WRITTEN BY JANE CORRY (WRITING AS SOPHIE KING), OUR NEW “DIARY OF A MODERN GRAN” COLUMNIST
As we approach Remembrance Day on November 11, we bring you a poignant wartime serial to read daily…
Marilyn’s niece joins Lily and PoW Giuseppe at the farm…
Dad was missing? Lily’s knees turned to water as Marilyn sat her down on a chair in the Post Office.
Maybe, she thought, with a sudden surge of hope, it would be like the time she’d gone for a walk without telling Dad. It was the only time she’d known him to raise his voice.
“I thought something had happened to you,” he’d sobbed, holding her tight after finding her at the bottom of the road.
She’d only been little then – but now Lily knew just how he must have felt!
“He’ll come back, won’t he?” she whispered.
“We hope so, dear. But the letter says your father’s troop was diverted from France to Italy. There was a battle and… lots of men were hurt. Others can’t be accounted for.”
Lily frowned. “What does that mean?”
“It’s like register at school.” Marilyn’s eyes were watery. “When they came to take your father’s name, he wasn’t there.”
“So where is he?”
“We don’t know yet. Lily! Please come back.”
Pigtails flying, Lily ran up the hill towards the station, past the shops and the staring faces and the red cliffs. How could she still stay here – wonderful as it was – if Dad was injured?
Lily, Lily. She imagined him calling out her name. Somehow, she’d get herself to London and make someone take her to this Italy place. Then she’d find Dad, just as he’d found her at the end of the road all those years ago.
“Where are you heading, young lady?”
It was the gruff farmer who had taken in George. In fact, her friend was standing glumly next to him.
“I’m going home,” she gasped.
George’s face broke into a wide beam.
“I’ll come, too! Fed up with this place, I am. Everything stinks and I can’t get my favourite humbugs.”
“Lily! There you are,” panted Marilyn, running up. The farmer frowned.
“Needs a good hiding, if you ask me.”
Marilyn spoke fiercely. “She’s just heard that her father’s gone missing in Italy.”
Instantly, the farmer’s face softened.
“Sorry to hear that, ducks. Still, miracles happen. There’s no knowing in this war. Any news on your Tom?”
A shadow passed over Marilyn’s face.
“Not for a while.”
“No news is good news then.” He glanced at George. “This young ’un has been telling me of these bombs Mr Hitler has been dropping on you Londoners. Seems like he didn’t reckon on your courage. So keep it up, eh, young lady? No more talk of running away.”
As they left, George pressed a sticky sweet into the palm of her hand. It was nice of him. But all Lily wanted to do was to run up to her room and cry on the big bed that now seemed too empty.
How selfish she had been! The farmer’s talk of the bombs in London reminded her that her poor cousins were still in danger. As for Dad… just thinking about him ripped her heart apart.
She started at the knock on the door. It was Marilyn.
“I don’t want to disturb you, dear, but I thought I’d share something with you.” In her hand was a pad of paper and a pen. “Every Sunday and Wednesday, I write to my Tom. I don’t expect a reply but it helps to pour out my feelings. Naturally, I’ve told him about you and how lucky I am to have your company.”
“But it’s me who’s lucky to be with you,” said Lily shyly and Marilyn squeezed her hand.
“We’re both blessed. Why don’t you write to your dad? Meanwhile, I’ve had some good news. My brother wants me to have my niece Angela for a bit. It’s not safe in Birmingham. She’s fifteen, although I haven’t seen her for a few years. It will be some company for you.”
Lily jumped up. “I’ll clear my room.”
I hope you don’t mind me saying it, but I’m beginning to see you as family too
“Nonsense, dear. You were here first.” Marilyn reached for her hand. “Besides, I hope you don’t mind me saying it, but I’m beginning to see you as family too.”
A big lump rose into Lily’s throat.
“Ta,” she mumbled.
But how could she be truly happy with Dad missing?
When the door had closed, she sat at the desk by the window overlooking the cliffs and picked up the pen.
Aunt Gladys says you’re missing but I know you’re OK because you wouldn’t leave me. Would you? Marilyn, who looks after me now, is very kind. She’s got a real pig called Violet who nearly got made into bacon but is going to have babies instead and…
By the time she’d finished, it was dark outside. A delicious smell was floating up from downstairs.
“Supper’s ready,” called out Marilyn.
But although she felt a bit better from writing the letter, Lily didn’t have the stomach to eat anything.
Angela was due to arrive the following week.
“Could you help me get the room ready?” asked Marilyn.
Lily didn’t need asking twice. Angela’s was the one which had been locked. Now, as she went inside, she was slightly disappointed. In her head, she had imagined hidden treasure or maybe a skeleton, like in the book they were reading at school. But there was just a bed with a pink patchwork cover and a view over the sea. The waves were so rough! Lily shivered. Who would want
to be out there?
“Back in a sec with some pillow cases,” said Marilyn brightly.
While she was gone, Lily’s eye fell on a chest of drawers with little brass handles like upside-down shells. Gosh! Inside sat a row of tiny cardigans: blue, yellow, white, pink…
They’re for the babies that never arrived
“They’re for the babies that never arrived,” said a quiet voice behind her.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know…”
“It’s why I keep this room locked. It was going to be the nursery, you see.” Then Marilyn shook herself. “Still, if there’s one thing this war has taught us, it’s that we just have to get on with life.”
There was still no news about Dad when Lily went with Marilyn to collect Angela from the station. Her heart was heavy. Yet she also felt excited.
“She was such a sweet girl when I last saw her,” bubbled Marilyn. “I know you’ll really like her.”
They were only just in time! The train huffed in, blasting smoke and reminding Lily of her own arrival nearly three months ago. How fast time had gone!
“Where is she?” Marilyn frowned, scanning the platform. Then a tall young woman with red lipstick and a stylish little hat walked up to them.
“Goodness, dear. You’ve grown!”
“Well, I am nearly sixteen!”
Lily stared. Angela had blonde hair like her aunt but her eyes were a cold grey. She had a cigarette in one hand and an enormous suitcase by her feet.
“Thank you,” she said to Lily, clearly expecting her to pick it up.
As they drove past the searchlight battery outside town, some of the soldiers began to whistle. Lily blushed.
“I don’t suppose they’re looking at you,” said Angela, as if amused.
“I know –” Lily started to say but her words were lost in more whistling.
Marilyn seemed nervous too, even back at the house.
“I do hope you like your room.”
Angela raised an eyebrow.
“It’s not the one I stayed in a few years ago, is it? That one was bigger.”
“Lily is there now.”
“The evacuee?” Angela spoke as if Lily wasn’t there.
“I’ll swap,” she said in a small voice.
That won’t be necessary, thank you, Lily
Marilyn cut in. “That won’t be necessary, thank you, Lily.”
There was a sniff as Angela peered through the window.
“Goodness, who is that?”
A shirtless Guiseppe was chopping firewood in the yard.
“That’s our prisoner of war, dear.”
Angela shuddered. “How do you know he won’t murder you in your bed?”
Lily didn’t hear Marilyn’s reply. She was wondering why Guiseppe wasn’t wearing his shirt. It was lying, wet, on the ground, as if it had been in the sea…
The following Sunday, they all went to church as usual. When the vicar reached the part of the service where he prayed for “all our brave men”, he mentioned Marilyn’s husband. Marilyn always had her eyes tightly shut at this bit.
“Also remembering Alfred Brookes,” added the vicar.
“We’re all praying for you, dear,” said an elderly woman to Lily on the way out. It seemed everyone knew about Aunt Glady’s letter.
Then Lily gave a little start. Wasn’t that Guiseppe at the church gates, next to Colin who brought him to the farm every day?
“Yes, it is me.” He smiled at her. “I have permission now to come to church. At home, it is a sin if we do not thank God and pray for our families – and plenty of fish.”
Then his black eyes locked with hers.
I put your father in my prayers too
“I hear about your father. I put him in my prayers too.”
“Don’t!” Lily went red with anger. “It’s your fault he is missing. You’re no better than the Huns.”
After that, Lily could hardly bear to talk to the Italian, even though she and Angela had to work with him in the fields after school.
“I do understand,” said Marilyn. “At times, I hate the idea of the enemy in the house. But I also know that some of these men never wanted to fight.”
“Then why did they?” demanded Angela, reluctantly chopping up nettles for the evening soup. “Ouch.”
“Because otherwise, they would have been shot or put in prison – like some of our men have been.”
Gosh! Lily hadn’t realised that. Nor, from the look on her face, had Angela. Or maybe she’d just stung herself again.
A gust of wind rattled the window.
“Looks like a storm’s brewing up, girls. We’ll have to get cracking if we’re going to get the hens in before it belts down.”
The storm hit them much earlier than anyone had thought.
“You’d better come inside,” Marilyn yelled out to Guiseppe as Lily tried to gather the eggs, her hair soaked through.
Now, as they all huddled by the Aga to dry off, Marilyn looked really worried.
“I can’t understand why Colin is so late in collecting you.”
“Maybe he cannot get through.”
We can’t send you back alone to the camp…
“But what are we going to do?” Marilyn spoke as if talking to herself, her forehead wrinkled. “We can’t send you back alone to the camp…”
“Or I might try to escape?” Guiseppe’s voice had a hint of laughter. “There is no point unless I want to be shot. But it is dangerous to walk back in weather like this. I sleep in the stables, perhaps.”
Then he turned to look at her. It was the first time Lily had allowed her eyes to meet his since the letter about Dad.
“If you do not mind.”
He was talking as if she was the mistress of the farm, and not Marilyn.
“Don’t ask me,” muttered Lily.
“Perhaps that’s best.” Marilyn glanced at the pot of potatoes bubbling over the fire. “We have enough for four.”
“Hardly,” sniffed Angela.
Lily was not looking forward to sharing the table with a man whose country had lost Dad. But as they began to chat, with the wind flapping the blackout blinds, she was surprised to find it became easier.
“This soup, she is almost as good as my mother’s.” Guiseppe wiped his plate with a slab of bread.
“Almost?” Marilyn’s voice might have sounded sharp were it not for the amused glint in her eye.
“No one,” declared Guiseppe, leaning back in his chair, “makes soup like my mother. Not even my wife.”
Marilyn paused mid-mouthful.
“You have a wife?”
“You are surprised?”
“It’s just… I mean, you don’t seem…”
“I have twin daughters, too.”
Now it was Lily’s turn for her jaw to drop. “Blimey.”
They are younger than you, but determined too. Often, you remind me of them
There was a little sigh. “They are younger than you, but determined too. Often, you remind me of them.” Patting his pocket, Guiseppe brought out a photograph. “This is my family.”
In the candlelight they peered at a small, creased photograph of a young woman sitting on an upturned boat, next to two little girls in pigtails.
“I miss them,” he said quietly. “Before the war started, I teach my daughters English just like I learned English from the sailors who came to the port.”
So that explained it! Unable to stop herself, Lily reached into her pocket.
“This is my Mum. She died when I was born.”
Even Angela was silent. Then Marilyn spoke brightly.
“I know. Let’s play a game. Everyone takes turns to tell the others about a happy memory!”
“I remember the first fish I caught.” Guiseppe’s eyes twinkled. “I was seven and she was as big as me. My mother, she was very happy. That fish, she fed
us for a week!”
“I remember Dad teaching me to swim,” Lily said wistfully. “I really wanted to but I couldn’t get my feet off the bottom of the pool.”
“I remember my first pony,” chipped in Marilyn. “She was called Sparkle. Maybe you’d like to learn to ride, Lily?”
“Get up on one of those huge beasts in the stable? You must be flipping joking.” Lily found herself joining in the laughter.
“I remember my best friend Susan,” cut in Angela. “We went everywhere together.”
“Is she still in Birmingham, dear?”
It taught me to make the most out of every day
“No.” Angela’s voice didn’t have its usual confident ring. “Didn’t Dad tell you? She and her family were killed by the bloody Germans.” She stood up, glaring at Guiseppe. “It taught me to make the most out of every day.”
There was a murmur of “I’m sorry” but the jovial atmosphere had passed. No wonder. Poor Angela! That explained why she was so sharp. Marilyn put an arm around her niece but was shrugged off.
Then, as Guiseppe took himself off to the stables, a blast of wind tore in at the back door, blowing out the candles.
Somehow, Marilyn and the two girls groped their way upstairs in the dark.
“Will you be all right, dears?”
Lily nodded even though the thunder and lightning kept her awake.
In the morning, the rain and wind had stopped. So, too, had the anger in her heart towards Guiseppe. It was as if last night’s shared stories had made them equal. As for Angela, she must try to help her, however sharp her tongue…
This wasn’t easy.
“When are you going back to your own home?” Angela often demanded, although she was careful not to say so in front of Marilyn. She also made excuses to get out of farm chores.
“I’ll go into town for you, aunt,” she was always offering.
The following week, she came back, her face shining.
“The soldiers are having a dance on Saturday. Please can I go?”
Lily had the feeling she’d go anyway, with or without her aunt’s consent.
“You look like a film star,” gasped Lily when Angela tottered down the stairs, wearing a red and white polka-dot skirt and high heels.
Angela bent her head graciously in acknowledgment. At the same time, a Jeep roared up outside.
“My lift,” she said quickly, before disappearing into the night.
“I do hope she’ll be all right with those American soldiers.” Marilyn fretted all evening.
Later, when Lily had been asleep for quite some time, she heard a running engine outside. Sleepily stumbling to the window, she saw Angela – locked in the arms of a man in uniform!
Angela wasn’t at breakfast. “Sleeping in,” announced her aunt briskly.
Later, Lily couldn’t help overhearing a low argument through Angela’s door.
“If a soldier gives you chocolate, he’ll expect something in return,” Marilyn was saying.
“What about you, aunt? You and Lily are really chummy with that Italian PoW. Hardly patriotic, is it?”
Guiseppe, too, sensed the tension.
“That Angela is trouble,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow as Lily helped him rake up straw in the stables. “She does things she should not.”
But so did he!
“I saw your wet shirt the other day. Have you been in the sea again?”
He held a finger to his lips.
Why don’t I teach you to swim? It’s easy!
“Remember. It is our secret. Why don’t I teach you to swim? It’s easy! The waves carry you and you can float on top as well as going under.”
Giuseppe’s eyes took on a faraway look. “It’s a type of magic.”
Despite her fears, she was tempted.
“What if I drown?”
“You won’t, la mia piccolina. I will protect you.”
“What does pica-thingy mean?”
He looked sad.
“Little one. It’s the name I call my daughters.”
Poor man. He must miss his family so much, just as she did. Still… imagine Dad’s face if he came back to find she could swim!
But the Italian wasn’t meant to go anywhere except the farm or his camp. So how could he take her to the sea?
Be on your guard! That’s what the posters said. What should she do?
Eventually, she confided in George. His eyes rounded.
Reckon he sneaks off to the beach to send messages to the Hun
“Bet he’s a spy. Speaks good English, don’t he? Reckon he sneaks off to the beach to send messages to the Hun. You’ve got to report it. It’s your duty.”
I’ll do it tomorrow, Lily told herself. That night, she couldn’t sleep with the worry. At one point, when she became drowsy, she thought she heard a Jeep outside and giggling. Then Lily finally fell asleep – only to be woken by a banging on the door.
“Wake up!” It was Angela’s voice. “Quick! The barn is on fire!”