This is the twenty-sixth part of a fiction serial, in 830 words.
At the end of the first week in December, they finally heard that Teddy was safe. He wasn’t saying much, just that he was alright, and would soon be posted to another ship. When her dad read the letter, they all danced around in a circle like little children, and her mum cried tears of happiness.
Then the next morning they woke up to hear some big news on the radio. Japan had attacked America, at some place called Pearl Harbour. The Japs had also attacked British troops in the Far East, so the government declared war on Japan too. Vera’s head was spinning. Now they had to fight the Japanese, as well as the Germans, Italians, and other countries on their side. How could they possibly survive? She felt her lip quivering at the thought of German and Japanese soldiers marching down Tower Bridge Road, and her mum was looking glum.
By contrast, Albert was delighted. “Cheer up, you two. This is the best news ever. Now the Yanks are going to have to fight the Germans too, I bet. Wait until all them millions of Yanks get over here and get stuck in. Bloody hell, what a day!” But Vera saw her dad wasn’t looking so chirpy after listening to the radio on Christmas Day. Hong Kong had been captured, and lots of prisoners had been taken. He didn’t even finish his dinner, and Viv got up and put her arm around him. “It’ll be alright, dad. The Americans will be there soon”.
However, the Yanks had other problems, and Hong Kong wasn’t on their list of priorities.
The week before her eighteenth birthday, Vera got the best news of the war so far, and it came in the post. There was a packet forwarded by the Red Cross, containing four letters from Les, and a small gift wrapped up in a piece of a German newspaper. It was a carved piece of wood, and had the initials V and L either side of a heart. Just a scrap of wood, probably taken from a pile of firewood, but it was the best thing she had ever received in her life. She showed her mum the carving, then ran upstairs to read the letters in her bedroom.
Les couldn’t say where he was, but he did talk about how cold it was, and that there was a lot of snow. He thanked her for the socks and scarf, but didn’t mention the other parcel. She presumed he hadn’t got it yet, or it had been stolen by the guards. He said there was enough food, mostly cabbage soup or potato soup. Sometimes they had black bread, but it was so hard they had to soak it in the soup for ages before they could bite into it. The second letter wasn’t so cheerful, as he told her that his pal Lucky had died of pneumonia. He hadn’t been right since Dunkirk, and when the weather turned bitterly cold, it had finished him off. But he did mention that they had played football and cricket when they could, and some of the blokes put on plays and shows when the Germans allowed it.
In the third letter, he asked if she could please ask his parents to send him some cigarettes. They were what everyone missed the most, and there were never enough to go round in the camp. He said the guards left them alone much of the time, and although they had to parade morning and evening to be counted, the rest of the time they could play cards, chess or draughts, or read books. The fourth letter hurt her feelings a bit. He said that he loved her a lot, and always imagined them getting married, but he wasn’t about to ask her to wait for him. He reckoned a girl like her ought to make a life for herself, and that if she found another bloke, he would understand.
Vera was going to tell him all right. She would write and let him know that she was his girl, and would wait for him until Hell froze over, if need be. Then she walked over to Janet’s house, to show Les’s family the letters. Well the first three, anyway. Not the romantic one.
Mr and Mrs Reid seemed upset that Les had written to Vera, and not them. Still, they were glad to know he was doing well, and listened attentively as she read out his letters in order. They told her they would get a tin of fifty cigarettes from someone they knew on the black market, and send them as soon as possible. Mrs Reid still had half of a small fruit cake she had made for Christmas, and said she would wrap it in waxy paper and send him that too. Janet laughed. “Mum, by the time Les gets that, it’ll be rotten”.
They decided to send him some shaving soap and a new brush instead.