This is the nineteenth part of a fiction serial, in 796 words.
It was a long time before Vera found out anything about Les, and then it was from Janet, not by letter. “You had better know that my dad was informed our Les is a prisoner, Vera. Seems he was wounded in the hand during the rearguard action, and got captured. Dad says they will treat them fair, put them in a camp or something and feed them. Dad reckons they will get a doctor to look at his hand too, but God knows how long he will be held over there”. The news made Vera’s legs weak wih relief. At least Les hadn’t been killed, as she had been dreading. Janet put her arm around her friend. “I’ll let you know once we can write to him”.
Later that summer, the Germans took over the Channel Islands, and the city of Birmingham was badly bombed. Vera had never been to Birmingham, but she knew it was a big city, and a long way from London. It felt funny to think that those German planes were now in France, and they could probably see across to Dover, on a clear day. The air-raid warning sirens were tested again, and the sound of those made Vera feel physically sick. The way they started low, then reached a terrible wail. It made it all feel real. Down in Southwark Park, and along the river in Greenwich, they practiced with searchlights, illuminating the night sky like giant torch-beams. Albert and Elsie started to get the Anderson Shelter prepared, stacking old blankets in there, with flasks full of fresh water, and a big metal bucket to use for a toilet. Vera looked at her mum, and shook her head. ” I could never use a bucket in front of my dad, never. I will have to chance using the lavatory. I will, I tell you”.
Near the end of August, German bombers reached London, and bombed some unexpected places, like Harrow, and Croydon. Then one plane bombed the City, and they heard the explosions across the river. Vera thought it sounded a bit like really loud thunder, and wanted to walk down to the river to see the smoke. But her mum made her sit in the shelter with her until it stopped. Albert had gone in to his Civil Defence job that day, but they didn’t get called out.
Then on the second Saturday in September, Vera heard the sirens while she was at work in the jam factory. All the workers had to stop, and the machines were turned off. Old Mr Prentice came in and blew a whistle, and everyone had to go in single file down to the huge basement. It was very hot down there, as all the pipe-work ran over the ceiling, and once everyone was packed in and sitting down, it got even hotter. Vera was scared about being there, imagining what would happen if the factory was bombed, and collapsed on top of them. Hattie O’Connor, one of the older ladies, saw her shaking and came and sat in front of her, grasping both her hands. “Talk to me, Vera. Just talk to me, and it’ll be alright”. But Vera couldn’t think of anything to say.
When the sirens stopped, the bombs started to fall. But this time they didn’t sound like distant thunder, more like you were sitting under a speeding steam train that was rolling over you. One, two, three, four, five. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang! The last bang was closer, and she sensed a trembling in the ground like you get when a big lorry drives past on the street. The explosions were so close together, they seemed to roll into one. Vera was aware of someone screaming, but until Hattie wrapped her arms around her, she hadn’t realised it was her. Despite the heat, she was shivering, and felt embarrassed when she knew she was dribbling too.
Hattie raised her voice above the din. “They are going for the docks, Vera love. You know, the ships and the wood stored there. They don’t want to bomb a silly old jam factory, do they?” The Surrey Docks were not far from where Vera lived, just the other side of the main road. Hattie’s attempt at reassurance didn’t make her feel better when she realised that. Even when it seemed the bombing had finished, she could hear the sound of the big anti-aircraft guns from the park, as they tried to shoot down the bombers as they turned round.
The sirens sounded again, meaning the all-clear, and they started to stand up and get ready to go back to work. Vera leaned over to Hattie, whispering in her ear.
“I have to go to the lav, Hattie. I’ve wet me knickers”.