Vera settled into the same routine every day. It even occurred to her that she was actually getting used to the constant bombing, but then a particularly bad night shook her back into a feeling of gloom. It seemed the whole of the eastern side of London was on fire, on both sides of the Thames. The sky glowed red as more incendiaries cascaded down from German bombers, and the hundreds of firemen were unable to cope. Tower Bridge was illuminated by the fires in the surrounding docks, and the droning of the enemy aircraft engines got inside her head until it felt like she had a wasp’s nest in her skull.
When the noise of the explosions just combined into one huge roar, louder than the loudest thunder imaginable, she pushed open the door of the shelter, and ran to the back wall, screaming at the sky. Elsie tried to pull her back inside, but couldn’t manage her. Then she stood next to her daughter, and stared at the sky as if she had seen a vision of Hell. It didn’t seem possible that anyone could survive under that, and her heart sank as she feared for Albert. The next moment, a German bomber was caught in the cross-beams of two searchlights, and they saw one of their tormentors for the first time, as it seemed to be trying to twist its way out of the sight of the guns firing up at it. Vera tried to imagine the men inside it, what they were thinking, and why they were doing such a terrible thing.
The next evening, Albert looked awful. He appeared to be trembling, and despite constant washing, the soot and muck was ingrained into his face and hands. Elsie could only imagine how tired he must be. Working at the Iron Works as normal, then out most of the night and all weekend with his Civil Defence duties. He looked old enough to be her dad, rather than her husband.
As they sat around the table, none of them wanting to break the silence, Vivian walked in. She had braved the chance of getting caught in a raid, and taken the bus from Kennington. “I’ve decided to send the boys away after all, mum. I went to the evacuation people, and agreed they can go to Wales. There were bombs near The Oval last night, and I’m not chancing it any longer. Got to get them away. There’s a train on Saturday morning at ten, if you want to come with me to see them off”.
Elsie was pleased to hear that. So many children had already been evacuated from the areas likely to be bombed. Many had even been sent on ships as far away as Canada. But Viv had been stubborn, saying she wanted the boys near her, and Roy’s mum could look after them when she was at work. The last few days had changed her mind, as she had never expected it to be as bad as this. Albert nodded. “Best thing, Viv. Get them safe in the countryside. Fresh air, decent food”. Elsie knew the sort of things he had been seeing, and it would give him some peace to know his grandsons were out of London. “Alright, Viv, I will meet you at the station on Saturday. Now have a quick cup of tea, then you had better get home before they come over again”.
Vera worked that Saturday, tired out after another sleepless night. When she got home, her mum looked sad. “Oh you should have seen the tears, Vera love. Viv was in a terrible state seeing the boys off. They were alright at first, excited by seeing the trains, and all the other kids, but when she started howling they got so upset. I almost had to drag them off her, to put them on board. Then as they waved out of the window I started bawling too. At least they’ll be safe in Wales, though I wonder how Viv will get on, stuck there with Roy’s mum. She can be a miserable cow at the best of times”.
It was Janet’s birthday at the end of the month, and Vera showed her mum the compact she had bought her friend as a sixteenth birthday gift. “Ooh, that’s lovely. Looks like real gold, love. The mirror is just big enough too, and that’ll fit nicely in her handbag. I’ve got some nice lavender paper in a drawer upstairs you can wrap that in”.
But before Elsie got to the stairs, the sirens sounded again.