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Authors: Carol Rivers

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BOOK: A Wartime Christmas
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‘What’s up, flower?’ Vi asked, crooking an eyebrow. ‘Not worried about the boy, are you?’

‘No,’ Kay shrugged. ‘Well, not really.’

‘He’s doin’ marvellous considering what he’s been through.’

Kay felt reluctant to express her thoughts –
she could express them. Her conversation with Doris had been going round in her head. Some of the things her sister-in-law had said
had made an impression. ‘I was wrong about life in the country,’ Kay admitted. ‘It wasn’t all muddy and rainy and cold like I remembered. When Len and Doris took Alfie I
thought he’d be going to somewhere he’d dislike as much as I did. Mum used to pack me off with the Country Holiday Fund and I soon got homesick. But that didn’t seem to happen to

‘He was just a wee baby, Kay.’

‘And I thought Doris would be house-proud. But she wasn’t. The cottage was really lovely and cosy, not fussy.’

‘Well, ain’t that a good thing?’ asked Vi, pausing as she washed a dish. ‘It means your sister-in-law got her priorities right.’

‘Yes, but have I?’

‘Come again?’ Vi frowned.

‘It’s just that – well, I’ve always thought that me and Alan had a nice home – and we have. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ungrateful – I love me
life here on the island.’ Kay gazed down at the cup she was drying, the one that replaced her nice tea set that had broken. The cup had a hairline fracture and the flowers had faded, a far
cry from the delicate china Kay had seen arranged on Doris’s dresser. ‘But Alfie had everything he wanted in those ten months: nice new clothes and quality shoes and a big and beautiful
garden to play in . . .’ Kay knew she was stumbling over her words. What did she mean? What was she trying to explain? ‘You should have seen their garden, Vi. It was beautiful. Len had
made Alfie a swing under the apple tree. There was a dog on wheels that Alfie sat on, with a rope tied to it, so Doris or Len could pull it over the grass.’ She trapped her bottom lip with
her teeth. ‘Real green grass it was, all shiny and thick with flowers round it.’ Pensively, Kay ran her finger round the rim of the cup. ‘I saw how happy Alfie was. And I never
expected that.’

‘Your boy will be just as happy here once he’s found his feet,’ Vi answered, wringing out the wet cloth.

‘He ain’t happy at the moment.’

‘Course he’s happy.’

‘Then why doesn’t he say something?’

‘He will. Be patient.’ Vi pointed to the yard. ‘He might not have a swing or a dog on wheels, but he’s got the Anderson.’

‘That’s just it.’ Kay stared resentfully at the shabby tin shelter. ‘The Anderson is a reminder of the bombing. How the war took people’s lives away. And
there’s our Alfie, thinking a bomb shelter is a toy . . .’

‘He don’t know the difference, love.’

‘No, but I do.’

Vi leaned forward. ‘It’s been a difficult time for you, Kay. Don’t go thinking too deep.’

‘Doris spent every day with Alfie,’ Kay continued relentlessly. ‘But I have to leave him and go to work tomorrow.’

Vi lifted her shoulders. ‘I’ll take good care of him. You know that.’

‘It’s just that Doris and Len – well, they’ve got everything –
The war hasn’t affected them. It’s as if it’s passed them by
and they live in this enchanted world of their own. But me and Alan and you, we’ve lost our friends and neighbours and you’ve lost your house. There’s nothing to eat and
we’re all beginning to look like Woolton Pies—’

‘Listen,’ Vi broke in sternly, taking the cloth from Kay’s hands and folding it over the handle on the stove, ‘what’s happened is not the war, but you’ve seen
how the other half live. War or no war, there are the haves and the have nots. Always has been, always will be. But remember, you might not have a cottage in the country but you’ve something
far more precious in Alfie than money can buy. Your brother don’t have no son and heir, does he? I’ll bet he’d trade his nice house and lovely garden, if he and Doris could have a

Kay knew Vi was talking sense. But Kay still found it hard to square things up; yet again her emotions were all over the place. Alongside the feeling of relief at having Alfie home, she was
tormented by these silly notions going around inside her head all day. Was she depriving Alfie of something he should have, simply because she and Alan had made their home on the island and wanted
it to be their future? Before going to Hertfordshire she had been quite content to stay at the factory and knew that, if she was to speak to her employers, they would allow her to continue
part-time to look after Alfie rather than lose her. Everyone wanted to do their best in wartime and she was no exception. She and Alan had planned their future on the Isle of Dogs, had loved it
from the first moment they’d moved there in 1938. So why should she be feeling so unsettled after one short visit to her brother and sister-in-law’s?

Kay was certain Vi was right in that Len and Doris wanted children desperately. They had a lovely home, a pretty garden and none of the worries that city dwelling presented, including that of
having been the focus for Germany’s Luftwaffe. But they sadly lacked a family.

‘So, what’s all this about?’ she murmured to herself. ‘Is the truth that you’ve saddled yourself with a touch of the old green eye, Kay Lewis?’

It was not a happy admission to make, she realized, as she set about peeling the spuds. But then, she was only human and at times, she reminded herself, a flawed one. A few minutes later she had
the potatoes on the stove and was humming to herself, thinking of how Alfie’s room would eventually look when she had everything in place.

Chapter Ten

On the last Sunday of August, while Alan and Vi were trying to persuade Alfie to eat his breakfast, Kay was upstairs attempting to restore order to their wardrobe. One half had
been given over to Alfie’s clothes and shoes and toys. Kay was busy trying to squeeze everything into a small space, when there was a knock on the front door. She hurried downstairs,
expecting to see Jenny Edwards who sometimes called by on her way back from church.

‘Babs! Eddie! What are you doing here?’

Eddie hugged her. ‘It’s good to see you, Kay.’

‘Come in, come in.’

‘We thought we’d announce our good news,’ Babs said, stepping in. She opened her bag. ‘Eddie collected this on Friday.’

Kay stared at the key in Babs’s hand. ‘What’s that?’

‘Can’t you guess?’ Babs breathed, her eyes bright with excitement. ‘It’s the key for next door, Stan and Elsie’s place, soon to be ours.’

Kay clapped her hands to her mouth.

‘Yes,’ chuckled Eddie. ‘We move in tomorrow.’

‘I can’t believe it.’ Kay threw her arms around Babs. ‘You’re not kidding, are you?’

‘Not about something like this,’ Eddie confirmed, a big grin on his face.

‘Do Gill and Tim know?’

‘They’re coming back from Essex next week.’ Babs was hardly able to contain herself.

Just then Alan and Vi appeared with Alfie. Once the good news had been shared there were embraces and handshakes all round. Kay lifted Alfie, who was determinedly wearing his solemn expression,
into her arms.

‘Alfie, how you’ve grown!’ exclaimed Babs. ‘You were just a baby when we saw you last.’

‘What’s up, young feller, don’t you remember me?’ Eddie asked kindly.

‘Oh, leave the boy alone,’ said Babs, slapping Eddie’s hand away. ‘With your ugly mug peering down at him, Eddie, no wonder he’s frightened.’

Everyone laughed, but Kay had to hide her disappointment. Alfie had known the couple well before going to Hertfordshire. Was he deliberately pretending not to recognize them?

‘We’re going to have a quick gander at our new house,’ said Eddie proudly. ‘Stan and Elsie said we’re welcome to use the furniture they left. And the Sally Army has
turned up a couple of beds for the kids.’

‘We’ve a few bits you might like,’ said Kay, thinking of the items that had come from the small room when Vi had moved in. ‘Alan’s put them under the bunks in the

‘I’ve a Rosie on the brew,’ Vi said. ‘We’ll bring a pot and some cups in, if you like, ’cos the gas most likely isn’t on next door.’

‘Ta, Vi.’ Eddie glanced at Alan. ‘You know, mate, if it wasn’t for you pulling a few strings we might be hundreds of miles away by now.’

Alan smiled ruefully. ‘You might wish I hadn’t, Eddie, if this lull doesn’t last.’

‘We’ll take our chances,’ Eddie replied as the two men exchanged glances.

Kay watched her friends walk away, happy to know they would soon be neighbours again.

‘Come on, Alfie,’ said Vi, crooking her finger, ‘let’s finish yer breakfast, lad.’

‘Alan, what did Eddie mean about you pulling a few strings?’ Kay asked when they were alone.

‘Oh, it wasn’t nothing.’

‘Eddie seemed to think it was.’

‘I just added my guarantee to Eddie’s application for the house. Said they wouldn’t get a more reliable tenant than Eddie Chapman.’ Alan gave a dismissive shrug.
‘Sometimes it helps if you’ve someone in your corner.’

‘I didn’t know I had such an important husband,’ Kay teased, though she was surprised that Alan hadn’t told her about the good deed he’d done.

‘It might all have come to nothing.’ Alan caught hold of her hands. ‘In a way I hoped it might, as it’s a big decision for a bloke to make to set up home in docklands at
a time like this. Len had a point about us taking a chance with Alfie. The docks are always vulnerable. It wouldn’t do for any of us to ignore the truth.’

‘I thought it was Russia that Hitler has targeted,’ Kay complained with a frown.

‘He has,’ agreed Alan patiently, ‘but the whole world is up in arms. I heard Churchill is sending some of our Hurricanes and Spitfires to defend Leningrad. The crack Russian
pilots are going to give it all they have. But if Russia collapses then it’s curtains for their allies. This conflict is balanced on a knife’s edge. And Eddie and Babs moving in next
door don’t mean that life is all rosy again.’ Then slowly a wry smile formed on his lips and he planted a kiss on her nose. ‘Chin up, lovely. Don’t let me spoil your

Kay understood her husband’s gentle rebuke and the gravity of what he was saying. But for her, having her old friends move in next door meant more to her than Alan could possibly imagine.
She accepted the world was at war, but she preferred not to think of that just now. ‘Did you phone Len?’ she asked, changing the subject.

‘I telephoned his works, but he was in a meeting. I left a message for him to return my call.’

As Alan took her in his strong arms, she felt the love spread through her. He was doing his best to make amends with her brother and she loved him for that. As Alan had pointed out, the
Luftwaffe might very well return to pursue their nightly raids. But meanwhile Kay was determined she wasn’t about to let the war win.

Not in her house, anyway.

The following Saturday afternoon Kay took Alfie round to visit Babs and the children.

‘Say hello to Aunty Kay and Alfie.’ Gently, Babs pushed her two children forward. ‘Gill, Tim, have you lost your voices? You remember Aunty Kay, don’t you?’

Kay smiled at the slender little eight-year-old girl with plaits hanging over her shoulders. Like her mother, she had fair hair and blue eyes and pale skin dotted with freckles. Tim, who was two
years younger, was the mirror image of his father. He had light brown hair cut into a straight fringe across his forehead and, like his sister, a sprinkling of freckles across his nose.

‘Hello, Aunty Kay.’ Gill gave a shy smile, elbowing her brother.

‘Hello,’ said Tim, giving a rather sullen look.

‘You two have really grown,’ said Kay.

Babs grinned. ‘Tim’s still getting over the effects of evacuation. He hasn’t forgiven us yet, for sending him away and bringing him back to a house that isn’t

‘Never mind,’ said Kay, ‘you’ll soon get used to living here, Tim.’

‘All me mates are gone,’ Tim frowned. ‘And we ain’t got Fluffy no more.’

‘No one’s allowed pets, love,’ Babs told him gently. ‘Everyone is in the same boat. At least we’re back on the island. And that was what you wanted when you was in

‘I want me old house, not this one.’

Babs rolled her eyes. ‘Goodness gracious, Tim. Cheer up!’

Kay studied the two children who she recalled as carefree, outgoing youngsters before the Blitz. Tim was a typical boy, always getting into scrapes. Gill was a caring older sister, constantly
bossing him around. Before the war, the children had had the freedom to do what they liked in the streets; every family knew their neighbours and there was always someone to keep an eye on their
antics. But the kids had smiles on their dirty faces and a look of mischief in their eyes.

It wasn’t long before Kay and Babs were seated at the kitchen table, talking about old times. Tim sloped off into the yard and Gill soon followed her brother. Alfie stood at the door,
watching them with interest.

‘Who would have thought we’d still be living in this street, closer now than ever before?’ Babs reflected.

‘The Blitz might have taken away your house,’ Kay said, ‘but it also gave you another one – right next door.’

‘And the kids have a bedroom each here,’ Babs pointed out enthusiastically. ‘Once I can persuade Eddie to do a little painting and brighten this place up . . .’ She
shrugged and rolled her eyes. ‘But you know what Eddie’s like indoors. A bit hopeless when it comes to repairs.’

‘Alan will always help.’

‘Can’t go calling on Alan every five minutes, can we? No, Eddie’s just going to have to get cracking with a paintbrush.’

‘Have the children seen the old house?’ Kay asked softly.

‘You mean what’s left of it,’ sighed Babs. ‘I took them down last night. They’d have to see it sooner or later. What use is there in trying to hide what is now a
pile of rubbish? I told Tim, we ain’t never going back to number twenty-seven and there’s no use moping about it.’ She lowered her head, speaking in whispered tones. ‘We
passed the Suttons’ place too. Tim and Kevin always knocked around together. And Gill had a bit of a crush on Robert, who was a very good-looking teenager.’

BOOK: A Wartime Christmas
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