Saturday Sampler: Honesty in World War 2 by Chris-Jean Clarke
April 30, 2016
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Saturday’s Sampler features an excerpt from Honesty in World War 2 by Chris-Jean Clarke. It is the story of war told through the eyes of a child evacuee struggling to survive the conflict.
As one reviewer said: The dialogue is infectious; indeed the whole book is full of warmth, reflecting the kind of unity that exists among people in time of real hardship.
It is mid-summer, 1944 and Britain is embroiled in war. A large percentage of city and town dwellers are being killed; homes bombed, and personal belongings destroyed.
The people not only fear for their own safety, but they also realize, that even if they are fortunate enough to survive there is a slim chance their offspring will not. They feel they have no choice, but to send their children to remote country villages to be raised by strangers, in the hope they will have a better life.
The only adults permitted to travel with the children are mothers with youngsters under five years old, the infirm and the elderly.
Meantime, the community of Honesty Brook Dale feel it’s their duty to rally together to help the evacuees by sharing their homes and limited food and clothing supplies.
It was mid-summer 1944, and the air at Waterloo station was filled with smoke billowing from the steam trains, officials shouting orders to the masses and families, friends and neighbours chatting nervously, hugging each other or begging officials (or anyone who would listen to them) for more information.
Doris, a lone traveller who was very sprightly considering her advanced years, wandered up and down the train station, checking the name tags pinned to each person’s coat in an effort to find out their destination.
More often than not, she would address the person by their first name and say something like, “Hi Maureen! I’m Doris … oh; that’s a shame yer tag says your heading for Meadow Brook Valley. I’m hoping to find someone who will be my neighbour in Honesty Brook Dale. It’s been nice chatting to you. Have a safe journey, dear.”
As Doris bustled around the platform, she recognised a red haired girl holding her younger brother’s hand. Both were looking intently at their parents. Doris paused, instinctively and listened to their conversation.
“I’ve asked the officials to house you and Luke together, Marianne … I just pray to God; they keep their promise,” said the mother, dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief.
Marianne Senior bit her lower lip and swallowed hard in order to stop herself from crying. Looking down at her daughter, and in a no-nonsense voice, she continued, “Marianne, I am relying on you to make sure Luke minds his manners at all times, and says please and thank you. Just be grateful for everything that is put on the table … and eat it whether you like it or not. Furthermore, don’t wait to be asked! Remember to offer to help yer new family with the chores and do everything that is asked of ya – without complaining. Oh, and don’t forget to check that Luke washes behind his ears and brushes his teeth and hair.”
Her husband gently placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Marianne. I’m sure the Women’s Voluntary Service will keep families together wherever possible but if not, I’ve heard tell that Honesty Brook Dale is just a small village, so I’m sure our Marianne will still be able to keep ‘an eye’ on him.”
Doris smiled with compassion at the young girl and turning to her parents, said, “Excuse me. I couldn’t help but overhear that your children will be staying in Honesty Brook Dale. I used to attend the local chapel and have noticed them in the congregation several times. I have always remarked to the vicar how well-mannered they are. You must be really proud of them. I would be more than happy to watch over them … if you would like me to?”
The youngsters’ parents couldn’t thank Doris enough for putting their minds at ease.
On the far side of the platform, a young dark-haired boy, who had been severely scarred during the war, was clinging to his mother, crying and pleading with her, “Please, Mum, don’t make me go without ya. Simon and Samuel are in the class below me at school, and they say their mum has been allowed to travel with them – so why can’t ya come with me?”
His mother shook her head, tears coursing down her cheeks, as she held him close and said, “Graham, I don’t want you to leave … but it’s not safe for you to stay here … and believe me when I say I’ve begged the officials to let me travel with you. I have also spoken to the twins’ mother, Madge, on more than one occasion when we sought refuge in the communal air raid shelters, and I know she has three other girls, one of whom is only two years of age … and in another two or three months, she will have a new addition to the family.”
A sudden commotion to the right of them helped momentarily to ease the situation. An elderly man was jigging around, shouting thanks to God for his new home and family. As they watched, they noticed a member of the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) approach and point him in the direction of one of the trains.
“Excuse me,” Graham’s mother shouted to her, “whom should we speak to about Graham being escorted to Honesty Brook Dale.”
“Only those who are on the list will be allowed to travel,” the WVS shouted dismissive. “If your child is going to Honesty Brook Dale, he will need to catch this train and then alight at Endlea Brook Dale. He will be given further directions when he gets there. I should hurry up and say your goodbyes as you don’t have long before the train departs.”
At this precise moment, the guard blew his whistle and a sea of hands and faces pressed either side of the windows in desperation. As the train started to pull away from the station Graham’s mother resigned herself to step back on the platform with a throng of other parents. The windows were smudged with tears, fingerprints and lipstick. However, Marianne’s parents, along with a few others, ran alongside the train hoping to gain a few more invaluable seconds with their loved ones.
During the journey, the elderly man wandered up and down the corridor between the carriages, amusing the youngsters with childish jokes. He finally settled in Graham’s carriage and introduced himself to anyone who was in the least bit interested, as Malcolm.
“Does anyone know why we are fighting this time?” he asked, but swiftly continued before anyone could answer. “I thought we had all made back friends, but ya can never tell. I thought the last war was over … in 1914 or was it 1915 … I can’t remember now – but I do know it were Christmas Day. I remember having fun playing football with the enemy one day and then having to fight them the next. ”
Graham tugged at his sleeve and said, “I know what ya mean. I was sent away with a few of me friends for a short while at the beginning of this war. I thought it was all over when we were sent back home … but then our house got bombed ….”
“Is that when ya got hurt?” Malcolm asked.
Graham nodded, “When the air-raid siren sounded, we all made our way to the air-raid shelter, but me mam hadn’t realised, until it was too late, that I had slipped back into the house for me pet budgie. She said God must have been looking after me that day as our house was burned to the ground.”
“Did ya manage to save ya pet?”
Graham shook his head solemnly, “I didn’t want to leave me mum again and pleaded with her to stay … but she insisted she was doing it for me own good. I think she was terrified about the new bombs they’re using because I overheard her talking to one of me neighbours.”
“That’ll be the doodlebugs ….”
Further along the train, Doris was making small talk with Madge, but made her excuse to leave as soon as the children became restless and showed signs of unruliness.
Standing up, Doris smiled at Madge and said, “I won’t be long I’m just going to stretch my legs,” whereas, in reality, she was going in search of Marianne and Luke.
She found the young girl smiling and whispering words of comfort to her brother at the far end of the train.
“Are you both all right?” Doris enquired.
Although, Marianne nodded confidently and politely responded, “Yes, thank you,” she could not hide the fear in her eyes from Doris.
“Would you mind if I join you? I’m feeling a bit lonely … and if I am honest, a little scared at the moment. It doesn’t seem so long ago when I had to wave goodbye to my two sons when they were evacuated during the last war. It’s hard … isn’t it?”
Marianne nodded and hugged her brother. She liked Doris.