Elsie gets her job back.
Uncle Stan took us to the station in the morning. He did offer to take us home to Mile End but I did not think it fair and both Alice and I were looking forward to the train journey. We could see sporadic bomb damage as we made our way on the train, but the closer we got to London the worse the devastation got. The journey was not fast due to all the temporary repairs to the damaged tracks. We arrived at Victoria Station and were shocked by a great section of the roof missing. A porter told us that a German plane had crashed into the roof.
My Uncle Stan had telephoned my father so we did not arrive back home unexpected. Mother seemed to be genuinely pleased to see us but father was still at work. As soon as we were settled Alice dashed off round to Molly’s house.
I sat drinking tea with my mother. “I didn’t mention it at Caterham,” Mother said, “because I thought your dad might say things that would upset you. But I feel so sorry for you over your loss.”
“Thanks’, Mum. I thought no one cared.”
“Oh, I cared. When we got home I even lay in bed the next morning crying for you after your Dad had gone off to work. Believe it or not I do know how you feel. Your grandparents were not happy with my first love. But we decided to get engaged against their wishes before he went over to France in the Great War. The newspapers said it would be over by Christmas, but it wasn’t. He never returned home and his body was never found. I was heart broken.”
“Well, I would never have guessed that in a million years.” Although I didn’t usually get on with my mother, I walked over and we gave each other a fond cuddle.
Alice walked in. “Oh, can I join in?” she said. Mother and I put an arm out each and we enjoyed a brief three person hug.
“Was Molly not in then?” I said.
“No. She’s gone and joined The Women’s Land Army and has been sent to a farm in Norfolk. I think I might join as well.”
“You can do a lot worse,” Mother said.
“I didn’t think Molly would be old enough,” I said.
“Her sister thinks that they were not too bothered about checking her age, but they are taking girls at seventeen now anyway.”
“No point in you applying, Alice.” I said. “Dad would be straight down there and put a stop to it.”
“Think I’ll wait a while anyway.”
“I’m going round to the baker’s shop to see if anything has happened there. Do you want to come with me, Alice?”
“No. Uncle Stan gave me some vegetable seeds and I want to find somewhere to plant them.”
“I thought the bakers was bombed out?” Mother said.
“It was, but I want to see if they managed to save the ovens and other stuff.”
I set off and was soon looking over at the destroyed shop. I crossed the road and managed to see that the ovens had gone. There was a poster on the surviving bit of wall with a notice on it saying the owners had acquired temporary premises in the nearby Burdett Road. I made my way towards Burdett Road hoping they may give me my job back, but of course I knew they would have employed somebody else. I thought it would be good to go and see them anyway. I knew of the horror of the continuous bombing of London earlier, but I was still shocked by the devastation. There were factories, shops and houses destroyed and flattened at every turn. How anywhere survived at all was amazing. I got to the shop just as they were closing up for the day. “Hello, Mrs Freeman.”
“Elsie, what a treat it is to see you. I wondered if you were back.”
“How has it been, Mrs Freeman?”
“Not good. It gets more and more difficult to get supplies. There are queues every day but I don't see a lot of my old regular customers any more. Maybe they don’t like the walk over here or maybe they have gone away. I don’t even want to think about the third reason but there has been many casualties. Really it’s been hell, Elsie. Every night, nearly every bleeding night the evil bastards dropped their satanic loads on innocent civilians. It has eased off at the moment, but for how long? Remember old Paul and Pauline who used to come in with their two lovely daughters. All perished.”
“That is so sad. Very nice people and the antics of the two young girls was hilarious.” I didn’t want to hear any more. It was upsetting me. “You managed to salvage the ovens?”
“Yes, it was difficult but we had a lot of help. The local people were amazing and I will be forever grateful to them. Alfred, the rag and bone man even brought the ovens round here on his horse and cart.”
“Have you got someone else to take over my job?”
“Not at the moment. The girl who worked here went off to work in the munitions factory at Woolwich.”
"Do you think I could have my job back then?"
"Of course. I was hoping you would ask. I am trying to cope on my own at the moment."
“Is Mr Freeman not about?”
“He went home early. Twisted his ankle crossing some rubble, the idiot. He is needed. We have to go all over London and out of town too to get supplies and do the few deliveries that we still have. He can’t drive the van with his ankle so I might have cancel our deliveries for a while.”
“I can drive. I’ll drive the van for you.”
"I didn't know you could drive, Elsie."
"I learnt while we were at Caterham."
“Elsie, if you could drive the van and do the deliveries it will help us so much. Are you sure you don't mind though?"”
“I’m sure,” I said. I was more than sure. I have my job back which and the driving opportunity is an added bonus.
“Can you get here at five in the morning?”
“I’ll be here.”
“I’ll get him out tomorrow. He can go with you and show you where to go.”
"Can he walk all right on his bad foot?"
"He can bloody well hobble."
I gave a laugh. “Right, I’ll give you a hand to clear up and then I'll see you in the morning.” With my help we were soon done.
“I can’t give you any cake; we don’t make much cake now, but take a slab of bread pudding for your table.”
“You don’t have to do that, Mrs Freeman.”
“Yes, I do. Please take it.”
“Thank you so much. My family will love that.” On my way home I thought about how lucky I was to get a driving job. This will give me the experience that I need. I’m sure they will let me help in the shop as well. It’s all thanks to my dear Ronnie learning me to drive. How I miss my sweetheart. To think I could have been engaged now. I could feel that I was getting upset and needed to change my thoughts. The slab of bread pudding was well received at home and I knew it would not last long.
Alice was the first to cut herself a piece after we finished dinner. She soon woofed it down. “Do you fancy going to the dance hall tonight, Elsie?” she asked.
“Now that is a great idea. We can get ready after we have done the dishes.”
“So, did you get your job back at the baker’s?” my father asked.
“Yes, and I am driving the van for them.”
“Huh! You won’t find driving on these roads the same as driving in Caterham.”
“I didn’t want to argue. I just walked out to the scullery.”
We got to the dance hall and the factory across the road was like a skeleton of an old abbey. “Lucky the bomb didn't fall a hundred yards this way or there would be no dance hall.” I said.
“Lucky yeah,” Alice said. “Luck of the draw as they say.”
The place was very busy. People obviously taking advantage of the lull in the raids. Alice and I were soon up dancing with too very young soldiers.
“So, what mob are you in?” I asked.
“We are in the Army Service Corps, but I am waiting for my training in the Royal Signals.”
I looked around the hall. “Do you know if there is any one here from the Engineers?”
“Those two, sitting at that table by the toilets.”
I looked over and knew it wasn’t Tom. “Can you two look after my sister for a minute. I won’t be long.” I started to walk over, but my sister was not happy being left with the two men so she followed after me. I got to the table and the men looked up at me. “Hello,” I said.
“Well, hello,” they replied almost in unison.
“I’m looking for a sapper friend of mine, Tom,” I suddenly realised that I didn’t know Tom’s surname. “He’s a sergeant.”
“There are a few Sergeant Tom’s in the Engineers,” one of them said. “And who’s this pretty young thing behind you?”
I looked around at Alice. “I told you to stop over there.” Alice just grinned at me and I looked back at the soldiers. I had noticed that the other soldier seemed to be staring at me.
“I know you,” he said. “Elsie. You were with Tom Jenkins the night of the first heavy raid on London. And this young girl is your sister, Molly.”
"This is my sister, Alice. Molly is our friend."
He turned to the other man. “Go and get four teas and some sugar if you can.”
The other man seemed eager to comply. “I’ll need help carrying them,” he said and looked at Alice. “Can you come and help me young lady?”
“I don't mind if I do,” she said.
“Let's go then, he said. "By the way, I'm John and this is Charlie.”
As they walked off to the counter I sat with Charlie but kept my distance. Is Tom still here?” I asked.
“I’m afraid not. Did he tell you that we are a bomb disposal unit?”
“No, he didn’t.” Bomb disposal. I’ve heard it is a dangerous job and he is not here. I feared the worst. “Oh, no, don’t tell me…”
“No, no, it’s nothing like that. We are very busy here but there have been heavy raids elsewhere. Tom volunteered to lead a small team up in Liverpool as part of the Manchester Company.”
I laughed. I don’t really know why, perhaps it was just a release, a relief. “I’m sorry, but you had me worried for a moment.”
“That’s okay. I understand.”
“So, why Liverpool?”
“He lives up that way.”
“Will I be able to contact him if you let me know where he is based?”
“Out of the question, Elsie. I’ve said too much already.”
“Well, if you see him, please tell him that I was asking about him.”
“Of course, I will. I know he was really fed up when he couldn't see you. He really liked you.”
“I wanted to meet but because of the bombing my parents made us go to my Uncle’s in Surrey the next morning. I was also fed up because I couldn’t see him again and I really liked him as well.”
“Oh, well I don't know much more about that. But if I do manage to contact him I'll let him know what you said.”
Please please contact him, I thought. And then he might come back to London.
Alice and John came back with the tea. “See it was worth taking Alice. She flashed her eyes at the young sprog behind the counter and there is plenty sugar in all the teas.”
“How come you two are not up dancing?” I said to Charlie.
“Too tired. We’ve been busy all day and we have just been given an hour’s rest, so we are resting. We’ll probably be working through the night.”
“Who want’s to dance anyway,” Alice said. “We would rather sit through your break with you two, isn’t that right, Elsie?”
“Yes, if you don’t mind.”
“Let me think, do I want to spend my break sitting with two beautiful young girls. Oh, all right then.”
The time soon passed. Charlie looked at his watch. “Well, we’d better get off,” he said.
“Do you have to?” Alice said.
“Afraid so. Our Sergeant is not as friendly as Tom and we will get it if we are late back.”
“We can walk up the road with you?”
I looked at Alice. Don’t be so obvious, I thought.
“It’s all right, we have a truck outside and before you ask, we can’t get four in the front.”
"Well," Alice said. "You and Elsie can get in the front and me and John can climb in the back."
Charlie laughed. "That's not gonna happen," he said.
“Pity,” Alice said. “Can we walk to the truck with you then?”
“Alice, will you pack it in and don’t be so cheeky,” I said, but what I meant was don’t be so forward.
“Come on, let’s go then,” John said.
I was not sure that it was a good idea but I did like the look of Charlie.
We stood beside the truck. “We might see you in there again some time,” I said.
“It’s possible. We often take our break in there, though we never know when we can.”
I turned to look at Alice and she was in a very passionate kissing session with John. Oh, well, what the heck, I thought and reached over to start kissing Charlie and I was very excited by his response.
It was a bit late to go back into the hall so we made our way home.
“Wasn’t that exciting?” Alice said. “I feel all tingly. I think I am in love, Elsie.”
“Don’t be silly. We were with them for less than half an hour.”
“That’s all I need,” she said. “I’ve never been in love before. Except for Craig, and Joe, and Matthew of course, but they were just silly boys. John is a grown man and I felt his thingy pressing against me as we kissed.”
“Don’t be so bloody rude, Alice. When we get home you’d best wash your mouth out with salt water.”
“You’re only Jealous,” she said.
“Jealous, huh. If Charlie had got out of control like that with me he would have got a swift slap across his face.”
“Yeah, like I said, Jealous,” she said, and began laughing.
When we got home our Dad was still up listening to the radio.
“Decided to come home then?” he said.
“Yes, and it’s not late is it? We left early or we could still be there now.”
“I’m off to bed” Alice said and dashed up the stairs.
“Me too,” I said.
“Wait a minute girl,” Father said. “I’ve made a decision and you can have a job at our taxi firm. You can help out in the office.”
“But I already have a job. I start work at the baker’s tomorrow.”
“Oh, no you don’t. I won’t have you driving around London. It’s too dangerous."
"But they are expecting me. I have to do some deliveries."
"This conversation is over. I’ll be waking you in the morning and you are coming with me, like it or not. Now get to bed: you have to be up early in the morning.”