Historical Fiction Fantasy Drama

Captain Westheimer knew there was a reason he primarily stuck to coffee and hot chocolate after Stalag V C opened, and it wasn’t because tea just wasn’t available—he had plenty smuggled in for his British prisoners from Switzerland—nor was it because he didn’t enjoy tea once in awhile.

It was because he couldn’t stand the intense standards tea was held to among the British, and after a particularly nasty argument between the German guards and British prisoners, Westheimer vowed to only drink tea in private.

His superior and close friend, Major Kersting, arrived one cold evening in mid-January of 1944 with several large boxes containing both bagged and loose tea in the trunk of his staff car. “I thought you all could use a present,” he said.

“Christmas was almost a month ago, Dieter,” Westheimer replied. “Frankly, I am surprised no one searched your vehicle. The smell is . . . quite powerful.”

“And delightful. This is the good stuff, far from the low-quality ration tea.”

“I gave you the names of my contacts down in Königsdorf in case of emergencies, not to do things like this! That big Christmas tree back in December was bad enough.”

“It’s just tea, my friend. Besides, your contacts didn’t seem to mind when I asked.”

“Be grateful they like you.” Westheimer rubbed his face. “Alright, bring that in the mess hall.” He looked out at the yard, and shouted, “Liebermann! Jahn!” while beckoning them with his hand.

The two jogged over. “Yes, sir?” Jahn said, saluting.

“Help the major bring these to the mess hall.” Westheimer watched Liebermann and Jahn pick up a couple of boxes, then turned to Kersting. “I still want to know what possessed you to do this.”

“The British do love their tea,” Kersting explained. “And as I recall, you have a new prisoner among your ranks.”

“Private Tretheway, yes. He is still laid up in the hospital.”

“How is he doing?”

“Stable at the moment.”

“Has he woken up at all?”

“Once or twice. Both times, he was quite disoriented. We have been trying our best to make sure he is never in pain.” Westheimer looked down at the snow, remembering the night he and Private Liebermann found the British paratrooper outside the camp with a fencepost stuck inside him. The man was certainly lucky to be alive.

“Perhaps this gift will help him feel comfortable. That, and it will make it easier to give him potions and medication when it’s necessary.”

“I hope so.” Westheimer turned to limp toward the mess hall, then looked over his shoulder. “Are you staying the night, then? It might be a good idea to get the smell of tea out of your car, just in case the Gestapo stop you on your way home. We do not need you being suspected of being part of the black market.”

“Oh, alright. I wouldn’t mind trying some of the tea, to be honest.”

It didn’t take long for word of the tea gift to reach the prisoners, who proceeded to drop whatever they were doing and jog to the mess hall. At the back of the crowd was Sergeant Plundell, who was pleading for them to keep order and be patient. His pleas fell on deaf ears, though he couldn't blame them for being excited. He hadn't had a good cup of tea in ages.

Inside, Westheimer sighed upon seeing the faces of the prisoners pressed up against the windows. “Of all the things to cause a stir,” he grumbled.

“They probably haven’t had good tea in ages,” Kersting said.

“I understand that, but they are not going to stampede in my camp.” Westheimer looked over at Liebermann. “Go out there and tell the barracks NCOs to line up their groups if they want tea.”

“Line up how, sir?” Liebermann asked.

“By rank. Lowest first. Go in order of barracks number.”

“Yes, sir.”

Westheimer could hear shouting outside as Liebermann and the prisoners tried to organize themselves. He gave another look to Kersting. “I sense this is not going to go over well. The British take their tea very seriously.”

“I understand that. Why do you think I brought milk and sugar?” Kersting asked. “Besides, it’s not like I’m the one making it.”

“Good. If you tried making it, the prisoners would just restart the war in here.”

“I can make a good cup of tea if I tried.”

“I doubt you could pass the scrutiny of an Englishman.”

“Let’s see you try. Make a cup of tea the British way and we’ll see who can do it better.”

Westheimer grinned a little. “I accept your challenge, then.”

The mess hall was soon filled with the smell of hot tea of all different varieties. Floral, fruity, and bitter scents mingled with each other. Once every prisoner and guard had been served, Westheimer took a pair of cups for himself and Kersting. He didn’t want to admit it out loud, lest Kersting made a habit out of bringing more gifts to the camp, but he was glad to see everyone enjoying themselves.

That enjoyment didn’t last long. A conversation between a couple of British soldiers and a German guard had morphed into a loud argument over the proper way to make tea. Westheimer glanced over, watching and hearing the group squabble about all the steps of making tea.

“What’s all that about?” Kersting asked.

“Corporal Fossey and Private Kesby are arguing with Private Weisser about how to make tea,” Westheimer replied.

“Oh.” Kersting’s expression gradually changed to one of concern as the arguing continued. “Should we go put a stop to it?”

“Only if they start hitting each other.”

“It’s a silly thing to argue over, isn’t it? Tea?”

Westheimer gave Kersting a look. “Did I not tell you earlier the British take tea seriously? I would be surprised if they did not come to blows over this.”

Almost as soon as Westheimer said that, Fossey and Weisser had stood up, and Fossey lunged over the table to tackle the smaller man. The crowd all turned to see the two men on the floor, swinging at each other and trying to stand. The mess hall erupted into cheering and shouting and laughter.

Liebermann pushed his way through the crowd to pull Fossey off of Weisser. As he shouted at Fossey to get off, the British soldier whirled around to punch Liebermann in the face. An enraged Plundell joined in, shoving Fossey off and screaming at him that Liebermann didn’t deserve to be hit. Instead of listening, Fossey accused Plundell of being too friendly with the Germans. The shouting soon escalated to shoving and punching.

Westheimer stood up, storming over to the crowd when he saw the issue clearly wasn’t going to resolve itself. The shouting and cheering was deafening, and fights were breaking out all over. He raised his staff, aiming it at Fossey, who had Plundell in a chokehold. As much as he hated using magic against the prisoners, he felt this particular situation warranted it. A second later, Fossey was floating in the air above the crowd, as if pulled up by invisible ropes and pulleys. His anger had quickly turned into shock and fright, and he started begging to be put down.

That is ENOUGH! Break it up, all of you!” Westheimer hollered.

The silence was equally deafening. All eyes were either on Westheimer or the levitating Fossey. A large red mark had formed under Liebermann’s right eye. Several in the crowd had similar marks or bloody noses.

“Are we all children?!” Westheimer asked.

No answer.

“I will take that as a ‘yes.’ I am deeply ashamed of you. Each and every one of you. Can we not settle our arguments like grown men?”

“You can put me down now, Captain, p-please,” Fossey stammered, waving his arms a little.

Westheimer glared at him. “No, I think I will leave you up there until I dismiss everyone, since you clearly cannot behave yourself.” He went back to looking at the crowd. “As for the rest of you, everyone who is not on night or hospital duty will be going to bed early tonight, except for those who started the fight. Fossey, Kesby, and Weisser, you will stay behind and clean the mess hall. I do not want to see any lights on in any barracks, guard or prisoner.” He looked out over the embarrassed faces. “You are dismissed. I do not want to see any of you outside your barracks until morning.”

When the guards and prisoners filed out, Westheimer lowered Fossey to the floor. “You all know the rules as well as I do, and you are lucky you are under me and not some other commandant, but that is no excuse for this behavior.” Westheimer fell silent for a moment, making eye contact with all three involved. “Maybe I am too lenient. That is why you are so comfortable acting like children with no fear of consequences.”

Kersting quietly walked over, sitting at one of the tables while facing the group. He opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it, folding his arms over his chest and choosing to observe.

“What possessed you to just strike Weisser like that?” Westheimer said to Fossey. “I know tea is an important part of your culture, but to hit a man over it is absurd.”

Fossey looked torn between getting angry and crying. “I don’t know. It got heated, that’s all.”

“The look on your face tells me there is more.”

“Well, you know how I told you when I arrived that me and my wife own a tea shop in Birmingham? It . . . hit me that I haven’t seen her in over two years.”

“So you decided to take your frustration out on Weisser.”

“I did.”

“I think it is safe to say the majority of us here have loved ones that we have not seen in awhile. That is not to dismiss your frustration and sadness, but to say that you are not alone in your suffering.”

“I understand, sir. It boiled over tonight, and it shouldn’t have. I’m sorry. And I’m sorry for socking Liebermann. Plundell’s right. Kid didn’t deserve it.”

“As much as I sympathize, punishment is still in order for starting a fight, not just with my guard, but with another prisoner, namely one who is senior to you in rank, too. You will spend tonight in solitary when you are done cleaning.”

Fossey was looking down at the floor. “Yes, sir.”

“Can I trust this will not happen again?”

“As best I can.”

“Good enough. Alright, all three of you, get to work.” As the group walked away, Westheimer turned to face Kersting. “I am sorry you had to witness that.”

“Witness what? The fight, or you tearing into them?” Kersting asked.


“Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen. But, you were right. The British take their tea quite seriously.”

“It started with Weisser not making tea the right way and escalated into a man missing his wife.”

“Did I hear correctly they own a tea shop together?”

Westheimer nodded.

“Perhaps it’s my fault. I am the one who brought the tea, after all. I set off all his memories.”

“You tried doing something nice for them. There was no ill intent involved.”

“You’re right.”

The conversation died as the two watched Fossey, Kesby, and Weisser clean up the spilled tea and sugar around where the fights took place. Glancing outside, Westheimer was glad to see there were no lights on in any building except the hospital.

“At least there is plenty of tea to last a month or two,” Kersting said.

“Yes. Thank you. And do not take that as permission to do this again. I was already terrified someone was going to find out about our little black market with that damned Christmas tree and that cake you brought for my birthday. Now my camp is going to smell like tea for the foreseeable future.”

“I thought you didn’t mind tea.”

“I enjoy a well-made cup of Earl Grey with a bit of vanilla during the evening, but that is during the evening. In the morning, I want a cup of good, strong coffee with my breakfast.”

“Which do you prefer, though? Coffee or tea?”

Westheimer thought carefully about his response, then said, “Hot cocoa.”

Fossey looked up from his mopping, glaring at Westheimer. “Blasphemy!”

January 08, 2022 19:26

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