It was November 1942. Sitting in front of a fire at his mother's home not far outside of London, Alastair read Andrew's letter again. Poor lad was so homesick he could hardly bear it, but Andrew didn't want to write to his family saying anything like that. He didn't want to spoil their upcoming holidays by having them worrying about him any more than they already did, but he'd needed to get it off of his chest and wrote about it to Alastair. The tender hearted man likely wouldn't have written him either if he'd had any notion how deeply it would affect Alastair as well.
The injustice of it all hit Alastair to his core. Andrew and Peter had literally risked their lives to free him from the Germans. Due entirely to their efforts and those of the rest of Hogan's bunch, he was sitting, well-fed and warm while they were in cold, drafty barracks with barely adequate food, surrounded by guard and barbed wire far, far from their own homes and loved ones.
Thinking back on the stories he'd heard while underground at Stalag 13, he knew this would be Peter's second holiday season at the prisoner of war camp. He'd gotten a letter from Peter not long back and from it, the Cockney corporal's only holiday wish was not to be ill as he had been his first Christmas there. He'd spoken to Louis and Kinch briefly about how they and Peter had just met and knew from that how close Peter had come to dying during his first year at the camp. Rather put things in perspective on how different things were between here and there.
For the rest, Andrew, Louis, Kinch and Hogan, this would be their first holiday at the Stalag. Alastair found himself staring into the fire, frowning. There was nothing he could do to that would come close to adequately repaying the debt he felt he owed them all, but perhaps he could at least let the lads know they were thought of fondly. Warm their spirits if not their bodies. Decision made, he got up quickly. He had a lot of phone calls to make and arrangements to pull into place. What he had in mind couldn't go through regular channels.
It was less than a week before Christmas when Hogan, Newkirk and LeBeau had to sneak out one night to pick up a drop from Goldilocks that was being relayed through Jack Sprat. Among the items were some very basic medical supplies for Wilson. They couldn't just keep getting antiseptic and gauze through the Germans - not without it leading to questions about where all those supplies were being used.
Hogan couldn't help but notice the odd look on Jack Sprat's face. Nothing that hinted of anything dangerous, but the gleam in his eyes did speak highly of a secret as the supplies were passed over along with two boxes of a size that could have contained boots. At Hogan's questioning look, Jack Sprat just smiled.
"A little Christmas music for you and your men played by horn, Papa Bear."
"Thanks. Merry Christmas to the rest of the Mother Goose gang from us."
A quick shaking of hands and the trio hurried back to camp. Hogan just grinned to himself as they moved along. Newkirk and LeBeau were about as curious and excited as a kid on Christmas morning. Well, he had to admit he was pretty curious himself.
Once inside the tunnels, they moved to where Kinch was standing by the radio with Wilson nearby, waiting to check over which supplies they'd been able to get for him. Carter had just brought down coffee, so there wasn't any need to send for him. The supply box was passed over to Wilson and then the other two laid out on the table.
"What's that, Colonel?"
"Your guess is as good as mine, Kinch. From the codeword used though, I'd say our buddy Alastair has sent a little something to us."
"That's a bit odd. I mean, 'e's always sendin' us notes an' parcels th' regular way."
"Open one, mon Colonel."
"Yeah! I mean, there's no point guessing what might be inside when we can look and see, right?"
"Alright, men. We'll start with this one - it's the heaviest. Let me borrow your pencil sharpener for a minute, Newkirk."
Making use of the knife, Hogan made short work of the box's outer wrappings and opened it up, chuckling at the contents. Colorful, hard rock and ribbon candies along with peanut brittle, tea, coffee and cocoa. Hogan handed out a piece of peanut brittle to everyone, including Wilson, who was fairly beaming.
"I wonder if he had a hand in the medical supplies. I not only got everything I asked for, but some other stuff as well."
"Looks like Alastair's making sure we all have a little Christmas treat."
Even while still chewing the brittle, Carter's eyes were fixed on the second box. It was good to see him animated again - Carter had been in a slightly depressed mood since Thanksgiving. Hogan chuckled and offered over Newkirk's blade.
"Why don't you do the honors on the second box?"
"Boy! Can I?"
That got all of them laughing as Carter ripped into the second box - until they saw his expression change once it was open. He suddenly looked like he was going to start crying.
"Andrew? Wot's wrong, mate?"
"It's - "
Carter's voice was slightly choked, but a smile formed. LeBeau leaned over and looked inside.
"Mon amis - it is like mail call. It is full of envelopes and a package of some sort."
Kinch reached into the box and picked up one of the envelopes, carefully opening it to reveal a colorful Christmas card. Opening it, he looked it over and then started to smile.
"It's from Sergeant Banner - one of the first guys we helped out."
They all dug into the box then. All of the cards were from the guys that they'd helped during their operation and some from the family members of those men as well. None of them mentioning what was done or anything else that could possibly compromise the mission - just good wishes and obviously heart-felt thanks. Newkirk held up a drawing one man's daughter had done for them with so many red hearts on it that it could have been a valentine.
LeBeau left the table for a minute, coming back with twine that he began to pin to the wall opposite the map they had up. Then he took the cards that had already been passed around and started to hang them from the twine. They were all so engrossed by the cards and letters that the package was being ignored. Wilson reached over and pulled that out himself and opened it.
"Hey guys! This one is from Alastair himself - though I believe this part of the package is for you, LeBeau."
Taking what was being offered over, LeBeau looked and got slightly choked up himself. There were small, plain brown packets labeled in French. Dried herbs - Herbes de Provence, dill, chervil and others. Wiping away the start of a tear, he looked back over to Wilson.
"Merci - read the letter aloud, mon ami."
That was seconded all around, so Wilson unfolded the letter and began to read.
"I hope this package finds all of you in both good health and good spirits. Of all the things in life I have to be grateful for this year, meeting all of you ranks at the top. There are so many things I would like to say and do that simply will not be possible while we are still at war, but I hope that this little bit of holiday cheer that I was able to gather will show you that you have made an immeasurable difference to many people. To most, you are unknown soldiers - to those of us represented in this box, you are heroes. God bless each and all of you. Alastair.
PS - someone hand Andrew a handkerchief."
Laughing at that last, Newkirk passed his over - Alastair was right. The lad needed one.
Hogan looked over all of his men and smiled himself. Carter's morale going down had affected all of them and now he could practically see the revitalizing effect that the cards were having on them all. Wilson rather summed it all up as he reached into the main box for another of the cards.
"You know, Colonel? I think that the best medicine of all was in this box right here."
"I second that, Wilson. And I think I'm taking another dose of it myself."
"Could we do something special for Christmas? You know, a little fireworks would be great, boy! Err, sir."
Newkirk grinned at the renewed enthusiasm in Carter's voice.
"I think I know what could do th' trick. Don't most lads like a nice train set for Christmas? 'ow about we blow a real one up for th' 'olidays?"
"I like the way you think, Newkirk. Kinch, didn't the last contact from Miss Muffet have something about a train?"
"Sure did, Colonel."
Wilson exited with the medical supplies as the five men went into a huddle to make their plans. Once in his barracks, he wrote a short letter back to Alastair. Since it would be going through regular mail, there was little he could say, but he was sure Alastair would get the message.
"Alastair - just a quick note to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Years. Even in a POW camp, holiday cheer can arrive when you least expect it and it did arrive, brightening up some very dim spirits that needed it badly. Best to you and yours, Wilson."