Contemplated what might be before her in the hour of death, she reflects on her life.
This story is dedicated in loving memory of Bradley John Schmidt, 25.05.1985?17.02.2010.
Sadly missed, always loved.
I don't know how I feel, am I scared, afraid of the unknown?
It's nearing winter. I can tell because the shadows of the trees are getting longer in the late autumn as the afternoon sun begins to lower itself in the west. Autumn shadows, the ending of the nice sunny days to the nearing of winter. The nights slowly closing in.
A bit like my life, the ending of autumn to the winter, the colder, darker end.
But I don't mind...I'm curious. I want to know, if we are dust to
dust, ashes to ashes...or something more. Something tangible which we
go onto, and the truth about what really lies ahead.
You see, I not only want to see if this really is the end, to which I will know nothing more or sense much else. Or will we face our maker and see the ones who have passed before us. Either way, I don't
mind knowing or understanding, I know we can't stay here forever.
Re-incarnation? I hope not. I'm not sure if I want to come back to this earth, where we as fellow-humans can't seem to live together as civilized human beings, no, no...I hope not.
I want to see if my son awaits me when I arrive, should the latter
thoughts come to being. Someone once told me, my son, John, had been
here before. You see, my grandfather, had an unhappy life, and always
regretted living, when his mates were taken in the Great War.
He always said he would like to come back, just for a short time, have a
happy-carefree life; hope his friends lived longer than him, and no wars.
Well, my John, named after my grandfather, certainly did just that. Oh
yes, there were wars, but none he had to fight in.
My boy always told me it was best to live fast and die young. I hoped he
It was no joke when the news came of his passing. Part of me died as
well. So, here I am, Emily Charlotte Day, alone with my thoughts and tree shadows coming through my window.
John Charles Smith 25.05.1896-17.02.1972 aged 76.
John had just returned home from a long day at the Garston gas
works in Liverpool, he was eighteen years old. "Gawd, been a long day. I'll go up and have a wash, I'll be right down." He went upstairs to the sink, swilling water around his face and neck, the smell of something homey and warm wafting up to his nostrils reminded him how hungry he was.
Filling his stomach with stew he reached for some bread dipping it into the bowl of gravy, he watched his mother pick at her dinner.
"Alright Mum?" he asked.
His mother, Charlotte, pointed to the sideboard. "There's a letter for you, and you can do yourself a favour and throw it in the fire."
John snatched the telegram and frowned at his mother.
"This was addressed to me, not you, you can't just pick up my letters and read them. I'll remind you mam, I'm a man now."
"You'er not twenty-one yet, and you're not going," she retorted.
"Mam! I put my name down when I turned eighteen. Owen next door is going, and his mam is pleased about it, why can't you be happy I'm doing something for the country?"
"This bloody war shouldn't be happening we need to mind our own business and let Germany and who knows who, sort it themselves. We don't need to be involved you're not going do you hear me?"
John jumped up, slammed the living room door and stomped up the stairs.
John came down later that night and found his parents talking quietly.
"You should apologize to your Mam, talking to her like that!"
"You should apologize to your Mam, talking to her like that!"
"Look, I'm sorry, but if I don't go, I'll be the laughingstock of the entire neighbourhood."
"And if you' don't come home what then, the hero of the neighbourhood?"
"I'll think about it". John decided not to discuss it further.
Early one morning, instead of heading off to work, he materialised with a knapsack.
"I'm sorry, Mam, I've got to go."
"You get some breakfast into you" But John was out of the door.
Charlotte chased after him, nearly tripping over the hem of her dress.
"You come back here our, John, do you hear? Do you hear? You're as stubborn as your dad."
John disappeared around the corner and made his way to the Pier Head.
He thought life at sea had to be more exciting than the boring life he had here in Liverpool.
"Let him go, Lottie, our Owen is leaving too. They all want to go.
Come in, have a cup of tea." Mary took Charlotte by the arm and led her indoors.
Charlotte watched Mary rattling the cups and saucers and put the kettle on.
"Here, we're all in this together." She tried to soothe Charlotte's tears away.
"This'll make you feel better," Mary said as she placed a cup and saucer in front of Charlotte.
Charlotte looked at Mary, she always seemed so calm, with her dark curls, blushed cheeks, easy smile and chatter which came so easily.
Mary brought over her cup and saucer with a plate of biscuits. "You know, I can't see this lasting long, hopefully it will be sorted soon." Mary tried to sound reassuring while pouring tea from the silver teapot. She placed the caddy over the pot to keep it warm. Mary was trying to soothe her spirit as well.
They sipped tea with a few minutes of silence, each with their own secret thoughts and fears.
Mary continued, "Our Joe doesn't want to go, he's trying to talk his mates into not going. But they think he's a coward. Mind you, two going is enough. Don't want them all going at once."
"I don't know why anyone has to go, let them settle it themselves without us helping them, after all, it is bickering between Queen Victoria's family, not us," replied Charlotte.
"Let's hope so," replied Mary, "Our problem is, luv, we've gone all over the world, now we have to help."
"Anyway, better go 'an get tea ready, thanks for the tea."
Mary looked into Charlotte's defined face and green eyes, which were
still wet. "Keep your chin up love, no use getting too depressed. Tell you what, why don't we go to the markets in the morning, that will cheer us up."
Charlotte smiled, feeling a little brighter and went back next door.
Charlotte tossed and turned all night, worrying about her John.
Charlie, her husband, sensed Lottie's restlessness and put his arm around her thin body and pulled her into himself. "Try not to worry, love."
She finally slept a short restless sleep.
The next morning, she put on her hat and coat and went next door to Mary. She needed someone to chat to and have a warming cup of tea.
Liverpool was thriving, but could be a depressing, grey, often smoggy, and John wanted some excitement away from this dreary place. He could already taste the salty, sea air as he walked towards the Pier Head.
John arrived at the Port of Liverpool to check in, he and other recruits were ferried across from Liverpool to Birkenhead. On the ferry he looked back at the Liver-bird overseeing the river Mersey.
"Do you know the clock on the pierhead tower is bigger than Big Ben, anyway, where are you from?" The question came from a blonde-haired boy who John thought looked too young to be there.
John turned his head to see someone around his age with striking blue eyes black hair, cut very short like his own.
"Oh yeah? I didn't know that about the clock tower. I'm a plumber at the gasworks and that's what I'll be doing in the Navy. I'm John".
"I'm Ewan and ..."
A chill of anticipation ran down John's spine as rollcall came to board the ship. He had already had some training in the Sea Cadets Corps, so he was no stranger to the barking Commands of the Officers, who were waiting to take the sailors out to sea.
An Officer called, "Smith John'.
"Aye, Sir," replied John as he saluted and stood in line for the next order to board the ship.
The evening was cool and early fog was seeping across the Mersey. The ship rocked to and thro out of Liverpool and was heading down through the Celtic Sea around to Exmouth. Once there, he went through some days of training before boarding a dreadnought, the Ironduke, which would sail them out to the North Sea.
Back at home, John's father seemed busier working at the docks. He would often bring home potatoes and tea from the cargo ships which came in. These were a big help on the family food budget.
But week by week these items were becoming less.
Charles came in looking tired and said "food supplies were not coming in as they were; but munition is. Guns won't feed us," he quipped.
Charlotte had just in from doing some shopping, plonking the bag of potatoes, onions, turnips and some apples on the table she said, "I don't know, seems things are getting dearer. Not much meat or mutton, never mind, I can make a pan of scouse with a tin of corned beef. Can't even order a turkey for Christmas, I'll have to order a chicken; Oh well, we have enough rations to make a Christmas cake we'll make do."
"Thank God our John is home this Christmas, poor Mary next door isn't so lucky without Owen".
Christmas morning had arrived, Charlotte was already up when John came down the stairs, "Merry Christmas Mam" kissing her warm, soft cheek. "Me Dad not up yet?"
"He went to early morning mass and now he's outside getting more coal."
John was warming his hands near the cheery flames when his Father came in, he grabbed the bucket of coal from his Dad and shook his hand, "Merry Christmas Dad".
A clamour of running feet and giggles came from the staircase, "Merry Christmas you lot" John said to Jimmy, Emily and Eliza.
Around the dinner table, Jimmy said to John, "Pull a cracker with me, I made this one especially for you".
John laughed when he pulled it, "A toy boat, just what I want". He opened another present, a pair of blue knitted socks fell out.
"I knitted those" said Emily, hope you like them.
"Just what I need to keep me feet nice and warm".
John played cards with his father, Charles, and his other brother Jimmy.
His two sisters, Emily and Eliza, helped with the dishes. Later they all sat around the warmth of the hearth, chatting and knitting.
When John had to leave again a few days later, "Here are, love, take some socks and gloves with you," Charlotte said to John before he left again. Charlotte's heart hurt every time he left through the door.
"Tara Mam, I love you," he said over his shoulder. Then he stepped out into the snow.
Charlotte bit back tears.
"You alright, Mam?" Eliza went over and hugged her mother, "It'll be alright, you'll see."
Most afternoons the women who did not work swept and cleaned the streets, then met for a cup of tea and biscuits.
They would share stories, comfort each other and knit.
"All of a sudden, they want more of us working now all the men have left town." Verity, a dark-haired middle-age woman, a regular at the group, said.
Ann, another lady with striking red hair, added to the conversation, "And I bet they won't want us when they all get back."
"If they get back," Charlotte whispered to herself.
Ann turned to her. "What was that you said? Don't you go and get all morbid on us now, you can't think like that."
Emily, the youngest of siblings, talked incessantly, tossing her head back so her fair ringlets fell over her shoulder. She said, "Mum, did you hear about Amy's brother, Peter? They got a telegram the other day saying he'd been killed; I hope that doesn't happen to our John."
Charlotte's heart quickened and Liza, the elder sister, said, "Really, Amy, must you? Do you have to talk about it like he's coming back from a holiday?"
"I'm just saying," Emily replied, indignantly.
"Well don't just say," admonished Liza, seeing how much it upset their mother when bad news got around. News which was becoming all too frequent to the neighbourhood.
Ann Continued, "My Eddie, was saying the other day, what the Ottoman Empire was doing terrible things to the people of countries they had invaded. They needn't come here. And now I hear the German's have underwater boats".
Verity chipped in about her husband, "My Edward was saying just the other day, German Submarines are called, Unterseeboot, he think's meaning undersea boat, also known as U-boats, supposed to be getting close to Liverpool, so I heard".
Lottie felt her stomach tighten, worried about her Charlie working on the docks, thinking they would be a target because imports and exports mainly to and from America came in and out from the docks.
Mostly she worried about their John, and now Jimmy was old enough, he too had enlisted for the Army. Liza still had another year at school and was thinking of joining the Nurses Corps.
More worry for Lottie who thought, 'God where will this leave us all?"
On a foggy May 7th, 1915, just off the Irish Coast, the cruise Liner, known as a Greyhound of the Seas, the Lusitania was approaching
Those on deck were the rich and famous enjoying the voyage, passing time, listening to music, playing cards, being entertained and enjoying plenty of food, were in good spirits.
Worried about the fog, Captain Turner said, "We can reduce speed and ride with the tide."
"I think we have U-boats on our radar," said the Second-in-Command.
"Try and zig-zag around them, they should obey the International Law of the Sea Treaty, which is why they should not be fighting
in the seas, steam on ahead," the Captain ordered.
A missile headed straight for the ship, leaving them no time to act. There was a loud explosion. The ship rocked from side to side, then rolled on its side, leaving the passengers nowhere to go except to be thrown around and down with the ship. It took eighteen minutes, with the deaths of one thousand, one hundred and ninety-eight passengers and crew.
When John was walking towards his house, Emily ran out to meet him. "Our mam wants to see you."
"Why, what's up?"
"Just come in," replied Emily.
"Mum, what's up?" He looked from his father back to his tearful mam.
"I...It's your Uncle Frank, he was on the Stonecrop Q-ship when it hit a mine when the Lusitania was hit. Then they hit a mine going after the U-Boat, he's not with us anymore."
"Oh, Mam." She knelt next to where she was sitting and held her
as she sobbed.
"The audacity of the bloody Germans, and how many more is this bloody war going to have...How bloody many?" Charles said as he threw his cup on the table and walked outside.
John went out and took a cigarette. Lighting one for his dad, he said, "I did hear they were carrying munitions, they sometimes do, the navy think it was an assault on America, not us."
"Aye, it doesn't make it right tho', does it?" They smoked in the silence of their own thoughts.
"Anyway, hopefully this will over soon, you'll find a girl, have young'uns of your own, and life might even be normal again". Charles said to his gloomy looking son.
One evening John stepped off the ship at Birkenhead, and noticed a young lady, back turned to him, with golden curls swooped in a messy bun, beneath her hat. She looked smart in her black shirt and jacket. She turned to face him and he became immersed into sea-green eyes, "Can I help you" she asked.
Help me? He thought, oh my lord, she is a beauty.
"Err, no, I'm just checking out for leave."
All she noticed was soft brown eyes under his cap, and dark wavy hair. "Oh right-oh, I'll just locate your name and when are you back?"
"Oh, ok I'll make that note." Pity, that's four days away, she thought.
They both stood there in awkward silence.
They both said in unison.
"Sorry. Ladies first," said John.
"I haven't seen you before, are you from Liverpool?"
"Jus' near Garston, and you?"
"Oh, not far at all. What time do you finish?"
'Me dad will be waiting for me at the bus at five o'ock."
It was half past four and already getting dark in mid-November. "I would like to walk you to the bus, it's getting dark."
"That'll be very nice, thanks." Although Ellie had just met John, she felt she could trust a navel sailor.
Mr Scott, Ellen's father, was a big man, but had kind looking face. He regarded John in his naval uniform, respectfully nodded, and thanked him for walking his daughter to the bus stop.
John came home one night all smiles.
"What's this have you been sent home for good?" Charlie asked his son.
"Your dad's right; why are so happy?" asked Lottie.
"I bet you're in love," said Emily who noticed her brother looking happier.
"'Excuse me, I just walked in the door and you're carrying on like I don't what. No 'hello' welcome home, great to see you...nothing."
They all just looked at him.
"Aright, if you must know"
"Yes, we must", cut in Liza.
"I met this girl, her name is Ellen, and she lives at Birkenhead". "Alright! I just walked a girl home, that's all."
"Oh yeah, just walked her home?" said Charlie.
"Yes, I just walked her home. Oh, by the way how are you all?'
His mam laughed and felt warmth inside at some normality in life, she knew there more to it, but felt happy, her son looked happy. She also knew not to press for more information.
John was pensive during dinner. But he looked content and she didn't want to spoil the mood by asking about what has happened when he was
A few weeks later, John took Ellie to a Christmas dance in town. He always made sure she got home before her father, Frank Scott, became worried. Being early days, he wanted to do the 'right thing' for her and her family. He would want to win Ellie's heart and her family. Most of all, as nice as Mr. Scott seemed; he would not want to cross him.
John had to leave again. The excitement was wearing off, he now realized he wanted to be close to his family and his love, Ellie. There were days on the ship when it rocked and rolled with lashing freezing rain whipping through his clothes, and waves almost coming over the edge of the deck. After a couple of days of nausea, sometimes his head over the ship's edge, he found his 'sea legs'.
Other days were calm, and made it easy being on deck, always observing for enemy ships. All the time thinking about his 'Ellie'.
Lottie was always pleased to her son home again, even if it was a short time and can spoil him in 'Mothering' way. She regarded John one day, "Well, son, you'll be growing into a man. Do you have to go back? What about Ellie, when are you marrying the girl?"
"Mam, I do have to go back, when this war is finished, we'll marry then." He kissed his mother and was out the door again.
Lottie wondered when this awful war would be over, as it seemed to be dragging on. Each night she prayed to God and St Michael for the protection of her John. Her husband, Charles, was working on the Liverpool docks and took care of supplies from the Merchant Navy.
"He'll be alright, love, he's a strong lad, anyways, you've got our Liza to worry about, she'll be having her baby soon, and our Emily at the Liverpool Infirmary Hospital, see her on her day off." Charles felt uncertain for his son too but tried to comfort Lottie.
"Try not to worry love, don't think about what could happen, it hasn't happened yet".
It was May 1916, with sixteen dreadnought's, battlecruisers and other combat ships. John found himself sailing toward Jutland. The over-inflated confidence in the ability of the dreadnoughts, the British thought this battle might be a quick winner.
John's adrenalin soared and his heart quickened as he could see what was ahead.
Suddenly, there was a loud bang, a roar of smoke and fire everywhere. The ship rocked with the ricocheting of the shelling. A blast sent the ship on its side. Men shouting and calling for help sent John in a panic. His ears were ringing, and his salty eyes watered. The icy water pricked his skin. He jumped in the freezing water and swam over the waves to pull one of his crewman by the arm, John yelled at him; told him to kick his legs whilst John supported him, they managed to grab onto a part of the ship which was still above the water. Red seeped into the green-grey water as injured men clung to ship debris or bobbed around the water. A smaller rescue boat picked some of the men up. The one who took John's arm, a man, Micky, whom he recognized from school. He was pulled to safety, but later, that ship was fired upon, and Micky, who saved him, lost his life.
John would ponder the irony of that event later.
The noise, smoke and slaughter would continue for some hours.
Eventually all ships which were left retreated, carrying wounded and shell-shocked boys and men. Their captain led them to believe they had won.
The Battle of Jutland was a pyrrhic 'victory' for both sides.
News about Jutland and other battles had spread.
"Oh our John, please be safe," Charlotte heard herself pray.
Her heart flipped when the door knocked.
It was her neighbour, Mary, sobbing, telegram in her hand.
"Oh Lottie, what will I do?"
This time it was Charlotte's turn to take Mary's hand and make a cup of tea. Their Owen will not be coming home. All Lottie could do is take Mary in her arms and cradle her shuddering, as she wept.
"Why do we send our boys and men off to be killed?" Mary babbled through her hankie. "H...e was coming home for his 20th birthday next week, I...I want to die."
Lottie put her arms around Mary. "You mustn't talk like that, you still have your others to take care of." Lottie didn't really know what to say. She knew she was saying empty words which could not reach the depths of Mary's despair.
Lottie knew any day, any one of them will get an unwanted telegram.
John turned up home with his arm in a sling. He greeted his father at the door. "What the hell happened to you?"
"I'm alright, Dad. Just a bit of shrapnel went in my arm and shoulder, nothing to worry about," John reassured his father, not telling him about the burn on his back which was had to be treated at the Infirmatory Hospital.
"Your mam has gone to our Liza's she had a boy, Samual, you're an uncle, lad." He hugged his son, very grateful to see him again. John cringed in pain as his father did this, but John tried not to alarm him.
John and his father were having a cup of tea and chatting when Charlotte came back through the door. "Oh our John, give me a kiss," and hugged her young man face beaming at the sight of her John. She went to the back kitchen and made a pan of scouse for tea with bread.
"Our Jimmy isn't here, but he's only in the barracks doing some training," Lottie informed him.
Emily came flouncing in the door and kissed John. John ruffled her hair. "How's our nurse?" he asked.
"I'm having exams soon, it's soooo busy, my legs feel like they'll fall off some days." John was amazed to see just how grown baby sister Emily had become. "Not such a little girl anymore are you?"
"Come on, tea's up and hot on the table".
"Some food is becoming scarce or expensive because ships bringing in food to Britain were attacked by German submarines, but your Mam is doing a great job with food which we have" Charles said.
Lottie wanted to ask questions about where John had been, but he deflected the questions and Charlotte thought her son seemed a little morose. He brightened a little when Charlotte talked about little William and asked after Ellen.
"I'll go and see Liza tomorrow, then catch the ferry to Birkenhead
to see Ellie."
John went to the hospital the next day and held little Sammy with one arm, and talked to him gently, whilst chatting to Liza.
When John was leaving, he hugged and kissed his sister. "Aye, I'm so proud of you."
"I'm proud of you too, John, but you take care. Our little Sammy wants his uncle around."
"I will; love you," then he was out of the door.
John caught the ferry to Birkenhead to see Ellie. After a movie, they walked and talked about the war and families. That night, their passion for each other became physical. He had never experienced anything like it and wanted and loved her more. She became upset and said she shouldn't have done such a thing.
"Aye, don't worry, we are going to marry alright?"
Ellie smiled through moist eyes.
"You alright?" he asked gently kissing her.
"Yeah, of course I am," she said and hugged him.
She cried some more thinking of John leaving again soon. "What if you don't come back?"
"Aw, don't say that of course I'll be back, you know, you're starting to sound like me mam." This didn't alleviate her fear, but it made her smile.
"Good, then you'd better get used to it," she retorted.
A dance was still going nearby.
He took her hand, "Shall we go in?"
"Why not?" Ellie didn't want the night to end.
The song 'Till We Meet Again played. John took Ellie in his arms and danced with her.
A few weeks later, John returned for a short visit while docked in Liverpool for a couple of days.
He couldn't wait to see his family and his beloved Ellie.
It was a bleak, afternoon in March.
A tearful Ellie met John at Birkenhead at the ferry slip.
"I d-don't know what to do," Ellie cried.
"What do you mean you don't know what to do?"
"I haven't told me mam, and me dad will kill me."
"Well if he's going to kill you, he can kill me first, we'll go together and tell them we're getting married, alright?" soothed John.
"Sit down, lad," Frank Scott said, pulling up chairs for Ellie and John at the table. Helen sat the teapot down and put cups and saucers down. She placed a plate of biscuits in the middle of the table, hoping they will want to talk to them about an imminent wedding. But lately her daughter was distracted and was sick the other morning.
John coughed nervously and cleared his throat. "Mr and Mrs Scott, I'd like to ask you if I can have Ellie's hand in marriage."
"Well, she's not twenty-one until the end November, are you thinking sometime next year?" Jimmy said.
"We'd like to get married in the next few weeks." John replied.
"The next few weeks, why the hurry?" Frank asked.
"Dad, please...Mam, I...er..."
"Having a baby?" Helen inquired wondering if her guess about her daughter had been right. Ellie started crying. John put his arm around her.
"I love Ellie with all of my heart," replied John.
Frank Scott eyed John, Helen Scott was crying, not with tears of
shame but with happiness for her daughter. Mr. Scott spoke, "Well, young John, it could be a disgraceful tragedy if you don't come back. I don't know whether to thump you right now or what! What will happen to our Ellie and the baby? How'd you think a young one would grow up not knowing his dad and my daughter with no husband, never going to marry because she's got a young one?" His face softened when he looked at Ellie. He rose to his feet, 'but welcome to the family' and shook John's hand still not smiling.
Ellie rose and hugged her dad.
They married at St Joseph's Church, not telling the priest she was with child. The families and friends had a simple supper at the Scott's house. It was a small but nice wedding. Ellie, being a small girl, did not show her swelling belly. Her dress was simple, with white lace and flowing from the waist. No one knew any better.
The wireless was playing, the song 'Till We Meet Again played. "Oh, John it's our song," said Ellie. They danced and everyone clapped when they finished; some with wet eyes knowing some of their family wouldn't be meeting again.
John still had to go to sea, but at least they were married.
March 1917, after a long, exhausting labour, John and Ellie's daughter, Emma arrived.
"She's perfect," a beaming John said to his sleepy wife.
November, 1918, little Emma was eighteen months old, WW1 ended.
They had settled in Liverpool, and John still went to sea, with the Navy.
After a while, he resumed his work at Garston gasworks. He wanted to be closer now there was a son, Thomas, added to their family, and keep them safe.
Ellen noticed at times, John seemed moody, and she encouraged him to go and have a pint at the local pub, to drink and chat with others who have been away to war.
He always came back a little merrier. He was a kind and caring man, but sometimes would say, "Why did I come back and not some of me mates?"
"I know love; but meeting the ones who are here is good for you. That war was not fair". She soothed and hugged him.
John came home from the gasworks one afternoon, "Seems like a race riot going on in town. Probably a backlash from the slave trade in Liverpool, and arrivals on the banana boats from the Caribbean Islands, not only carried fruit, but people as well".
"Everything seems to be changing. But at least more food seemed to back on shelves, especially bananas are cheaper but meat's still expensive".
Emma and Thomas were fighting over a toy grating on John's nerves. "Would you two be quiet?" he yelled.
Ellie put the pan down in the kitchen, kneeling down on the floor she separated the toys, "Come on you two, we have enough to share". She them went back to the kitchen to prepare supper.
Ellie noticed some days, John seemed withdrawn. She realized he was working long hours, sometimes nights to provide, but he seemed tired some days.
John would sometimes fantasize of being back at sea but wanted to be near his family.
One day he took Emma to school; her light chatter brightened his mood on this grey smoggy day. He glanced down at her trusting blue eyes, rosy cheeks and ringlets of golden strands around her face. He imagined Ellie must have looked like their daughter when she was a little girl. His heart warmed as she waved at the gate.
He returned home; Ellie's light laughter met him at the door. She was
playing on the floor with Thomas.
John got to his knees and said, "Want a horsey ride?"
Thomas mounted John's back, whilst he rocked on all fours backwards and forwards. Thomas squealed. Ellie felt happy and content but had that familiar feeling in her belly. All she wanted was for John to be as happy as she felt.
Later when she and John sat together for a cup of tea, snuggling up to John she said, "Baby number three is on the way".
John beamed from ear to ear and hugged his wife closer. "I love you" he whispered.
Some months later; Ellie kissed John goodbye as he set off for work and got Emma and Thomas off to school. By ten o'clock it was time to call the midwife. Rosie, her neighbor came in and held Ellie's hand. It was just passed four o'clock in the afternoon, when Ellie gave birth.
Baby Simon was born just as Thomas walked in the door. "Mum, I'm home!" he yelled upstairs, confused to what the groaning was he could hear. Then a baby crying.
Rosie went downstairs to Thomas and fixed him a sandwich. By the time Emma came home, it was time to be introduced to their new baby brother.
John made them all some supper of corn beef, potatoes and peas. Ellie rested in bed.
John turned to the older children who were playing Snap. "Have a banana or some bread if you're still hungry," then went upstairs to his wife and new son.
Emma, now at senior school, replied, "It's alright, Dad, we're alright. I'll put Thomas to bed later".
John liked it now his children were getting older, now with a new baby, the cycle begins again.
Ellie looked at John, "I've got so used to just two, now a third to get used to".
"It's alright, love, Simon will fit in." John smiled at his wife and suckling son.
Emma would come home from school and care for Simon and help with tea. Thomas also played with Simon; Ellie felt blessed.
To John the days and nights seemed long. Grey days, lots of people looking for work, food on the shelves were limited. The economy was stagnating. He worried for his children.
Thomas and Emma were at school one day, Ellie was out shopping. On
the way she chatted to Rose who lived next door. Rose was shovelling the snow away from her front door and sprinkling salt around.
"Another freezing day", Ellie exclaimed on passing.
"You know, my Danny still can't get a job, lying on the couch all day, he's driving me nuts." Rosie said as Ellie watched as she piled the snow next to the path.
"Come in and have a cup of tea Rosie", Ellie thought Rosie could do with having a chat.
Rose confided to Ellie, "I don't know, Ellie, I'm worried about Germany again, Have you heard what's happening over there. I hope they don't expect us to fight again."
Ellie's heart sank. She had heard on the radio Hitler had moved his troops into Czechoslovakia, claiming Germans had been killed there, when they
were absorbed into the country after the divisions post World War One.
In bed one night, Ellie cuddled up to John. "I'm afraid, and I'm scared for the kids, Poland has been invaded. Emma was asking questions about it, talking about it at school."
"They're already calling up, no choice this time, we all have to go."
"Oh God! Please keep us safe," prayed Ellie.
Then came Chamberlain's address to the nation: "This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a
final note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now, that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently, this country is now at war with Germany.
Ellie cried, "Oh, John, what'll I do without you?"
"I'll be back before you know it. Keep the children safe and get into the air raid shelter as soon as you hear the siren. You know, when I die, and if I have a choice to come back, it will be a short happy life, no wars, and hopefully young friends don't go before me." He turned to Thomas, he was a young man too and was afraid for him, he too had been called.
"Son," he gave Thomas a big hug, "God keep you safe, son. Emma, look after your mam", and he was out of the door.
Songs of hope played on the radio...'There'll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover...Tomorrow, just you wait and see...'ar to ear and hugged his wife closer. "I love you" he whispered.
Emma came out of the kitchen with a pot of tea. John had been home for a few days and was reading the paper. "Erm, Dad, there's somebody here I want you to meet."
Emma took Robert by the arm, "It's alright, my Dad won't bite", she teased. Robert walked over to John and shook John's hand. It was his daughter's hand he wanted, in marriage.
"I see life has moved on a bit in my absence" John said and looked over at Ellie who was smiling. John eyed Robert, a tall fair-haired good-looking man. Then to Emma who looked like she had stars shining in her eyes. They talked easily and John felt very comfortable with Robert as his perspective son-in-law.
It was the proudest moment walking his beautiful Emma down the aisle. Thomas was home for the occasion, and John and Ellie were happy to be altogether to celebrate this proud occasion. Their wedding was simple, with material hard to find, they found some lace from a tablecloth, and an old silk nightie to sew a dress together. Friends and family combined food rations for a shared supper. A cake without eggs with jam filling, topped with cleverly made icing from ground sugar, dried milk powder and some butter. They ate corn beef fritters and corn beef hash and spam sandwiches.
John prayed every day for the safety of his family in these dark, uncertain times. He was home during a Liverpool Blitz; he grabbed Ellie and raced down to the air raid shelter. Their neighbours sat huddled and frightened. One of the home guards came into the shelter, "All clear, but mind where you step."
John stepped outside and looked around. Most of the street was a mound of rubble; half of their house was gone. Nothing seemed real. Ellie was in a daze.
John walked Ellie over to what was left of their house. "You can't stay here." He made Ellie go Emma's house away from the carnage, while he stayed to clean up where he could, knowing he had to leave again in a couple of days. He helped clean up rubble and find battered and confused people.
Word came a landmine was found in the Gasworks. John and any other gasworks workers volunteered to go and turn off the cylinders and shut
down the gasworks. People in Garston and nearby streets were told to go to the hills away from the Gasworks, Home Guards and Police helped people while some stayed in the shelters.
"Mind where your step, lots of rubble and glass, make your way away..." The guard warned people as they made their way through the streets, away from a possible volatile explosion which many prayed would not happen.
An off-duty lieutenant, Harold Newgass, had experience in artillery and convinced the authorities he should try to diffuse the bomb. After John and other employees shut down the gas supply. Someone was helping the Lieutenant fit his breathing apparatus, and head torch, after that, John saw him disappear alone into the dark cylinders. Outside, John and his fellow workers were outside having a cigarette; John could feel his body pulsating.
"I don't know if we all make it out alive h
ere, that fella needs a medal," said Bill, a big man with red hair who had been working at the gas works for some years. John made a make-shift bed from a chair and blanket they were given. It was a nervous two days when the Lieutenant emerged exhausted but successfully diffused the bomb, averting a massive explosion.
John was on the HMS Havelock which played out in the 'Battle of Taranto' off the coast of Italy. News of the Christmas Blitz on Liverpool spread. No ships could get in or out of Liverpool. John prayed for his family. There was no news of anyone from Liverpool. A bomb had hit an air raid shelter, killing several people. There was talk of rockets falling from the sky, undetected because they didn't fall from a plane, causing widespread fear in Britain.
Then the Hiroshima bombing and defeat of Germany.
The war was over.
They had no house and had to share accommodation with another family, and Thomas. The destruction, lives lost, families torn apart, made John grateful he still had his. They had all lost friends, neighbours they knew had gone and their homes were gone.
Thomas had a shrapnel wound to his stomach and leg but was safe and was discharged from hospital. There was much to rebuild.
John was morose some days, always saying, "When I come back to this earth, I only want to live a short, enjoyable life. No war to go to, and perhaps me mates will live longer than me next time."
"Oh, Dad, you mustn't talk like that! Stop saying that." chided Emma. "You have us all here and your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren. And our David and Eva will have one soon."
Emily was John's favourite grandchild. Perhaps because she was like her mother, Emma, and she was a Liverpool supporter like him. Her brother, David, was an Evertonian.
"Aye, Grandad, coming to the match? You have to see Everton beating Liverpool."
"Go away! We'll see who's rubbish!" John retorted.
"That's right, you tell him, love, Ellie added. Ellie had chosen to ignore his moods. Living through two wars had not been easy.
Liverpool was starting to rebuild, and becoming a vibrant city, although still of a lot of rubble to clean up.
A young girl from Scotland Road became famous for singing "Anyone who had a heart" and changed her name to Cilla Black. John Lennon, who lived around the corner from them, became noted as part of The Beatles. Music was changing.
"We were just listening to them at the Cavern a couple of years
ago," Thomas said one day to his father, feeling amazed at the changes to music in Liverpool.
John and Thomas were at Anfield at a Liverpool game when everyone started singing 'You'll never walk alone'.
One evening, Thomas came over with some cider and crisps. "Aye, Dad, want to watch the Moon landing with me?" All night they sat up in the July of 1968, watching the historical event.
"I don't believe it, from bombs to rockets, now space," said John to whoever was listening and mesmerized with the television. "Things are changing too quickly. Thank God we are not going into Vietnam with America. They picked the fight; they can fight it themselves".
"I'm not fighting anymore wars," said Thomas, crunching on chips.
As time went on, Liverpool's economy was beginning to downturn, factories were closing. The docks were under threat from closure. Unions were demanding more money for their workers.
"What's happening, why did we go into the common market? I blame that for our trouble," John said. He wasn't the only one who shared his sentiment.
Some months later; Ellie was in the kitchen making a cup of tea.
John entered and sat down, holding his stomach.
"What's up with you this morning?" Asked Ellie looking worried.
"I don't know, I have a pain in my stomach and feel sick."
"Right! We'd better get you to the doctor."
Ellie caught the bus and called in on Emma. "Your dad's in hospital, they don't know what's the matter with him." John was diagnosed with cancer. One day he went into Bootle Hospital and never came out alive.
Ellie took his hand, kissed him and whispered, "Goodbye, my darling, till we meet again."
After that, Ellie went to live with Emma and her family. She enjoyed the company of her grandchildren when they came over, with her great-grandchildren.
Emily was visiting them with her latest baby, John Charles, named after his great-grandad.
Ellie was cuddling him when he looked up at her with deep eyes. "Oh my, you do look like your great-grandad; you've been here before."
Emily knew it was a common saying people stated about babies, who have a knowing and awareness in their eyes. But for some reason, her grandmother saying this, sent disquietude throughout her.
"So much has changed over the years, I wonder what lies ahead for them all, I do love them to bits". Ellie said, looking at her great-grandchildren.
The year was 1974, Emily was in her thirties. "That's it for me, three's enough. I love them too; but I think four will push me over the top". She said laughing.
"I know, we all feel like that sometimes, but they're worth it." Ellie said.
"We all get a bit tired sometimes." Emma added.
After Emily and the children went home, Ellie was alone with her daughter, having a cup of tea.
"I think I'll go have a lie down". Ellie said feeling her eyelids getting heavy.
"Are you alright Mam?" Emma looked worried.
"Ah, I'm just getting an old girl, that's all," Ellie didn't want to worry her daughter and laughed it off.
One morning, Emma went upstairs to see if Ellie wanted a cup of tea.
"Aren't you up yet?"
"I don't know, got a headache, I'll lie-in a bit
longer. I'll be alright love." Ellie replied.
Ellie went up later, thinking it was unusual for her mother to be up so late. When she went into the room with a cup of tea for her, she was not breathing, but looked peaceful.
"A stroke I think," the doctor said after examining her.
Emily, worried about her mother Emma, and looked in on her as much as she could, as well as raising her three children: Sarah, Joe and John.
John, her youngest, was the most strong-willed out of the three but would learn very quickly from his older siblings.
It was to Emma's relief when he could start school.
"Mummy can Michael come and play at our house?" John asked one day after school.
Michael was blonde, curly haired sweet-faced boy. Emma noticed how well they played together.
One weekend John, Michael and Joe, all made a billy-cart out of old wheels from a wheelbarrow and a plank of wood.
Emily watched on as they pushed each other down the road on the cart. "Watch out for cars." She yelled after them.
She was happy the children in the street all seemed to be friends with each other.
As John became older; he played football for the school team, as did his brother, Joe. Sarah enjoyed dancing.
Emma sometimes caught the bus to Emily's for tea.
Sitting outside in the warming sun, Emma said, "The children all seem to be having fun".
"We're lucky here, they're over at the field either playing rounders or some other game. I was looking at photo's the other day and took a double-take at Grandfather as a boy, I could have been looking at my John." Emily said.
"Yes, he is like his Great-Grandfather". Agreed Emma.
Sarah and Joe tried to accommodate their little brother. "I want to go out with you," John would pester.
"Not this time, I'm seeing me mates."
"Aw take him with you can't you," Emily would say.
"No, Mum, I'll be home after."
John would sometimes follow Joe, so he would have to take him with him to kick a ball around or play the guitar with his friends.
John befriended some boys down the road, and from school, and needed
his brother less.
Emily was out and Joe came in from school and smelt something strange, which wasn't tobacco. He went up to their bedroom and found John. "What are you doing?" Joe yelled.
"Here try it" and handed the bong to Joe. The song Try to catch The Wind was playing.
Joe grabbed it from John. "You're not having this stuff, what do you think Mum and Dad will say, what's it doing to you brain?"
John grabbed it back. "It's ok; I don't do it all the time."
Joe opened the window to let out the stench, and stormed out of the room, not knowing what to do. He hoped this phase with John would pass.
Joe was waving a letter he'd received then announced to Jim and Emily, "Guess what? I've been accepted into University to do Science".
They both beamed with pride, "Well done Son," Jim said.
Emily giving him a big hug said, "We're so proud of you".
John also excelled at mathematics and languages and was good at sport.
Sarah was pre-occupied with dance and was learning to teach it. They couldn't be prouder of their three children.
Emily pondered to herself one day sipping a coffee. "My kids seemed to be going along ok, and Jim seems happy, life for me, is ordinary but nice. Although my kids are growing fast, did I grow up that fast? Dear Mum and Dad I miss you both, hope you are happy wherever you are."
Emily worried if their children would even find a job in Liverpool. She was having a cup of tea with Jim, who been stood down from his job at the Bird's Eye factory. "Liverpool has taken a beating thanks to bloody Thatcher abandoning this God-forsaken place. These Pol Taxes imposed are crippling us".
Emily had lost friends moving to find work; some immigrated to Australia in pursuit of work. There had been protests and riots, which she tried to stop her children getting involved, but Joe took some interest in events.
"Please Son, don't get involved, you still have your job and a bright future, don't jeopardize it".
"I know Dad; but look what's happening. What's going to become of this?" Joe retorted.
Emily worried about John, "Why are you going out, haven't you got homework to do?"
"Don't worry, Mum, I'll get it done."
Emily through her arms up in despair at his response. "There won't be a job for you, if you don't."
"Don't need one yet, do I?" he replied as he shut the door behind him.
She felt exasperated, his mates were always more important than family.
His teachers all told the same story year in year out 'bright boy, won't apply himself and distracts others, but very likable'.
What could she do? H
he was getting too big and strong to force him to do anything he didn't want to do.
Another time she had just come home from a meeting with his teacher.
"John is a very bright boy, but unless he knuckles down and hands in his assignments, I won't be able to pass him. This is a crucial year". His teacher said to Emily.
Emily was furious, "I've had enough, now you just settle down, get through this year, then you can choose what you want to do".
"Mum I don't have to do anything. I'm old enough to choose not to even go to school if I don't want to".
"What about your future? What will you plan to do, there isn't much work here, What about university?"
"What about it Mum?"
"You have your whole life ahead of you to do what you want, just do yourself and us a favour and get through these next couple of years." "What for mum?"
"For your future, that's what's for".
"I might not have a future I want to enjoy life now".
"What do mean?"
"Live fast, die young," . Then he was out of the door.
Emily threw her hands up in aspiration. "What are we going to do with you?" She yelled after him.
Finally, his final year at school was over.
"Thank God those school days are over". She said to Jim.
Jim laughed, "You worry too much, look, the other two were doing ok, Joe's working in London, with his engineering company. Sarah is doing fine teaching dancing and was soon to marry. John will choose his own path".
"But John? What was going to happen to him?' She couldn't see a future for him, and this worried her.
"He'll be aright Love". Soothed Jim.
John began an IT course. It seemed now computer technology was happening. One day, John came home in the middle of the day.
"What are you doing?" Emily enquired.
"Don't want to do that anymore. Mum, I don't won't to be stuck in an office all day; I don't want to work on a computer."
"What will you do exactly?"
"I don't know." With that, he went out the door. "Just going to me mate's house." And he was gone. Emily made a jester mimicking John, 'just going to me mates house' and herself a cup of tea and was pensive the rest of the day.
Later said to Jimmy, "I don't know love, times are different now, I'm sure he'll sort himself out."
Jimmy, tried to reassure her, but was feeling apprehensive
himself. "Just give him time".
John came into the living room where Emily and Jim were watching television. "Guess what? I'm going to London!" he announced.
"What?" Emily replied.
"I'm going to work at a pub in London."
"I have a job, and I want to travel, so I'm going to get some experience in work so I can travel, do you know how many jobs there are everywhere working in pubs and hotels?"
"Well, it's a job I suppose. I'd rather you do that than join the Army like Frank next door," replied Jim.
"Well why not if that's what you want to do". Emily replied.
The morning he was leaving Emily felt sad that John was leaving town. 'But it was only in London. At least he's doing something; he could always go back to university later. A lot of older people seemed to be doing that", she reasoned to herself. 'She did have their Joe, who was seeing a lady, and hopefully they'll marry soon. Sarah and Mick were expecting their first baby, so I suppose I will be busy helping her'.
"You're deep in thought," Jim interrupted her.
"Oh, just thinking." She replied and gave him a hug.
Emily, Jim, Joe and his fianc, Janet, Sarah and Mick were all at Lime Street Station seeing John off. Emily hugged her son tight, kissing him, and running her fingers through his dark wavy hair. Being six foot, she had to stand on her toes to look into his deep brown eyes. "I'll be alright, Mum. I'm staying in Birmingham for a couple of days with a mate, then off to London. I love you all." Then he boarded the train.
Emily couldn't stop the tears dropping.
"He'll be alright, love," said Jim.
"Don't worry, Mum, he's a big lad." Joe put his arm around his mum.
John caught a taxi to South Walk, London. Arriving at the pub; he was greeting by a tall, blonde man with a ready smile and friendly face. He held his hand out for John to shake.
"Hi I'm Alex, I manage this place, welcome".
John liked Alex straight away.
"Where are you staying John?"
The truth was, John didn't have much money and was going to sleep rough until he got paid. "I haven't booked anywhere to stay yet."
"We have a room out the back you can have for a few nights until you find somewhere, pay when you get paid if you like".
John was relieved he had somewhere to stay. The room was basic with a bed, desk and chair. The residents shared a bathroom, but John didn't mind, he was just glad of a bed.
Alex was soft-spoken and with a different accent to what John was used to. Over the next few days, John learnt to serve drinks, and operate tills. He worked extra hours for more money.
"Hi, Mum, just calling to say hi and tell you I'm alright. How's everyone?"
Emily always relieved when John phoned said, "Sarah had a boy last night, you're an uncle. His name is Cory James".
"Oh, well tell everyone I'll be home in a few days' time, I'll come and see you all. Love you, Mum."
"Love you too."
When John came in through the door, Emily hugged him and said, "I've made your favourite Shepherds pie and crumbed chicken for you".
"Thanks mum, much better than what I have to eat". Emily regarded her son, who looked bigger and did look healthy.
"Well I hope you're looking after yourself. Have you met a lady yet?" Emily asked when tea was over.
"I have, Mum, but none who I want to marry yet, give me time."
She knew he was now sharing a flat with a man, Alex, but hadn't met him yet. "He seems happy enough," she said to Jim one evening when talking about their children.
Late one night, Jim and Emily had just retired to bed, a knock on the door came.
Emily flew out of bed. "Who the hell...?"
The police were there. A car accident.
He was only twenty-five years old.
Emily couldn't remember much of the following days, she felt numb.
Lots of people at his farewell, some from London. All Emily remembered were a sea of faces.
Not a day passed Emily did not think of her son. Tears still fell and her heart ached. Jim's grief was deep too; he took to whiskey to soothe his senses. "Pour me one too", Emily called to Jim when he was refilling his glass.
They could find solace with each other.
Jim's face looked ashen, "We have to be happy we had him for twenty-five years. And we still have our other children and grandchildren, they will never fill the hole he left, but they are here. You know some days I swear I can smell his aftershave". Said Emily.
Jim replied, "The other day while I was out walking, I thought I heard him call 'Dad' it was probably the wind blowing".
Jim developed a cough and was wheezing. "You ought to give them cigs away." Emily chided.
"Not now, love," he replied.
Emily thought he looked a bit bluish at times.
"I don't want to lose you too." Jim was her rock; Emily dreaded the thought of the rest of her time by herself without her Jim.
"Then maybe we can go together, you know, be a Romeo and Juliet." Jim teased.
"Very funny, you are getting yourself to the doctor tomorrow."
After a few tests and examinations, the doctor said, "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Cut down on the cigarettes."
But Jim wasn't going to do that, not now Emily reasoned. She knew it calmed him as did the whiskey. She herself didn't mind a gin or two, but she had never smoked.
Jim did try to cut down and was given an inhaler to ease breathing. Years of smoggy dank air didn't help.
"At least with less chimney's blowing smoke in the air, the place was looking cleaner, not so grey," said Emily.
It all seemed a little too late for Jim, who was slowly succumbing to heart overload.
Late one cold foggy night, Emily was woken to Jim gasping for air. She flicked on the light and looked at Jim's grey face.
"Here, here's your inhaler, I'm getting the ambulance". She called 999 and within minutes the ambulance arrived to take Jim to the hospital. "You hang on love, you'll be alright". She tried to reassure him.
In the early hours of the morning, Jim went into an unrecoverable cardiac arrest.
Emily was stricken. The children Joe, Sarah and their families did most of the organising. Emily couldn't function, just went through the motions.
After the funeral, Sarah was most supportive of Emily, and looked in on her often. Emily went for family dinners with Sarah and tried to take part in the grandchildren's life. The feeling of emptiness never left.
She too was feeling unwell and nauseas at times but put it down to loneliness and missing her Jim and John. She was sometimes angry. "How could you leave me?" She would sob into a photo of them both.
The days turned into months, months into a couple of years. There were still birthdays and Christmases to be had, life wasn't always unhappy, just lonely, with an aching heart.
Emily was soon to discover her pain and nausea wasn't just from grief.
"We need to operate", the surgeon told Emily.
After surgery, the doctor spoke to her anxious children. "I'm sorry, but the cancer had spread. All we can do is keep your Mother comfortable. If you need anything, or you're worried, give the hospital a call".
"Mum, you can come and live with us?" Sarah said one day, looking around at the house where her mum could no longer clean adequately.
"Don't be silly, I'm getting some help, and you have your own family now, love."
Emily saw a tear drop down Sarah's cheek. "Now here. You just stop that or you'll have me going."
Emily was trolleyed out by an ambulance after Sarah found her one day barely unable to move.
Lying in the hospital bed, Emily could feel her life slowly ebbing away.
Her bed overlooked a park, and she could see children playing, trees and birds flapping about.
She lost herself to her thoughts, the world she escaped to. The afternoon golden warmth filled the room.
"That all seems so long ago, in another way, seems like only yesterday. But, my John, he didn't go to war, he had a short but happy life. He probably partied hard in London. But he went before his mates, just as my grandfather would have wanted in another life here.
Those red and gold leaves floating past the window such a pretty time of year. I know I don't have long to wait now. I will have my answer. I want to sleep now. What's that song again, I always feel happy when I sing it...Oh yes, I remember, it's the words to 'You'll Never walk alone'.
@copyright Sandra Jones