"I could kiss you!" Gott added.
Mustafa looked pleased and replied "No kisses, too many men… No free kisses. They all want free kisses. Later they can pay for kisses."
"Quickly, go back now. We will shoot to cover you!
Mustafa started to retreat. Gott shouted " Cover Mustafa… Rapid fire… Five rounds!"
Mustafa disappeared as quickly as he had come.
This time the men made the water last. They had a full canteen between every two men, enough to get them through the rest of the afternoon.
Late in the afternoon, Gott discussed their situation with Harald. They agreed that if they could last until dusk then they could attempt a careful retreat, along the route that Mustafa had used.
The problem was that for the last hour they had only been shooting at definite targets. Ammunition was down to six rounds a man. The situation couldn't last. They didn't have enough rounds to get them to dusk.
They weren't going to surrender. Harald had already decided that the British would rush them when they realized that the Germans had run out of ammo. But, that would give the Fallschirmjägertheir one opportunity to overcome the impassable gap between them and the Tommy lines. The enemy would charge across no-man's land with little risk of being shot, But, Harald's men would be waiting for them with grenades and knives. The British were going to lose quite a few men when the time came.
The Fallschirmjägerwere no longer expecting to survive the day, but they had every intention of taking as many British with them as they could.
But… was it already too late?… There was a considerable noise to the Fallschirmjägers' rear. There was someone behind them. They had already been out-flanked.
Once again Gott readied a grenade. Once more he returned the pin to its position.
"Effendi… Mustafa… It is I… Mustafa… Do not shoot!"
Their crazy Tuareg boy appeared again. This time he was lying on his back shoving himself along with his feet. Two ropes trailed behind him. He was pulling each in turn, and then shoving himself along with his feet. He was making a great effort. Clearly he had a lot of water for them. Just when water was the least of their problem!
Then, what he was towing tumbled into sight. What appeared over the dune behind him was not water bottles.
It was two cases of ammunition!
One case would have been a two-man lift. Mustafa had brought two of them
Harald was euphoric. Their eggs and milk street-Arab with the delectable bottom had worked out for himself that the slow-down in their rate of fire must mean that his friends had run out of ammunition. Then, alone and under fire, he had brought a load of ammunition that should have needed four men to carry it!
Gott was more than euphoric… This time he did kiss Mustapha, and the kiss raised a cheer from the rest of the men. What the British thought was going on we shall never know. They probably thought the Germans were preparing for some suicide attack… or perhaps had simply gone mad with thirst.
Firing from the Fallschirmjägerlines resumed with enthusiasm.
Dusk came eventually. The day may not have been won, but it had been survived and Harald was confident that the British losses were at least as great as his own. Honour was satisfied. He now ordered his men to fall back, to avoid getting out-flanked in the darkness.
That was easier said than done. The British had chosen their position well. There was only a narrow zone behind Gott's men that provided modest cover to retreat along. So, he waved to the men to go one at a time, while he and Harald covered their retreat.
Finally, when they were alone, Harald and Gott threw all their remaining grenades across as broad a front as they could. They were trying to look like ten men each and… then they ran like hell, zig-zagging their way to cover.
Once the British realised that there were only two men left to their front there was nothing to deter their rush.
This was a moment to move fast, so that's what our boys did.
As they arrived with their men, covering fire erupted past them, deterring the enemy that were chasing them.
Now, their situation was reasonably secure. They could retreat to their own lines in good order.
When they got there they found that coffee and a meal were waiting for them, presided over by a small Arab boy that they proceeded to clap on the back, a small Arab boy to whom they owed their lives.
He was invited to join them around the fire that night. He refused their offers of alcohol, but accepted cup after cup of coffee… each from a grateful and appreciative soldier.
That night he slept with Gott, and many a soldier smiled to himself and wished them goodnight as he passed on his way to his own tent.
The major had a surprise the following morning, when he saw what was going on.
One of the lorries had a crude ramp on to it. It had been improvised using the metal desert roadway that they carried to get lorries across soft sand. He asked the nearest soldier what was going on.
That was when a soldier appeared around the side of the lorry. He was leading a donkey.
"What on earth is going on? And, where is Mustafa?"
Two of the largest and toughest of his veterans pretended not to hear and proceeded to push the reluctant donkey up the ramp.
It was Gott who heard the question and replied… pointing to the two burly, battle-hardened paratroopers and their donkey.
"After yesterday, these men insist that Mustafa and his donkey won't be able to keep up when we pull out this morning, so they are taking them on their lorry."
"But, but…" The major was unclear where all this was leading. "But, there will be hell to pay if brigade see us giving a lift to an Arab boy and his donkey!"
"Arab boy?" Said Gott. "I can't see an Arab boy. Can you Harald?"
"No! said Harald. "No Arabs here. An Arab donkey, Yes. But, no Arab-boy."
At that the soldier who was pulling on the donkey's harness, looked up and grinned…
The soldier had flashing brown eyes and a deep suntan. His long dark curls had gone and yesterday's losses had provided enough spare kit to fit him out.
"Today I'm Fallschirmjäger… but the Feldwebel says that I don't have to jump… Just make coffee!"
The men were now looking after one of their own. Proof that they were after all, very different to the SS.
Gott, Harald and their men were in many ways the lucky ones. When their retreating column finally arrived back in Tunis, orders awaited them to proceed to the airfield where Ju52 planes were waiting to fly them back to Germany.
Later, other Fallschirmjägerwho had walked back to the coast with Rommel's men would follow them out of Africa, escaping to Sicily by sea. That was a lot of walking and salt-water for men who were supposed to travel by plane.
They had to do it without Rommel. By then he was back in Germany, having been relieved of his command.
The remains of the Afrika Korps capitulated in Tunis.
In the middle of all this confusion, Mustafa posed an insoluble problem.
At first, Gott tried to persuade him to go with them to Germany.
Sensibly perhaps, Mustafa pointed out that he really was an Arab. He was Tuareg and his home was in Africa.
Secretly, Mustafa couldn't believe that his position among the Fallschirmjägerwould survive contact with officers who possessed real authority. It was nice of his friends to want him with them, but all he could see was a silly idea that couldn't end well. He had discussed it with some of the older soldiers. He'd asked them what would happen if he had to leave them in Germany. They said that the SS had some divisions for racial minorities who hated Jews, the same people that the SS hated.
Mustafa knew of the SS, and recognised a bad idea when he saw it.
For his part, Harald persuaded Gott that it really couldn't work… A tag-along Arab boy worked well in Tunisia but he would look very strange in Oranienburg or Stendal. There was also a risk of him being mistaken for a Jew. Being picked up in the streets of Germany with a circumcision and without proper papers could bring fatal consequences.
Gott had survived the last few years by being irrational when it would work and coldly logical when it was necessary. He gave in now, logic said he must, but love and loyalty then took over.
He was determined that Mustafa must not lose by their sudden exit. He had once told the major that he would give the boy the donkey to keep, but that no longer seemed enough for Gott… It was a feeling shared by at least the two platoons that the boy had saved in the fire-fight.
Between them they started to plan what could be done to look after Mustafa when they were gone.
A helmet was passed around, to collect all the local currency that the men had, and would no longer need. They collected money right across the regiment. Everyone in Tunis who had heard the story of the boy who had dragged ammunition boxes to their comrades contributed.
Gott had promised the boy a donkey. In the event, they left him in Tunis with a donkey, three lorries and the papers to say he owned them, that they had been sold to him by the departing German army. They left him with enough tents, supplies and food to last a lifetime. There was money in his pocket to keep him in petrol for many months to come.
That then was how Mustafa became the owner of a transport company that would thrive when the Allies entered the city.
For many years after the war, during the 1950's and 60's when German tourists began to appear in the Mediterranean, Mustafa would sit and drink coffee with men who had brought their wives and children to see where they had fought. Mustafa would sit and smile as they told stories to their wide-eyed children, of how an Arab boy had saved their comrades' lives in the desert. He enjoyed playing with their children… He had none of his own.
His company was easy to find. Many an ex-parachutist was startled to see a heavy lorry pass, its side decorated with a diving eagle, in gold, with its talons extended… Camionnage de L'Aigle d'Or… Golden Eagle Trucking.
The swastika in the eagle's talons had been carefully obscured. German men knew what was missing.
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