This is the fifteenth part of a fiction serial, in 720 words.
That summer, letters continued to be exchanged between Vera and Les. She allowed herself to become increasingly romantic in her replies, and started to sign them ‘With love, your little Vera’. Albert had to attend more and more meetings at the Civil Defence, and even got allowed time off from the Iron Works to go to them. Then one Saturday afternoon, Vera got back from an overtime shift at the jam factory to find her sister Vivian at the house in floods of tears. “It’s Roy. he reckons they are gonna bring in the call-up, so he’s only gone and joined the Army. Says he will be a driver and mechanic, bound to be, ’cause of him being a car mechanic. He’s sold the motorbike and waiting for his orders. He says I’ve got to stay at home and look after his mum”.
Vera told her that Janet’s Frank had been saying the same thing only last week. Better to join up than to wait and be called up. Viv snapped back at her. “S’alright for him, he ain’t got two kids and a wife to worry about, has he?” Deciding not to get involved in an argument, Vera went up to her room and wrote a letter to Les.
Near the end of August, the reserves got notified of the call-up for them, and Albert had to go to a meeting where the Civil Defence was placed on full alert. He came home looking glum, no longer able to keep insisting a war wasn’t going to happen. That night, he spoke to Elsie and Vera about preparing the Anderson Shelter properly, and how they would have to glue strips of brown paper to the windows to stop being injured by glass when the bombing started. He also told her they would need thick black curtains for the windows, so as not to show a light at night.
Elsie was made of strong stuff, and just nodded. “I can get some nice material down the market next weekend, and ask Mrs Ryan to run up the curtains for me on her sewing machine”. Albert shook his head. “You have to do it sooner than that, love. The orders will be broadcast soon”. Vera didn’t want to let them see she was worried. “I can cut the paper strips up, dad. And there’s glue at work, for the labels. I’m sure they will let us have some”.
Three days later, a letter arrived from Teddy. They had received war orders, and he didn’t know how often he would be able to write, or where he would be. He said not to worry if they didn’t hear anything for a while. So of course they immediately worried. The same day, Roy came round to say his goodbyes. He had received orders to report to the Royal Artillery barracks in Woolwich, and looked pretty fed up about that. “Typical, ain’t it? Here I am, a car mechanic, and the Army sends me to learn how to fire cannons”.
On the radio, and in all the newspapers, there was nothing but war. Vera got fed up listening to all the war talk, knowing full well that Les would be involved, whether she liked it or not. She hadn’t had a reply to her last letter, so was sure that Les would have already had orders and probably couldn’t tell her where he was being sent.
On the first day of September, the Germans invaded Poland. Elsie and Vera were hanging the blackout curtains as best they could after work, as Mrs Ryan hadn’t had time to use her sewing machine on them. They were using tacks, and nailing them to the window frames. Albert came home from work, holding a newspaper. “It will be war this weekend, Elsie love. Mark my words. That Hitler’s gone and done it, so he has”. Two days later, Britain declared war on Germany, and they listened to Mr Chamberlain on the radio, remarking on how serious and upset he sounded.
Elsie was crying quietly as she peeled the potatoes in the scullery, and Vera went in and cuddled her. “It will be alright, Mum. We have each other. We’ll get through this”. Then she went upstairs and thought about Les.
Moments later, she was crying too.