This is the twelfth part of a fiction serial, in 783 words.
That August, Vera and Elsie were surprised to find her brother Teddy outside the house when they got home from work. He wasn’t in his uniform, and had two kitbags full of his stuff. After the excitement of seeing him had died down, and they had stopped telling each other how well they looked, he told them the news that he had resigned from the Merchant Navy. His intention was to join the Royal Navy, and he had already spoken to the recruiting office. He was convinced there would be a war, and wanted to do his bit in the navy once it started. He had a couple of days before he had to get the train to Portsmouth, and had come to say his farewells.
“And to get your washing and ironing done, I expect”, joked Elsie.
Albert was delighted to see his son at home, though more than a little worried about his transfer to the Royal Navy. Teddy had a very slight limp after breaking his leg, but he was so experienced as an engineer, they had told him he would be a Chief Petty Officer after training. He was almost thirty-two now, and said he didn’t want to be thought of as being too old once the inevitable war started. Albert was less convinced there would be a war. “Mr Chamberlain will sort it out son, you mark my words”. Her brother was only staying one night, leaving the next day to spend time with Vivian and the boys before getting his train. Vera had to say an unusually tearful goodbye before she went to bed. She agreed with him, though she wouldn’t argue with her dad. That Herr Hitler was going to have his war, whatever the Prime Minister did.
For the August Bank Holiday Monday, Vera went on the factory outing to Margate. She had never seen the seaside, and was quite excited about going to a place designed for visitors to just enjoy themselves. There was one worry, and that was the long journey by coach. Vera hadn’t been that far on the road before, and was glad to have Janet next to her. But despite the singing, it wasn’t long before the heat and cigarette smoke inside started to make her feel sick, and she was very relieved when they stopped at a roadside cafe, and they could get out and walk around a bit. Once they could see the coast, and knew they had almost arrived, that stopped her feeling ill soon enough.
It was better than she had ever expected. Despite the crowds, there was so much to do. Janet had been before, and knew all the best places. They had cockles to eat, and fish and chips later too. Janet even had candy floss and an ice cream, but Vera thought she had best avoid those. They had a ride on a donkey, and went on a big swing that looked like a boat. Before it was time to go back and meet the coach, Janet decided they had to paddle in the sea, and they took their stockings off and stuffed them in their shoes before running into the cold water. The hem of Vera’s dress got wet, but she didn’t care.
It was such a fabulous day.
On the way home, there was more singing, and some of the men at the front were drinking beer. The coach had to stop in a lay-by, so the men could get out and have a wee, and Vera laughed hysterically at the sight of them all lined up, piddling onto the grass. For the last part of the journey, Vera went to sleep, her head on Janet’s shoulder. She woke up when they pulled up outside the factory gates, and Janet laughed as they got out. “I hope you haven’t ruined your sleep. We’ve got work in the morning”.
At the end of September, Mr Chamberlain was on the radio, and his photo was on the front page of the newspaper, holding up a piece of paper. Vera’s dad told her there would not be a war. “See, what did I tell you? He has met that Hitler fellow in Germany, and they have made an agreement. No war. Look, here he is with the King and Queen. See, they’re smiling”.
Two weeks before Christmas, a letter arrived from Teddy. He wouldn’t be home, as he was going to be serving on a wonderful new ship. It was an aircraft carrier, one of those enormous ships with planes inside. He sent a photo of him standing next to it. It was taken just before it was launched, in Liverpool.
They had named it HMS Ark Royal.