This is the eighteenth part of a fiction serial, in 766 words.
As well as the radio, the newspapers were full of photos and articles about Dunkirk. They had no idea if Teddy’s ship was involved, but if it wasn’t, it must have been the only ship in Great Britain that wasn’t heading out to France to collect the soldiers from the beaches. Even seaside pleasure cruisers from Margate and Southend were being used, and her dad told Vera that hundreds of boats were passing along the Thames on their way to the sea. “Just little ones, love. You know, cabin cruisers like those rich people have tied up behind their houses”.
Janet was relieved that Frank was still in training camp. waiting for a posting to a regiment. Viv had heard that Roy was in Scotland of all places, happy to have escaped the Artillery for whatever special job he had volunteered for. She read out part of his letter, then stopped when she started to blush. “The rest is personal stuff, you know the sort of thing. Well, he misses me, don’t he?”
Almost every port or harbour of any size was starting to receive weary-looking soldiers who had been brought off the beaches. Some of the ships had been sunk, and it made Elsie upset to think of those boys believing they were safe, and then those awful dive bombers sinking them at sea. “Why can’t our RAF do more to help the boys, Bert? I mean to say, we have a lot of planes, don’t we?” Bert stopped rolling his cigarette, and looked solemn. So do the Germans, Elsie love. And they have had a lot of practice”.
For nearly two weeks, it seemed Dunkirk was the only thing anyone talked about. They got so many off those beaches, including a lot of Frenchies too, Vera read. Albert had something to say about that. “Well, I hope those Frenchies don’t expect to sit out the war in Dover or wherever. They can bloody well fight, and help defend us when the invasion comes”. Elsie said nothing, but she thought her husband could sound very silly sometimes. That week at the cinema, Vera watched the newsreels holding Janet’s hand tight. For some reason, she was convinced she was going to spot Les, climbing on a ship to safety, or returning to Dover with a big smile on his face as he disembarked. But they talked about the rearguard, and how so many had been killed, wounded, or captured. Now convinced Les was in the rearguard, Vera cried all the way home from the cinema.
Frank came home on leave, with the news that he was being posted to Dorset, to join the 1st Royal Tank Regiment. Janet spotted him standing outisde the factory gates as they finished work, looking older and more serious in his uniform. He seemed excited about being in the tanks. “They might even let me drive one, and it’s better than footslogging. Besides, those new tanks stop bullets, so my chances are better”. Vera didn’t want to mention the shattered tanks in France they had seen on the newsreels, and kissed Frank on the cheek before leaving them to go off to spend time together.
That Sunday, Vivian came round with the boys. She brought some sausages with her that she had smuggled out of the factory, and they had them for tea with mashed potatoes. “I will have to stop pinching the sausages soon, Mum. They are getting very careful about stocktaking since the rationing”. Albert wasn’t amused. “I thought you got them cheap. You stop that right now, young lady. No Dodds has ever been a thief, and I won’t have it”.
Another letter had arrived from Roy, and his big secret was now public knowledge. He was in a new unit called The Commandos. They were to be used for special raids, and had lots of extra training. Viv sounded impressed. “He’s got a special knife, and he gets to carry a tommy gun instead of a rifle. He says they are a really tough bunch, and those Jerries had better watch out once they get started. Lots of them didn’t get through the course, but my Roy came out in the top ten of his class”. Albert nodded his approval, wondering how such a wet-looking article as Roy had managed to become part of an elite unit.
There was still no news about Les, and Vera was increasingly worried when she heard that The Grenadier Guards had been part of the rearguard.
That night in bed, she prayed to God for the first time since she was a little girl.