They were looking for a spy.
The SS officer, clad in ominous black from head to toe, paced back and forth in front of us, tapping his spotless boots with a riding crop.
We stood bunched in a nervous group near the street, having been rounded up from our various activities by the soldiers and herded together in front of the courthouse. A few short hours ago we’d been living in a free town. Then the German soldiers came out of nowhere and overwhelmed the Allied forces, driving them out and leaving us to fend for ourselves.
“It would be in your best interest to tell us what we want to know.” the officer warned. “The woman is a danger to yourselves and your families.”
Ha. As if we didn’t know where the real danger came from. He’d already tried pulling one of the girls out of the crowd and threatening her individually, without success. (Though she looked very shaken.) He’d even hinted darkly to one of the young mothers there that she wouldn’t want her child to come to harm, would she?
Still we held our tongues. But how long would they only threaten? How long until someone got hurt?
From the corner of my eye I could see her. The one they were looking for. She wasn’t from around here. She was German herself. But you couldn’t have told it by looking. Very good at blending in, she was. A German at war with her own government.
One of the other SS officers was searching a nearby cart. Her cart.
Suddenly he shouted and held up a rifle he’d found. Beside me, the girl they’d threatened earlier shifted nervously. But Madam Spy’s face registered nothing.
“Who’s cart is this?” the officer demanded.
“Nobody knows whose cart this is?”
Of course we knew. Everybody knew. But no one answered.
Somehow, he must have suspected the truth anyway. Because this time when he grabbed someone from the crowd, it was Madam Spy herself. His tone was growing angrier by the minute as he started firing question at her. Wasn’t this her cart? Hadn’t he seen her near it earlier?
Of courses she denied everything, but he didn’t believe her. The very air seemed stretched tight with tension. We all watched. Silent, breathless.
And then somebody snapped.
“That’s her!” a voice rang out. It was the girl they’d been threatening earlier. She’d been pushed too far.
A low gasp of horror whispered through the crowd as we looked at her, aghast. The spy’s well-practiced mask broke, and her face betrayed her.
The SS needed no further evidence. They tied the woman’s hands and pulled a black bag over her head, informing us that we were all to watch what became of enemies of the “Vater Land.” We watched. They dragged her into the street and pulled out a pistol.
But the shot that rang out next didn’t come from a pistol.
With a burst of explosion and noise, the Allies had returned. Everything began happening at once. The SS officers forgot about terrorizing civilians and started shouting orders. People ran in all directions. Madam Spy worked her wrists free of the ropes with remarkable speed, ripped the bag off and retrieved her rifle.
The second battle for our little town was underway!
But what town was it, really?
Why Linden TN of course!
Yep. I was back at Remembering WWII again this year. And the event was better than ever! It’s just been named the best festival in central TN, and it certainly deserves the status!
Just like last year there were hundreds of military and civilian reenactors, over a dozen WW2 vets there telling their stories (including one German veteran this year), 40’s era musical and theatrical performances, and a USO show. Just like last year, the entire town was decked out to look the part, with 40’s style window displays and the charming Café de Normandie open for business again. But there were some new and exciting additions this year as well. First off, instead of basically doing the same battle twice (morning and afternoon) and having the Germans lose and retreat from the town both times, the scenario this year was more a continuing story, starting with the Allies in control of the town being driven back, the Germans occupying during the day, and then the Allies returning to free the town again in the second battle. My brother participated in the battle for the first time this year, and he even got to have his own dog-tags made on a vintage machine. We also had a WW2 era Captain America there this year, which was a brilliant addition and a huge hit, especially for the younger visitors.
The civilian reenactors had more exciting parts to play this time. Before the first battle we had various assignments to make it look like a functioning town: selling flowers, carrying bags of bread home from the market, etc. We even had a nun and a little class of school-girls carrying their books and stopping to talk to wounded soldiers outside the red-cross station. But it was before the second battle that we really got to put on a show. Getting rounded up and threatened by the SS as they searched for a spy from Germany was quite the experience!
And then the battles themselves were bigger and better. We had a German Panzer this year, a road-block, and a fly-over by several WW2 era planes. There were red-cross nurses helping the injured soldiers, and some pretty realistic wounds too. One blood-covered solider was loaded into a jeep by medics, with a field IV in tow, and raced away from the battle zone. I did feel sorry for the battle reenactors in their wool uniforms. The heat index was close to 100 degrees F! I was in a light cotton dress and a wide-brimmed hat, but I was still quite happy to find shade.
And speaking of my clothes, the blue-striped dress and brown belt I wore this year were both thrift-store finds. As were the brown heels that my friend Kristen over at Verity Vintage Studio told me were “good enough to be reproductions!” My wide-brimmed brown hat I ordered off Ebay (or was it Etsy?), and my seamed stockings were just regular old modern nylons that I put seams in myself, an idea I got from one of Kristen’s blog posts last year. So all together the entire outfit was probably under $30. I was pretty happy about that!
In the evening, just like last year, we had a banquet. But unlike last year, after eating we got to do one of my very favorite things:
Last year they’d only had a band playing during dinner (though a few brave souls danced in the aisles) but this year there was actually a space left for a dance floor, and it was hugely popular. Everyone had so much fun that the band even kept playing extra long so that we could keep it up. It was fabulous! I just love dancing, especially when I have a partner who knows what he is doing and knows how to lead. But I don’t mind beginners either. We all have to start sometime. I just want to be out on the floor!
After the dance and the USO show, we ended with a grand fireworks display and then those who cared to could take rides in the antique vehicles up and down the street. That was another new addition this year. The following day we attended one of the local churches who helps with the event, and the place was jam-packed full, with people in every pew and in folding chairs, and some gentlemen standing against the wall in the back. Half the crowd (including me) was still attired in 40’s clothing, so the place was full of pretty hats and dresses, just like in those old black-and-white movies and TV shows.
The service was followed by lunch, and then (another new treat) a 1940’s baseball game! The two teams were naturally called “Allies” and “Axis” and some of the guys on the field even wore their military pants, boots, T-shirt and dog-tags, which really added to the atmosphere (though it was not required, and not all the players were in costume). There were crackerjacks to eat, and a 1940’s sound track playing over the radio. The announcers were making jokes and entertaining the crowd in grand style, and more than half the spectators were still in historical attire. It was all so wonderfully fun and reminiscent of the time-period. I probably felt closer to actually being in the 40’s during that baseball game than at any other time during the event. I don’t know if it was fact that we weren’t performing for spectators anymore, and the costumed crowd out-numbered those not in costume, or if it’s just that a baseball game is easier for me to relate to than a battle. But either way, it was a marvelous finish up to a marvelous event, and I hope it continues to be part of Remember WWII in future years!
My 1940’s experience didn’t end after that weekend. (Well, in some ways it still hasn’t ended. I haven’t stopped playing the old 1940’s songs on our record player since the middle of last month!) A few days later, on the following weekend, I attended Currahee Military Weekend in Toccoa GA (where the real life Band of Brothers trained.) It was a different kind of event than Linden’s. Not so much a reenactment as a remembrance. It’s not as large as RWWII, but there was still lots to do and see, starting with a swing dance Friday night. Some friends and I even got to unexpectedly ride in a jeep with one of the 101st veterans during the parade. And of course, I was in costume.
So, that was my 1940’s whirlwind this autumn. Like I said, I’m still playing the records almost every day, and I don’t plan on really coming out of the 40’s entirely for awhile yet. Not until I’ve finished writing Lily and Fred’s story. But those two events are definitely an especially fun way of doing research! One of my favorite things though, at both events, was having the veterans smile and tell me how I looked just like the girls they remembered in their younger days. You could see how much they enjoyed that, and it was special to me for two reasons. First because it means I’m doing an accurate impression (which is great) but most especially, because I love knowing that I am bringing back happy memories of mothers and sisters and girls they loved, many of whom are probably gone now. I suppose it’s a little thing, but I like to feel that I am giving them something, some small gift, in return for all they did to preserve freedom…
…for their country
…for their families
…for those who had not yet been born.
Most of the pictures in this post came off the RWWII Facebook page. They have hundreds more fabulous ones to look at!