This is the sixteenth part of a fiction serial, in 773 words.
By the end of September, the British Army Expeditionary Force had been sent over to France, and Poland had surrendered to Germany. There was a meeting at the jam factory, and the manager told the staff that they would now be making big tins of jam under contract for the army, navy, and air force. Full-day Saturday working was being introduced, and anyone who worked six days would of course be paid more. Vera didn’t know for sure that Les was in France with the army, but she put her hand up to work on Saturdays, as she liked to think of him eating the jam she made. Elsie declined to work the extra day, telling the manager that she had a house to run.
When a letter arived from Les, she was glad she had made that decision, as he was in France. He couldn’t write about where he was, but told her everything was fine, and there was no war there yet. He mentioned some of his mates, including another Londoner called Lucky, because he always won at cards. Les said he was going to stick close to him when there was trouble, so his luck would rub off. The following week, the call-up was announced, and it seemed Roy had been right all along.
Janet came into work in tears, because Frank had joined up. He had already been sent off to basic training, and wouldn’t get leave until that finished. Vera told her she was better off than her, as her Les was already in France. They agreed to go to the cinema as usual on Friday, hoping to get more information from the newsreels. They had also had to register for the new National Identity Cards, which were supposed to stop German spies from operating in the country.
Everyone knew there was going to have to be food rationing, so Elsie and Vera started to buy up as much jam as they could carry home. Vivian was still able to get cheap sausages, and sausage meat, but they wouldn’t keep so well until the winter. At the Iron Works, Albert was now on a full six-day week, and had also signed up to work on the Civil Defence Heavy Rescue, in case any bombing started. It felt strange to Vera that there was all this war going on, but nothing much seemed to be happening. Her dad told her that the government were keeping a lot of it secret, because of spies and foreign agents. But life still felt normal, in so many ways.
Not long before Christmas, the papers and radio news were full of the story of the sinking of the German battleship Graf Spee, after a battle called The River Plate, near Argentina. It was a big victory for the Royal Navy, but they had no idea whether or nor Teddy’s ship was involved. The celebrations were very subdued that year, and they had a quiet lunch at home. Viv and the boys stayed with Roy’s mum so she wouldn’t be on her own. Elsie had invited her, but she had said no. Viv said she was too upset from worrying about Roy.
Up in her room later, Vera thought about the fact that she would soon be sixteen years old, ad there was a war on.
To get those ideas out of her head, she wrote a letter to Les, not caring whether he would ever get it.
On new year’s day 1940, the call-up was extended to men up to twenty-seven years of age. Vera noticed how many young men were no longer around the familiar streets, and missing from the factory too. One of the shop-floor girls, Madge Waring, even got to go and train as a delivery driver because they were so short of men. At home, Albert used to listen to the famous traitor, Lord Haw-Haw, on the radio. He was broadcasting from Germany, and spreading lies about how well the Germans were doing, and how they were sinking dozens of ships. Elsie thought it was disloyal to listen to him. “You should turn that off, Bert. That man’s a traitor, nothing less”.
One day, Janet brought some letters into work to show Vera. One was from Les, sent to their parents. It said much the same as he had written to her, and even mentioned Lucky. The other was from Frank, saying he was doing pretty well in the army. He had enclosed a photo of himself in uniform, and they both agreed he looked a lot older.
That reminded Vera that everyone now looked a lot older. Even her.