Exercise 'Cold Wind' was in its third week and only two more to go. I was really looking forward to that, as I disliked this continual cold here in the north-west of Canada. This was meant to be Arctic warfare training, and the military had really chosen the venue right. I could see that infiltration of this area would be a very difficult problem indeed. I was going to be dropped with my spotter and we had a checkpoint we had to reach in ten days.
Bert my spotter was with the other Hercules crew playing cards up forward while I was strapped into the net seats at the back. I was trying to watch the vast land below and was stunned by the number of lakes and rivers that I could see. Occasionally small settlements could be seen, but they were few and far between. Why anyone would choose to live in this wilderness was beyond understanding.
Bang! And a hole appeared where the pilot and crew had been, there was a blast of cold freezing air rushing in with such force the back ramp doors started to open. The whole plane just seemed to glide down and within minutes it was crashing through trees, as branches pierced the outer skin and were ripping the sides open as if made of paper.
There was nothing I could do except just sit and await my fate, as I was certain that this was it, and I had only minutes to live. All the side opposite me was torn off and I saw a wing with engines cart wheeling away to the rear. The speed was slowly being taken off and came to a sudden halt as if wedged between something. All through this I sat in the hammock like seat and not a scratch or bruise was on my body, yet all around me was devastation. Fire was my worry and I made to get out of this wreckage as quickly as possible. I thought twice about leaving my rifle as I had no ammunition for it anyway, but it was too good a rifle to leave. I grabbed the rifle and my pack, slipped off my parachute and just ran out through the huge hole opposite me and away from the wreck.
The snow wasn't that deep and I was able to get a good 50 yards away in case of an explosion. When I looked at what was left I doubted that an explosion could cause any more damage, as to what was already done. The smell of fuel was strong, and had that hot kerosene smell about it. I decided to move even further back, but not too far away as I was sure rescue wouldn't be long in coming.
Here was I Corporal Hugh Darling Royal Marines, RM 133456 in the middle the North-West of Canada, in a position which I had been training for two years now. Training was completely different to the real thing, now there was no back-up close at hand. I knew that in the plane were things which could be useful for my survival, but I was hesitant to try in case of fire. So I decided to give it an hour or so before I ventured into the wreck. Anyway, I am sure by then a search would be mounted, as these planes are in constant touch, and have distress beacons, I hope.
Meantime I made a scrape, which is a hole in the snow to give me some protection in case I had to stay here a while. When I had made the scrape and everything was to my satisfaction it was well over an hour. I left my pack and loose equipment at the scrape and approached the wreck. There was a light fall of snow falling and the wind was very gentle. On the load ramp were three pallets, still shackled to the guides. I slit the straps and found that it contained Ration packs. The other contained our one-person sledges and snowshoes. The third held blank ammunition, which was as much use to me as a snowball in hell.
To be on the safe side in case I had to do a walk-out, for I was already getting a bit worried that nothing had appeared in the way of a search. This was meant to be a combined exercise with the Air Force and they had for the past week jets buzzing us nearly every hour. So I got one of the sledges and loaded it with as many ration packs I could safely pull. I took two cartons of solid fuel cooker fuel as well, at least I was going to have a hot drink if nothing else. Bert's pack was still attached to the seat he had been in before he went forward so this I took also and tied them all down with two pairs of snowshoes lashed to the top. The load was light enough for me to pull now, and I hoped that it wouldn't be too heavy after I had pulled it for some time. I dragged it to the scrape and crawled in for the wait.
Night fell quickly, just before four in the afternoon, and the temperature dropped as quick. Deep under the snowdrift I heard the wind increase in speed and I was glad that I had the fortitude to have made the scrape earlier. I crawled into my sleeping-bag and went to sleep.
I knew it was day as the light was filtering trough the snow of the scrape. I wriggled out and was confronted with a white landscape, even the wreck was slowly being covered. I dug out the sledge, which was completely buried. The sky was grey and I doubt if any rescue craft would ever see the wreck even travelling at tree height. I hoped the emergency beacon wherever it was on the plane was still sending out a signal.
Food was the most important item to keep my body nourished and combat the cold. It is surprising the amount of snow you have to melt to get a decent mug full, I was slowly melting handful after handful in my mess-mug on the solid fuel cooker until I had enough for my need. I watched it boil and made myself a cup of soup from the instant soup package that I carried. Pea and Ham soup must be the most produced variety, for that seems to be the only type I have had recently. Anyway, it was nice and hot and really warmed me up. As I stood and stamped my feet, why I don't know for they weren't cold at all.
That day nothing, no sound of aircraft not even in the distance, surely a search had been mounted, after this length of time. I kept looking at the map I had been issued with, but it wasn't for this area at all but for an area at least a half-hours flying time away which is about 200 miles further east. We had just crossed the Mackenzie Mountains and I was almost certain I had spotted the Franklin River before the bang. Down below looked desolate and no signs of habitation, but we had travelled over settlements prior.
I started working out in my head which way I should go. If nothing turns up by tomorrow, as it was pointless just sitting here. I know the instructions were always to stick at the crash site, but we were always told that a rescue would be made within hours. Now it was over 24 hours and nothing. I would give them another 24 hours then I was going to trek out, east.
I gave them another 36 hours and I heard nothing, so I attached all my gear to the sled. Got my map case and placed an 'X' on the plastic sheet with the chinagraph pencil and started a line east, I was going to try to map my way as I got out.
After about six hours I came to a river and started following it but it started to flow north and there was no way I was going to be able to cross this fast-flowing water. Slightly north I spied a lake through the trees and to the North-West another. I could see no rivers running out at this side, so they must be emptying on their north side, no doubt flowed into a larger river complex. Where there was a lot of water there surely would be settlements. So I marked what I had observed, estimated the distance I had travelled, and now headed north.
The snow was sparse among the trees and at times non-existent, for the fir trees acted like a blanket above and even kept the cold wind out. The difficulty was steering a straight course and I had to continually check on my compass. These trees went on for miles and the ground undulated, it was difficult pulling the sledge uphill, and almost as difficult to restrain it when going down the other side. I had to spend the night curled up close to the sledge in my sleeping-bag. This time I hadn't the comfort of a snow covering to keep me warm. The night was long and cold and I was glad when the first show of light allowed me to get a meal inside me and get on my way.
Late that afternoon as I was crossing a large open area out of nowhere a snowstorm raged and high wind to such an extent I could hardly see two feet in front of me. I estimated where I had seen a rock outcrop and with head down and leaning into this wind moved forward. It was like being in a wind-tunnel with the added bit of the driving snow. How long I battled into that I have no idea, but eventually I reached a tree line and could go no further. I was totally exhausted and I think I broke every rule in the book. I curled up at the side of the sledge and dropped off to sleep as the cold seemed to creep into every part of my body.
Slowly I came to, I tingled in every part of my body like pins and needles. Against my cold body I felt something warm at my front, I thought I was in heaven for I could almost swear that in my face was buried in a bundle of long hair. My arm was over the body in front of me and being held by a pair of small hands close to their body against bare smooth skin. The pins and needles got worse as I slowly became more aware of my surroundings. The light was dim when I opened my eyes and I caught the scent of perfumed hair in my face. I knew she was a young woman by the feel of her skin and the swell of her breast. How the hell did I land up here I thought. I don't think this is standard military procedure, to get someone warm. I knew right away that I must have passed out in the storm, and been found somehow, and I was being revived.
My movement must have alerted the young woman that I was awake, and she turned to face me. Her complexion was a very light brown as though she had spent a few days out in the sun. Her hair was dark; her eyebrows thick, a beautiful face with sensual lips and dark-brown eyes were looking at me. There was a slight smile on her lips.
"So at last you have decided to waken, you have been asleep for two days."
"How did I get here?"
"I carried you here, got you undressed and have been trying to get you warm, first with rocks then with my body."
"Well your body feels lovely and warm to me."
"Just don't get any funny ideas, I only lay with you to get you thawed out, I will get you a hot drink."
She rolled out of bed and turned up the light. God had I been lying alongside that body? She wasn't tall about 5ft 3in wide hips, not a slim waist but no fat showing. Her breasts were medium-sized but proportional to the rest of her. Her hair reached all the way down her back and shone in the light. She slipped on a pair of cotton panties, a slip and a thick dress, but no bra, slipped into moccasins and walked out of my view.
I looked around and discovered I was in a cavern, which had been converted into a living quarters, and there were about a dozen single bunks attached to one side. At the open side of the cavern had been erected a log wall with two large windows that were easy six feet wide and about three high with the door in the middle. There was a long table in the middle and a stove fire against the other wall, with three easy chairs either side. A door led through a hole which also had been logged up to somewhere behind the double bed. The bed looked out of place in this room.
I got out of bed and found all my clothes neatly folded on a chair near the bed. I dressed quickly, not because it was cold, for it felt warm in the cavern and I could see snow piled high through the window. I walked over and sat near the end of the table closest to the young woman who was standing by the stove. It was then that I noticed a handcuff on each of her wrists, with the broken link dangling on her right cuff.
"Yes I am an escaped convict, I was being transported to a prison in America, I escaped and came here just over a year ago. You'd better know also that I was being jailed for murder, but I was only defending myself, as he was trying to rape me."
"I don't care what you have done or why you are here, you saved my life and I am very grateful. I know these handcuffs though and I know you must have a diamond blade to cut them, but they have been withdrawn from service as they have a flaw and if you know how, are easy to open. Come over here and I will have you out of them in just a few minutes."
"You can? Oh how I have cursed these things, that is why I have stayed here, if I could get them off I would leave in the spring." She came over and put both her hands out in front of me. I used the marlin spike of my knife and pressed up into the lock hole and the cuff fell off, I repeated it on the other. She reached forward and kissed me full on the mouth, then turned away rubbing her wrists, with a big grin on her face.
"I'm called Thelma Mankowiz, well that is the name I have been using for years, in case you don't know I am a Blackfoot Indian, but I have never lived on a reservation. What is a British Soldier doing here in Canada?"
"We are on exercise here, but I was in a plane crash and was making my way out, when the blizzard struck. I am not a British soldier, I am a Royal Marine."
"All the same to me, all soldiers the same, want to drag a woman to bed. What's your name anyway?"
It was obvious that she had lived or been in contact with Army and didn't have a high opinion of soldiers.
"Oh sorry Hugh, Hugh Darling,"
"Is Darling your name, must get a bit confusing, Darling, darling." She laughed, I've had that joke that many times that I just ignore it now.
She sat down on the seat opposite me and I noticed that she must have been into my pack for the tube of condensed milk was on the table as well as the two tea bags from my ration pack.
"Yes I haven't had a cup of tea since I've been up here and when I saw the amount you had I just had to take it. You said you were in a blizzard, but that was four days before I found you, you surely never lay out there for four days. No wonder you took so long to come to."
"How did you find this place, and what is it?" I asked indicating the cavern.
"A friend of mine used to work here, this was the living quarters for miners, but the ore ran out. They just left everything as it was, there is a large storeroom at the back and I have made do with game, supplemented with what is in the storeroom. Is there any more food and supplies at the crash site?"
"Yes but I can't see us getting there in this weather."
"It will be easier now the snow has hardened, I think we should go and get as much as we can. What about leaving first light tomorrow, I hope you remember where it is?"
"Yes I drew a map as best I could."
"Good, get some rest as we will need it, use one of the single bunks, I put your gear over there."
"Where is the sledge, I was hauling a sledge."
"It must be still outside then, let's go and get it."
We clothed up and went outside, she showed me where she had found me which was close to the woodshed and only about ten yards from the front door. We rummaged around and found it covered by snow, but it was frozen in, with a little wiggling and pulling we managed to get it out and pulled it into the cavern.
Thelma acted as if it was Christmas as she quickly pulled everything apart and her eyes lit up at all the food that was on the sledge.
"There is more like this on the crash; we will live like kings this winter if there is."
She also liked Bert's sleeping-bag, but turned her nose up when she unrolled it. "It smells awful like pig fat has been spilt on it." Then threw it outside.
We left early the next morning and made good progress, pulling the almost empty sledge, taking it in turn to pull it. The darkness fell, I remembered the spot as it was here that I had spotted the two lakes. I tried to scrape a hole in the frozen ground but made no progress so I stood the sledge on its side and got behind it. Thelma had a fur blanket and lay down about five yards from me. I only took off my outer clothes and got into the double thickness sleeping-bag. I hadn't been in it for more than half an hour when Thelma came and asked if she could get in with me. She too took off her outer coat, placed it and her blanket on top of the sleeping-bag and got in and we cuddled up. She was freezing and I held her close.
As I was hugging her she kissed me on the lips gently then started to grind her mouth on to mine. There was nothing I could do, we were so cramped and we had all our clothes on. So I just returned her kisses.
"Not trying to get fresh, that is a first."
"Thelma, there isn't much room in here and I am sure you would object anyway, but the winter isn't over yet we have plenty of time."
"Maybe by then I will know you better, but do you want to be a squaw-man. They still shun men who go with Indian women you know."
"I don't care, no-one where I come from says anything like that, and as far as I'm concerned you're a very attractive woman, and I'm happy to know you. Now go to sleep, and cuddle up."
"Yes I like cuddling up, your sleeping-bag doesn't smell like pig fat, why?"
"Thelma, shut up and go to sleep."
"Yes master, darling. Ha, ha."
The night passed quickly and we were on our way well before sunrise, the visibility was better than I thought because of the moonlight and we arrived at the crash site just after sunrise. Nothing had been touched and now the wreck was almost completely covered in snow, It had backed up on the side which had the skin on and the interior was almost the same as when I had left.
We loaded up four sledges and tied two together, any more and we would never have managed it, as it is I think we are going to be pushing the envelop.
The smell of the kerosene was almost gone and I took the opportunity to have a look at the cockpit area to see if there were any flashing lights or something to show a signal being sent out. I could see nothing; in fact there was nothing at all in that area just dangling wires and ragged metal.
We started on our way back wasting no further time, I think we had enough food to last us, all through the winter.
As we trudged along side by side, I started asking Thelma about herself.
"You said you chose the name Thelma Mankowiz, why what was wrong with your own?"
"No-one know me by my real name, it's too Indian, it is Jenny Blackwater."
"Well I would rather use that one than the one you have chosen. If the police don't know your Indian name why not switch back to that, I think you look like a Jenny anyway."
"Well if you like it you can call me Jenny, you say it different, I like the way you say Jenny."
God she kept up a good pace, I thought I would be having trouble with her lagging behind but she kept up with me and I think she deliberately pushed herself to prove something. We kept right on through the day eating sweets to keep up our energy but eventually we had to call it quits, cook something hot and have a rest.
There was no request tonight about sharing the sleeping-bag, she just crawled in with me and we cuddled up, I was getting used to her and I know she now felt a lot more comfortable with me. She lay a long-time just looking at my face, but I couldn't tell what she was thinking, she was definitely thinking about something. Anyway I soon dropped off. She wakened me and held her finger to her lips, then pointed, I turned my head slowly and there was a bear just lumbering past. This was the first bear I had ever seen close up and it was huge, it paid no attention and just lumbered away out of sight. I thought bears slept all winter, now I found out they all don't and this one was proof of that.
It was lovely and bright with the full moon, we had had five hours sleep so we decided to press on and get back to our cavern. We were on the last leg anyway and I sure was glad to be in out of the cold. The sledges were dragged into the back to be unloaded later. The room was cold with only a small shut down fire. I went to the woodshed which was really another cave complex and was amazed at the size and the amount of cut timber stacked up. Also I now found out where the water came from for deep inside was a small leakage from the rocks and a small pool which seemed to flow down into the depths almost back on to itself.
I loaded up the basket with firewood and took them into our quarters, and stacked the logs in the container at the side, and returned for another load. On returning Jenny (For that is what I am going to call her from now on) had the fire burning. The top was getting warm so warming the room The kettle on the hole where the lid had been removed was now boiling, so a coffee was made and we sat down at the table.
"Would you like a bath, I could put the water on to boil but we would have to share the water, or it would take all night to heat enough for two baths."
"Where is the bath, I haven't seen a bath."
"It's out the back, we would have to lift it in front of the fire, there is two containers that we heat the water in there also."
"Sure I'll be the gentleman and allow you to bathe first."
So we got the two containers which looked like old square Kerosene tins with the top removed and sat them on the stove. We prepared a meal from the ration packs, and this was one of the few times I really appreciated them.