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Authors: Carol Rivers

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BOOK: A Wartime Christmas
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Bringing her against him in a sudden rush of need he knew that for a while, once again, he could lose himself in their passion.

Chapter Five

Kay decided to write to Len and Doris again. It was June and the bombing hadn’t resumed; at least it had only in short bursts and not over the island. She told Len and
Doris that they hoped to fetch Alfie soon and would write closer to the time. Just putting her hopes on paper made her feel better, though she was disappointed not to receive an answer from Doris.
Then, towards the end of the month, Alan came home to tell Kay that his night shifts had officially stopped.

‘I’ll be able to catch up on some jobs around the place,’ he explained one evening as they all sat in the front room that was now, thanks to Vi’s housekeeping, spotlessly
clean.

‘Are they going to put the lid on the Rescue Squad?’ Vi asked in concern.

Alan shook his head. ‘No, though there’s not much rescuing to be done now. We’re shifting the debris mostly and erecting warnings on the unstable buildings. The kids are the
problem. They seem to want to risk life and limb by mucking about on the most dangerous sites.’

‘Is there a chance of the night raids starting up again?’ Kay asked.

Alan thought for a while before he spoke. ‘Difficult question to answer, that. Everyone’s watching and waiting to see what will happen next. Doubtless there will be more attacks but
the Germans are busy with Russia. They’re already at Minsk.’

‘Where’s Minsk?’ asked Vi.

‘Minsk is a Russian stronghold near Moscow. There’s fierce fighting and tank battles near Kiev too. That’s in the Ukraine. Churchill has promised some help to the Red Army as
he knows if the Germans defeat the Russians, there’ll be no stopping them.’

Kay felt a moment’s panic. What if the Germans were triumphant and returned in full force to Britain? More than ever she wanted to hold her son safely in her arms. ‘Alan, I
can’t wait any longer for Alfie,’ she said, knitting her fingers together. ‘There’s always going to be a threat. I’ve just got to have him home.’

To Kay’s surprise, Alan smiled and began to nod his head. ‘I’m due a couple of days off next month. How does that suit you?’

Kay jumped to her feet. ‘Next month – July! Do you mean it?’

‘Course I do.’

Kay clapped her hands together. ‘I can’t wait to tell Len and Doris.’

‘Better to wait until we know the exact details,’ Alan replied with his usual caution.

Kay sat beside Vi. ‘I can’t believe it, Vi. Alfie really is coming home.’

‘And you’ll want the spare room I’m in,’ Vi said in a quiet voice, trying to raise a smile.

‘No, Vi, his cot will do for now,’ said Alan reasonably. ‘We don’t have no plans to turn you out.’

‘So cheer up and stop worrying,’ said Kay, not wanting to upset her friend. ‘You’re part of the furniture now.’

‘I don’t want to wear out me welcome.’

‘I’ll let you know when you do.’ Alan winked at Kay. ‘In fact I’ll write you a letter of dismissal.’

Vi grinned under her knotted scarf. ‘You cheeky so-an’-so, you would an’ all.’

Alan tapped his hand slowly on the arm of the chair, one eyebrow shooting up. ‘And there’s some more good news too.’

‘What?’ Vi and Kay said together as they sat on the edge of their seats.

‘There are already evacuees wanting to return to the island.’

‘Anyone we know?’ asked Kay breathlessly.

‘Eddie Chapman dropped in at the post a few days after the funeral. I gave him the address that Stan Tripp from next door gave to me before they evacuated in September. I suggested Eddie
should write to Stan and Elsie to see if they had plans to return. Eddie wrote and got a reply. The Tripps have decided to stay in Wales.’

Kay gasped. ‘For ever?’

‘Looks like it.’

‘Do you mean Eddie and Babs can try for their house?’

‘That’s the idea,’ Alan said. ‘With Stan’s permission, Eddie’s taken the letter to the rent office. There’s a lot of red tape to wade through as Stan
will be asked to surrender his rent book. And of course, there’s the matter of all the Tripps’ furniture.’

Kay had tears in her eyes. She would miss Stan and Elsie, but it would be wonderful to have someone living next door again, especially if it was the Chapmans.

On a sunny Saturday in early July, Kay was waiting in the queue outside the grocer’s on Ebondale Street. She felt cool and comfortable in a blue-and-white sleeveless
summer dress and, having decided against a rather old and lifeless straw sun hat, had pinned her hair up with a tortoiseshell clip. She took pleasure in her appearance now, after the long days and
nights of the Blitz. It was also a relief to be free of the unflattering hairnet the women had to wear at the factory.

The sun played down on her bare arms and legs and was encouraging the freckles over the bridge of her nose. Jenny Edwards had joined her in the queue and the conversation turned to the hardships
that the Russian people were experiencing as they defended their country. In the middle of what she was saying, Jenny narrowed her eyes into the distance. ‘Isn’t this Paul Butt coming
towards us? That must be his latest girlfriend.’

Kay glanced along the road and nodded. ‘She’s very pretty, isn’t she?’

‘I should say so.’ Jenny nudged her arm. ‘Looks like they’ve seen us.’

‘Hello Kay, Jenny.’ Paul stopped and looked a little embarrassed.

Kay smiled. ‘Are you joining us?’

‘Don’t think so.’ He looked at the long queue. ‘Unless it’s for a bargain.’

‘I wish it was,’ replied Jenny. ‘I’m after some bacon as our daughter Emily, who is eighteen tomorrow, said she’d like a nice rasher to celebrate. But I don’t
suppose there’ll be any left by the time we get there. In the end it will be Spam I expect.’ She paused, adding with a glance at the dark-haired woman, ‘That was a nice piece of
cheese you brought for the Suttons’ send-off, Paul. It did us a treat.’

Kay could see Jenny was angling for an introduction to Paul’s lady friend, but instead he made small talk about the weather.

‘Well, mustn’t keep you,’ he ended after a while. ‘The queue’s moving up and you don’t want to lose your place.’

After they’d left, Jenny frowned, shaking her head curiously.

‘Can’t understand how Paul never got himself hitched,’ Jenny speculated. ‘Good looking feller like him should have been married off years ago.’

‘Perhaps he’s happy to stay a bachelor.’

‘Yes, an eligible one at that. Mid-thirties, with a good job making steel for our warships. A car, even in these depressed times. It’s unlikely he’ll be called up and
he’s got a very nice house. Old Neville wouldn’t be any bother to keep. The more you think about it, Paul would make quite a catch for any girl.’ Jenny brought her attention back
to Kay. ‘As much as we’re all trying to do our part for the war effort, I’m relieved my Tom is too old to be called up. Don’t know what I’d do without him.’

Kay walked home thinking the same about Alan. It was lovely having him all to herself lately. And those dark moods of his didn’t seem to come quite so often. His work still took up a lot
of his time but the jobs at home were gradually getting done. She wasn’t surprised when she arrived home to find him at the top of a ladder. She smiled, gazing up to shield her eyes from the
sun with her hand. Her husband’s naturally olive skin was tanned and weather-beaten, giving him a rakish appearance. His black hair crawled over his collar and his forearms were tanned and
muscular. She felt a strong physical tug of attraction. Just as strong as when she had first met him in 1937. Before joining the local authority, he had been employed briefly at the factory where
she worked. No more than a couple of words had been exchanged between them. But she had known at once that Alan Lewis would be someone very special in her life.

‘Did you get what you wanted at the grocer’s?’ he called, mopping the sweat from his brow with his forearm.

‘Yes, Jenny bought her bacon for Emily’s birthday. I decided to stop by the fishmonger’s after. With veg and mash you won’t notice the fish is invisible.’

He chuckled, tossing back the heavy lock of black hair that flopped across his face. ‘I’ve one more brick to replace and then I’ll be down.’

Kay went inside the house to prepare for supper. She loved her life in Slater Street, despite the bombs, dust, mess and often nerve-wracking situations. She had everything she wanted in a
husband and an adorable son who had made their marriage complete. During the Blitz the loss of friends and neighbours had been very hard to bear and Jenny had reminded her this morning that the
threat of another bombing campaign still hung over their heads. Kay accepted that the war wasn’t over by any means. But she could no longer bear to be parted from Alfie. The moment she held
her baby in her arms again, she knew her happiness would be complete.

Kay and Alan boarded the coach to Hertfordshire on a sunny day, three weeks later. Kay was beside herself with excitement. Alan had arranged the day-return tickets and seats at
the front of the special service coach that left London for Hemel Hempstead. She and Alan had never travelled to her brother’s home before. In fact Kay had only ever travelled short distances
out of London. Len and Doris had lived in Little Gadelsby, Hertfordshire, since they married in September 1934. Her brother preferred to drive to London to visit them instead; each year he seemed
to have a bigger and better car to show off. For this reason Kay had bought him a leather-bound book with an illustration of a Rolls-Royce on the front. For Doris she had found a set of Irish linen
chair-back covers. She wanted them to know how much she had appreciated their help with Alfie.

Alan reached for Kay’s hand as they made themselves comfortable on the seats. ‘You look beautiful, love. With those pink cheeks you’re my true English rose.’

‘An English rose from the East End?’ Kay teased.

‘You’re knocking my socks off, Kay Lewis, I don’t mind admitting.’

‘Only your socks?’

They laughed together, but she was pleased Alan had noticed the effort she’d made with her appearance. Though the pencil-slim green skirt and fitted jacket were bought at the market before
the war, the outfit hid the weight loss she’d suffered over the duration of the bombing. Despite losing a little of her curves, she’d bought high heels from the market to give her more
height and, hopefully, elegance. Though the shoes had had a previous owner, they were in very good condition and needed no coupons. The effect was meant to give her a more sophisticated appearance.
She wanted to impress Doris and Len, but to hear Alan compliment her was the icing on her cake.

Not that Alan hadn’t dolled himself up either, she thought admiringly. He wore his smart dark suit and clean white shirt and looked quite the gentleman. She knew he was nervous too,
despite his calm exterior. Even though he and Len had not seen eye to eye over the years, she was certain this meeting was going to be cordial.

Kay returned her gaze to the window and the ghostly sights of London’s bombed buildings as the coach swept them out of the city. Like Vi and the Chapmans’ houses, there were rows
upon rows of black, broken and tumbled dwellings and as many mountains of bricks, timbers and debris to replace them. ‘Oh, Alan, what has this war done to us?’ she sighed. ‘Will
London ever be the same again?’

‘No, it won’t, love, but something good will come of the conflict when the reconstruction begins.’

‘But when will that be? The war’s not even over yet.’

‘It will be, one day, you can count on that. And Britain will still be a democracy.’ Alan turned to smile at her, the expression in his eyes sincere and loving. He filled her with
hope and expectation of a future. And that was what mattered to Kay.

Chapter Six

‘How much longer to go?’ Kay asked. The swaying green trees and long lines of hedgerows seemed to be endless.

‘A few more stops before we reach Hemel Hempstead,’ Alan told her, a grin on his face. ‘How would you like to live out this way?’

‘It’d be all right for a week,’ Kay decided quickly. ‘Then I’d want to get back to the island and a bit of life.’

Alan pointed to a quaint-looking little teashop. ‘Our Alfie would enjoy them homemade scones and jam they’ve got displayed there.’

‘Jam!’ Kay exclaimed longingly. ‘What a luxury! It doesn’t look like a war’s been going on here. Look, there’s a sign saying fresh eggs and dairy
butter.’

‘That’s country living for you.’

‘I wonder if Doris has fed Alfie on homemade food,’ Kay mused. ‘Somehow she don’t strike me as the type to cook a lot.’

Alan laughed, his eyes twinkling. ‘What type is she?’

‘She’s one of them smart, intelligent types who knows things like their times tables inside out.’

‘But Doris comes from Hertfordshire. Wasn’t that why your brother moved there? To be near her parents who were farmers.’

Kay frowned. ‘Yes, I suppose so. Me and Doris never talked much as she’s a quiet type and not very forthcoming. Mum said Doris would have liked a family but it never
happened.’

As they passed country inns with signs outside that advertised homegrown produce, Kay realized how little she knew about the more intimate side of her brother and sister-in-law’s marriage.
Len had been best mates with Norman and they’d shared a passion for cars, buses, trams, anything equipped with an engine and wheels. But since Len and Doris had moved to Hertfordshire,
she’d only met them during their occasional visits to London. Living so far away, and with their history, perhaps it was only to be expected that Len and Alan had been unable to find any
common ground.

‘I didn’t realize the countryside could look as nice as this,’ Kay found herself admitting as she gazed from the window. ‘When me and Len were young, Mum sent us away on
the Country Holiday Fund. It always seemed to rain the week we went. Len loved it. Him and his mates enjoyed the smelly old barns full of mud and poo that the cows trod everywhere. But I was bored
stiff.’

Alan wagged his finger. ‘The rain is what makes the crops grow and is important to the farmers. All that muck and mud you hated is part and parcel of our survival, in town and in the
country.’

BOOK: A Wartime Christmas
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