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Dynamite!

Sept 01, 1917


As Berg and I entered the entrance to the passages the second time, I found I wasn’t so nearly overcome with the feeling of being buried alive or smothered in dust and dirt as I had been before. It’s a testament to the human spirit how one can so quickly adjust to adverse circumstances.Even the rats, scurrying and scuttling away when we shone our lamps on them, didn’t bother me as much.

After several treks carrying pieces of timber, my arms aching with the effort, to the spot where we had left the dynamite, Berg used a handsaw to cut them to the correct size. The smell of sawdust fused with the musty air. 

Once that was accomplished, Berg scraped and dug at the mortar in the ceiling as I held the ladder. When his arms grew tired I took a turn too, being careful not to get any shards of mortar into my eyes and mouth. At times I thought my arms would fall off, but it only took about an hour of digging and ducking as bits of stone gave way before there was a small opening to a dark space above. Fresh air poured in.

“I’ll finish up,” Berg said.  After more scraping and digging, there was soon a large enough opening for a person to crawl through. 

I watched him scramble up first, fearing I might hear shouts from the guards and then gunfire, but after after a moment Berg’s peeked out again.

“We have hit it perfectly,” he whispered. As he grinned, his teeth shone white against the blackness of this dirty face.  

Carefully working my way up the ladder, I joined Berg in the space above. Cautiously, we held up our lanterns. We were standing in a large warehouse made out of timber and tin, and all around us were tarpaulin covered mounds on wooden skids. Many were stacked higher than we were tall, blocking our view. The well packed dirt floor was covered in tire and footprints in every direction. I lifted the nearest tarpaulin and gaped. The crate was full of ammunition. We checked a few more to discover a stock pile of petrol, rifles and various types of explosives. 

“I am glad we brought very long fuses,” Berg said softly, a note of excitement in his voice.  

After setting half a dozen sticks of dynamite in strategic places we led the fuses back down into the hole and along the passage for about twenty-five metres. When we were all set, Berg took a box of matches out of his pocket, then stared at me. In the eerie lamplight of the cave, and with all the dirt on his face, all I could see were his eyes. The wild expression they carried was rather unnerving. 

“I will count to fifty.”

His meaning was clear. I turned and ran as fast as I could toward the entrance counting under my breath. After I reached fifty I heard a loud rumbling.

“Dear God, someday you might need a brave man like Berg in the service of your church,” I prayed as I ran towards the shaft. “It might be a good idea to let him live through this night.”

I wriggled out and rolled away from the back of the supply shed. The guard that was posted outside was nowhere to be seen at first, but then I spotted him standing with both hands on his head staring aghast at a large glow on the horizon. 

Stopping a  hundred metres down the wooded pathway, I waited for Berg, holding my breath as I hoped against hope. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, I saw him. I could stop the smile that tugged on my lips at the sight of Berg running crazily down the slight incline toward me. 

Without a word, he grabbed my hand and we continued to the top of a nearby wooded hill looked eastward. 

Not far in the distance, a large portion of the skyline was alight with a red-orange glow, with people running in all directions. 

“This was a good night Mademoiselle,” Berg said as he wiped his face with his sleeve. Then he turned to me. “We must both leave Kortrijk immediately.” 

I couldn’t agree more.

“It was an honor to work with you,” he continued. “You are a very capable and brave woman.” He took my hand and lifted it to his lips. “Farewell, Mademoiselle.” He touched the brim of his filthy cap and disappeared into the night. 

Later I learned that the entire German garrison had been called to attempt to put out the fire. I left the city in the morning.  

Author note*

The journal entries involving the destroying of the phone lines and the supply dump were inspired by the true life accounts of Marthe Mathilde Cnockaert who was a spy for the British in  Belgium during WW1. She wrote many books based on her exploits in the Great War under the name of Martha Mackenna.  A list of these books can be found on Wikepedia and other sources online.


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