WRITTEN BY DONALD LIGHTWOOD
It’s the festive season, but celebrations aren’t on the horizon for Roberta
The wireless crackled. “We open the special Christmas Eve Forces’ Favourites with – you’ve guessed it – Vera Lynn .” We’ll Meet Again echoed in the Nissen hut, deserted apart from Roberta sitting on her bed. The other nineteen beds were empty.
The door opened and Roberta’s Company Commander walked in. “Jones, what are you doing here?” she demanded. Roberta stood up.
“I didn’t get a pass.”
“The whole platoon was given a forty eight-hour pass over Christmas,” said Captain Prentice.
Roberta shrugged. “Sergeant Mole tore mine up.”
“Why did she do that?”
“She said my bed space was a disgrace and I marched like a pregnant frog. Ma’m.”
Captain Prentice folded her arms with a sigh. “She has a point, hasn’t she – the sergeant?”
“I do try.”
“Possibly, but after four weeks of basic training…” The captain shook her head. “You were an actress, before you were called up?”
“Yes. I should be playing Cinderella in the pantomime at the Alhambra right now.”
“There’s a war on,” said the captain . “We all have to make sacrifices.”
“I know, and I am. I’m sorry. I don’t seem to be cut out for the army.”
A girl may well have skills that could help herself and others
“Switch that off.” The captain nodded at the wireless and sat on the bed. “You may find it hard to believe, but we do try to allow for our recruits’ civilian experience. A girl may well have skills that could help herself and others. Your training as an actress, for example. There must be something of value.”
There was one area where her theatre training could really pay dividends.
“One thing might help,” said Roberta.
“I told you there must be something.”
“Not for me – for you.”
“Oh,” said the captain, surprised. “OK, fine. What’s that?”
“When you speak to us as a group, don’t move about and fiddle with things. It’s irritating and it weakens your performance. Stay still and we’ll all benefit. You will appear to be strong and we’ll pay attention.”
That was frank. Anything else I should know?
“I see,” said the captain. “That was frank. Anything else I should know?”
The terrible screeching of women’s voices, thought Roberta. Should she say anything? She’d got nothing to lose.
“Women are handicapped by having a higher vocal register than men,” she ventured.
The captain interrupted. “I know. Particularly when we raise them. They’re awful.”
“Most of the NCOs and officers spend the day shrieking,” said Roberta.
“You’re right. Is there anything we can do about it?”
I can give you some exercises, if you like
“The voice does not begin and end in the throat,” said Roberta. “Get it right and you can lower the pitch. I can give you some exercises, if you like.”
“I would. Thank you. I’ll give it a go.”
“It takes time,” Roberta warned her.
“Yes, all training does.” The captain raised her eyebrows.
Roberta sighed. “I know. I can’t help feeling there must be easier ways of beating Hitler.”
The captain smiled. “I realise it seems pointless to you. Try to stop thinking why, and just get on with it. Basic training doesn’t go on forever. Don’t worry, we’ll beat Hitler together.”
Roberta nodded. ”I’ll try.”
“Were you hoping to go home for Christmas?” said Captain Prentice.
“Yes, to see my mum and dad. The usual family get-together.”
“That’s nice,” answered the captain. “Unfortunately I lost my own parents early on in the Blitz.”
“The army’s my family now.”
“I suppose it’s not so bad if you’re an officer,” said Roberta.
“It suited me. I was always a good girl at school.”
“I was the opposite.”
“I can believe it,” said the captain. “I couldn’t understand girls like you at school, who broke the rules.”
Roberta grinned. “It was more fun than keeping them.”
“No doubt.” Captain Prentice stood up. “It’s been an instructive chat. Thank you for the tutorial. Now, pack your bag and report to the Orderly Room in five minutes and collect your pass.”
“You mean I can go?”
The captain smiled. “I may not be your idea of a Fairy Godmother, but on this occasion I think Cinderella should be allowed to go to the ball.”