Authors: Margaret Dickinson
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas, #Historical, #Romance, #20th Century, #General
‘I’ll do it,’ Rose offered and left the room.
Pushing the door closed behind her, she hissed, ‘Peg, what’s the matter with you? Bob’s waiting for you.’
‘So? He can wait a minute whilst I put the pots away, can’t he?’
‘Well, if it was me—’ Again Rose bit back the words. Oh, she was going to have to be so careful.
Peggy sighed as she closed the cupboard door and took a last look round the kitchen. Everything was neat and tidy. ‘I’m coming.’
Back in the living room, Bob half rose to his feet as the two girls came in, his eyes alighting on Peggy’s face. Rose’s heart twisted painfully as she saw the adoration in his eyes directed at her sister. Why couldn’t it be me? she was thinking, but she turned away, sat down at the table beside Myrtle and picked up a book. The printed words danced before her eyes and she couldn’t concentrate on the story as she listened to what Bob was saying.
‘I’d thought we might go out but the snow’s still deep in places where folks haven’t cleared their fronts. Anyway, I just thought I’d pop and see how you all were.’
‘I don’t expect you did much “popping”,’ Grace muttered. ‘It’s nearly a mile to your place, isn’t it? It must have taken you an age in this weather.’
Bob grinned. ‘Not quite a mile, Mrs Booth, and yes, it was a bit slow going.’ He glanced at Peggy and the unspoken words hung in the air. But it was worth it to see Peggy.
A few days later, when most of the snow had cleared and the city’s transport was running normally once more, Bob called again on the Friday evening. This time he suggested a trip to the cinema. ‘But I’m not sure where we can go,’ he said as he hovered near the door. All places of entertainment had been closed on the outbreak of war.
Myrtle glanced up from her books. ‘They should all be open again by now. They started reopening as early as last September. They were only closed for a couple of weeks when war was declared.’
All eyes turned to look at her.
‘How d’you know that?’ Grace asked.
‘There was an advert in your newspaper. Obviously – ’ sarcasm crept into her tone – ‘you don’t read it very well.’
‘Less of your cheek, young lady.’
Bob’s face brightened visibly. ‘That’s all right then. Shall we go, Peg?’
‘If you like.’
‘You might sound a little more enthusiastic,’ Rose couldn’t stop herself saying.
‘Perhaps you’d like to go somewhere different,’ Bob said.
is still on at the Lyceum,’ Myrtle said with deliberate wide-eyed innocence. ‘Or you could go dancing.’
Peggy ignored her and smiled. ‘Of course I’d like to go out, Bob, but I’d really like to go to the Regent cinema. There’s Robert Taylor and Hedy Lamarr in
Lady of the Tropics
. I’d love to see that.’
‘Then that’s where we’ll go.’
‘Have I time to change?’
‘Of course, but you look fine as you are,’ he added gallantly.
Myrtle rolled her eyes and exchanged an amused glance with her grandmother.
‘Don’t be too late home, darling,’ Mary said. ‘You’re on early in the morning, aren’t you?’
Before she had time to respond, Bob said, ‘I’ll make sure she’s home in good time, Mrs Sylvester. I’m on the same shift.’
‘As ever,’ Rose muttered under her breath and thought, I reckon Bob bribes Mr Bower to keep him as Peggy’s motorman.
As the door finally closed behind the young couple, Grace muttered, ‘What’s she doing, stringing the poor lad along? I can’t make her out.’
‘I think she’s very fond of him,’ Mary said, her knitting needles clicking rhythmically.
Grace snorted. ‘Fond, indeed. That’s hardly enough for marriage, is it?’
‘Not all love is whistles and bells and crashing cymbals, Mother.’
‘Isn’t it?’ Grace pretended innocence. ‘Then it should be. I just hope she’s not leading him on and then going to hurt him. He’s a nice, steady sort of lad.’
Unseen by the rest of the family, Myrtle raised her eyes to the ceiling. How dull, she was thinking, how
romantic. She buried her head once more in her copy of
, relishing the passion between Catherine and Heathcliff that almost singed the pages of the book. Now here was true love.
‘Peggy’s very quiet and reserved,’ Mary said. ‘She doesn’t say a lot.’
‘More’s the pity,’ Grace countered. ‘Now, if it was our Rose here, we’d all soon know if she was in love. She’d be even more scatterbrained than usual.’
Rose managed a grin, but inside her heart was breaking. Oh, don’t hurt him, Peggy, please don’t hurt him.
‘So how are you enjoying life as a clippie?’ Peggy asked.
‘It’s great, but I hadn’t realized it was going to be quite so much hard work. My feet are killing me by the end of a shift and you don’t get much time to look around, do you? I was so looking forward to seeing more of the city we pass through, specially when we go to the outskirts and you can catch a glimpse of the countryside.’
‘But you do see all walks of life, don’t you?’
Rose laughed. ‘You can tell what people are by the time they travel on the tram and the way they’re dressed; all the factory workers very early in the morning, then the office workers and shop assistants along with the kids going to school.’
Peggy pulled a face. ‘Children are the worst. The little devils are always playing with the seats upstairs, crashing them backwards and forwards in their sockets. The times I have to run upstairs just to stop them.’ She cast her eyes to the ceiling in mock despair.
‘Then you get the shoppers. They’re the best. You hear all kinds of snippets of gossip and, despite their worries, they’re mostly a cheerful bunch. But it’s the posh ladies that make me laugh. I can hardly keep a straight face when one of them looks down her nose at me and then sits down in her fancy clothes on a seat that a few hours ago was occupied by a coal miner.’
‘Just watch out for an inspector getting on,’ Peggy reminded her. ‘It’ll always happen when you haven’t gone upstairs to get the latest fare or when the kids are yelling and running up and down on the top deck.’
‘Who? Mr Bower?’
‘He’s just one, and some of the others aren’t so understanding of mistakes, believe me.’
The two girls were enjoying comparing notes. ‘I’m so lucky having you, Peg, to show me the ropes.’ Impulsively she gave her sister a hug. ‘Thanks.’
‘Oh, I’ll keep you on the right track.’ At her unintentional pun, both girls dissolved into laughter.
To Rose’s surprise, Mr Bower was unstinting in his praise. ‘I was wrong about you, Rose,’ he was generous enough to admit and he said as much to anyone who would listen. ‘I thought you were a flighty piece, but you’ve settled in right well.’
Rose blushed at his praise. ‘I love the work, Mr Bower. I knew I would.’
‘So, you don’t mind the cold mornings and the late nights, the awkward passengers and all the motormen flirting with you.’
Rose laughed. ‘I was used to that working in the canteen. I can handle them.’
‘Ah, but I worry about you young lasses.’
‘You don’t have to be concerned about me, Mr Bower.’
She saw the man glance at her, doubt etched into his face. She could almost read his thoughts. Peggy’s the steady one, but I’m still not sure about you. Rose turned away lest he should read something in her eyes that she didn’t want him – or anyone else for that matter – to see.
Alice, too, had settled in better than she herself had expected. She and Rose met up in the canteen now and again and sometimes Peggy was able to join them. The three became friends at work, but they did not socialize together. Maybe it was because Alice was married and, even though her husband was away, she seemed reluctant to go out without him. ‘Derek wouldn’t like it,’ she said primly, when Rose asked her if she’d like to go to the cinema with her.
The war news in the early part of 1940 was depressing. In April the enemy invaded Norway and Denmark and when, at the end of May, Belgium and Holland fell, it seemed only a matter of time before France would be overwhelmed.
‘But our boys are over there,’ Rose said, wide-eyed with fear, as Grace read out snippets from the papers. ‘Walter’s probably there.’
The answer came only a few days later when the great evacuation of troops from Dunkirk’s beaches began. Now every member of the household was fighting over Grace’s newspaper to read the latest developments. On 31 May the front page of the
showed an artist’s impression of a bird’s eye view of the fighting. ‘Look,’ Grace jabbed a finger at the paper. ‘See how they’ve got the English and the French trapped with their backs to the sea.’
‘What are those meant to be?’ Myrtle asked, leaning over Grace’s shoulder and pointing at the tiny shapes of ships in the Channel.
‘Boats taking the soldiers off the beaches.’
‘And those?’ Now she pointed to birdlike shapes.
‘Planes – but whether they’re meant to be the RAF or enemy planes strafing the beaches, I don’t know.’
Mary sighed. ‘Both, probably.’
‘We’ve lost three destroyers already,’ Grace murmured, ‘but at least they’re getting our boys back home.’
Though it was a defeat for the British army, the rescue operation was hailed as a miraculous victory. The soldiers arrived back to a rapturous welcome, the papers said. They were dirty – many of them had lost their boots, their jackets – but still they clung to their rifles. And they were hungry. The people of the south-coast towns where the ships landed the men turned out to wave flags and cheer them home, but most importantly they were ready with food and drink. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of soldiers back on British soil, snatched from beaches, which had been under constant attack from German dive bombers, caused Rose to say, ‘Oh, I wish I was there to help. Now I understand what made the Bradshaw boys go.’
‘Don’t you get silly ideas into your head about volunteering,’ Grace warned, suddenly afraid that her headstrong granddaughter would do something impetuous. ‘Your job’ll be dangerous enough if we get bombed.’
Rose blinked. ‘We won’t get bombed here, will we? Not really? Oh, I know we’ve had to prepare, just like everyone else, but—’
Her voice faded away as Grace eyed her. ‘It wouldn’t be the first time,’ Grace said quietly.
‘What?’ Rose stared at her and then sank down into a chair. ‘What d’you mean?’
‘We were bombed in the last war.’
‘Not – not here. Not in Sheffield.’
Grace nodded. ‘Yes, here in Sheffield.’
‘But – but I didn’t think – I mean – how could their planes get this far?’
‘It was a Zeppelin raid. There were twenty-eight people killed and a lot injured.’
‘I – never knew. You’ve never said.’
Grace shrugged. ‘We all wanted to forget about the war. The men who’d been to the Front would never talk about it. Your dad included. And we all wanted to put it behind us and believe what they said about it being the war to end all wars. This city lost a lot of men on the Somme and then, only just afterwards, we got bombed. No one was prepared – not really. They all thought the same as you’re saying – that they couldn’t reach us. But they did.’ Grace fell silent, lost in her own thoughts. Rose waited, biting her lip to stop the questions from tumbling out. Grace would carry on in her own time and at her own pace. She wouldn’t be hurried.
‘Of course your dad and mam weren’t married then. That was before he came home injured and your mam – oh well, enough said about that, I suppose.’
‘Tell me about the bombing,’ Rose whispered, morbidly fascinated. She didn’t want to hear about their city being attacked and yet she had to know.
‘The first bombs fell on the Burngreave Cemetery.’
Rose gasped. ‘Where Dad and Grandad are buried?’
‘But that’s not far away from here.’
‘I know. We – your mother and me – watched it from the bedroom window and then we realized they might come our way, so we went down into the cellar.’
‘So that’s how you know the cellar will be the safest place?’
Grace nodded again, this time her face grim with unhappy memories. ‘And now Hitler’s overrun France, he can get right to the coast just across the Channel. Not only can he invade the south coast, but his bombers can probably reach every place in the British Isles.’
Rose gaped at her grandmother. For once in her life, she could think of nothing to say.
Grace turned back to her newspaper. ‘They’ve rescued over three hundred thousand men from Dunkirk,’ she said. ‘You can’t believe it, can you? France is lost, but we live to fight another day. I do hope Letty’s boy is all right. She hasn’t been round for a couple of days. Maybe there’s been bad news.’
Never one to shirk an unpleasant task, Rose said, ‘I’ll go round.’
She came back in only a few moments. ‘Letty’s in floods of tears – ’ Grace looked up sharply – ‘but it’s all right. They’ve just had news that Walter’s safe. He’s down south somewhere – but back in England. They’ve been desperately worried for several days ’cos they knew he’d just gone out there. She says – ’ Rose grinned in anticipation of her grandmother’s retort – ‘she’s sorry she hasn’t been round.’
Grace glanced up at her granddaughter. ‘I know just what you’re thinking. That I’m going to trot out one of my famous sayings. “It’s an ill wind . . .” and all that, but even I wouldn’t wish that kind of worry on anyone, let alone my neighbour. Oh, I know she irritates the life out of me some days and her two boys are little devils, but we could have a lot worse as neighbours, Rose.’
‘Yes, Gran,’ Rose said dutifully, stifling her laughter, especially when she saw Grace’s mouth twitching as she tried to stop herself laughing too.
A fortnight later one of Grace’s newspapers showed a picture of German soldiers riding on horseback up the Champs-Elysées.
‘How dreadful,’ Rose murmured, with tears in her eyes. She could picture such a scene happening here in her own city and shuddered at the thought.
Although the rescue operation from Dunkirk had been magnificent, there were sadly many casualties too and one amongst them affected both Rose and Peggy. Laurence approached them one morning when they reported for work.