Authors: Catrin Collier
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General
Such Sweet Sorrow
First published in Great Britain in 1996 by Century
First published in paperback in 2002 by Arrow Books
New paperback edition published in 2006 by Orion Books Ltd
This edition published by Accent Press 2013
Copyright © Catrin Collier 1996
The right of Catrin Collier to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers: Accent Press Ltd, Ty Cynon House, Navigation Park, Abercynon, CF45 4SN
The story contained within this book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Catrin Collier was born and brought up in Pontypridd. She lives in Swansea with her husband, three cats and whichever of her children choose to visit.
Such Sweet Sorrow
is the fifth novel in the highly acclaimed
Hearts of Gold
Works by Catrin Collier
Hearts of Gold
Hearts of Gold
One Blue Moon
A Silver Lining
All That Glitters
Such Sweet Sorrow
Spoils of War
Brothers and Lovers
One Last Summer
The Long Road To Baghdad
As Katherine John:
Murder of a Dead Man
By Any Other Name
The Amber Knight
A Well Deserved Murder
Destruction of Evidence
The Corpse’s Tale
For the Welsh Guards who suffered heavy casualties while fighting in the rearguard at Dunkirk; and for Sergeant Edgar Carter, RASC, who returned to spend so many happy years with his beloved Peggy.
I would like to thank all those people who have so generously shared their memories with me during the year I spent writing and researching this account of Pontypridd during the war.
Mr Romeo Basini of Treorchy who first told me about the internment of the Italians during the Second World War and the sinking of the
My parents Glyn and Gerda Jones, my husband John, and my children, Ralph, Sophie and Ross for their love and support, and for giving me the time to write this book.
Margaret Bloomfield for her friendship and help in ways too numerous to mention.
As always, I also owe a great debt of gratitude to Mrs Lindsay Morris and the staff of Pontypridd Library, especially the archivist, Mrs Penny Pugh, and Mr Brian Davis and the staff of Pontypridd Historical Centre for their unstinting professional assistance.
Beth Humphries for the superb professional job she always does in copy-editing my manuscripts.
And above all my editor Mary Loring for all her suggestions and being there whenever I needed to talk, and my agent Michael Thomas for his help and encouragement.
And, while gratefully acknowledging the assistance of everyone, I would like to stress that any errors are entirely mine.
Catrin Collier, Swansea, July 1995
‘Damn and …’
‘Less of your language, William Powell.’ Fumbling blindly for the wall to her left, Tina Ronconi braced herself and stooped to help William from the pavement. It wasn’t easy. A fine drizzle obscured what little light they might have hoped for from the moon. She couldn’t see anything other than the pale glimmer of the white handkerchief she’d pinned to the lapel of her coat, and the even fainter, intermittent white line painted on to the kerb.
‘That’s my leg you’ve got hold of, not my arm,’ he complained irritably.
‘Why are you upside down?’
‘Because some dull clot put their ash bin out for innocent people to fall over,’ came the muffled reply.
‘Stop fooling around.’
‘I am not fooling around. I’m trying to stop the bin from rolling down the hill and waking half the Graig. What a stupid place to put it.’
‘Outside the front door ready for the ash man?’ Tina suggested mildly.
‘They should have waited until morning. Don’t they know how dark it is in a blackout?’ As he managed to right the bin, the lid escaped his clutches and rolled noisily, clattering over the pavement into the road. A sash window slammed open behind them.
finished having a party out there, some people are trying to sleep!’
‘And others could walk home in peace if idiots didn’t set booby traps on the pavements for them to trip over.’
‘Is that you, William Powell?’
‘Mrs Roberts!’ William switched to his charm-laden, market sales-patter voice. ‘You sound lovely in the dark. If Mr Roberts isn’t around I’ll serenade you. Would you like something romantic or patriotic?’
‘I’ll serenade your backside in a minute, boy.’
‘Sorry, Mr Roberts, didn’t know you were home.’
‘And where else would I be at this hour of the night?’
‘You made me promise never to tell.’
‘Why you …’
Another window crashed open further down the street. William grabbed Tina’s hand and hauled her up the hill before the argument escalated.
‘This is hopeless,’ Tina cried as William led them into a lamp-post. She stopped for a moment, straining her eyes into the darkness in the hope of recognising a familiar shadow in the gloom. ‘I’ll bring a torch tomorrow.’
‘Dai Station will only yell at you to switch it off the minute he sees it, even if you point it at your feet and wrap the regulation two sheets of tissue paper around the lens. If you ask me the ARP wardens in Ponty are training to join the Nazis. Haven’t you noticed how they’re all growing moustaches and practising the goose step? It’s a ploy to encourage boys to volunteer. You can’t beat up the ARPs, lads, but we’ll give you a crack at the next-best thing.’
‘You’d better not let Dai Station hear you saying that.’
‘Why not? It may give him the inspiration he needs to join up and do some real fighting instead of reporting little old ladies for showing chinks of light when they put the cat out at night.’ Blocking her path he drew her towards him. ‘Mind you,’ he reached out, feeling for her face with his fingertips. ‘The blackout has some advantages.’
‘Not here, Will.’ She ducked under his arm as he bent his head to hers.
‘As it’s blacker than a coal hole everywhere, what’s the difference between here and there?’ he grumbled as she caught his hands’ in hers, tucked her arm into his, and forced him to carry on walking up the hill towards her home in Danycoedcae Road.
‘A lot. It won’t take Tony long to close the café. He and Diana will be right behind us.’
‘As they can’t see any more than we can, they won’t know the difference between us and a pair of tomcats.’
‘Perhaps we ought to walk in the middle of the road,’ she suggested after hitting her ankle painfully on a raised doorstep.
‘You want to get knocked down by a car?’
‘We’d hear it.’
‘Not necessarily before it clouted us. Ouch!’ He reeled into her, almost knocking her off her feet.
‘What was that?’
‘Another ashbin jumped out and attacked me.’
‘Not much further,’ she consoled.
‘What’s the point in getting there when you won’t even give me a goodnight kiss to make up for all this suffering.’
‘You’re not suffering any more than I am.’
‘But I will be. You live further up the hill than me. I could have turned up Graig Avenue by the vicarage. Instead here I am, risking life and limb, not to mention the walk back down Illtyd Street …’
‘Have you had your registration papers?’ she interrupted sharply as they turned the corner. She’d waited for an opportune moment to ask him the question all evening, but despite the atmosphere of pessimism, the war and the blackout, the café she helped her older brother Tony to run had been busier than usual. Tony and her younger brother Angelo who worked in the kitchen hadn’t been able to dispense with her services for a moment. But even if she could have stolen a few minutes away from the counter and till, William hadn’t left the table where he’d played cards with a crowd of boys from the Graig until closing time.
‘They came yesterday morning.’
Neither the casual tone of his disembodied voice nor the light squeeze he gave the fingers she’d tucked into the crook of his elbow fooled her. ‘And?’
‘There’s no “and” about it. I don’t think the army is into accepting excuses like, “I’m otherwise engaged for the duration.”’
‘You can go back down the pit. Everyone says they’ll soon be making mining a protected occupation.’
‘For good reason. It’s worse than a battlefield down there.’
‘More men get killed on a battlefield than down the pit,’ she retorted tartly, shivering at the thought of him leaving Pontypridd – and her – possibly for ever.
‘I’ll take my chances on a battlefield any day.’
‘You can’t mean that?’
For once he dropped his baiting, bantering tone. ‘I’ve never told anyone this before, but I wasn’t that sorry when the pits closed. Living on bread, scrape and charity seemed a small price to pay for being able to breathe fresh air and walk around in daylight. That’s why I jumped at the chance of working for Charlie when he offered me a job, and why I’ll carry on working in his shop, no matter how much they up the money in the pits.’
‘But going into the army will mean leaving the shop.’
‘That can’t be helped.’
‘But Charlie will never manage without you …’
He laughed briefly. ‘The way prices are being controlled and rationing is beginning to affect profits, half of the shopkeepers in town will be forced to lay off staff. No matter how philanthropic they’d like to be, no businessman can afford to pay an assistant to stand behind a counter when there’s nothing to sell.’
‘I know what you mean. Tony registered our three cafés with the council weeks ago, but we still haven’t been told how much food we’re going to be allocated, and Papa says they’re soon going to have to ration everything, not just bacon, ham, butter and sugar.’
‘Let’s forget the war for five minutes and talk about us.’ He halted at the white cross her father had painted on the wall outside his house.
‘How can there be an ‘us’, if you’re going away?’
He wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her beret and hair. The cooking aromas of the café vied with the clean, fresh fragrances of soap and eau-de-Cologne. He had met Tina on their first day in Maesycoed Infants’ School, and announced to his mother that evening that he intended to marry her. But it was only now, when they were closer to being separated than Tina knew, that he realised just how much he did love her.
‘The last thing that’s going to be needed in this war are butchers,’ he began awkwardly, trying to pave the way for what he had to tell her. ‘The kind that joint animals, anyway,’ he continued drily.
‘So what are you going to do?’ Her heart was hammering so violently she wondered that he couldn’t hear it. She already suspected the answer to her question. She’d overheard her brothers whispering early that morning and noticed that her father’s copy of the
was missing from his chair. The same copy she’d seen the advertisement in.
VOLUNTEERS REQUIRED NOW FOR THE WELSH GUARDS. AGE 20-35. HEIGHT 5FT. 9INS OR OVER.
MEN CAN PRESENT THEMSELVES FOR ENLISTMENT AT ALL RECRUITING CENTRES. ENQUIRIES WILL BE ANSWERED AT ALL POLICE STATIONS.
MEN REGISTERED TO BE CALLED UP UNDER NATIONAL SERVICE, BUT NOT ALREADY CALLED, MAY ENLIST NOW IN THE WELSH GUARDS.
ENLISTMENT ON NORMAL ENGAGEMENT OR FOR THE DURATION OF THE WAR.
It was the phrase MEN REGISTERED TO BE CALLED UP UNDER NATIONAL SERVICE, BUT NOT ALREADY CALLED that had caught her eye. William’s cousin Eddie had written home about his life in the Guards, not exactly in glowing terms, but with an obvious pride in his successful completion of an arduous training course that had equipped him to do a dangerous, necessary and vital job in France. She’d seen the look in William’s eye as he’d passed Eddie’s letters around the café. He and Eddie were close, and good friends of both her brothers, and joining the Guards was probably the only way the boys would be able to guarantee that they’d be allowed to serve together.
‘Well seeing as how I’ve got to go some time soon anyway –’
‘You’ve joined up, haven’t you?’ she broke in, unable to bear the suspense a moment longer.
‘We decided it would be better to join the Welsh Guards together than wait until they called us and run the risk of being split up and sent God knows where among the English.’
Her mouth went dry. The darkness that swirled around her was suddenly tinged with red. None of her suspicions had prepared her for this terrible certainty.
‘You did it today? Not just you, but Tony and Angelo as well?’ Resentment boiled inside her, not just over William’s defection, but Tony’s and Angelo’s. Just who did they think was going to run the cafés now?
‘Yes,’ he answered quietly,
‘That’s why you all went out together this morning?’
He bent his head and kissed her forehead. Because of the darkness she couldn’t tell whether he’d meant to kiss her there, or on her lips. ‘It makes sense, love.’
‘No it doesn’t. It doesn’t make sense for any of you to go.’
‘It’s not as though we want to …’
‘Oh yes, you do,’ she contradicted bitterly. ‘You might say you don’t, but just look at the lot of you! You haven’t a brain between you! You can’t even wait for them to come and get you, you have to volunteer. What do you think war is? A picnic in France with continental girls fawning all over you? Soldiers get shot. They die!’
‘I know what war is. My father got killed in the last one, remember?’
‘Then you’ve less reason to go than anyone. Your family has paid the price once; don’t break your mother’s heart a second time. Please, Will, stay and work in the pit,’ she begged, refusing to accept that it was already too late for him to change his mind. ‘They’ll win this war whether you go or not.’
‘None of us are stupid enough to believe that we’re important in the scheme of things, but we’ve no choice. Can’t you see that? All of us are going to be called up – this month – next month – it’s only a matter of time. And as we’ve got to go, we prefer to go together.’
‘So it’s better to get killed in crowds? Is that what you’re saying?’
‘No, but having a mate around can make a difference. My father joined up with half the men from the Graig. When he died Bob Roberts from Danygraig Street was with him.’
‘And you want Eddie, Tony and Angelo to hold your hand when you get killed?’
‘I’ve no intention of getting killed.’
‘I bet every soldier who’s ever marched away has said that.’
‘Eddie says the biggest danger in France is being hit on the head by a leaflet dropped from a German plane. As soon as we’ve done our training we’ll be sent to join him, and just the threat of a trained force stationed across the German border will be enough to make Hitler back down. You’ll see.’ He’d read a similar sentiment in a newspaper, and although he didn’t really believe it, he repeated it in the hope that it would deflect Tina’s anger. He loved her, but he was very wary of her one and only shortcoming – the infamous and explosive Ronconi temper.
‘Then go. The lot of you – but don’t come crying to me when you get killed!’ Blinded by tears as well as darkness, she turned abruptly on her heel and felt for the gap in the wall that marked the step that led to her front door.
‘Tina, please …’
‘Don’t Tina me!’
He put his arm around her shoulders and dragged her back into the shelter of the wall. ‘I would have had to go sooner or later, you know that.’
‘But not now,’ she cried.
‘My going won’t make any difference to us. You know I love you.’
‘No I don’t.’
‘I’m telling you now.’
For the first time she was glad of the darkness. He’d always been far too adept at reading the expressions on her face. ‘How am I supposed to know you love me when you’ve never told me?’
‘I assumed you knew.’
‘Assumed! I thought you were just passing time with me, like that Vera Collins.’
‘It’s always been serious between you and me,’ he broke in indignantly. Vera Collins was a married woman he’d had a brief affair with, an incident he’d long since relegated to ancient history, but unfortunately one Tina never failed to resurrect every time they argued.
‘Ssh!’ Locking her hands around his neck, she stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. He crushed her against him with a fervour that belied the separation to come. Almost as though he could hold on to her by simply clasping her as tight, and for as long as humanly possible. But the embrace, far from reassuring, only served to remind Tina that he would soon be gone.
Summoning all her strength, she thrust him away. ‘When will you have to go?’
‘I’m not sure. Next week, perhaps the week after.’
‘You didn’t think to ask?’
‘The recruiting officer couldn’t tell us. You will wait for me?’
‘You expect me to wait around for years …’
‘It won’t take years.’
‘Don’t tell me you’re one of those fools who believe the war will be over by Christmas?’
‘Not Christmas, but by then we’ll have pushed out over the French border and have Jerry on the run.’