This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 736 words.
For almost two months, Vera had to live through what would later be known as The Blitz. But Vera never used that term then. For her, it was Hell on Earth, pure and simple. From that first day when she got home from work with her knickers folded in her handbag, the bombing didn’t stop. As soon as it was dark, the Germans returned, and as the sirens started up, Elsie almost had to drag her daughter into the shelter in the garden. Albert hadn’t even been home yet, as his Heavy Rescue crew was busy all day, with no let up.
Through the small cracks and nail holes inside the shelter, Vera could see the constant flashes of the bombs falling onto the docks, and the nearby streets. What with that, and the searchlights sweeping right and left, it was as bright as daytime, except between the waves of the enemy planes arriving. The noise was bad enough, but there was also the concussion. When the biggest bombs exploded, there was something like a wave of pressure that went through you, making your ears hurt, and your chest feel compressed so you couldn’t get your breath. She thought it was a miracle that the flimsy-looking shelter wasn’t blown away over their heads, like an umbrella on a windy day.
When her teeth began to chatter uncontrollably, Elsie moved across to sit next to her. She stroked her hair and nodded, no point trying to speak above the din. Elsie had her own worries. Bert was out somewhere in amongst all that horror, and she couldn’t believe he would live through that night. Despite being exhausted, sleep was out of the question. Glass was shattering everywhere around them, and roof tiles were clattering onto the street further down as the houses literally shook from the blasts. Scared of wetting her underwear again, Vera used the lidded bucket to relieve herself, hardly able to see what she was doing in the gloom. Her mum had thought it best not to light the old hurricane lamp, although worrying about showing a light when the sky itself was on fire seemed just plain silly to Vera.
It was getting light when the all clear sounded, and as they emerged from the shelter they immediately felt the heat in the air. The docks across the other side of the main road were still burning. You could hear the wood cracking in the timber wharves, and smell the resin on the breeze. The bells of the fire engines had stopped sounding, as they had run out of fire crews to tackle the numerous blazes.
They went into the scullery, and Elsie put a kettle on the cooker to boil water for tea. But there was no gas coming out of the burner to light. Dropping the match before it burned her fingers, she went over to the sink to run some cold water to drink. Nothing came out of the tap. She turned to her daughter. “Looks like they’ve hit the gas mains and the water mains, Vera love. Doubt there will be any electric either”.
Vera flicked the light switch, and the bulb didn’t come on.
By the time Albert got home that afternoon, the gas and water were back on, but there was still no electric. Elsie managed to start making something for them all to eat, and watched as her husband stood at the sink in his vest, scrubbing at his face with soapy palms. He hadn’t said much, so she knew it must have been bad. As he dried off, he tried to manage a smile. “I’ll eat as soon as it’s ready, Elsie. Got to be back out again soon”.
No sooner had he spoken those words, the sirens sounded again. Vera burst into tears, and Elsie shouted at her. “No use crying. Pick your dinner up, and take it into the shelter. I’ll bring some tea in a flask when I come”. Albert was already putting on a clean shirt as Elsie stuffed some sausages between two slices of bread and wrapped the sandwich up in some paper. “At least take this, Bert. You’ve got to have something love”.
He pushed the packet into the pocket of his uniform overalls, and kissed his wife on the forehead before turning to leave.
Elsie didn’t like the look on his face. It made her feel sad.