This is the twenty-eighth part of a fiction serial, in 875 words.
Using his extended leave, Roy had arranged for him and Viv to go to Wales and visit the boys. They couldn’t stay at the Davies’ farm, but she had booked accomodation for them in the local pub. It as a long way to go for just two nights, but Viv was beside herself with excitement at seeing Georgie and Eddie.
The newspapers and radio talked about the extending of conscription to all men and women up to the age of forty-five. Albert was too old for that of course, but he reckoned that some of the blokes from his Iron Works might have to go, as not all the jobs there were essential. Elsie and Vera already knew that they would be exempt, as they worked in the food industry, and the same applied to Viv too. But even Princess Elizabeth had joined up, and the newsreels showed her learning how to drive a lorry, and fix the mechanicals on it as well. Some of the office girls in the factory would have to go, and Sylvia Pinn had already left and joined the WAAFS. She might have expected to be doing something glamorous like helping the boys flying spitfires and such, but the last Vera had heard from Mrs Pinn, Sylvie was learning how to do morse code for sending messages, and was stuck in some shed in Scotland somewhere.
Viv got back the next week full of tales of the boys and their life in Wales. Eddie had a sort of Welsh accent that sounded funny, and George was playing rugby at school. She said it rained all the time they were there, and the boys were scared of the bandage on Roy’s face. The Davies family seemed very kind, and the boys were not only well fed, they were well behaved too. Eddie had asked if Viv could move to Wales, so they could live there all the time. In the train on the way home, Roy told her that once the bombing stopped, she should bring them home to his mum’s. He was worried that they would be like strangers once the war ended, whichever side won.
The Americans and the Japs were fighting some big battles in the Far East, and the war was going bad in Burma too. But later that year, there was some very good news, and this time it was a big victory for the Briish. It was so big, it not only made the papers and the radio, but Vera and Janet saw it on the newsreels when they went to the cinema on that Friday. There was film of all the guns firing to start the battle, and it was unbelievable. Vera didn’t even realise the army had so many big guns, and felt sure it must have been the biggest battle in any war, ever. They said the place was called El Alamein, and it was in the desert. The soldiers who beat the Germans were the Eighth Army
There was a squeal, which was Janet getting excited, She almost jumped out of her seat, yelling. “The Eighth Army! That’s my Frank. His division is in that army”. The man in the seat behind tapped her shoulder and shushed her. There was news of a terrible battle in Russia too, in a big city called Stalingrad. The announcer said the Russians were winning. On the way home, Janet asked if Vera knew where El Alamein was. She told her it was in Egypt, which was in North Africa. Her old world atlas had served her well. Janet was about to light a cigarette, and stopped. “Africa? I thought Frank was in the desert, not the jungle”. Vera laughed, and told her there was more to Africa than jungle. Janet asked to pop in and see it on the map, so she could imagine where Frank was.
The weather turned much colder the following week, and Vera started to think about Les in the POW camp with the winter coming. She would be nineteen next birthday, and some days she could hardly remember being at school.
Not long after that, Janet didn’t come into work one day. Vera asked Mr Prentice if she had gone sick, and he shook his head. “It’s her Frank, Vera love. His folks got a telegram. Missing, believed killed”. That night Vera decided not to go round to the Reid’s and left Janet alone. She wouldn’t have known what to say to her anyway. When she came back into work she didn’t seem too bothered, which surprised Vera. But she thought it was just her way of dealing with it.
The letter came addressed to Janet, not Frank’s family. The captain had found her letters in Frank’s pocket, and wrote to her at the Reid’s house. He said that Frank’s tank had been found after the battle, and him and two others were dead inside it. He wrote that he had been very popular, and a good comrade to the men in his troop. He reckoned she should have been proud of him, and he expressed his condolences, and all that stuff. Frank was buried with his mates, in the desert.
So they had won the big battle, but lost Frank doing it.
Janet didn’t even cry.