Let me begin by saying Elizabeth Conlon is my grandmother.
She has always been a notoriously independent woman. She cooks for herself, cleans for herself, pays her own bills, does the shopping for herself, proves to the whole world she can still live a strong, sovereign woman even at the ripe age of 84.
Her deepest, darkest secret though, if only she had informed us of this not just sooner, but in fact, at all. Nobody knew much about her childhood.
She gave us few details about it other than the place she grew up, her home and her parents. I remember her telling me she was the middle child of 5 children. The two eldest had died, once when she was three years old from pneumonia, and then again when she was six in a neighbouring farming accident.
She grew up in the countryside in a small community named Allenwood and moved to the town of Newbridge in her early teens. That was the most I knew about her early life until about three days ago, when I stumbled upon few interesting documents while clearing out her wardrobe.
Grandfather Richard had only been dead a few weeks. I was devastated about this as he was a wonderful man. He was an extremely clever man, who worked as a biochemist in a research laboratory in Dublin city centre. Very artistic, wonderfully philosophical, issued the best advice to everybody and had a heart that he poured into everything he said and did. He was a genuine person. Pure in the eyes of mankind is how I would describe him.
Yet, he was frail, quite the opposite of Liz. He had suffered pneumonia and died a few weeks later of breathing complications. It was horribly upsetting to see him frozen and still, rather than enlightening his own home, even just with his presence. It was sad, but not unexpected, as I suggested.
Anyway, after the funeral and the ceremony afterwards, my mother, Colette, and I decided that we would help to clear out some of Richard’s old stuff from their bedroom in the house. It would most likely require around a days work at most, but I couldn’t decline. After all, granny had done so, so much for me in my life.
Flicking through old cardboard boxes of photo albums, framed pictures, love letters and other assorted documents was fascinating and beautiful. It was like digging through an unintended time capsule. However, one more collection of items, which I left off the list till now for very good reasons, were, newspapers.
A faded brown, cardboard box sitting in the corner of the wardrobe gathering dust had caught my eye, while reading a postcard Richie had sent to Liz while he was in Italy. It was sealed tightly by thick brown tape, like a little box of hidden secrets. I etched my head out of the wardrobe door, to see or hear where the two ladies were. My guess from the distant voice was that they were downstairs.
I searched around quickly for the switchblade within the pale lit wardrobe and discovered it exactly where I had left it. I flicked it open and slashed the brown tape off the top of the box, almost cutting my left thumb in my underestimation of how sharp it really was. I jerked it open and laid my eyes on old, creased newspapers. I had always loved that fresh smell of paper and ink, which was odd for this box as most of the papers had dated back to the 50’s and 60’s.
Most of these were particularly famous Headlines.
“Saturday, November 23rd, 1963, President Kennedy Assassinated” - a headline from the Irish Independent.
Another one which doesn’t really surprise me from my extremely patriotic grandparents - “Monday, April, 18th, 1949, A welcome for the Republic” Another Irish Independent headline from when Ireland gained independence from Britain.
I flicked through them all and glanced at each one briefly, along with their date. As expected they were either significant world events, or significant dates in their lives. The Sunday World’s paper on my mother’s birthday, the Irish Independent’s headline on the date of their wedding, and a smile popped up on my face to see the Irish Times’ headline for October 31st, 1993, my birthday! One in particular however, from "The Irish Times", had caught my eye, as it didn’t seem to have any place in this pile at all. Date: “June 1st, 1940”.
- “Hundreds of children in County Kildare hospitalised in a week after tests show unknown chemicals found in blood system.”
Huh… I hadn’t heard about this, well, ever. I was usually an enthusiast for local history, but hundreds of children hospitalised in 1940? For what I wondered?
“TIM! Me and your Granny are going down to the shops for a while, we will be back in around an hour!” I heard mum call from downstairs.
“Okay!” I replied “I’ll just finish off the rest of this work, you lazy shits!”
I heard giggling from downstairs as they walked out the door and closed it behind them. It was wonderful to hear them happy for the first time since his death. It had been a tough week for the whole family. I now had no worry of them coming upstairs to me and catching me red handed, thank goodness. Anyway, I forgot about the required work, and I continued reading.
- “According to reports from Naas, Co. Kildare today, patients now waiting for treatment in the local hospital has reached almost three times its capacity. This has occurred, after thousands of children and adolescents, ranging from ages 6 – 19, from all over the county have been admitted to hospital, all reported with similar conditions. “The hospital hasn’t seen this many patients since 1845,” one doctor said.
- Doctors first described the behaviour of the younger children as “frantic, anxious and panicky” whereas older children were observed as acting "dazed, confused and quiet"
- Symptoms observed from medical experts have ranged from vomiting with blood, bloody diarrhea, bloody mucus from eyes and nose and severe rash all over the skin. Other symptoms reported from patients willing to co operate with doctors have included severe migraines, blurred vision, lung pains and even temporary blindness.
- Gardaí have treated the case as suspicious, and to further investigate the cases. Doctors have now advised for further patients to be taken to St. James Hospital, Crumlin Hospital or Hollow Street Hospital.”
I just kept re-reading that one line in my head over and over again. “The hospital hasn’t seen this many patients since 1845,” the same year the Famine started, I was positive of that. Wow, whatever happened here in my own town must have been huge. Thousands of children? Sure, it made the headline news then, but I would have thought people would have remembered this event a lot more frequently, but this is the first time I’ve heard anything about it at all. I decided to question granny about it when she got home.
I finished up the remainder of the task and welcomed both my mother and her mother back into the house. It was around 5 p.m. so we decided to stay for teatime. Granny had cooked us a lovely ham earlier on that day and served it up that evening. I hadn’t eaten since 12 that day so I savaged it down like a starving dog.
After the hearty meal, it was then, that I confronted her.
I sat down and told her I needed to ask her something. She still seemed to have that blank look on her face ever since the day Richie had died. It was almost like it still hadn’t hit her yet. Like she had no clue what was going on. Mom cried for days upon days but she was doing better now. Granny was definitely affected, but I’m not sure how.
“June 1st, 1940.” I uttered without hesitation.
Her blank, pale, wrinkled face dropped and flourished into a bright red look of desperate, blood boiled anger. Veins were now visible across her forehead and temple.
“You need to leave.” she uttered in her best attempt to stay calm.
I replied, “But, granny, I’m just trying to-”
“LEAVE. NOW.” she demanded with flare as she stood up quickly from her dining room chair, glaring at me as if I was a stranger who had broken into her home.
Mom and I looked at each other in a somewhat disguised kind of shock. We tried our best to look like we understood her, but we really had no clue what this was about. Not even me, who brought up the topic in the first place.
With that, we left her house, biding our goodbyes, but only to be left responseless. Mom started up the car again and we were on our way back home. We mutually decided that it would be best that we keep this incident to ourselves.
I fell asleep relatively early that night. Approximately 12 a.m. if I correctly recall. This was rather pointless though, as around an hour later, my phone started to ring. The phone illuminating in the dark room, it had stung my eyes looking at it. I awakened, raised my arms towards the ceiling in a stretch, rubbed my sticky, rheum filled eyes and checked the caller I.D.
What? She never calls me. Last time she did was to wish me a happy birthday. She only really called if there was some sort of event on. So why is she calling me now at 1 a.m. on a February evening?
I answered her call, my room now back to pitch dark.
“Hello?” I answered in a weary voice.
“Tim, I’m sorry for my outburst today after the dinner,” she said to me.
“It’s okay, granny. I should learn not to intervene in other peoples business anyway.” I confessed.
“I need you to meet up with me tomorrow morning, and I’ll explain everything to you.” she stated, almost totally ignoring my response. “It’s about time that I told somebody about it.”
“Come alone,” she said before leaving.
My confusion was met with the hang up tone. No goodbye, no “take care now”, no “I love you”, just a response and then she hung up. I placed the phone back onto my bedside locker and lay back down in bed staring at my ceiling above. As I did so, only one thought circled my perplexed head as I drifted back off to sleep.
What could “it” even possibly be?
I awakened at roughly 8 a.m. on the Sunday morning, before anybody else in my home would be awake. I threw on whatever clothes were on the ground, skipped a shower and a shave, grabbed an energy bar and gathered my keys as I escaped my home. I was insured on my mom’s car so I could borrow that for now, and worry about my explanation to a curious family till afterwards.
Whatever it was she had to tell me, was nagging at me all trip. Driving along the main road, I found myself gazing at the evergreen trees lining the road. I was assessing about what exactly it is she had to tell me. I kept thinking back over and over to that article about the children in hospital. What connection did she have with it? My guess was as good as yours, that she was one of the children. That had to be it, but, if that was the case, why would she make such a big deal about it? Could it be her explanation for it? I was about to find out.
Her town Newbridge was just a 15 minute drive from my hometown of Naas, so it didn’t take too long for me to arrive to her home. While driving through her estate, I noticed she was standing at her black, shiny gates, fully dressed and ready to go. I pulled up slowly outside the driveway and she hopped into the front seat beside me. She looked at me with her flickery, crystal blue eyes for a few seconds before speaking.
“I need you to drive out to Allenwood.” She stated.
I gawked at her for a few seconds, before nodding my head and starting the engine back up.
“Why is that?” I asked, open mouthed.
She continued to look at me, while she pulled something from the back of her pocket, and positioned it on the dashboard right in front of me.
The engine chugged, while I paused what I was doing. I picked up the old brown photo and looked at it for a second. “Higgins’ Sweet Shop” was titled across the top of the one story shop. The shop looked like a small country bungalow with a forest in the background. I looked at the background and couldn’t see anything else apart from the trees and the sweetshop. I even looked on the back of the photo to see if anything was written down. Nothing. All I knew was this place was called “Higgins’ Sweet Shop” and it was out in the middle of the country nearby somewhere.
“Do you still remember where this place is?” I enquired.
“I have an idea” she answered. “Drive out to where I grew up and I should be able to find it from there.”
This was somewhat a relief as I knew I had been out here for a family picnic a few years ago. I only vaguely remember the directions, but at least it was something. With that we drove out of her neighbourhood and took the road straight out to Allenwood.
Allenwood was exactly how I expected it to be. Typical Irish country side. Green fields lined the roads, separated by brown fences engulfed in shrubs and bushes. Large, luxurious, singular houses built during the economic boom of the 90’s also dotted the area, like much of the Irish countryside. Eventually, we stumbled across one tiny, abandoned house, near enough to the Royal Canal, which instantly stood out from the rest of the houses, for obvious reasons. Grannies face lightened up immediately as she must of recalled exactly where this sweet shop is.
“I remember now! I remember now!” She exclaimed.
“Where do I go from here?” I enquired.
“Keep driving down the road for another few seconds and take a left before the bridge,” she instructed me, “and then keep going down that road for a minute or two and it should stand right out.”
With that I followed her roughly described guide, and at long last, I found what looked like Higgins’ Sweet Shop. I took one more look at the photo and then again at the building. The sign was completely missing from the top and the shop itself was stretched back much further than I had expected, but this was definitely the place. I flung the photo back onto the dashboard and unlocked the car doors. I parked the car on the side of the road with one half on the grass and the other on the pothole covered back road.
Approaching the shop, I studied its detail out of interest. On the front it was dark blue, but what looked like an extension on the back was designed entirely by concrete blocks. Not very creative if you ask me. The shop was almost completely overshadowed now by the deciduous forest behind it. The windows were filthy and grubby and were protected by black metal bars. For a sweet shop, this certainly didn’t look very appealing to children.
A painted wooden door hung loose from the hinges of the entrance. I gave it a slight push to see if it opened. Without warning, the door fell right off the hinges and collapsed backwards into the shop, causing a huge thud when it landed. Me and granny both jumped out of our skin.
After coughing and hand-fanning away the dust from that experience, we both observed the inside of the shop, while slowly creeping our way into it. From the inside it looked like a pretty normal old sweet shop. Black and white tiled floor, high brown counter, painted blue walls, well lit up and shelves behind the counter. The only thing that made this place eerie was the fact that it was completely empty, dead and filthy. Dirt such as dead leaves, twigs, old wrappers and papers, speckles of muck and a scrunched up, thinned out role of sellotape all crudely decorated the floor.
Two doors stood in plain view from the main shop. One door was wide open and inside was a toilet. I took a look inside. No water inside and the bowl was almost completely rusted. Somebody obviously hadn’t been here for years. The bathroom looked exactly like the rest of the shop, just much smaller.
“This was the sweet shop I used to go to as a kid,” said Gran after a long silence from me exploring and her reminiscing, startling me a little. “Those shelves used to be lined up with jars of sweets such as lemon drops, bon bons, vanilla fudge, lollipops and all sorts of sweets.” she continued.
As she talked me through it I imagined a black and white film of her as a young kid going into here and purchasing a giant novelty swirly designed lollipop.
“Tim, I was one of the children who was in Naas hospital that week.” she splurted out.
This had somehow taken me by surprise, as I had almost forgotten about all this.
“June 1st, 1940. In fact, every kid who ate sweets from this shop that week, ended up in that hospital,” she continued on.
She now had my full attention.
“At first, the children from around Allenwood were going here, and because the sweets were so good and tasty, soon this shop became famous across the county. They regularly held family days, and people would travel from all over the country just to taste their confectionary,” she rattled on. “It was like this for many years, families with their children would spend their leftover money on his sweets. All of a sudden though… that week came around, everyone who had eaten sweets from his shop that week… had gotten ill.”
I gazed on with my full, undivided attention.
“It was one of the biggest mysteries the town has ever seen, but little did they know, about his secret… little did I know THEIR secret…” she said staring at the ground, almost solemnly.
“Wh- what secret, granny?” I asked, dumbfounded.
She lifted her head right back up to face me, her expression matching her tone. She slowly, swayed her head towards the second door, keeping eye contact with me. I turned around and glanced at it quickly before turning back and facing her with a doomed look upon my face. Little by little I stepped towards the door, almost hypnotised, not able to turn away from it. I was wondering what kind of dastardly mystery lay beyond the painted blue door. I gripped the handle tightly. The long, cold, brass doorknob causing a pit to build in my stomach. Sweat trickled from every pour of my body. All granny could do was look on at the tension building in my body.
I swung open the door to one of the most shocking things I had ever seen. I wiped my wide eyes cause I couldn’t believe what exactly I was seeing. What I noticed first was what my nose tried to recognise as a really strong smell of a lab. Like chemicals, steam and what I could of sworn was a heavy smell of sugar. The walls were a greenish shade of yellow clashing with a rotting wooden floor, but that wasn’t what caught my eye first. On the far wall directly opposite me was a large portrait of a swastika. More portraits in golden frames on the left wall had black and white paintings of Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler. On the far right wall were two more portraits in golden frames, however, a little more menacing.
The infamous black and white picture of a Jewish family standing in front of the gates of Auschwitz lay on the far side of the wall, behind a short, brown desk on the right side of the room. Beside that, another black and white portrait of a particularly gory depiction of a dead British soldier who has been shot in the face. I had recognised one of these photos from an archive on the internet, and I was certain this photo was taken during World War I.
In the dead centre of the room, sat a black cauldron. Above the brown desk, in between the two disturbing pictures, there lay a shelf with ingredients such as fructose, sugar, corn syrup, gelatine and other ingredients for making confectionary. On the other side of the wall, I saw what I thought looked like chemicals in more jars and funnels, but having no knowledge of chemistry, I couldn’t recognise any of these formulas.
“Joseph Higgins was an active Irish Nazi during World War II.” Granny said as I looked around the room. “He was an SS scientist who worked undercover here in Ireland, reporting his work back to Germany every few months or so, while sending letters to his deputy director, Josef Grueneweld, back in Nazi Germany, informing him of his research.” She continued while pointing at the fax machine underneath the desk.
“What was his purpose here?” I asked her.
“Well, you see Tim,” she started, “Ireland was a neutral country during World War II.”
“I know that.” I replied.
“While many didn’t join the war with Britain, of course most people had the common sense to know they were the good goes.” She said “But Joseph on the other hand, lost his uncle and his father, who both co-owned a bakery, during the 1916 rising in Dublin when he was just a little boy. They had taught him how to make these sweets from an early age”
“And, losing his father and uncle at the hands of the British, this made him resentful?” I guessed
“Correct. As soon as Britain had condemned the 1938 invasion of Czechoslovakia, Joe Higgins had volunteered himself to the German embassy as a spy for Nazi Germany, working and operating in Ireland.” she replied.
“So, what connection does he have to the hospitalisation of all those children?” I asked, half afraid of her answer.
She let out a heavy sigh, facing away from me, looking out the black bar railed window. “I was not looking forward to this day, but I knew it would come.” She said. “You see, Joe worked with a young apprentice, the two of them mixed chemicals together and created formulae’s. He had hired him to work with him and constructed a plan, along with a hefty pay check.”
“What was the plan?” I asked.
She stalled again “While they both created chemistry in this secret lab here behind the sweetshop, Joe had used his sweet making skills, picked up from his father and uncle to disguise this as the kitchen used to create his candy.” she explained. “The plan was to fuse the chemicals into the sweets, as part of a Nazi experiment.”
I froze up completely. This was pure evil genius. I couldn’t believe all of this happened a few miles from my hometown.
“Continue.” I silently demanded.
“Joe’s assistant attempted to construct a chemical to make children obedient to any command made. Stronger than Ritalin, but not as expensive to make. He attempted to make the candy both addicting for children, and to eventually convince them the ideas of the Nazi ideology.”
She paused once more, walking over to the desk and flicking through some of, what I presumed were, Joe’s notes.
“Remember when I told you everyone from all over the county came to eat the sweets from here? He made them addicting before adding the concentrating chemical, which he labelled “The Obedience Chemical” as part of his “The Green Obedience Experiment”. Of course, it was all in an attempt to create a master race and follow the lead of Adolf Hitler.” she continued to explain.
She stopped flicking through the notes, and held one particular one into the light. She paused for two minutes to read it, before looking back over at me.
“The assistant's other job, was to promote the new candy shop to the locals, giving free samples to parents and children around Allenwood and Newbridge,” she stated. “They hoped that the news of this wonderful tasting and addicting new sweets would spread right around the County.”
“They were right.” I said with my still frozen expression.
“However.” She resumed, “Something went wrong.”
“The drug,” she said, “had worked much faster than they thought. The plan was to slowly over a few years time develop the younger Irish generation into Nazi ideologists, spreading from Kildare outwards. The drug worked too fast, and caused all those symptoms, such as headaches, vomiting, chest pains and horrible irritated skin,” she went on to explain. “I was unfortunate enough, to be one of those children.
“As soon as word had gotten out about it, Gardaí eventually made the connection and the place was seized. Mr. Higgins was placed under arrest, while the assistant had gotten away a few days beforehand. He recognised what the drug was doing to the public, became scared, and abandoned his work with Mr. Higgins.”
She paused once more looking down at her feet, before hissing with a raging flare, “Gardaí placed him under POW in Britain, and all the symptoms were written off as a big coincidence and it was never ever reported about again.”
My next question just would not come out, because I was much too afraid to ask it. I had to know, but I didn’t want to. This was a total mindfuck on me, but I had to know every last detail, or else it would kill me. It would bore itself deep within me and nag away at me for the rest of my life. I opened my lips.
“Granny, how do you know about all of this? How do you know every detail? Most notorious experiments performed under Nazis didn’t come out till after the war and the Gardaí kept this one out of public spotlight.”
We stared each other in the eyes.
“So how did you know about this one?”
She looked at me with a defeated look, before looking down with a slight grin on her face. “You’re a smart kid, you know that?” she told me, rubbing my chin and heading for the door, leading back out to the shop.
“I’ll be in the car,” she explained. “As for you, I think you should read this”.
I stared at the back of head, perplexed, as she handed me the letter she had picked up, and made her way back out to the car. The handwriting on the letter was a little unclear, but I could make it all out eventually. It was dated 16th March, 1940, addressed to Josef Grueneweld, at the Persönlicher Stab Reichsführer Schutzstaffel, Berlin, Germany. It was written fully in English. The letter had two stamps on it, meaning it had been sent from Ireland, and then returned.
- “Dear Mr. Grueneweld.
- "I am both delighted and excited to say that “The Green Obedience Experiment” is off the ground and ready to start. Approximately next week, we will begin our brainwashing of the youth of the local jurisdiction, with further plans to expand the Nazi ideology all over Ireland.
- "This is all a part of Operation Green, in support of Sea Lion, which should help make this fully operational once Barbarossa is fully complete. If our experiment goes to plan fully, then we should have no future problems with this countries youth when Nazi Germany finally takes over Europe.
- "The plan is to insert the Obedience chemical into highly addictive sweets, which contain a high amount of Monosodium Glutamate, an addictive chemical which affects the nervous.
- "As finding any sort chemist in this country was very difficult, I would like to thank you for sending over your financial contribution, helping me to bribe one into working for me and for your prestigious party.
- "Anyway, I hope to hear back from you soon, as the experiment looks to be going fully operational very soon. We will take as much precaution as possible to make sure that this experiment is a success.
- "Yours sincerely,
- "Joseph Higgins, and his assistant, Richard Conlon.”
Written by CrashingCymbal
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