BRITISH COMICS

(Rover Homepage)

THE SPY WHO LAUGHS

First episode, taken from The Rover issue: 1065 September 4th 1943.

A new kind of war story. Laughs and shocks from a British Spy.

Different from all other spies.

THE JAPER AT WORK.

The big German lorry, strongly guarded by Nazi soldiers who brandished Tommy-guns, moved swiftly down one of the main streets of Athens. The passing crowds looked at it speculatively. They guessed it contained British prisoners, some of the thousands who had escaped after the evacuation of Greece and Crete, men who had been hiding in the hills ever since. From time to time German parachutists made a descent on some lonely mountain peak and roped in a dozen or so ragged but undaunted men in khaki, whom they brought down to the great concentration camp at Corinth. Greeks on the pavement lifted their two fingers in the Victory sign, then hastily ducked lest the infuriated Germans should open fire on them. By every way possible the gallant citizens if Athens defied their conquerors, but they knew better than to wait too long for reprisals. Germans and Italians were alike in their readiness to open fire, through if anything the war-weary Italians were the more nervy of the two. The lorry swung past the Café Aena, and just then a cart laden with vegetables backed out of a side-passage, straight in the path of the motor vehicle. Violently sounding his horn, the Nazi driver managed to bring his heavy lorry to a standstill. Men in field-grey jumped down and ran forward to tell the driver of the cart what they thought of him. “What do you think you’re doing?” roared Major Blotz, who was in charge of the lorry, and in his rage he struck the countryman across the face. “Get that miserable horse out of the way!” The Greek an aged man, started to say his horse was so starved for food that it could not move quickly. By this time a crowd was rapidly gathering. Several hundred people arrived from nowhere, and amongst them were a number of Italians. At this time, Mussolini still ruled in Italy, though there were still all the signs of the coming trouble. Beside the Italians, the Germans looked like scarecrows, though far tougher. Dashing Italian officers, resplendent in grey-green uniforms decked with gold braid, rainbow stripes, and decorations, came to the fore. One of these, a captain in the Bersaglieri, sprouting pheasant plumes from his Alpine hat, and with medals from the Abyssinian, Spanish, and Albanian campaigns on his breast, stepped up to Major Blotz and punched him on the nose. “That’s for ill-treating the populace!” he said, in a loud voice. “We Italians will not stand for that.”

The Nazi Major went reeling. Then dropped a hand to his hip for his revolver. The colour had flamed to his face. He nearly choked with indignation. The Italians and Germans were allies, but all Germans despised Italians. In a rising flood of passion, the German drew his revolver and shot the first Italian officer he saw. Unfortunately it was not the one who had struck him. That hero had darted into the crowd and disappeared. The report of the revolver, the yell of the Italian, was followed by a roar from the crowd. They surged forward, expecting excitement, and they got it. In a moment every Italian in the street was flying at the throats of the Germans. Junior “Wolves,” in their stocking caps and foot-long tassels, Carabinieri with their patent-leather tri-corn hats, along with ordinary soldiers, all rushed to avenge the murder of their countryman. No such riot had been seen in the centre of Athens for a long time, and the populace fully enjoyed it, for it was their enemies who were killing each other. The lorry was almost turned over. Shots rang out, women screamed, and windows were broken. For five long minutes the riot raged, and when it was over, and the Italians had been routed, it was discovered that the nine British prisoners who had been in the lorry had disappeared! About that time they were pulling up breathless at the end of a narrow alley some hundreds of yards distant. “Here we are!” gasped their guide. “Through here!” He opened a door and bundled them inside. The room was dark, but unseen hands gripped and led them down stairs and along a passage until they came to a cellar where the pleasantly warm smell of cooking was noticeable. Their guide stepped in after them, grinning from under his Alpine hat, for he was the captain of the Bersaglieri, the same who had struck Major Blotz. “You’ll be all right here,” he said in perfect English. “Relax!” There was only one officer amongst the group, young Lieutenant Jim Barry, of the Guards. His eyes goggled as he gasped. “Are you Italian or British?” “As British as you are. I find this disguise useful when I want to irritate the Nazis, and dress as a German officer when I want to rouse the Eyeties. It worked pretty well. While they were busy fighting each other, I got you away.” They were a ragged, hard-bitten group.

A broad Scots voice demanded: “But who are ye anyway?” The man with the plumes in his hat grinned again. “It doesn’t much matter who I am, except that I’m a British agent. Here in Athens they call me The Japer. It’s as good a name as any…You chaps sit down and have something to eat. I don’t suppose they’ve been overfeeding you.” One of the Greeks in the background lifted a steaming cauldron of meat Stew from the fire, and began ladling stew and vegetables into deep bowls. There was black bread to accompany it, and very soon the rescued men were lining their stomachs with the best food they had tasted in many months. “By now they’ll be searching Athens from end to end, but they won’t find you,” declared The Japer, and his blue eyes twinkled as though it was a game. “Don’t worry. No one will give you away.” Lieutenant Barry looked doubtfully at the Greeks in the corner. “But the Nazis have announced the death penalty for anyone found harbouring British prisoners,” he said. The Japer shrugged his shoulders. “If there’s anyone in the world willing to take the risk, it’s the Greeks. They hate the Nazis and despise the Eyeties. That’s how I get so much support for my underground movement.” They lifted their heads and looked at him with interest. This spare, bronzed man with the twinkling blue eyes had an air of authority. They wondered what his rank was. “Several thousand Britons, Aussies and New Zealanders were left behind when we evacuated, and hundreds of them are still hidden,” he explained. “It is my business to rescue them and bring them together in one organisation. There is a lot of work to be done. They leaned forward eagerly. These men had suffered so much in the past few months that they were longing to strike a blow at the enemy. Was this stranger in Italian uniform going to show them the way? It seemed he was. He talked to them at length, while Nazi motor-cyclists scoured the streets in search of the fugitives and house-to-house searches were made. Hundreds of Greeks were arrested and questioned. Nobody knew what had become of the nine escaped prisoners. They seemed to have evaporated into thin air. Oberkommandant Hertz, the German governor of the city, nearly had apoplexy when he heard about it. His blood pressure rose so much that his veins seemed likely to burst, and his colleagues ducked behind their desks to escape his rage.

THE TUNE THAT CAUSED A RIOT.

Oberkommandant Hertz had cooled down somewhat by nine that evening, when he stepped into Maxim’s restaurant and was greeted with the clicking of heels and salutes on all sides. The orchestra played the Nazi anthem in his honour, and everyone stood to attention. A lean, spare waiter, with black moustache and blue eyes, bent over the Oberkommandant and asked his requirements. In a harsh voice the Nazi governor ordered a heavy dinner and a good deal of wine. This was duly brought, and he settled down to enjoy himself. Envious eyes were on him from all over the room, but he looked at no one, scowling at his plate as he shoveled the food into his mouth. He was thinking of this epidemic of escapes of British prisoners, and wondering what he could do about it. There were a lot of Italian officers in the room, and the sound of their voices made him angrier still. “Dirty little rats! I wish they had never been our ally,” he thought. “They’re more trouble than they’re worth. They’re nothing but dressed-up dummies.” The same waiter hovered around him anxiously, obeying his slightest whim, fitting his glass, asking if there was anything he wished the orchestra to play. “I don’t care a hoot what they play!” snarled the Oberkommandant, who could scarcely tell one tune from another. It was after one of these consultations that the waiter walked over to the orchestra leader and said: “The Oberkommandant orders you to play Koroido at once!” The orchestra leader pale. It was a Greek tune, now forbidden, for it was a deadly insult to the Italians. The Greeks had been forbidden under pain of death to even hum it. “But-but he can’s be serious!” gasped the musician. “He—it is against the law.” The Oberkommandant is never other than serious,” said the waiter, with a glance at the table where the stout Nazi was still stuffing. “He makes the laws. You must obey, or take the consequences.” White faced, but with a shrug of his shoulders, the band leader whispered to his men, and a few moments later the forbidden tune rang through the room. Every Italian recognised it, and went red. A Fascist Colonel leapt to his feet, drew his revolver, and made for the band. “Are you mad? Stop that tune at once!” he ordered. With sweat running down his face, the band leader pointed with his baton at the unconcerned Oberkommandant. “Signor Colonel, it was his orders! I dare not stop until he tells me to. It is to him you must appeal.” The Italian went white with rage, turned to his brother officers and snarled: “You hear that? The Nazis make fun of us. The Oberkommandant himself ordered the Greeks to play it. Are we going to take this insult.” “No!” roared the Italians.

 

They picked up their bottles and their glasses, and hurled them at the Oberkommandant’s table. Missiles of all descriptions suddenly rained down upon the unsuspecting Hertz, who staggered to his feet with a bleeding forehead and a cut head. Horrified German officers rushed to the aid of their local leader, and within three minutes a free fight was in progress. Chairs were used as weapons. Table knives, and finally revolvers. Some of the lights went out. The Oberkommandant was squeezed into a corner against a door, and seemed likely to be mobbed by Italians when the door opened behind him. Herr Excellenz, this way!” hissed someone. It was the waiter who had been so attentive to him all the evening. “Come along this passage, and I will get you to your car.” The Oberkommandant gladly slipped through the doorway and along the darkened passage, the hands of the waiter guiding him gently. The noise of the battle died away in the distance, and finally the Nazi officer reached the street, where patrols were running to see what the uproar was about. Without as much as a word of thanks to the man who had smuggled him out, the Oberkommandant hurried towards a patrol-car, shouting orders. The waiter drew back into the doorway, ripped off his waiter’s collar and black tail-coat, stood revealed in torn jersey and shabby trousers, ruffled his hair, drew a dirty hand over his face, and completely changed his appearance. “Sounds as though they’re enjoying themselves inside!” he murmured, in English. “Let’s hope it means a few of the blighters are put out of action for good.” It was The Japer, and in his pocket he had a wad of papers which he had abstracted from the Oberkommandant’s pocket when hustling him along the passage. He wanted to get somewhere quiet to read these, and dived down the street to the left, keeping to the shadows. More and more patrol-cars were racing towards Maxims. Before it was over, the clash between the Germans and the Italians would develop into a pitched battle. The Japer considered this so much the better. Not many minutes later he slipped into a grimy little Greek restaurant which smelled strongly of cheese, and where after a nod to the greasy man behind the counter he retired to the furthermost table and proceeded to absorb the coffee which was brought him. Here was his opportunity to examine the papers he had captured. He ran them through rapidly. They were of all kinds, and highly important, but what interested him the most was an order for the execution of a Greek patriot named Neolea and an alleged British spy named Captain Sommers.

 

The document was worded:

“By the powers vested in me during the occupation of Greece, I hearby order that Kinos Neolea, and Captain Sommers, now prisoners in the Mataxas Prison, be executed at dawn tomorrow, the 12th inst.

Oberkommandant Hertz.”

 

It had evidently been the Oberkommandant’s intention to send this to the Governor of the prison during the night. The Nazis liked dooming men with dramatic suddenness, and the prisoners never knew they were going to be taken out and shot. The Japer rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He supped his coffee and did some hard thinking, finally paying his small bill and shuffling down the street peering into the gutters, apparently one of the thousands of starving citizens who seek the scraps thrown away by their German conquerors. But when he was opposite a certain shop door, he made a quick step into the porch, knocked in a certain way, and was admitted. The shop was that of an engraver, and looked as though there had been no business for months. The owner was a wizened old man with long beard, Greek hat, and horn-rimmed glasses. “Nicolas, I’ve a job for you—urgent!” whispered The Japer. “By altering one word for me on a document, and putting another, you may be able to save the lives of two men from the Nazis.” Nicolas led the way into his workshop, a discreetly lighted room at the back. Through his glasses he closely examined the order for execution, and looked enquiringly at his visitor. “Erase that word ‘executed’ and substitute the word ‘released’ in the same handwriting,” said the British agent. “For one as skilled as you in lettering it should be easy.” The ancient Greek bowed his head. “In an hour it will be done,” he promised. “Good! Then I’ll borrow your couch and have an hour’s sleep. I can’t remember when I last had one,” said The Japer.

 

THE LATEST RECRUITS.

It was the dark hour before dawn when a motor-cyclist in Nazi dispatch rider’s uniform arrived at the main gates of the Mataxas Prison and tooted his horn to be let in. After due scrutiny he was admitted. A special dispatch from the Oberkommandant for the Governor,” he said, and held out a sealed envelope. “It is urgent. If necessary the Governor is to be roused.” There was no need for that, as the prison Governor was working in his office on a list of suspects who were to be arrested and incarcerated the next day. He looked up irritably when the dispatch was brought to him, but his irritation became rage when he read the contents. “Here I am trying to bring in all those likely to be of danger to the Axis, and the Oberkommandant behind my back orders the release of two men who ought to be shot!” he grumbled. “He must be crazy!...I’ll see a report of this goes through to the right quarters.” His second-in-command looked dubious. “I expect, Herr Gutten, that the Oberkommandant has a reason for this. I suspect he orders their release because he knows he can pick them up as soon as he wants them. He will have them trailed from the moment they leave here. Maybe he expects them to lead his agents to someone else.” The Governor tugged at his moustache. “Ja, you are probably right! He is no fool…Put the order through for their release.” So it was that just after dawn a dazed British officer, in ragged civilian clothing, and a stalwart Greek patriot, were turned loose outside the prison gates. Even though they were free they could not believe it to be true. “There’s a trick in it,” growled Sommers. “They’re either going to shoot us at some corner, and pretend we were escaping, or we’re going to be followed.” “We’ll soon find out,” replied Neolea, and led the way down a side street. He knew every inch of Athens, and for the next ten minutes they twisted and turned through more than a dozen roads and alleys. At last the Greek said: “Yes, we are being followed by a shabby man wearing a jersey and no hat. S-sh, he is coming nearer!” They pretended to look up at a big building as the man padded alongside them. Without stopping, he hissed: “Follow me at a safe distance. I’m British. Remember Sammy Turner, Captain?” Captain Sommers started to wonder. But for those last words he would have suspected this of being some cunning Nazi trick, but he knew no German living knew of his friendship in the early part of the war with young Sammy Turner, who had been killed with the Australian Light Horse by an accident. “He must be genuine!” he muttered to his companion. “We’ve got to try him.” So they followed discreetly, keeping on the heels of the shabby fellow ahead, who seemed to be wandering from gutter to gutter, sometimes picking up a morsel which some Nazi had thrown away. Gradually he led them to the oldest part of town, paused in a narrow doorway, beckoned silently, and stepped inside. A minute later they entered the same doorway. “It’s all right. Let me take your arms, because there are steps,” came their guide’s voice, in English. “You’ll be safe enough here.”

 

 Stumbling in the darkness, the rescued pair finally found themselves in a large warm cellar where nine or ten men wrapped in blankets lay sleeping on the floor, and some Greek peasants were huddled near the fire. Everyone started up at the arrival of the newcomers, and to the astonishment of Neolea and Captain Sommers, the sleepers proved to be British soldiers in ragged uniforms. “Yes, we’re all friends together,” said The Japer. “You might remember me, Sommers, but don’t mention my name. The fewer who know it, the better. I’m glad I was able to save you from the firing-squad.” “Firing-squad!” echoed the other, who evidently did not yet place him. “Why do you say that?” “Because precisely about now you and Neolea would have been put against a wall and shot.” He told of the altered document, and of his pose as a Nazi dispatch-rider. “It worked smoothly. The Oberkommandant’s signature worked miracles. I’d like to hear what he says when he hears about this.” Everyone crowded round the newly arrived pair to hear their experiences. Neolea was one of the patriots who had helped the British when they landed. He had been grossly ill-treated by the Nazis, and was longing for revenge. “You’ll have it.” The Japer told him, swinging his legs from the table on which he sat. “We’re forming an underground army, composed of mostly British and Dominion troops, but with a few trusted Greeks. It is growing rapidly, and you are the latest recruits. Before long you will see some of the others. I don’t propose to keep you here very long. It’s just a clearing station.” “You mean to say you rescue many?” demanded Sommers, wonderingly. “Several hundred so far,” was the modest reply. “It’s not often I have the chance to rope in two lots in the same twenty-four hours. Tomorrow I hope to get you to our headquarters in the country.” “Surely that will be almost impossible!” objected Lieutenant Barry. “There are nearly a dozen of us.” “We’ll manage, thanks to the fact that the Eyeties have some kind of fete day planned.

 

They’re going to have a procession such as they have in their own country, and have forced some of the Greek farmers on the edge of the city to send waggons to be decorated and used to carry some Italian tableau. I’ve an idea one of those waggons has already gone astray…Is there anyone here who can drive a team of horses?” “Aye, I was a carter in Civvy Street,” growled Corporal Jock Duncan, from the corner. “Good enough! You might come with me and see what you’re going to drive.” Outside was an enclosed courtyard, and in this stood a big farm-waggon, newly painted and decorated with the Italian colours. The canvas awning which formed a roof over it had been painted with lurid Italian country scenes. “Enough to frighten any respectable horses!” muttered Duncan. “They’ll be facing the other way,” grinned The Japer. “There will be two horses, and we’ll be somewhere near the tail of the procession. I’ll see to that. Our friends in the cellar will be your passengers.” Jock Duncan goggled. “Ye’re no going to let them ride in the procession as well?” he gasped. “Yes, that’s the idea. They’ll all have Italian uniforms and Italian flags to wave. I’ll be wearing my Bersaglieri uniform and will be officially in charge of the waggon. That’s why I can’t do the driving. We’ll just drive out of Athens after the procession as though on a joy-ride.”

 

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007