A short play about a group of friends living through the hardships of WW2 in Britain.
|Scene 1 (1945)
[Shirley, Betty and Audrey sitting around a picnic rug. Audrey is dressed in black and clutching child in her arms]
Shirley: Do you remember… [Cut to 1939]
Scene 2 (1939)
[Everyone seated round picnic rug but 2 empty spaces. Audrey and Frank arrive late, Frank carrying wireless radio.]
Audrey: Daddy’s car broke down. We had to walk the last mile. These shoes will never be the same again! Frank would you be a darling and put it (the radio) down over there [gestures to empty spot on rug]
Ruth: Oh Audrey, you haven’t changed a bit since our school days!
Lois [joking]: You make it sound like they were more than a year ago. Stop making me feel old.
Audrey: Have you heard the rumours? The 11 o’clock news is going to be huge but it’s all very hush hush.
Shirley: If you’d been much later we would have missed it! Switch the wireless on and tuck in!
[Frank switches radio on and jazz plays softly in the background. Mumbled chat. At 11am, Audrey quietens the group and the war is announced. There is a stunned silence then Frank starts to cheer, followed by the rest of the group except Lee. Betty and Lois start to sing and Frank pulls Audrey up to dance. Ruth and Shirley pull an unwilling Lee to his feet and they too dance.]
Scene 3 (1945)
Betty: Of course I remember. We all thought it would be over by Christmas. How wrong we all were…
Betty: But what happened the next year? Edmund wasn’t born yet was he? [Looks at Audrey]
[Audrey opens her mouth to speak but Shirley beats her to it]
Shirley [giggle]: No, silly. We couldn’t meet up that year because I was away at Bletchley and... [Interrupted by Audrey]
Audrey [with sadness]: and that was mine and Frank’s honeymoon.
[Audrey sobs and rushes off scene still clutching child to her]
Shirley: Frank never did get over Ruth. He just wasn’t the same after her funeral. [Rushes off after Audrey]
Betty [after Shirley]: But he did always love Audrey.
Scene 4 (1941)
[All round picnic rug. Frank in army uniform]
Frank: Audrey, it’s wonderful you have been promoted; your own radio show!
Audrey [joking]: It’s only because all the men have left to go fight for us.
Betty [indignant]: And some women! [Quieter] Well, we can join the Land Army…
Lois: Or you could go to the Front, drive ambulances and nurse men back to health like me.
[Betty opens her mouth to speak]
Lee [timid but everyone listens]: At least they give you a job; try being the enemy in the wrong country…
Lois: Oh Lee I’m sorry!
Audrey [almost a whisper]: Our family is about to change…
[Frank and Audrey smile at each other. Everyone else looks quizzically at them]
Frank: Audrey greeted me with the most wonderful news when I returned; she’s expecting our first child! There wasn’t a clue in any of her letters but... [Dies off as he smiles lovingly at Audrey, quick but romantic kiss. Excited chat and congratulations from everyone]
Scene 5 (1945)
[The three women are back at the picnic rug. The baby is in a pram behind Audrey].
Betty: That was a bad year; we were all so stressed and focused on our own problems.
Shirley: Especially poor Lee. He was seen as the enemy by so many people.
Audrey: People who didn’t even know him. All because of Pearl Harbour. He still can’t come back to the city; people don’t view him as the enemy now, just another conquest.
Betty: People can be so awful!
Shirley: At least he is returning home to his family once the seas are safe again.
Audrey [looking at pram, smiling]: And my son came back to me. 3 years old and looking just like his father.
Scene 6 (1942)
[Frank, Lee, Betty, Shirley and Audrey are gathered around the pram]
Betty: He is so handsome.
Shirley [giggle]: Just life his father.
[Frank looks embarrassed. Audrey aims a playful swipe at Shirley. All 3 ladies laugh]
Frank [to Lee]: Women! [rolls eyes]
[Lee looks surprised that he is being involved in the conversation but smiles at Frank in response. Betty notices Lee’s response]
Betty: Oh Lee! You’re among friends; you’ll always mean the world to us. You know that, don’t you?
Lee: I know. [Smiles at them all]. It is just so hard when you are used to being shunned as the enemy.
[Betty lays a comforting hand on his shoulder. All move to sit around picnic rug]
Audrey [glances at pram]: Is he too young to send to safety? London is no place for a baby.
Betty: But you can go with him! He is young enough that you, the mother, can accompany him.
Frank [slightly bitter]: Yes but she won’t. [Mimics Audrey] The nation needs me. I am all the stability that remains in this hell.
Audrey: Look who is talking! You come home for one week each year!
[Everyone looks awkward as they bicker]
Frank: And I fight everyday so I have a home to come back to.
Audrey: And I am up at the crack of dawn every morning so you have people to come back to! Do you know how often they bomb us? Do you have any idea how tough it is?
[Frank sighs, his anger gone, and wanders off screen. Audrey won’t look at him. Shirley moves as if to go after him but Betty stops her. Audrey doesn’t notice]
Audrey [to no one in particular]: He goes away for so long and I miss him so greatly. You should see our letters! [She takes out a stack of letters from her handbag. They are tied with a ribbon and have evidently been read and reread over and over.] And then he comes home and all we can do is squabble and bicker with each other.
[Lee surprises everyone by laying a comforting arm around her shoulder.]
Scene 7 (1945)
Audrey: Oh how awful I was! I sent Edmund off mere weeks later. [Adds] After Mrs Jones lost her daughter…
Shirley [after a beat]: Well what happened the next year? [attempt to cheer everyone up]
Audrey and Betty [unison]: No!!!
Betty: That is one year I never want to remember again!
Audrey: But every night some part of it comes flooding back [dies off]
[Audrey and Betty stare nowhere in particular, they are reminiscing. Noise dies down and we hear Shirley over it all]
Shirley: [camera focussed on Betty] That was the year Lois died. Oh how she loved serving her country, but she hated the bodies, the screaming men in the back of her ambulance, the mutilations. But she wouldn’t give it up, she was so determined. And then there was the telegram for Betty from the office; no one ever came to tell her, just a telegram that her sister wasn’t coming home. It was James next door that told us she had hit a mine; they think 15 people died in that explosion. Think… they never found a whole body.
[Camera moves to Audrey]
Shirley: That was the year Frank was captured. Sent to a German prisoner of war camp goodness knows where. One day, Frank’s letters stopped. That was when we knew something was terribly wrong. Audrey expected the worst. Then a telegram came; Lee read it to her by the fire. It was an awful time; Lois dead and Frank captured within a month of each other. Of course, Audrey still expected a knock on the door.
[Camera focuses on the empty space on the rug]
Shirley: Lee left for the Scottish Highlands at the start of 1943, just as the snow melted. He wrote to us and spoke of the natural beauty and, most importantly, the acceptance he had found.
Shirley [breaks silence. Both girls turn to look at her]: But something good came that year! I met Henry… and Betty, Thomas proposed! [Beams round group. Audrey and Betty smile back faintly]. A New Year wedding [coaxing].
Betty: And… his father has offered us the farm house! Thomas has agreed that a farm is a great idea. Chickens, horses, sheep... Oh! You should see the lambs, just after they’re born! Beautiful..
Shirley [wary, careful]: 1945. Frank was free wasn’t he?
Scene 8 (1944)
[Betty and Shirley sitting round picnic rug talking. Audrey rushes on]
Audrey [excited, brandishing envelope]: He wrote! He’s free; he escaped last week with a group of them! They made it to Switzerland and he’s coming home! [Both girls cheer and hug her]
Shirley: I have my own good news; Henry proposed last night! He said he could feel the end of the war coming. [Lowers voice] He probably knows, No doubt he has seen some top secret file! [Back to normal voice] So we don’t have any dates yet, oh but I hope it’s soon!
Betty [quietly, warily]: But what if it’s not soon? What if this just never ends? Thomas wants to wait too… says rationing will stop soon after and I can get a nice new dress … But I don’t want to wait!
[All silent, thoughtful]
Scene 9 (1945)
Audrey: I cannot believe that 7 years ago we were still at school. 6 years ago we were so naïve to any of this. And look how we’ve all changed!
Betty: We’ll never be the same again! This is our lives changed forever.
Shirley: This is our group of friends changed forever.
Audrey [sobs]: I can’t believe this time last year I thought Frank was coming home. What did he do wrong? 27 people shot into graves they were forced to dig for themselves! It’s just horrific! [Betty hugs Audrey. Shirley joins]
[Audrey calms down.]
Audrey [to Shirley, change of subject to try and take her mind off Frank]: What will you do now? After you’re married?
Shirley: Henry is going to start a shop. Nothing big, just a small corner shop, but we want to start it as a family business.
Audrey [joking]: So it’s going to end up as your business with his name over the door?
Betty [worrying]: We will still have these picnics, won’t we? In memory of what has been and what has gone.
[All lift glasses]
All [toast]: In memory of what has been and what has gone.
Shirley: Do you remember…
[Betty and Audrey give her a look then all laugh]