Authors: Jean Hill
The Twisted Way This book is dedicated to my husband Michael, with love and
thanks for his encouragement and support.
Also by Jean Hill
The Knave of Hearts
, AuthorHouse, 2007
Copyright © 2009 by Jean Hill
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording or
any information storage or retrieval system, without prior
permission in writing from the publisher.
The right of Jean Hill to be identified as the author of this work
has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988
First published in the United Kingdom in 2009
by Lower Moor Books
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons living or dead is coincidental and
not intended by the author
The Choir Press
The next time Peter visited Primrose House he clambered up the short metal staircase which led to the kitchen from the
garden. He sometimes entered the house that way when he
thought that Joyce Skillet would be there to let him in, though quite often the door was left unlocked if he was expected. Struggling with the icy conditions he clutched and held on, as well as he was able with bent old hands, to the slippery worn iron handrail in an effort to stop himself from falling, but his arthritic feet and legs were not helpful. On reaching the top he paused for a moment to catch his breath. The door swung open and, to his surprise, an arm shot out and hit him violently in the chest. Losing his grip on the rail he slid backwards. His legs buckled painfully beneath him as he plummeted downwards and landed with a sickening thud that resounded on the frozen earth. Peter struggled to open his eyes and saw someone holding a large stone above his head. He tried to cry out but could make no sound. Something akin to an electric crackle trickled across his brain accompanied by a bizarre and remote feeling of helplessness. Within seconds there was darkness.
Tom Hands quivered with fear and covered his ears in an attempt to shut out the sound of the air-raid siren and pene
trating whine from a plane’s engine. He was just five years
old, and intelligent enough to understand that the home he had known for the whole of his short life was under threat but unaware of the full extent of the danger and the fact that he would soon be thrust into a strange and bewildering future.
‘C’mon boy, get a move on, we ’ave to go down to the shelter.’ His mother Ruth’s voice was high and shrill with anxiety as she tried to prod him into action. ‘Those bloomin’ benches in the shelter may be ’ard but it’s safer there than our beds, wors’ luck. Our thick blankets will keep us warm, ducks. Come on luv!’ Her voice softened. ‘I’ve got a flask of nice warm tea and some of your favourite biscuits.’
Tom stood rigid and afraid. His muscles felt frozen and moving seemed almost impossible. The last thing he wanted was a mug of tea and sugary biscuits. His stomach churned with rebellion and his hands felt clammy.
His young mother placed her slim arms gently around his shoulders as she urged him forward. ‘Down the steps with yer me lad. Grab the torch, luv, ’urry ...’ urry ...’ He clung to her to gain some comfort and to steady his thin reluctant legs as she dragged him along with her.
Tom’s nervousness had intensified as the London Blitz continued night after night without a break. The final months of 1940 developed into a nightmare for both mother and child and this night was as miserable as any they had experienced before. Tom, although not fully aware of the full force of the peril that encircled them, would ask with peevish and bewildered repetition: ‘Why, Mum? Why? Wot they doing it for?’
She could not provide any rational reply and tried to comfort him as best she could.
‘Don’t fret, luv,’ she whispered in her distinct soft cockney voice. ‘If you can hear those bombs whistlin’ down they ain’t going to land on you and if you don’t hear ’em well …’ We’ll not know anything about it anyway, she thought. ‘Keep yer pecker up, ducks.’ This piece of advice failed to reassure him.
‘C-can hear that one, Mum,’ he stammered; his legs threatened to fold beneath him and his bottom lip quivered.
‘Don’t worry my pet, the searchlights will show our gunners where the enemy planes are. You go to sleep now.’
‘All clear, Mum,’ the boy piped up in his thin childish voice as soon as the unwavering raucous note of the siren blared forth to signal the end of the raid. He had been curled up as usual on one of the thin hard benches with eyes squeezed shut, feigning sleep for what seemed an eternity, but it was only an hour before he heard that shrill continuous sound. He had placed his hands together under his blanket in the way he had been taught by his mother. Please God come on and help us will yer, passed continuously through his mind until the all clear sounded, which was music to his ears.
‘That was a short’un, fank goodness that’s over,’ he uttered and sighed with relief.
Mother and son heard the clanging bells of fire engines, ambulances and police cars rushing to aid injured people, many of whom needed urgent hospital treatment. To Tom the sounds were exciting because he had no understanding of the extent of the carnage.
‘Where are they all going, Mum?’ There was no satisfactory reply and Ruth could only shrug and change the subject. The sight of dead and dying being dug from the crumbling ruins of buildings became commonplace but she made a tenacious, almost desperate, effort to protect her son from seeing them. The bloomin’ situation was bad enough without foisting memories like those upon the poor little devil, she thought. The smell of burning blowing across the backyard became too frequent for comfort and for her a stark reminder that their turn could be next. Up to now they had been lucky but luck was something in which she had almost no faith. Ruth had not had her fair share of luck during her short life.
Tom recognized the sounds of the different aeroplane engines. ‘That’s a German bomber, it’s got three engines Mum, hear the mmm mmm mmm?’ or ‘That’s an English night fighter,’ he would inform her.
‘Abs’lutely right,’ his mother responded with exaggerated pride. She accepted that the boy was more knowledgeable than she was. She had not excelled in any way at school and accepted that she was not very clever but she believed Tom was exceptional. His teacher had described him as a ‘gifted child’. He should go a long way, Ruth told herself, this ghastly war permitting. I’ll keep me fingers crossed. But hopes for the rosy future of which she dreamed for her beloved child began to disintegrate. She could see no end to the misery and feared that quite soon they would die in agony in a pile of rubble.
On most evenings they trudged to the damp and unwelcoming Anderson shelter, a monstrosity that had been hastily built in their small backyard from thick grey sheets of ugly corrugated steel bolted together to make a curved roof, set several feet into the ground with one small door in the front. Ruth thought it was an intrusion that overpowered the small backyard but it did look sturdy though a direct hit would be a different matter. Tom loathed the shelter so sometimes, as a special treat, in spite of food shortages, his mother would produce some lemonade and a few sweets in addition to the biscuits and ubiquitous flask of tea. She continued to make light of the situation but the oppressive interior of the shelter frightened the child more than whistling bombs. An insidious smell of damp and decay pervaded and Tom imagined he was a mouse caught in a trap. He longed to escape from the shelter’s claustrophobic musty atmosphere.
‘There are rats out there Mum,’ he said after seeing one scuttling at the bottom of the backyard one afternoon. ‘They are horrible things with dirty feet and greasy tails. Do you fink one could get in the shelter?’
‘That’s nonsense my pet. We’re lucky, it’s safe in there,’ his mother reassured him whilst she stroked his soft baby-fine fair hair and settled him on his bench for the night. She would cover him with a bright striped woollen blanket that had been his from when he was a baby, a gesture of reassurance, defiance and determination on her part. The blanket had been her first attempt at knitting and displayed bands of garish colours – orange, green and blue, bumpy and uneven –because she had used odd leftover balls of wool given to her by friends and customers at work. An old doubled-up eiderdown filled with goose feathers served as a mattress. Its faded green shot-silk cover was worn and tattered but it was familiar and comfortable. Tom had seen it on his mother’s bed and he had always liked it. ‘It’s pure silk,’ she told him with inordinate pride, ‘really posh, ducks. ’Twas given to me by a real lady. She used to buy choc’lates in the shop I once worked in.’ Tom stroked it and wound the soft frayed edges around his fingers, deriving a vestige of pleasure from the familiar texture.
Ruth was a plucky individual but her fear for the safety of her young son verged upon panic as the nightly raids continued. Since her husband had been drafted into the army she felt an increasing feeling of abandonment. She had waved goodbye to him at the local railway station some months earlier, and the fact that most of her friends and neighbours were in the same position did not provide any comfort. She had lived in the old red brick terraced house following her marriage before the outbreak of war in 1939. The poorly furnished rooms had, until her husband’s departure, echoed with laughter, good companionship and a shared pride in their small son. They had been happy. She thought that her Robert was a lovely fellow and this damned war and the wretched Nazis had ruined everything. It wasn’t fair.
‘Those Jerries won’t knock our home down in a hurry. It’s built to last,’ she told Tom when they heard bombs whistling down around them. Although not religious, she prayed that their home would not be destroyed. The blast from bombs had shaken the walls a few times and blown out two windows which had now been boarded up, and the sound of bricks clattering down and breaking glass nearby was commonplace. A deep uneven crack developed in a wall at the back of the house, a long and invasive tendril that reached from just below an upstairs window to the ground floor. Tom poked small inquisitive fingers into it and surveyed the fine red dust with interest as it crumbled, clung to his hands and crept under his fingernails.
‘Mum, I need the lav,’ Tom’s small voice would prompt her when they were in the shelter and a raid continued for a long time. As tension mounted his need to relieve himself would increase and sleep become elusive.
‘Use the bucket, ducks …’ She pointed to the white enamelled bucket in which wet washing was once placed. It now served as an emergency toilet and was covered by a dirty chipped lid.
‘I’ll wait a bit Mum, I ’ate buckets. Smelly ol’ things. That one ’as ruff edges and it’s not private eiver,’ was his usual reply which made Ruth sigh with frustration although she was sympathetic and felt the same repulsion.
Tom staggered out of the shelter as soon as he could to go to the cold and unwelcoming outside toilet, which was rough bricked and coated with peeling white paint, smelly and neglected, but anything was better than crouching in that Anderson shelter to relieve himself in a bucket. The pipes in the toilet were often frozen, in spite of his mother’s stoical efforts to wrap them with old rags, but he was glad the bog, as they called it, was there. He knew the way without a torch, though there was one to hand if they had any batteries.