The third book of DW’s biography details his life between 1919 and 1977. He allocated 213 pages to the period 1919 – 1944 but only 35 pages to the period 1944 – 1977. As with many of his novels he brings an exceptional story line to a speedy conclusion. This is something of a shame a he offers no detail of the circumstances leading up to the writing and subsequent publication of ‘Codeword Golden Fleece’ or for that matter the vast majority of his books written thereafter. DW and Joan moved to a new house in Lymington, Hampshire in June 1945. It was named ‘Grove Place’. ‘The Man who missed the War’ was published in November 1945 and ‘Codeword Golden Fleece’ was published in May 1946, so I think it safe to assume that ‘CGF’ was the first book to be written at ‘Grove Place’. It enabled DW to produce an excellent storyline for the Duke de Richleau and Co. It had been five years earlier that we last read of the Duke & friends who were fighting the satanic ‘Dr Saturday’ and various Zombies in the titanic struggle that was ‘Strange Conflict’. ‘Strange Conflict’ has always been one of my favourites and so when I came to read ‘CGF’ for the first time I was not expecting DW to produce anything approaching the same quality and excitement. I was wrong. The storyline was brilliantly put together and the twists and turns that we have come to love are all there.
It is good to see that DW has come through the war, having written endless papers for the ‘Joint Planning staff’ still producing work at his highest level.
It was Friday 28th July 1939. The story starts with;
A small dinner party was being given by the Duke for his dearest friends, Richard Eaton, Marie Lou, Rex van Ryn, Simon Aron and Lucretia Jose (The Golden Spaniard). It is a reunion and also a farewell as the various parties are all off to spend some time away at various holiday/sporting activities throughout Europe. The Duke and Lucretia intend to spend some time in Eastern Poland with an old friend ‘The Baron Lubieszow & his wife Clotilde near Pinsk.
When the Duke and Lucretia arrive at the house they note that other visitors are also staying there. Apart from members of the family and friends there is General Mack, - One of Poland’s most famous statesman and Colonel Moninszko. The Duke knew that the ‘Colonel’ was of much higher rank than that as he had seen him before. He was in fact convinced that he was one of the highest officers in the Polish Army.
Jan Lubieszow, a pilot in the Polish army is also there. He is the nephew of the Baron. He has ‘grey eyes’.
The following morning two further guests are flown in. The new arrivals are Count von Geisenheim, a Prussian officer who was high in the councils of the German General Staff and a Major Bauer who the Duke is certain is a Nazi officer.
It soon becomes apparent that the Germans are there to “persuade” General Mack into a peaceful surrender to the German forces. They believe Poland to be no serious threat to them and with Poland out of the way they would be free to launch their armies and air fleets against Western Europe.
Whilst the talks are proceeding, Lucretia and Jan are becoming very friendly. In fact the friendship is going so well that Jan takes Lucretia to Krakow for a couple of days.
The Duke is getting worried with the way things are going with the nearby political conferences and so contacts Richard and Marie Lou in Austria to request that they join him in Poland at Lubieszow. They arrive within 24 hours.
The Duke is now keen to leave as soon as possible but Jan and Lucretia are late returning from Krakow. Jan eventually by Plane and explains that Lucretia is safe and staying at his house in Warsaw. So, everything is now fine for them to leave for Warsaw to meet up with Luretia..... Oh no it isn’t!!
As talks between the German and Polish officials were reaching completion, a house arrest was imposed on everybody within the house until the details were finalised.
An argument about the situation started initially between Jan and the Baron, then Jan and General Mack and then Jan and Major Bauer. It then turned from bad to worse and a gun battle ensued which was eventually brought under control by the Dukes party together with the very timely arrival of Rex and Simon.
The Duke tells Jan to make a run for it and arranges for Richard and Simon to take a car and drive to Warsaw and bring Lucretia back to a nearby foresters hut just two miles from Lubieszow whilst the Duke, Rex, Marie Lou plus General Mack - the valuable hostage who had just sold out to the Germans, take another car to the hut and wait.
After a three day wait with little food, little comfort and still no sign of Richard, Simon and Lucretia they decide that the best thing for them is to head for Warsaw.
They arrive in Warsaw amid falling bombs, craters left by bombs and the crack of anti-aircraft guns. They head for Jan’s house where they are immediately reunited with Lucretia. However nobody seems to know where Richard and Simon are.
Jan and Simon soon arrive but with bad news; Simon informs them that Richard has been badly injured in a car crash; “His head went through the windscreen and his hip was smashed by the steering wheel”. It turned out that he had a compound fracture. Mary Lou set out on nursing him back to recovery.
As Richard is bedridden, the remaining group (the Duke, Rex, Simon, Mary Lou, Jan & Lucretia) ‘put their heads together’ and came up with a plan to significantly aid the war effort. They decided to try and buy out the business that provides barges to transport oil along the Danube to Germany. If the supply can be stopped Germany will have severe problems with operating every aspect of their industry, armaments and transport.
The current company is independently controlled by a rich Rumanian named Teleuescu based in Bucharest.
The name given to this audacious plan is, from now on, referred to by a codeword.....Golden Fleece.
The Duke, Rex and Simon work out a plan to meet with him.
Bad news followed. They heard that Jan’s plane had been attacked by German planes and he was seen being shot down in flames. Lucretia’s reunion with Jan had been short lived.
Upon hearing this news, the Duke took to his room to dine alone as he had been very fond of Jan. He drank “some very old Madeira before dinner, a bottle of Grand Eschauaux 1923 with it, and nearly half a litre of Green and Yellow Chartreuse mixed in equal proportions afterwards. He was not drinking in any endeavour to cheer himself up, as he knew that was hopeless; but he also knew from long experience that the best way of ensuing sound sleep at a time of great distress was to get ‘slightly tight’..” SLIGHTLY !!!!! This would have killed me!!
Rex and Simon set off by train from Praga station heading for Bucharest in order to get the ‘Golden Fleece’ business proposal under way with Teleuescu.
We then soon discover that Jan had escaped from his burning plane with some “painful burns on his legs and a wrenched left ankle”
The next reunion with Lucretia was as equally emotional as the first.
The next section of the story is in my opinion one of the best parts in the book. It starts when the Duke is walking through the rubble strewn streets when a military car drives past and General Mack catches sight of his previous abductor. He yells out of the car, “Spy! Spy!
Rex and Simon set off by train from Praga station to Bucharest to organise the ‘Golden Fleece’ business proposition with Teleuescu.
Don’t let that man get away! Seize him! Seize him!” A dramatic chase takes place initially by a passerby and then by a frenzied mob which culminates in the Duke scrambling through the debris of a bombed church in order to escape being ripped to shreds. Gripping stuff indeed.
The Duke now knows that they need to get out of Warsaw as soon as possible but he makes an impromptu stop at the Estonian embassy. He manages to secure a set of CD licence plates to help with the trip to Bucharest.
Diplomatic personnel in most countries have distinctive license plates, often with the prefix CD, the acronym for the French corps diplomatique. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corps_Diplomatique
Jan and Mary Lou leave Warsaw together by car and arrange to meet up in Bucharest. The Duke, Mary Lou and the injured Richard leave soon after in a modified ‘Shooting Brake’ vehicle (* A Shooting-brake is a 2-door car body style with a squared-off rear) that enables a makeshift bed to be added.
The Duke, Mary Lou and Richard eventually arrive in Cernauti (The city is also known as Czernowitz in German, as Cernăuţi in Romanian, and as Chernovtsy in Russian).
They had accomplished their four-hundred-mile long journey from Warsaw in just under 29 hour, thus averaging fifteen and a half miles an hour exclusive of a three hour halt.
When they arrive at Bucharest they head straight for the British legation to meet up with Sir Reginald Kent. They are told that Simon, Rex and the poor Lucretia were staying at the Athenee Palace . http://www.hilton.co.uk/bucharest?WT.srch=1
“What do you mean by that” asked the Duke.
“She and her fiancé arrived here two days ago. They hadn’t been in Bucharest for more than two hours when he was knocked down and killed by a passing car”.
The Duke, Rex and Simon pay a business call to Mr Teleuescu. The business contract and finances are agreed. The only delay to the deal is that the Rumanian Prime Minister (Armand Calinesco) must countersign the document. The reason being that there are potentially serious repercussions with German sympathisers within Rumania and this could force the government into nationalising the barges or even commandeering them. Having said this Mr Teleuesco thinks that the PM will sign but they must wait a little longer. He also told them that the Germans were interested in purchasing the business as well but he felt as far as he was concerned, the sale has now taken place.
That night the Duke is awakened at two o’clock in the morning in his hotel bedroom by two members of the Rumanian ‘Iron Guard’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Guard.
They assure he Duke that they mean him no harm but they have told him that he and his friends must leave Bucharest tomorrow morning with tickets for Istanbul, already paid for by the Iron Guard or ‘accidents’ will happen. The Duke and his party agree to comply with the ‘Request’ and catch the train at midday. At the first stop the Duke ,Rex and Simon get off the train and wait for the next train back to Bucharest.
Upon their arrival they find out that the Rumanian Prime minister has been assassinated.
They decide to book into a clean unpretentious –looking hotel called the Peppercorn.
The thought on their minds being, ‘Did the PM sign the ‘Option’ (Golden Fleece) before he was killed’.
They return to see Teleuescu . He tells them that the Germans (Including von Geisenheim) had been to see him and were returning later with armed guards to take the ‘Option’ away with them and Yes, the PM had signed it.
The Dukes team arrange to ambush the Germans (Von Geisenheim and his attaché). A fight ensues and Rex and Simon manage to overpower the two Germans, however Rex is shot through the fleshy part of the arm and Simon knocks von Geisenheim out. The Duke stops Simon from killing him because, “You have had your cut at him now. So has Rex. If he recovers from those head wounds, and Hitler spares him, we may come across him again. And he is my meat next time” Not very logical...
They take the ‘Option’ from von Giesenheim’s briefcase and then dump the two Germans against a fence some distance away from the recent fight.
The most important thing now was to get the ‘Option’ to Sir Reginald at the Legation but they knew that the place would be swarming with Police. So they organise a plan to send Simon in dressed as a nun.
Simon gets changed into the purchased ‘nun’s habit’ in his hotel room and Rex goes down to the Foyer to ensure that Simon is not seen by the prying hotel landlord. Rex gives Simon the sign to come down stairs into the reception area.
“Simon came down the stairs at a run, forgot to hold up his skirt, tripped on it and took a header into the hallway”. The landlord came out of the kitchen and started to hurl abuse at them. Simon ran out into street whilst Rex tried to smooth things over.
The Duke picks up Simon and the two of them head for the legation. The plan to get the option to the legation fails - Simon is recognised by a taxi driver that he had used. A gun battle ensues including the men posted on the legation gate, Police and members of the Iron Guard. Simon manages to run off unscathed with the ‘Option’ still with him. The Duke however is lying deathly still after having been shot several times. Simon is certain that he is dead.
Simon heads back to the hotel and tells Rex the sad news. A knock on the room door reveals the landlord and a plain clothes officer accompanied by two uniformed policemen.
The Landlord had reported them for their strange behaviour. Simon is taken to the Police station but manages to hand the ’Option’ to Rex before he leaves. Rex’s passport is also taken away for checking.
Rex leaves the hotel and heads for Cernauti
With a plan to get to the Polish refugee camp in Grodek in order to ‘borrow’ a plane to get out of Rumania with the ‘Option’. It all seem s to be going quite well until he is attacked by a man with a ‘Blackjack’*
*A blackjack is a small, easily-concealed club consisting of a leather-wrapped lead weight attached to the end of a leather-wrapped coil spring or rigid shaft, with a lanyard or strap on the end opposite the weight.
The assailant is a big man and as Rex is still wearing a sling for his injured arm there was only going to be one winner. When Rex came to, he was in his underclothes as the man had switched Rex’s clothes for his army uniform. Rex puts it on and attempts to get into the Polish camp. The officers in the camp believe him to be a spy for the Germans and imprison him pending further questioning. Rex is shifted by car to a different area for questioning . He realises that he will be searched and so folds the ‘Option’ up inserts it into the rear seat cushion of the car. He then memorises the cars number plate.
Rex’s big worry is that the Option is only valid for one month, so if the paperwork does not get back to Britain in time the deal will become invalid.
After much questioning and time wasting Richard Eaton travels to Rumania, despite his injuries, to vouch for the fact that Rex is indeed an American citizen.
Despite their best efforts Simon and Rex keep missing Simon but they are keen to regain the ‘Option’ and eventually locate the car in Constanta. The ‘Option’ is not there.
When they return to their hotel, Simon, is there, with the ‘Option’. He had retrieved a day earlier.
The next day they boarded a cargo steamer for Istanbul. Ten hours later the boat collides with a small fishing boat. The propeller the boat was fouled and there was thick fog. There was also three days to go until the ‘Option’ expires. They transfer into a passing small fishing smack. They eventually arrive in Istanbul and then immigration hold them up. After much arguing they arrive at the British Embassy where one of the secretaries inform them that they are too late to get the information to Britain as it would have to be ciphered, checked by the treasury, consultation with the war office and the PM. This would take a minimum of 24 hours. It can’t be done.
As the dejected three get to the Pera Palace hotel http://www.perapalas.com/
where they meet up with Marie Lou and Lucretia. They decide to meet for dinner before telling their stories.
Let’s just say that, as far as the Duke and Jan were concerned to partially quote Mark Twain– “ Rumours of their death Had Been Greatly Exaggerated”
Oh and by the way The Duke had made copies of the ‘Option’ and managed to get them to Britain in time for them to complete the purchase. Which means that ninety per cent of Hitler’s oil will be cut off now unless he decides to invade Rumania, or thee is a coup d’état and a new Rumanian Government decide to hand their country over to him.
Jan’s third reunion with Lucretia was (probably) as equally as emotional as the first and second!!!!!!!!!!.
Bits and Pieces
Page 42 - Richard "was neither suspicious or inquisitive by nature; in fact, so blind was he to everything which did not personally concern him that Mary Lou, used sometimes to relate that for fun she had once walked him three times round the same London square before he woke up to the fact that they had twice passed the house to which she had asked him to accompany her.
I liked this it - It brings the 'human touch' to one of the seemingly 'Infallible four'.
Page 206 – As the Duke gets into bed after a successful day of business ‘he read for a little, and for the twentieth time, a few passages of that wonderful book of Joan Grant’s, ‘Winged Pharaoh’, a copy of which always travelled with him. (Note: I must read this book)
Page 212 – The Duke has Cantaloupe melon for breakfast. DW frequently mentions this favourite of his. One idea for the convention perhaps??
Page 222 – The Athenee Pace becomes the Anthee I know there was no spell check but (whatever happened to proof readers?)
The dedication in this book is to Sir Reginald Hoare, K.C.M.G.
‘With my most grateful memories of those days when, as our dear ‘Ambassador’ in a nameless state’, he lightened many difficult hours for myself and my colleagues by his imperturbable good humour and most enchanting wit’.
Sir Reginald Hoare joined the Joint Intelligence Committee with Dennis Wheatley on the recommendation of the Chairman of the JIC. He had been HM Minister in Rumania until Hitler absorbed that country into the Axis. He was an elderly grey-haired man with a pronounced stoop (a la Simon Aron). He contributed absolutely nothing to our activities and told me once that he had taken the job only because, like Kipling’s elephant child, he suffered from ‘a satiable curiosity’, and could not bear to be kept out of the secrets of the high direction of the war.
I wonder if Sir Reginald Kent in this book was based on Sir Reginald Hoare?