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11: "Personal... From Budapest"

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"Personal... From Budapest"(1)


This is my personal testament of what happened in the bloodstained streets of Budapest, of how men and women, boys and girls died in the thousands, and of how I myself fought with a group of insurgents, until a direct hit from a Soviet tank all but wiped us out.

Two days later I was twice shot in the head by a Soviet sentry. For days I lay desperately ill in hospital, after blood transfusions and an operation. Finally, badly wounded though I was, I decided to escape across the fields under the guns of the Russian tanks.

Day by day, night by night, bitter fighting was tearing the heart out of one of the fairest cities of Eastern Europe. I can't decide which day was the most terrible; for me, the war against the Russians started on

Thursday, October 25

It was foggy when I crossed the border at 9:30 P.M. I had flown from London to Austria that afternoon, and [25/81] my newspaper, the London Daily Mail, had arranged for a hired car to be ready for me at Vienna Airport. For three days now no real news had come out of Budapest. The telephones were cut, the cables were dead. I was determined to get to Budapest that night, see the extent of the carnage, and then drive to the frontier the following day and hand over my dispatch to a waiting colleague. Then I would return to battle-stained Budapest.

The drive in was not too bad. I was searched eleven times, mostly by Russians, but the only big holdup was at the industrial town of Gyor, sixty-six miles from Budapest. Half a dozen Russians scrambled out of the darkness, stripped the car bare and examined everything. An officer who spoke fair German opened my suitcase and gasped, "What is this?"

"This" was two dozen diapers, a baby's pajamas embroidered with animals, bibs, and a tiny dressing gown. That morning in London -was it only that morning?- I had been buying things for our new-born baby, and I hadn't had time to unpack them.

The Russians let me go, but then, only 200 yards farther on, the main road was blocked by at least thirty tanks. Russian troops crouched round a campfire, drinking and smoking -one was even warming his bare toes. Again they stopped the car and again I was searched. It took me half an hour more to get through Gyor, and it was nearly one A.M. before I reached Budapest. Suddenly I heard for the first time the rolling thunder of heavy guns. It was a sound that for days and nights was going to be the background music to the awful drama in which I became involved.

I wanted to reach the Duna Hotel in Pest, but the road from Vienna takes you first to Buda, and then you must cross the river.

In the outskirts of Buda, my headlights shone on wet, foggy streets and the stark evidence of war-smashed windows, electric poles torn down, skeletons of burned-out cars and trucks littering the skiddy roads. As I drove on, I ran into a curtain of trailing electric-street-car wires. Freedom fighters had cut them so that they dangled from their supports. These tangles of wire were antitank traps; time and again they became entangled in my wheels or fenders.

Near the square facing the Chain Bridge over the Danube, the front wheels dropped into a hole where fighters had torn up the paving stones to build barricades. The whole square was a mass of wreckage. The famous café at the corner was a ruin and the terrace was littered with a thousand smashed chairs. In one corner four burned-out trucks made a barricade behind which men could fight. Half a dozen big trees had been uprooted and dropped across the road. The trailing electric cables festooned the whole square.

The gunfire did not seem too close, but I switched off my headlights. When I had got the. car out of the hole, I tried to drive without lights. It was impossible; I immediately dented one fender against a tree trunk. Then my front bumper became entangled in electric cables, and it took me a quarter of an hour to get free.

I switched on my lights again and went slowly forward. On the left, the Chain Bridge came into view, shadowy and ghostly. In front were half a dozen barricades. There was a sudden crack of automatic fire from one barricade, and then an enormous roar from a tank halfway across the bridge. I heard a shell whistle across the car. The Russians had seen my lights and opened up.

I switched off the motor and the lights and dived underneath the car. Three more shells came tearing across the dark night. Then the barricade -obviously manned by freedom fighter- opened a counterattack. A dozen machine guns roared out, and by peeping round the front of the car I could see men dropping on the center of the bridge.

I had been crouched half under the car for ten minutes when a small figure ran across the square and dived onto the ground beside me. It was a girl. She wore a dirty green raincoat, and had an automatic slung over her shoulder. In bad German she asked who I was. When I said I was British, she started whispering in passable English.

"Are you hurt?" she asked.

"No, I'm fine."

"They fire on you, the Russkies. They always fire on automobile lights."

The firing had died down. She told me to get into the car; she would lead me across the square. I was guided through tank traps to a side street, where we left the car. Two freedom fighters came to see who we were.

"Ah," I heard one say. "Ilona."

It was the first time I heard her name.

"The fighters will look after the car," she said. "Nobody will steal anything. Now I must return to the barricade.' Do you like to come?"

I pushed a bottle of whisky into the deep pocket of my overcoat and we walked back down the little side street to the square. On an impulse I stopped at [81/82] the corner and shook hands and thanked her.

She was tall and straight and twenty-two. She told me later she had been married, but was now divorced. She had very black hair in funny tight curls, and large gray eyes, and she wore a cheap scarf knotted round her throat. Her face was black with grime, but I could see she had fine bones. She was wearing slacks and bright blue ballerina shoes, of the sort so popular in America.

I said, "Your feet must be very cold."

"They are." Her gray eyes smiled. "Let us go back to the barricade."

This was Ilona. I took her arm and we walked on, our feet crunching on a carpet of broken glass. We were not twenty yards from the barricade when the whole heaven around us seemed to burst with an enormous clap as the firing started again. The roar of the heavy guns was answered by the blast of fifty automatics from all parts of the square. We dived on the ground, crawled on all fours for the shelter, and hurled ourselves in.

Here I stayed four hours, sharing the battle with the nine people who manned the post. With the exception of Ilona and one man, all were under twenty. One other was a girl, with a red smear seeping through a rough bandage on her leg. Around the square were ranged half a dozen other strong points manned by freedom fighters.

We were in the center of the square and here the fighters had somehow dragged three railway passenger carriages across the streets from a nearby railway siding. Once these enormous vehicles were in the square, hundreds of people had upturned them so they lay with the steel undersides of the coaches facing the bridge. They gave some protection against shelling.

By two A.M. the moon had brightened and the fog started to lift; I could see for the first time the faces in the barricade. The firing would suddenly die down at intervals, and then we would crouch down and pass the bottle round and try to talk. One man spoke excellent English. He was twenty-eight, the oldest fighter there. The next morning, after a fierce argument, I persuaded him to leave the fighters and do an even more important job for Hungary -help tell his country's story by staying with me as guide and interpreter. His name was Denes. He was an economist, and he knew Imre Nagy, who was temporarily in power. Within a couple of days all the foreign correspondents in Budapest were to know Denes and seek his help. He was very neat, like a clerk, and wore rimless glasses. With his sub-machine gun, he looked like an elderly student mixing with the juniors at a campus rifle range.

One of the other fighters was only fifteen. He was wearing overalls and a bandoleer of ammunition. It was incredible. Fifteen! A schoolboy. He was called Janos. He had a funny little upturned nose and hair that no bush could ever control.

The moment he saw me, he chuckled and held his gun up over the parapet and screamed across to the bridge, "Russki mata!" (Russians, go home!(2)) Fifteen! Amidst all the dirt and noise, Janos touched me more than any of the others -the grinning face of a freckled kid, seen in a sudden burst of moonlight.

The other girl was young, too, but she was not smiling. She took a drink, then stood with the boys at the corner, her gun at the ready. Her body was taut and terrified.

When the firing started again, Ilona crept into the center upturned carriage and lay down to fire on the bridge through slits in the steel chassis. I lay by her side. About 3:80 A.M. one of the other barricades got a direct hit from a Soviet tank. In an instant the square was lit by a great sheet of flame.

"Some of our Molotov cocktails burning," said Ilona bitterly.

Before the flames petered out, we could see survivors from the barricade running the twenty yards or so to the shelter of buildings on the edge of the square. Not one of them made it. Soviet machine guns raked the corner until every one was killed.

Denes was lying by the next slit. There was nothing to fire at. All the Russians were inside the tanks. Denes said nothing. I saw him take out his handkerchief and carefully wipe his rimless glasses.

Ten minutes later, our turn came. Most of us were in the center coach, but two fighters, including the fifteen-year-old boy, were firing from the right-hand coach. A shell tore it to splinters. There was a terrifying roar and whistle as the shell landed, and a tearing sound as though a giant were crushing matchwood into splinters. It was all over in seconds. The whole barricade opened blind machine-gun fire.

Ilona clutched my arm. "I daren't move. Can you go and see if they need help?"

I scrambled backwards out of the coach and groped my way to the right-hand corner of the barricade. The whole coach had been wrenched apart. One of the fighters lay there without any head. I heard a cry and tore away at the wreckage until I reached Janos. He was still alive. I lifted him up as carefully as I could. He was trying to smile. He gasped, "Russki mata!" I got his head and shoulders pillowed in my right arm. I gave him a drink, then lit a cigarette and put it in his mouth. He took a few puffs. His life was going quickly, but he clung to his gun and kept trying to give me that naughty-boy grin. I stroked his hair back until his head dropped into the crook of my arm. He was dead.

At 5:30, as dawn chased away the night, the Russian tanks moved back along the Chain Bridge toward Pest. An enormous cheer went up from the people. The battle was over, for the time being. Denes, Ilona and I walked back to her apartment and I lay down on the sofa and slept. So ended my first night in Budapest.

Friday, October 26.

I felt a gentle hand touch me, and there was Ilona with a steaming cup.

"I know," she said in the pedantic voice of one who has learned English from books, "that British people cannot start the day without a cup of tea."

I looked at my watch. I had slept like a dead man -for exactly forty minutes. That morning Denes and I managed to drive into Pest. The two main bridges -the Chain Bridge and the Margaret Bridge- were crawling with Russian troops, but we made a detour way back to the Stalin Bridge, where the few Hungarian soldiers on sentry-go let us through. In the cold sunlight, as I drove round the city, I saw for myself the whole great tragedy. Beautiful Budapest was slowly dying. Enormous flags of black crepe hung from almost every window, flanked by Hungarian flags with holes in the center where the hated red star had been cut out. All the streets and the beautiful squares were littered with broken glass, burned-out cars and tanks, and rubble. From all parts of the city came the heavy, rolling thunder of gunfire. I drove around one corner, and al the end of the street I saw desperate hand-to-hand fighting. I turned another and saw tanks firing point-blank into houses and shops. At the corner of Stalin Avenue two T-34 tanks lumbered past, dragging bodies behind them, as a warning to the Hungarians.

There had been some talk of looting and at one corner Denes saw two kids trying to force open a shop window.

"We stop the car," said Denes, "and give the boys a good thrash!"

But they weren't looting at all. Both were under ten. One held some dry black crusts, the other a cigarette tin full of water. They were trying to feed a puppy imprisoned in the shop.

In the next street, where three Russian tanks stood disabled, I counted the bodies of fifteen teenagers who had been killed. Just around the corner stood a long, patient queue of old women, waiting for the chance to buy bread.

At the Duna Hotel I found chaos. Food was running out, and from all around the building came the crackle of machine-gun fire. In front, where the road almost laps the river, a long column of Russian tanks was rumbling past. Across the Danube I could see a small fire blazing.

It was on this day that I was able to piece together the enormity of the wicked crime the Russians had perpetrated, so often against women and children. And it was now, too, that I was able to realize the foulness of the AVH -the dreaded Hungarian secret police.

The fighters had already demanded that Nagy get rid of the Russians, but even more insistent were their demands that every single member of the AVH should be shot or imprisoned. These had been the henchmen of the hated Stalinist dictator, Matyas Rakosi, before he was kicked out. They had sent thousands of innocent Hungarians to the slave camps.

I saw many of them killed that day. Halfway through the morning Denes and I were walking back from the British Legation. Nothing was happening, but we stood in a doorway as machine-gun fire opened up nearby. A man in a small car came slowly round the corner. A knot of men stood there.

Suddenly there was a cry. "Death to the Avo!" (AVH in Hungarian is pronounced "Avo" as in "Bravo.") The men swooped on the car. In thirty seconds it had been overturned. In two minutes the crowd around the car had swollen to over 100. They dragged the AVH man out of the driving seat. Somebody fired a shot int the gas tank and the car went up in flames. Then the crowd set on the man. He tried to run, but as I watched they beat him to death. They left him a twisted heap, lying in a sea of broken glass. I did not move until everyone else in the square had vanished. Then Denes and I ran back to the safety of my hotel.

What I found so terrible was the completely merciless brutality of the Russians and the AVH. They knew they could never win a street war with tanks, so they slaughtered the innocent. Most of the Hungarian troops had joined the insurgents -and this the Russians could never forgive, especially as the soldiers were supplying the fighters with arms. Already there were 10,000 dead and 40,000 injured, and the figure was to be doubled before the end of the blood bath. Yet the teen-age army fought on, and the Russians couldn't stop them. That morning I saw Russian tanks lumbering up a broad avenue, only to be trapped by the ever-present festoon of hanging electric cables. Behind them, armed with submachine guns and gasoline bottles, hundreds of fighters were advancing. As soon as a tank turret opened, they rushed forward with one combined surge, laughing at death. Time after time, they disabled a tank and killed the crew.

The only way the Russians could combat this, and the only way the terrified AVH could strike back, was by murder. That was no doubt the reason for the massacre in Parliament Square on the morning of the day I arrived. Unarmed civilians, among them many women, spontaneously organized a quiet, orderly demonstration. They marched to Parliament Square. In the square, a dozen Soviet tanks were ranged. The crowd sang patriotic songs. There was no demand for the crowd to disperse. The commander gave the order and the tanks opened fire.

It was cold-blooded murder. Hundreds were mowed down. So grisly was the massacre that they were still carting away the dead the next morning. Denes and I saw them take away the last twelve truckloads of bodies.

There was another massacre on Friday afternoon, and this I saw with my own eyes. Here is how it happened:

I had decided to drive for the frontier to send a news story and photographs to the London Daily Mail, returning to Budapest the same night. I had some difficulty leaving. The Chain Bridge was packed with troops, so Denes and I drove to the Margaret Bridge. The Russians fired at us. Eventually we managed to cross the Stalin Bridge, and so I came to the terrible scene of death that struck the little country town of Magyarovar.

It was a pleasant town of pink and white houses, a bare ten miles from the [82/83] Austrian frontier. The fields around it were yellow with shocks of wheat. It had a number of factories and an academy for agricultural students. Denes and I were driving through the main street when the still autumn air was broken by heavy bursts of machine-gun fire. I was surprised. In Budapest the guns never ceased, but out in the country there was no serious fighting. Then I heard grenades exploding.

I swung the car around toward a sort of village green facing the town hall. It was not five minutes away, but before we reached it the firing had stopped.

As we came upon the scene I saw the tears well up in Denes' eyes. I banged my foot down on the brake of the car. I did everything I could to stop vomiting. I had come face to face with a scene so terrible that I can only pray to God I shall never see the like of it again.

The whole field was alive and moving with dying bodies, their limbs wriggling. I was reminded of freshly caught fish flopping in the bottom of a boat. I will not attempt to describe the screams and the crying of the wounded and the dying. In one corner of the field a bunch of AVH men were nonchalantly walking back to their barracks with two machine guns.

While I was there eighty-two people died. I know the figure exactly, for the next day I counted all the bodies myself. More than 200 more were wounded. More than half of them were school children. Right in front of me was a young mother and a baby. Both were dead. When doctors and nurses had cleared the bodies away, the whole field was dyed red. It looked just like the fields where Hungarian peasants lay red peppers out to dry. Before I left I saw in one corner something I hope never to see again -a pile of arms and legs that no longer belonged to people dead or alive.

But why did it have to happen? Why this incredible, senseless butchery? It all started -just as the demonstration in Parliament Square started- with an orderly, unarmed demonstration. Eighty per cent of the marchers were students from the school. Passers-by joined in. They made their way to the park in front of the town hall and asked to present the students' demands to the local mayor.

The boys were in the front. At each corner of the park were semicircular trenches, each housing a machine-gun nest manned by the AVH. A song started. The music swelled from the crowd of several hundred -and then it happened. Machine-gun bullets swept across the front of the crowd -mostly boys from the school. Hundreds of people, those who were still alive, ducked to the ground. The machine guns stopped. Three members of the AVH ran out and hurled hand grenades into the crowd. When the people jumped up to escape, the machine guns started up again.

That is what happened on this mild autumn afternoon in Magyarovar.

While we stayed and helped the wounded, a stunned town started its swift retribution. From the nearest town came six small scout cars with freedom fighters. Even as the doctors were clearing away the dead, the freedom fighters surrounded the AVH headquarters. About twenty secret police were inside. Those who came out were taken prisoner. The commandant escaped in an ambulance. All but two of the rest were shot in the fighting. These two were the men who had actually fired the machine guns. They were given to the crowd and dispatched by hand.

Denes and I got into the car again, and went to the frontier, where I handed over my story and photographs. Then, as dark fell, I started back for the guns of Budapest.

Sunday, October 28

This was the day the Russians shot me. In all, by now, they had shot at my car about a dozen times.

On Saturday and Sunday, Denes and I again raced to the frontier and back to Budapest. By Sunday the Soviet circle of steel was slowly crushing the dying city. It was already dark when I returned from the frontier. There was a big Soviet tank astride the main road ten miles outside the city. This time there was no going through. Two soldiers -they were Mongolians, the first time I had seen these latest reinforcements- advanced with machine guns. We were ordered back. All routes into Budapest were blocked. It took us three hours, but we managed to reach the city by making a detour from the town of Dorog across country to a village called Tatabanya. From here a cart track led to the capital, and by nine o'clock I was back in the Duna Hotel.

There I went to have a drink with one of my oldest buddies, Sefton (Tom) Delmer, the ace correspondent of London's Daily Express. He and I had been in [83/84] and out of many a scrape together. He said rumors were sweeping the city that the Russian troops were finally pulling out. Denes managed to get through on the phone to some government people, and they confirmed it. It seemed vital that the three of us should take the car and cruise around to see if this was true.

It certainly wasn't. On the Margaret Bridge a column of Soviet infantry was waiting. As we turned the corner a machine gun let fly at us. I backed that car faster than any man has ever backed a car before, and turned down the main street. Flying the Union Jack and a white flag, I drove at a snail's pace to avoid getting entangled in hanging cables.

A hundred yards farther on stood a Russian with a Tommy gun. I dimmed my lights and waited for an order to halt. None came. Quite unafraid, I drove slowly past him.

I remember only one thing. As I saw his face, the little swine was grinning. Then he opened fire at point-blank range. Six bullets ripped into the side of the car. One smashed a wheel, another blew off the exhaust pipe. Then two or three bullets smashed the left-hand windows and the windscreen. Before I knew what had happened, my eyes and my left ear were filled with a gush of hot blood.

I knew I had been hit. In ten seconds the blood was soaking through my suit and my shirt was sticking to my chest. I jammed the brakes. Tom jumped out and went straight up to the little Russian and started raving at him. I managed to get out of the car -just how I shall never know. I staggered round, almost collapsing, and urged Tom to get me to a doctor. On three and a half wheels we drove to the British Legation.

They bedded me down and covered me with a dozen blankets and hot-water bottles. But it took an hour for the doctor to reach me, and I was losing an enormous quantity of blood.

His first words were, "He needs a transfusion, even before the operation."

We got an ambulance and drove to the nearest hospital. We had lights ablaze and we flew a red cross, but it made no difference. Twice on the way the Russians opened fire on us. That night I was operated on for an hour. I had been hit twice in the head. They sewed me up with about fifty stitches. Not a bone had been touched. It was a miracle.

Monday, October 29, to Friday, November 2

For five days I lay in a hospital jammed with 500 wounded. On Monday morning heavy firing opened round the hospital. Some of the AVH had escaped into the building and we were surrounded by freedom fighters. For three days we lived behind a curtain of machine-gun fire.

On that first morning, Ilona managed to get inside. She was crying a little, and she looked lovely, even with a Tommy gun.

She leaned over and kissed me, and said, "When this is all over, you go home. I have been thinking. I want to go. Will you take me out of Hungary?"

I promised her I would.

Denes got in every day because he could easily prove that he was a freedom fighter -now, as he described himself- "a liaison officer with the British."

For three days the AVH and the fighters fought a pitched battle round the hospital. On Wednesday afternoon three of the secret police who had been hiding in the cellars managed to get up to the third floor where my room was. In the next ward were twenty shot-up boys, many of them sleeping two in a bed. Suddenly machine-gun fire rattled down the corridor. There was a burst in the next ward. I heard afterward that two AVH men were shot there.

As the guns fired, the door of our room burst open, and in came the third AVH man. The wounded doctor and I waited in terror for his pursuers. Everything was so confused that we thought he was being chased by Russians.

The AVH man didn't wait to be shot. As the machine-gun burst died down in the next ward, the man dived for a tall window. He wrenched it open as the freedom fighters swung through the door. Without a sound -not even a cry- he hurled himself from the third floor into the street below.

By Thursday the fighters had won, and the shooting had ceased. Denes came to see me with Ilona, and I asked him what the situation was like.

"At last," he replied slowly, "I am beginning to believe the Russians are leaving Budapest. They have promised Nagy to leave all Hungary soon. There is no more fighting."

"Yet I still can't believe," said Ilona, puzzled, "that the Russkies will ever take defeat like this, so easily."

She had to leave early. "I have to go and queue for bread," she smiled, and I never thought of the disaster into which she was walking or that I should never see her again.

I asked Denes to find out from Nagy what the situation really was like. Despite the cease fire, I could not rid myself of the fear that this was not the victory for which we had all fought. Something was wrong somewhere.

We had always faced the trouble that the freedom fighters had no central leader with whom Nagy could treat. Otherwise I am sure the revolution would have ended with a partial victory days before, and Hungary could then have settled with Russia more in the manner that Poland has done.

But Nagy would appeal for a cease fire. Half the fighters would obey. The Russians would then stop. And then some irresponsible section of fighters would open up without any orders. It was impossible to get any stabilized position. And, of course, every time Nagy promised the students everything they wanted, they asked for more. Brave though they were, they had no political sense at all.

The doctors said I needed eight days in hospital, then a few days' convalescence, before I could leave for Vienna. This seemed all right, provided I could get out of Hungary when I was fit.

A desperate, uneasy calm hung over the twisted ruins of the city. Early on Friday, Denes returned. I knew on the instant that he had bad news. He took off his glasses and polished them, and for the first time he used my Christian name.

"Noel," he began, "I saw Nagy's secretary last night. First, the Russians are not leaving. Reinforcements are pouring in. Already there are four great camps of Mongolian troops a few miles outside Budapest. And secondly, Nagy himself has been asked by the Russians where you are. Nobody can leave the country -and they tell me that specially includes you, because of what you have written."

It was the longest speech I ever heard Denes make, and I knew what it meant. I might spend the rest of my life behind the Iron Curtain.

"Denes," I said, "I'm going to try to get out tomorrow -and you're coming with me."

He looked at me very sadly. "You know I cannot come. If we have won -and perhaps we have- I must stay and help. If we have lost, I must stay and fight." He hesitated and added shyly, "But Ilona is coming to see you again. She wants to go. She has been brave enough. Take her with you."

But Ilona never came. Not until late that night did I find out what had happened. Around lunchtime there was a small outburst of fighting in Buda near her apartment. A group of fighters climbed on a tank and killed the crew. Another Russian tank swung round and machine-gunned them; and then, out of spite, the gunner turned his fire on a queue of women waiting to buy bread. Ilona was in the queue. Apparently she was only shot through the legs, but a Russian tank lumbered back and ran over all who were still alive.

Dear, dear Ilona! And she had looked so lovely that morning, and I thought the fighting was over, and as she kissed me good-by, I told her that I would take her to my farm in Switzerland and she should stay with my family. Poor Ilona!

That night I went, wrapped in blankets, to the Duna Hotel. I was too weak to drive, so I asked Tom Delmer to drive me to the border. We decided to leave at 6:30 the next morning.

I said farewell to Denes. Again I begged him to come. "When it's all over, I will come to England for a holiday," he promised me.

We shook hands, and he never looked back. I don't suppose I shall ever see him again.

Saturday, November 3.

It was snowing when we left. Tom Delmer wrapped me in blankets and took the wheel. The car was in bad shape -no glass, no spare wheel, very little oil and just enough gas. Yet with luck we should reach the frontier in three hours.

At the frontier thirty Soviet tanks barred our way. Not a soul was being allowed through. Only 200 yards away was the frontier post. A step beyond it -one step- was freedom, food, doctors, a clean hospital, and, above all, the peace of mind I needed after five agonizing days.

Tom tried to argue. A big brute of an officer in a long gray overcoat and with a cigarette in a holder didn't even bother to look at us as he waved us back. Tom turned the car, and I looked-weak, and with tears starting-at the frontier post, so near and yet so far, and just beyond it an Austrian flag.

But we had to turn back. In the village of Hegyeshalom, three miles from the frontier, we found an inn. The landlord made me some hot soup. We managed to telephone the frontier post and speak to some Swiss members of the Red Cross and some Catholic priests. They told Tom that a wounded neutral couldn't be stopped.

"We will proceed in a deputation to the Russian tank forces," they told him. "You drive your friend there and we will force them to let you through."

So we drove out again. As we moved forward we could see three cars set off for the Russian tanks. One tank was slewed straight across the road. There we stood, the Swiss on one side, Tom on my side, arguing in German. It was no good. Again we drove back to the village.

By now I was just about all in. There was no place to sleep in the village and the idea of returning to Budapest, where the Reds could find me, was unthinkable.

Around four o'clock we knew the moment had come to take the last fateful gamble. Tom and I would try to drive over the fields and get across the frontier illegally.

Half an hour later we set off in our old wreck of a car. We found a Hungarian guide who warned us that we must keep off the fields themselves because of land mines; we must follow cart tracks.

Right at the start we got bogged down in mud and slush. I was too weak to push. But the prospect of freedom had given me enough strength to take over the wheel. For the next four hours, I steered while Tom and the guide shoved the car out of one mudhole after another.

Thirteen miles from the frontier post where we had first tried to cross, we came across a place where there was a chance. Two Hungarian soldiers were guarding a strip of plowed earth across which were cart tracks. The Hungarians were only too delighted to help us. The car lurched across, and the next thing I knew I had knocked down a post carrying a red-and-white Austrian flag. Tom, black with mud, followed me on foot. Now he lifted me out of the driving seat into the back of the car. Then, with two flat tires, he set off for civilization.

I could not help looking back through the shattered window, and as Hungary faded away, I blew a last kiss into that gallant little country.

But the kiss wasn't for Hungary, whose glory will never fade. No, it was for Denes -alive, I hoped- and for that kid of fifteen; but most of all it was for the black-haired girl who had led my car to safety in smashed-up Buda. Somewhere Ilona lay, dead and smeared with blood. I huddled back in my filthy blankets, and for the first time in my adult life I cried bitterly. [84]

1. Noel Barber: "Personal . . . From Budapest," Saturday Evening Post, CCXXIX (December 15, 1956), 25, 81-84. Copyright 1956 by Noel Barber. Reprinted by permission of the author.

2. The Hungarian word is 'haza', to go home.

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