5) Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.
The Inklings sat in the darkened room for hours, unmoving. Williams recited poetry under his breath. Tolkien prayed the Rosary, Barfield meditated, and Lewis read verses from the Psalms. All of them scribbled thoughts on scraps of paper now and then, but mostly they sat still, stunned.
The telephone rang.
They looked at each other, startled, confused. Then Jack Lewis heaved himself up out of his chair and lumbered down the hallway. The others heard his voice, muffled but astonished.
He shuffled back into the room.
“That was MI6. They want to meet with us. All four of us. Now. They’ve relocated their headquarters to Oxford, and they’re sending a car.”
The four Oxford men rode through the dark streets of Oxford, bundled together in the back seat of a black car that slid smoothly through the night. No one spoke. They arrived at a darkened building and were ushered out, pulling their hats down over their eyes, and shown to a small door in an unlit entryway. In they went, and along a hallway, and into a large, smoky room. A man stood with his back to them, reading a document by the light from a fireplace. He turned. They gasped.
It was Major General Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, chief of MI6. There he stood, with his particular poise, trim, fit, with an aura of wealth and restrained power.
“Welcome, gentlemen,” he said, waving them into chairs, offering them whiskey, cigarettes, cigars, tea—all luxuries they hadn’t seen for weeks. His smooth accent rivaled even the public-school suavity Lewis and Tolkien had tried to spread over their Irish and South African backgrounds, and put to shame Williams’s Cockney. Only Barfield’s voice came close, but even his diction was garbled, and he quailed before Menzies posh precision.
“I am sure this meeting comes as a surprise to you. It isn’t every day that the British Secret Service calls upon its poets, its professors, its philologists for clandestine military work. But these are dark times: the darkest Britain has ever known.”
They nodded, all except Williams, who was characteristically trying out contradictions in his mind to see if he could think of a darker possible time. He could, but he thought it better not to share.
“It is probably darker than you know. The SS death squads have spread out across southern England, rounding up soldiers, diplomats, Jews, and other unwanted elements of our population. Nearly all able-bodied male citizens between the ages of seventeen and forty-five have been interned and will soon be deported the Continent, where some will be shot, some hanged, and the rest put to industrial hard labor. Estimates suggest about twenty-five percent of our remaining male citizens have been thus interned. Meanwhile, the SS is systematically liquidating our entire Jewish population, which numbers well over three hundred thousand individuals. Our population will soon be decimated, and replaced by hand-picked Nazi officials and sympathizers. A massive eugenics campaign will be put in place. All of this is designed to establish the so-called New Order of Europe, the Neuordnung Europas, and the creation of a pan-German racial state. This will exist to promulgate German National Socialist ideology and ensure the supremacy of an Aryan-Nordic master race.”
He looked at them, fixing each with his leveled gaze in turn.
“I don’t need to tell you, gentlemen, what this would mean for civilization, for the human race.”
They all nodded this time.
“You are writers and thinkers of great imagination,” he went on, “and you have shown in your works that you have trenchant insight into the human condition and into possible totalitarian futures, as well as their alternatives. So I have decided to enlist your assistance in our last great work: the last great work of free humanity, if it does not succeed.
“I need not warn you that this work I am calling you to is intensely dangerous. I am sure you are well aware what will happen to you if you fail, if you are caught, probably even if you succeed. You have most likely heard of the Nazi’s ‘Black Book’?”
He strode over to his desk and picked up a thick file.
“This is a copy of the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B., the Special Search List Great Britain. It was compiled by the SS Einsatzgruppen, a special deployment task force. It is the list of prominent British residents whom the German High Command names to be arrested upon the successful invasion of Britain by Nazi Germany. Now that they are here on our soil and have taken control of the public branches of government, the Gestapo has begun systematically working its way through this list, hunting down, arresting, and executing those individuals whose names appear here. The list was expanded just months before invasion; it now includes all four of you, in such illustrious company as Leonard and Virginia Woolf, H. G. Wells, E. M Forster, and Aldous Huxley.
“Mr. Barfield, as your name occurs quite early in the alphabet, you are advised to prepare yourself for arrest at any moment. We will, of course, do all we can to protect you, but there is only so much we can do, especially now. So I do not know how long you may have.
“Now, to your missions. These are primarily propaganda missions, as you are no longer fit for active service, nor would physical resistance be the best use of your considerable talents.
“Professors Tolkien and Lewis: although the British Broadcasting Company has fallen into the hands of the enemy, we have our own means of disseminating radio programs both inside and outside of England. We are going to ask you to assist us in reaching out to our allies and potential allies abroad, in a campaign to win their hearts and minds and move them to assist us in our dire plight.”
He turned to C. S. Lewis.
“Professor Lewis,” he said, graciously, “this will be very like the mission you completed for us in 1941.”
The other three stared, astonished.
“Jack?” asked Barfield. “What is this all about?”
Lewis looked at Menzies, eyebrows raised, and the chief nodded his permission.
“In May of 1941,” Lewis told his friends, “when we were about to occupy Iceland, I was recruited by MI6 to record a propaganda message, to help win the hearts of the Icelandic people. I gave a talk on ‘The Norse Spirit in English Literature,’ and it was disseminated across that island.”
“And of course he never disclosed this information,” Menzies told his flabbergasted colleagues, “but now you have a chance to serve your country in a similar way, and in even more dire times.”
“We are honored,” said Tolkien, “to join the mighty company of those who have fought to the last in hopeless battles.”
“Not hopeless,” said Barfield.
“There is always hope,” said Williams.
“Let’s give ’em hell,” said Lewis.
(to be continued)
(to be continued)