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Authors: Carol Rivers

A Wartime Christmas

BOOK: A Wartime Christmas
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A  W
ARTIME
C
HRISTMAS

Carol Rivers, whose family comes from the Isle of Dogs, East London, now lives in Dorset. Visit www.carolrivers.com and follow her on
Facebook and Twitter @carol_rivers

Also by Carol Rivers

Lizzie of Langley Street

Bella of Bow Street

Lily of Love Lane

Eve of the Isle

East End Angel

In the Bleak Midwinter

East End Jubilee (
previously
Rose of Ruby Street)

A Sister’s Shame

Cockney Orphan (
previously
Connie of Kettle Street)

First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster, 2013
A CBS company

Copyright © Carol Rivers, 2013

This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.

The right of Carol Rivers to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,
1988.

Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
1st Floor
222 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8HB

www.simonandschuster.co.uk

Simon & Schuster Australia Sydney

Simon & Schuster India New Delhi

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Hardback ISBN: 978-0-85720-832-3
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-85720-833-0
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-85720-834-7

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Typeset by Hewer Text UK Ltd, Edinburgh
Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Group UK Ltd, Croydon CR0 4YY

This book is dedicated to the memory of those people who were lost in the tragic Bethnal Green Tube disaster, Wednesday 3 March 1943.

And for Mavis Eugene and The Cliff.

Acknowledgements

My thanks go to everyone I have interviewed for this wartime story. Some, as very young children, had uniquely terrifying memories of the Blitz of London and subsequent V1 and
V2 bombings. I consider myself fortunate to have been included in their reminiscences. Thanks also to Denise for sharing her insights into out-of-body and near-death experiences. And my gratitude
goes to Conway, whose insight into espionage has been invaluable throughout the writing. Last but not least, publication of my books with my editors and ‘The Team’ at Simon &
Schuster, is always a delight – as is working with Dorothy Lumley, my amazing agent.

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Three

Chapter Forty-Four

Chapter Forty-Five

Chapter Forty-Six

Chapter Forty-Seven

Chapter Forty-Eight

Chapter Forty-Nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter One

May 1941

London’s East End

Kay Lewis opened her sleepy grey eyes to the sights, sounds and smells of the world as she had known it for the past eight months of the London Blitz. Her immediate thought was
that, unbelievably, she was still alive. After another night’s intensive bombing over the Isle of Dogs – the heart of London’s East End – the corrugated iron shelter was
still in one piece over her!

Kay inhaled the damp and stale air and tried to breathe shallowly as she watched the glistening drops of condensation slide one after another down the rust-pitted walls. With a strong sense of
relief, she could hear the wail of the all-clear fading. However, the relief didn’t last long for, as always on waking, a sharp dart of longing went through her. Being parted from her
two-and-a-half-year-old son throughout the bombing had been almost unbearable. Though she knew that she and her husband, Alan, had had no choice but to evacuate Alfie to her brother and
sister-in-law’s home in the country, it didn’t stop the pain of separation. What she wouldn’t give to have him here and in her arms! She could almost feel his chubby body pressed
against her skin and smell the silky-soft fragrance of his thick, dark hair.

‘Oh, Alfie, I miss you so much,’ she croaked as she shifted carefully on the narrow top bunk. ‘But I know you’re safe and that’s what counts.’

With a huge effort, Kay drew her mind back to the present. Had Alan survived the night safely? During the Blitz, and much to her surprise, he had left his council job where he had been working
in the maintenance department and joined the Heavy Rescue Squad. Kay had never quite understood why. Perhaps it had something to do with that letter he’d received. It wasn’t his
call-up, which he’d been expecting, but from another section of the military. He’d dismissed it as just a lot of red tape and she hadn’t pressed the point. Alan was a man who,
once he had decided on a course of action, would rarely change his mind. Nevertheless, she worried. His night shift would be ending soon, but that was no guarantee he’d be home. If there was
someone trapped and in danger then it was down to Alan and his team to rescue them.

Kay forced her arms and legs to move; every bone in her body ached. Her back creaked, her bottom was numb and her shoulders seized in a painful cramp as she ducked her head under the
tunnel-shaped roof. During the night, her long, chestnut-coloured hair had escaped its pins and she pushed it back wearily from her face.

‘Ouch!’ Kay groaned as she landed hard on the floor. Even sleeping fully dressed in her coat together with two thick jumpers and a pair of Alan’s combinations under her utility
trousers, she was chilled to the bone. It was May, but it was still winter in the Anderson.

Kay shook the huddled form in the lower bunk. ‘Vi, wake up. The all-clear’s gone.’

At this, the elderly lady threw off her threadbare blanket and stared up at Kay. Her careworn face, framed by scraps of thin grey hair, squeezed into a gummy smile. ‘Blimey, gel, are we
still in the land of the living?’

‘It seems we are.’ Kay was as surprised as her friend to find they weren’t buried under tons of rubble from the overnight raid. ‘Are you all right?’

‘Nothing a fag won’t cure, love,’ Vi croaked as Kay helped her to her feet. Then Vi took a scarf from under the pillow and wound it expertly into a turban, tying the ends in a
knot on top of her head. ‘Now me brains are safely in, where are me teeth?’

‘Try your pocket,’ Kay suggested with a grin.

‘Oh yes, course.’ Vi retrieved a pair of worn yellow dentures and snapped them into place. She gave a wide smile. ‘How’s that look?’

‘Like you’ve got your teeth in,’ Kay returned lightly as she handed Vi her battered old handbag. It was never far from Vi’s reach and had stayed with her throughout the
bombing.

‘Ta, love, mustn’t forget me life’s savings. Not that there’s much, but enough for a rainy day.’

Kay leaned her shoulder against the battered door of the shelter and pushed. The bright shaft of daylight momentarily blinded her and she took a crumpled hanky from her pocket to wipe her face.
The corners of her mouth were filled with grit. Her skin felt as stiff as a washboard. If she hadn’t been so exhausted, she would have laughed – or cried, she didn’t know which.
Throughout the Blitz she had felt she was living in a surreal world, constantly fighting her way through an endless stream of chaos and destruction. The basics of life had become luxuries: a
comfortable bed to sleep in, fresh air to breathe and clear running water that was not restricted by damaged sewers.

‘Is yer house still standing?’ Vi demanded as they stepped out into the foggy, sulphur-smelling air that made Kay’s eyes smart all over again.

Her heart thumped as an indistinct shape loomed out of the swirling mist. Her two-up two-down end-of-terrace house still seemed to be attached to the Tripps’. She thought briefly of the
couple who had once lived there; Stan and Elsie Tripp had evacuated to Wales and the safety of their son’s home. Kay missed them and often wondered if she’d ever see them again. They
weren’t the only ones who had evacuated either. Two thirds of the street’s houses were either standing empty or too bomb-damaged to be occupied. Only a handful of neighbours were left.
The long, winding street following the curves of the River Thames had been so vibrant before the war. Now the road was just a shadow of its former lively self.

‘Our roofs still on and so is the chimney,’ Kay answered Vi. ‘But the back door’s blown open. Goodness only knows what mess we’ll find inside.’

‘And yer windows?’

Kay smiled ruefully. ‘Alan’s idea to strengthen them with strips of wood over the tape seems to have paid off. I’ll bet you’re glad he did the same for your place
too.’

‘You can say that again,’ Vi agreed quickly. ‘I didn’t want him to bother as he’s never got a minute to spare, but there he was one morning, standing on his ladder
and ’ammering away.’

‘There’s not much he wouldn’t do for you, Vi,’ Kay told her friend as they made their way towards the back door. Her husband had a soft spot for Vi and had done all her
odd jobs during the Blitz. Vi returned his affection and had told them that Alan reminded her of her only son, Pete Junior, who had died from diphtheria at eighteen.

The two women were smiling as they entered Kay’s kitchen but their smiles disappeared when they saw inside. Every surface was covered in a thick blanket of dust and dirt. ‘Strike a
light,’ Vi breathed. ‘What a mess!’

‘Just look at this,’ gasped Kay, pointing to the dresser. ‘My best set of china’s come off the shelves!’ She stared in disbelief at the floor where the teapot and
her best cups and saucers were all in pieces. ‘Oh, Vi, that was a tea set from Mum an’ all.’

‘Bloody Hitler,’ grumbled Vi when she saw the extent of the damage. ‘He’s got no respect for other people’s property.’

At this, Kay found herself laughing – laughing so much her face seemed to crack under the layers of dirt.

‘What’s so funny?’ Vi asked in a bewildered tone.

‘You. Course Hitler’s got no respect for our property. He’s bombing it, ain’t he?’

Vi patted her arm. ‘It’s as well you can see the funny side, gel.’

But Kay realized the laughter was more like hysteria and she was dangerously close to tears. When she looked inside the larder, she clapped her hands to her face. All the bottles, packets and
even vegetables were covered in the same thick, grey grime. ‘How did this happen?’ she wailed. ‘The larder door was shut.’

Vi bustled past her and lifted the wire gauze that protected the square wedge of Spam. ‘Don’t worry, ducks,’ she said, shrugging. ‘A quick wipe and Bob’s your
uncle.’

‘I don’t want to wipe me Spam, Vi. I want to eat it,’ Kay moaned.

BOOK: A Wartime Christmas
8.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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