Authors: Ellie Dean
It’s 1943 and Peggy Reilly is at her best when the troubles of war come knocking at the door of Beach View Boarding House – especially when it concerns her younger sister, Doreen.
Doreen is divorced from Eddie, but his letters have taken on a more threatening tone of late. When Doreen barely survives a traumatic disaster whilst on leave in London, she returns home to Peggy and Cliffehaven in the hope that the love and comfort she will find there can help her recover.
However, Eddie continues to be an unsettling reminder of her past – and Doreen’s life is about to change dramatically.
Sweet Memories of You
is Ellie Dean’s tenth novel. She lives in a tiny hamlet set deep in the heart of the South Downs in Sussex, which has been her home for many years and where she raised her three children. To find out more visit
SWEET MEMORIES OF YOU
is dedicated to the East End and the marvellous people who fought the war in their own inimitable way, and in particular to those who lost their lives on 3
I would like to thank Jenny Geras and Francesca Pathak, and also my agent Teresa Chris for her support and encouragement.
Thanks also go to the many people I’ve spoken to who have lived through the war and been so generous with their personal memories to help me really get the sense of place and time. The stoicism, and the almost off-hand acceptance that sleeves had to be rolled up, privations had to be borne and that bravery had very little to do with it all, is quite humbling. I salute all of you – especially Joyce Florence Williams. You were an absolute delight to talk to, and I promise that your story will be told during this series.
Doreen Grey felt a flutter of excitement as she adjusted her little felt hat, gathered up her overnight bag and gas-mask box and left the train she’d boarded at Knockholt station that morning. She knew some might think it ridiculous for a woman of her age to feel like this – after all, she was thirty-five, the divorced mother of two little girls, and held a position of great trust in the MOD. Yet here she was, as giddy and smitten as a schoolgirl, dressed up to the nines in her best slacks, sweater and overcoat, unable to contain herself at the thrill of seeing Archie again.
She could only imagine what her snooty sister Doris would have to say about such things – yet she didn’t really care. Life was for living, and it was important to live it to the full, for no one knew what tomorrow might bring.
As she sat on the bus that would take her to the London docks, she caught sight of her reflection in the grimy window and was quite taken aback at how love and excitement had enhanced her appearance. Her freshly washed dark wavy hair shone beneath the rather fetching hat, her brown eyes were bright, and her clear skin radiated with her happiness. Archie was coming home for a whole week’s leave while his ship was being refitted for its next trip with the convoy across the Atlantic, and they had made so many plans to fill each and every moment together that she could only pray nothing would happen to spoil it.
She felt the blush rise in her cheeks at the thought of being with him in that small hotel room she’d booked, and the intimacy they would share once they were truly alone. It had been too long since his last leave – too many nights when she’d lain awake, terrified that he might be killed or injured during those perilous weeks at sea – and over the three years since they’d met there had been only brief encounters when he was ashore. In between, she’d had only his letters and sweet memories to sustain her.
She drew his latest letter from her handbag and looked fondly at the photograph he’d enclosed with it. Archie Blake was the Chief Engineer on a destroyer which escorted the convoys of merchant ships back and forth between England and America. He was a great bear of a man who’d escaped the poverty of the East End at fifteen through a naval apprenticeship and a career at sea. With thick black hair and beard and dark blue eyes, he was blessed with the sort of unrestrained laughter and joy in life that she found irresistible.
Doreen couldn’t help but smile as she remembered how he towered beside her as they walked along; his seaman’s kitbag slung over one broad shoulder, his gait as rolling as the ocean. And how the other girls would shoot him the glad eye, for he was an imposing figure in his naval uniform. Yet for all his size he was a gentle man – an unselfish and skilled lover who wrote beautiful letters and could hold her close with such tenderness it made her misty-eyed.
Doreen blinked rapidly and hastily stowed the letter and snapshot carefully back in her handbag. The bus had turned the last corner, and she could see the funnels and anti-aircraft guns of his ship above the roofs of the many warehouses lining the docks. She shot the clippie a grin as she waited for the bus to stop, unable to contain her excitement.
‘Lucky old you,’ the girl said with a knowing wink. ‘You be sure to give ’im a kiss from me. All the girls love a sailor, eh?’
‘They certainly do,’ she replied before jumping down.
She walked quickly past the high fence that was topped with great thick rolls of barbed wire towards the heavily barricaded entrance gate where two armed marines stood guard. Pulling her identification papers and MOD pass from her coat pocket, she had to wait impatiently while they were checked minutely before she was free to enter the dockyards.
There was hustle and bustle everywhere, with stevedores loading and unloading the enormous grey ships, cranes lifting vast crates into holds, sailors and marines running to and fro on important missions, and warehousemen shouting orders to porters and the young boys who were employed as runners. Tugs chugged busily through the choppy waters as gulls screeched and mewled overhead amongst the barrage balloons, and barges laden with wood and coal slowly made their majestic way, the great dray horses patiently plodding along the towpaths.
Doreen walked confidently through the melee. She was used to being outnumbered by men, for she was one of only a handful of women who worked amongst the boffins and engineers at Fort Halstead Projectile Development Establishment. She was private secretary to one of the scientists who, alongside the brilliant Barnes Wallis, was testing ground-breaking weapons to defeat the enemy. Her work was exciting and fulfilling, but now her thoughts were only for Archie.
She turned at the sound of his booming voice, her smile broad, her heart giving a little extra beat of pleasure at the sight of him. She dropped her holdall and ran towards him as he opened his arms – and within moments was engulfed in his embrace and lifted off her feet.
There were no words to say; their joyful, loving kiss was enough. Together at last, they could forget the war, their work and everything else and just be themselves.
Beach View Boarding House stood in one of the many lines of terraced Victorian houses which climbed the hill away from the Cliffehaven seafront. The only view of the sea it afforded was from one of the top-floor windows, but that hadn’t deterred the many holidaymakers who’d come to stay before the war. It had been Peggy Dawson’s childhood home, and after her marriage to Jim Reilly, they’d returned to take over from her parents on their retirement and raise their children there.
It was still dark outside and Peggy Reilly lay in bed and wondered how her sister Doreen was getting on in London with her Archie. Their week together was coming to an end and soon he’d be back at sea. She didn’t blame Doreen in the least for spending intimate time with him. After all, she was divorced and he was single. At times like this, it was little wonder that people disregarded the strict codes that had once stifled their natural instincts, for life was uncertain, and it was important to snatch every moment of happiness.
Peggy nestled deeper into the bedclothes as the rain splattered against the taped glass in the window and the wind howled up from the Channel to buffet the walls and rattle the loose drainpipe. This old house had seen many changes over the years. Once war had been declared and the holiday trade dwindled to nothing, Peggy had gone to the billeting office to offer a home from home for girls who, for one reason or another, needed shelter. Their arrival brought youthful life back into the echoing rooms left empty by her older children, and although there were only four girls lodging with her at the moment and Jim had been called up, Peggy still had her baby Daisy, the elderly and rather deaf Cordelia Finch, and her father-in-law, Ron, to look after.
The once rather sleepy little seaside town of Cliffehaven had also seen many changes during the past four years, for the chalk cliffs that sheltered the horseshoe bay now resounded with the roar of Spitfires, Wellingtons and Lancaster bombers taking off and landing at Cliffe aerodrome. The heavily forested Cliffe estate rang with the sounds of saws and axes as the women of the Timber Corps chopped down trees to provide railway sleepers, heavy beams to prop up mine shafts, and timber for emergency housing. The girls of the Land Army worked in the fields, sowing and harvesting much-needed crops to feed everyone now that the Atlantic convoys were constantly under attack, and the gracious old manor house was home to a regiment of American soldiers.
Beneath the towering chalk cliff at the eastern side of the bay, and stretching all the way to the rolling hills that tumbled towards the sea at the west, the promenade was heavily fortified with huge coils of barbed wire and several gun emplacements. The shingle beach had been mined, and vast concrete shipping traps were strung across the bay to deter enemy landings. The pier which had provided entertainment only a few years before was now cut adrift from the promenade, its blackened, rusting skeleton embedded with the remains of a German fighter plane. The elegant Victorian shelters bore the scars of bullets, and the line of rather grand hotels and guest houses that lined the promenade had been shattered by bombs to leave ugly, rubble-filled gaps that were already sprouting weeds and thistles.
The town itself bore little resemblance to how it once had been, for the cinema had fallen victim to a direct hit, the recreation ground was dug over to provide not only a vast public shelter but a vegetable allotment, and every iron railing had been removed to provide the metal needed to build planes. The large area of tenement housing behind the station had been wiped out by a firebomb attack at the beginning of the war – the station itself had lost its waiting room and ticket office – and where there had once been only a scattering of small industrial units to the north of the town there was now a vast complex of factories situated behind a heavily guarded wire fence in the shadows of huge barrage balloons.