Goodbye, Sweetheart

Mandy Dixon © Lady in kakhi army uniform on station platform Illustration: Mandy Dixon


You had changed me beyond recognition – and now I had to move on

I’m early. The station platform is deserted; just me and the government posters. Careless Talk Costs Lives. And my personal favourite of course: They Can’t Get On Without Us – Join The Women’s ATS.

An ancient porter shuffles past; he nods in a way that manages to convey disapproval of me but respect for my khaki uniform.

I stare back down the platform.

I should have said it.

I just couldn’t bear a proper goodbye, final and forever. I’d much rather remember the smiles. They’ll sustain me.

The grudging porter’s trailer scuffs my kit bag; I shift it closer with my boot.

It seems ridiculous, now, to think that six weeks ago I could barely lift it.

“Dear-oh-dear,” you said, deep blue eyes twinkling at me on my first day. “How on earth are you going to operate a searchlight if you can’t even manage to lift your kit bag?”

“I’m fine.” I hated to be seen struggling.

“’Course you are,” you said, lifting it for me as if it were a feather.

“I said, I can manage.”

“All right, keep your hair in place. What’s your name, Lance Corporal?”

“Jennings,” I said, wary of my position. “Lance Corporal Mary Jennings.”

“Mary, Mary quite contrary – very apt.”

I scowled. It was an old joke.

It was only later I realised that you were the officer in charge of bringing us ATS girls up to scratch.

“Come on, ladies – under that wire and up the wall in five.”

“All right for Silver Spoon over there,” I heard a fellow recruit grumble.

“What d’you mean?”

“Heir to some swanky estate down South – didn’t you know? I bet their lot don’t have to do this.”

“To be fair,” I panted, “Captain probably did have to do this.”

“Hey-up, here it comes now.”

“Jennings,” you smiled. “A word? I just wanted to say ‘well done’.”

You looked uncertain. Just how I felt.

“You’ve really improved. We’ll make a searchlight operator of you yet.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m not horrible on purpose.”

I saw your loneliness and longing

Your voice was low. I wondered why you were telling me but I saw loneliness and longing in those blue eyes.

“There’s opposition to using the women’s ATS as searchlight operators in anti-aircraft batteries. Consensus in some circles is that girls can’t do it – not up to the physical side of things. It’s my job to prove them wrong.”

I remember thinking the starchy upper class speech was strangely at odds with the soft blue eyes. Did I know then? Probably. But I also knew nothing could be allowed to compromise your work.

The platform is filling up. Over by the posters a pilot is kissing his girl.

We only ever shared one kiss.

Everyone had gone to the pub with their pass-out. I was walking by the prom, trying to work out my feelings.

“All alone, Jennings?”

The crisp, aristocratic voice was unmistakable

“Yes – I’ve never been to the seaside before,” I explained.

“What? Never?”

“It’s a bit far from Birmingham.”

“Shall we?”

The arm was an invitation to stroll.

I took it, all the while terrified that I was somehow misunderstanding.

That walk was like a trip into an alternative universe; a place where position, class and social norms meant nothing.

“Chris – call me Chris,” you said. “We’re off-duty.”

When you kissed me it was as if everything in my life suddenly made sense and although it never happened again, it changed something inside me; made me want to be true to myself.

I should have said it when you brought my orders to join the anti-aircraft battery in East Anglia.

“Well done,” you said, and I wanted to explode with the want of saying it.

The pilot is still kissing his girl. There’s a muffled announcement: my train is delayed. Something inside snaps… still time after all.

As I rush out into the foyer, I see you hurrying in. You look smaller out of uniform and more feminine.

“I love you,” I say as we pull back from the hug.

“I know.” A sad smile. “I love you too.”

This war is changing everything. Hopefully one day we will live in a more enlightened world. But for now, it’s enough to have said it.

Read our other January Twist In The Tale stories…

Karen Byrom

My coffee mug says "professional bookworm" which sums me up really! As commissioning fiction editor on the magazine, I love sharing my reading experience of the latest books, debut authors and more with you all, and would like to hear from you about your favourite books and authors! Email me