Excerpt - MOTHERLANDS



It Didn't Start with You


We never think to connect our personal issue to what’s happened to our parents or grandparents. We’re now learning that traumas experienced by previous generations can be biologically inherited

—Mark Wolynn




PART ONE

Ethel and Margaret: from Liverpool to Canada




Ethel's Letter

1.


29 August, 1950: Southampton to Montreal

One misguided act, one misdirected letter, catapulted Ethel’s daughter and granddaughter across the ocean – at first to Canada, and then, to Australia.

Margaret shaded her eyes from the sun, leaning on the rail to catch a last glimpse of England. The land she’d called home. The land she’d fought so hard to return to. Now, less than six months later, she’d decided to stick by her husband – as he’d stuck by her. No thanks to her mother, Ethel.

Oh Mother. After all we've been through together -- how could you? You just can’t help yourself. She bent her head, her dark hair tumbling over her burning cheeks. Margaret peered around. Good, Jeffrey’s still in the cabin. She’d left him watching over baby Maggie who napped. Margaret slipped the unopened letter from the pocket of her slim-fitting skirt and flipped the envelope over. Written in her mother Ethel’s curly script, the address showed Laceby, Lincolnshire. So, they’re back from the Channel Islands job. Well, too late now. She turned the letter back over. It had been forwarded by the other Mrs J. Fairbrother, her mother-in-law. Unlike the previous letter, this one was unopened. Margaret tore the letter open and scanned the lines.

Why are you going back to Canada? A beautiful girl like you? I thought you hated St John. I thought you’d agree. A divorce is for the best, and What happened? Margaret scrunched it in her fist. On second thoughts, she flattened it out and tore it into shreds. She glanced about before throwing it into the wind.

Mother has suffered so much, but why is it my responsibility to uphold our reputation? Haven’t I done what’s expected of a dutiful daughter? Why did I let her push me into marriage so fast? I hardly knew him. Jeffrey’s transfer to Canada, shortly after her marriage took Margaret—not to mention Ethel—by surprise. Then, no sooner had Margaret succeeded in getting them back to England again, than her mother turned the tables and urged her to separate from Jeffrey.

‘Anyway, we’ll be over to see you in Canada soon,’ were her mother’s last words. Margaret thought at the time, that her mother’s comment was intended to comfort her in a land so far from home.

Riddled with guilt, Margaret knew one thing from long experience: her mother would persist until she and Jeffrey submitted to her will, and she was safely back in England for good. Why is this happening to me?



Ethel and Margaret Rise

2.



Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.

Women are afraid that men will kill them—Margaret Atwood


18th August 1940: Leopold Road, Waterloo, Liverpool


Margaret’s errant father stole into her life in broad daylight, unlike the Luftwaffe attacks which ambushed them in the dead of night during the Battle of Britain.

‘Ma! There’s a man at the gate! Says he’s come to see you.’ Eleven-year-old Margaret, dark hair streaming, ran into the house wearing her wet bathing suit. The heat of the day was so intense Ethel had agreed to let her go down to adjacent Crosby Beach for the morning — regardless of the Jerries.

Billy and Margaret will be the death of me. Thank heavens we moved up here; safer than those poor sods stuck in the middle of Bootle.

‘Don’t let him in! I’m coming,’ Ethel whispered. ‘Tell him to wait. Then you, get yourself properly dressed and brush all that sand off!’ Ethel pulled off her apron and unknotted her headscarf, patting down her blonde curls. We don’t need those busybodies from the council poking around in our business again. Didn’t I just go in and see them about the arrears? A lead weight sat heavy as stone in Ethel’s belly. Then she pulled aside the curtain and took a quick look. What’s HE doing here? I divorced him. Good heavens! What will the neighbours think?

Margaret jumped. Fright, then anger flashed in her mother’s beautiful blue eyes.

‘Margaret, you go out into the back garden. I’ll deal with this.’ Ethel braced herself. For an instant, she reached up to touch the small crater above her brow.

There he was, lolling on the gate in front of their two-storey duplex, like some matinee idol. She caught his golden Welsh colouring, the glint in his eyes as he surveyed the house. And her knees trembled. Pull yourself together, woman. Now he turns up, after we nearly starved to death though two world wars. After I skivvied to raise five kids, got two boys placed with Cunard and two into trades.

No thanks to HIM! Chief metalworker at Harland and Wolff, indeed! Now, when I’m earning a little extra to get some elocution and dance lessons for Margaret. Over my dead body!

‘Well?’ His tone snapped her back to reality. ‘Aren’t you going to offer me a cup of tea? For old times’ sake?’

Ethel swallowed hard but held her nerve. If he thinks he’s getting his shoes under my bed, he’s got another think coming. Stepmother forced me to marry him. Well, she’s dead and gone, thank the Lord. And he’s not getting back.

‘I just wanted to visit my little girl and give her this.’ He indicated a wrapped-up package.

‘It’s not her birthday, Tom.’

‘Zat so?...it’s T.O., Ethel.’

‘Yes, how could I forget? Well, walk down the side of the house, she’s in the back garden. You can’t stay for long. We planned to go and help out at the Red Cross.’

By the time T.O. and Ethel arrived, Margaret sat reading in a deckchair in the shade of the stone wall. She looked up, shielding her eyes from the blazing sun.

‘Nice place you have here.’ T.O. waved his arm towards the house. ‘How can you afford this?’

Ethel’s throat caught, ‘Uh, I work of course. So do the boys.’

‘Yes, yes. I forgot.’ He paused, sliding his eyes over the house.

‘And you’re holding up well.’ He eyed Ethel’s dress.

‘Oh, you know. Madge does what she can.’

‘Oh yes. Your glamorous sister Madge. Of course. And how’s her terrible twin, Matron Dorothy?’ He cocked his head to the side. Ethel ignored the comment. Dorothy had his measure. Right from the outset.

Margaret fidgeted with her skirt, squinting up. She appraised first one adult, then the other. Ethel saw her daughter searching his face. Well, I never…she doesn’t know who he is! She scanned the girl’s dark good looks and wondered if she’d guess.

‘Well, Lassie, don’t you want to know what I’ve brought you?’ The girl glanced down at the parcel – then back at the stranger’s face; she sensed danger. She moved a hand, hesitated, then withdrew it.

Ethel’s heart burst. She wanted to reach out and give her young daughter a hug. ‘Margaret, this is your father.’

Margaret stood up, tugged at her skirt, and moved slightly closer to her mother. After a few seconds, she said, ‘Good afternoon, Father. How nice to see you.’ She lowered her eyes, a cautious smile on her lips.

‘Well, aren’t you going to ask what it is?’ He held the package slightly out of reach. ‘Want to have a look? First, go and make me a cup of tea, there’s a luv.’ He stretched himself out full-length in one of the deck chairs.

Ethel choked on her bile. He’s assuming ownership, the rat. They waited in silence for a few minutes. She needed to think. And fast.

‘Margaret’s taking her time…’ He trailed off, moving to stand up. ‘Maybe we should go in and take a look.’

‘Oh no need to rush. She’s a good girl, she’ll be out in a trice.’

Ethel stood suspended on a hair-trigger, her eyes taking in the back door. As soon as she saw the door swing open she slipped across to relieve her daughter of the tray. ‘Darling, don’t ask any questions,’ she whispered. ‘Be quick and don’t make yourself noticed. Get a broom, the poker, anything. Leave them just beside the back step…and make sure all the other doors are locked. Then come out.’ Ethel turned back to T.O. and in a loud voice she added, ‘Oh Margaret! Bring down the camera! We should take a photo of you with Father today.’ Anything to distract him. I can always cut him out of it.

Two minutes later Margaret crept back to her seat, this time her eyes fixed on her father’s face.

‘Here, have a look, Luv.’ He handed her the parcel.

Margaret’s eyes widened as she unpacked the pair of tennis shoes. She slipped them on without looking up and stood, turning her feet from side to side.

Ethel noted they were too big. He’s never shown an interest before. No doubt he diddled some Yankee serviceman out of them.

‘Sooo? What do you think, Duckie?’ He reached forward and chucked her under the chin before she could move.

‘Oh! Thank you, Father! They’re wonderful!’ Her eyes shone.

‘Yes, I thought you might like to play tennis. So how is my girl? How are you doing at school?’ Margaret tumbled right in. She sat back down in the deckchair chatting brightly, eroding the security her mother had worked for.

‘Well now, what about that photograph of your mother and me?’

‘Oh no. Margaret, you stay where you are,’ Ethel picked up the camera and took a quick shot of T.O.’s hand on the back of Margaret’s chair and with her tennis shoes turned inward. ‘Well, T.O.,’

Ethel cut in, ‘Time’s up. We must be off. Can’t keep the Red Cross waiting.’

‘Really? Aren’t you at least going to invite me in for a look around?’ He turned towards the house.

‘No Tom, I don’t think so.’

‘What do you mean, ‘I don’t think so’?’

‘We’re finished, Tom. All legal and above board. Besides, there isn’t enough room.’ When the Matrimonial Causes Act was passed in 1937, she and Madge had both filed for divorce.

‘Not enough room? It’s wartime.’ His shoulders stiffened as he leaned towards her, his fists balled at his side. Margaret darted looks from one adult to the other, the whites of her eyes visible.

‘No, T.O.! No! You are not coming back. Nobody wants you back. Go back to your other woman!’

‘Awww Ethel, be a good girl, be reasonable.’ He took a further step towards her.

‘Margaret, go! Go to the back door!’ She screamed, as he grabbed her by the hair.

‘No Mother! Run! Run!’ Margaret pummeled his back with her fists. Being a tomboy paid off sometimes. In an instant, Ethel managed to break free of his grip. In searing pain, she groped at her scalp, then looked across to see T.O. holding a fistful of her hair. Running towards the back door, Margaret grabbed the broom, the poker, the cast iron pan. In an instant, she passed the broom to her mother and took the poker herself, eluding his outstretched hands. Screaming with all their might, they assaulted him with every ounce of strength in their being.

Then he stood stock-still, startled, poised to lunge in and take them both on. Stillness ticked by. He backed off, hands raised protectively, as mother and daughter rained down blows on him. In the process of manoeuvring him out into the street--in defiance of wagging tongues and prying eyes-- her sons Tommy and Norman appeared.

‘Go! And never come back or we’ll set the dog on you!’ Tommy—home on leave from the airforce—held a large German shepherd dog, that strained at the lead. ‘We’ll have the police on you again! And this time, you’ll stay inside.’

‘Ma! You alright Ma? Babe? You’re shaking like a leaf, Mother. The nerve of him. Norman and Tommy watched their father saunter up the long, narrow road, flicking cigarette ash in his path. ‘Somehow, I don’t think the scoundrel will be bothering us again!’

‘Come on inside. I’ll put the kettle on and make us some scones. Cheer up Babe, I got strawberry jam and cream from my last trip up to the country!’ Tommy flashed a smile at his sister and gave her a tickle. ‘Heavens, he must have given you a terrible fright! Come on, look who I’ve brought!’

Margaret shrank back before the animal’s bulk, her fingers twitching. Leaning closer to her, Tommy slipped the lead into her hand, wrapping his fingers over hers. ‘Don’t be nervous, Babe…she’s as gentle as can be, just a bit anxious. Here, you hold her lead.’

‘Tommy, whatever are you thinking? We can barely feed ourselves, much less feed a whopping big German Shepherd! Where on earth did you get it?’ Ethel threw her hands in the air.

‘We-e-e-ll, she’s called Zena. See the tag?’ He lowered his voice, casting a glance at Margaret, ‘Looks like she lost her home, maybe even her owners. I’ll go and have another look tomorrow. Terrible damage down on the docks, kids all over the place, climbing in the rubble…and you’ll never believe it, the drays, the Clydesdales escaped. Must have been frightened. The carters…the firemen are frantic trying to round ‘em up. The Boche are really giving the docks a hammering. Wouldn’t be surprised if you end up taking in more people here.’

‘We can all be grateful, Ma, we’re not still living down in Bootle. I’ve just been bombed out of my job,’ Norman frowned, rubbing the back of his neck.

Ethel held a clean hanky against her torn scalp and cast one more glance down the road.

What a chancer. Well, that’s sent him packing. I’ll word up the billets. Put them on the lookout.




How Ethel and Margaret Survive the Liverpool Blitz


3.


1941: Letter to New York

To: Trevor R Williams, c/- Cunard - White Star Lines, N.Y., U.S.A.

Sender: 4 Leopold Road, Waterloo 22

January 1st, 1941


Dearest Trevor

We hope you’re safe and well on the other side of the Atlantic. We’re all well. Good job we moved up here, away from Bootle. Poor sods, they’re taking a pounding. We’ll show old Hitler some good old British stiff upper lip.

At this time of year, I always think of my brother. Remember I told you about your Uncle Charlie? The one that disappeared after he joined the Mounted Police in Canada? He’d be forty-eight this year. If you get a chance, inquire of Cunard, will you, Love? Have them check their passenger records. Poor Charlie. Driven out like the other four of us, by that battle-axe of a stepmother. He was four years older than me at the time, only eighteen. Younger than you are now.

I had Billy signed up with Cunard too. Well, the lad wouldn’t go to school. He’s been driving me mad, running wild around the bomb sites, so I took him down and they put him on as cabin boy. Safer, don’t you think?

Margaret’s enrolled at the Ursulines. She really looks a young lady in that lovely uniform. Until the cheeky minx races off to school on your bike. She’s the bane of the nuns’ lives, constantly being picked up for slinging her leg over like a boy. And she insists on wearing those red tap shoes you sent the birthday money for. Did she thank you, by the way? Whatever will I do with the girl?

Thank goodness she made a friend, or I’d never get her to school either. No wonder really, Billy and Margaret have both missed such a lot. Poor kids, all that moving around dodging your father.

One thing, she’s mad for the pictures, Fred and Ginger. I take her when I can scrape together a few bob. Her head’s full of matinee idols and dancing. No harm in it, I suppose. At least she reads, even if it is romances, Catherine and Heathcliff. Not those penny dreadfuls, thank heavens.

Tommy, Norman and Billy were able to spend Christmas with us, which was lovely. They send their wishes. I suppose Cunard puts on a good show for Christmas? How is New York? I hear it’s very glamorous on the Queen Mary.

Grandfather Taylor sends his wishes, too. So does his sister, dear Auntie Elizabeth. Grandfather’s moved in with us, so has Madge’s daughter Edna. Margaret wasn’t too thrilled about sharing her room. One good thing—Margaret idolises her ‘big sister.’

As you can tell, the house is bursting at the seams –AND we have billeted men. Margaret is complaining for all she’s worth, but the extra ration cards come in handy.

An older serviceman, Oscar, has been billeted with us on leave. He’s in the Mechanics; something or somewhere hush-hush. Anyway, he cheers us all up no end with his stories about World War I, about his mates, the Grimsby Chums. Poor lads, in other circumstances they all should have been North Sea fishermen, every one of them. At any rate, a man about the place can be very useful.

Cheerio for now. Stay safe.

All my love,

Mother xoxo


Ethel reread the letter, checking for anything which might betray them to the Nazis, or cause Trevor to worry. She decided to leave it as it was.


The true story was, they had nearly frozen to death during the endless pitch-black nights of the Christmas Blitz. In their back garden, they huddled through the long dark hours of winter in the dugout pit under their steel government-issue Anderson shelter. Outdoors, no streetlights glowed. Indoors, no fires burned. As per official orders, they were sealed within frigid walls; either behind blackout curtains or under the regulation steel dome.

'Girl, you’ll be the death of me.’ Ethel struggled to drag Margaret out of bed, as the air raid sirens sliced through the darkness of the long December nights.

“Ma, leave me alone.’ She rolled herself up tight in her blankets and pulled the pillow over her head. ‘I’d rather die in my bed. At least I’d be warmer. Why can’t we just squash under the stairs in the cupboard, like other people?’

Of course, Margaret’s sick to death of the endless upheaval, who isn’t? Ethel too, swore she’d give anything for a return to normal life, an orderly life. She was sick of creeping out of the cramped, dank shelter each dawn; sick of shaking off the melting ice, then dragging themselves back into the frigid house.

Tommy did his level best to help out whenever he could. He provided small comforts: a little burner, thermoses for hot tea, hats, scarves and blankets. He’d also built two little ‘bunks’ along the sides of the metal shelter, to keep their feet out of the icy water which pooled in the base of the shelter. Household heating and cooking became an after-thought. Tommy, who had access to a lorry, responded by scrounging for wood, coal, anything flammable. Skinny as he was, he traded some of his own ration coupons to help out.


May 14th, 1941: Waterloo - The Blitz

In passing Margaret’s bedroom one day, Ethel watched as she ran her fingers along the ledges, lining up her few trinkets and books, checking for dust. For two years so far, Margaret had endured the crowding and lack of privacy. Ethel’s heart ached for her, now as she entered her teens, now that she had her rags to deal with – her little monthly friend. At first, they had been fascinated by the constant caravan of strangers in their home, but the turmoil in their lives dragged on and on.

Ethel flinched one day, when Margaret screamed. ‘When I’m grown up, I never want to live cramped up in a shambles like this. Will this never end?Afterwards, she’d cried and said sorry. Another time, Margaret said, ’Ma, take a break. Go for a walk, on the beach, in the sunshine.’

Ethel turned on her heels and looked at herself in the mirror. She stood there for a long time. Who is this gaunt, pale stranger? Her daughter’s tap on the shoulder startled her back to life. Margaret’s eyes were wide with fright. Wasn’t I about her age when I lost my mother? Is that what she’s thinking about?

‘Mother, please… You go out for a while. I’ll get someone to help me make supper. You need to eat more. We can all eat a bit less. You need it.’

The extra ration cards in the house now held new significance


Ethel’s hand shook the day she found a note her daughter had written to herself.

My After-the-War-Wish-List:

Dance on the stage.

Have a job and plenty of money.

Maybe get married. But he has to be very handsome. And kind.

Stay put in my own house, with everything ‘just so’.

Take care of Mother and give her lots of food.

Yours truly, Margaret Williams, age 12 1/2

Crosby Beach, Waterloo. Dated: May, 1941


Ethel was comforted to observe, that in their crowded house, there was one visitor Margaret didn’t mind; cheerful energetic Oscar, who visited them whenever he had a few days off.

‘Ay oop, lass!’ he said, handing Margaret the camera one sunny day. ‘What abaht you tek a photo of me ‘n yer mam on t’ beach?’

Margaret stood on the sand with her back to the sea, focusing the lens on her mother and Oscar. Ethel slipped her arm through his, and he placed his hand over hers. Both smiled broadly at each other.

‘Lovely to see yer gettin’ soom colour back in yer cheeks, lass. Now we ‘ave to feed yer oop,’ Oscar said, giving Ethel a hug.


Ethel caught the expression on Margaret’s face, as she slowly lowered the camera. She blushed when she saw the smile on her daughter’s lips. That’s a relief. Well, why not, after all we’ve been through? Why, Margaret likes him!

These thoughts provided some relief; Ethel no longer felt quite so vulnerable, and this helped her bear the pressure of daily life. She worried at all handsome young, enlisted men who chucked Margaret under the chin or pinched her cheeks; at the way Margaret flirted with them. Perhaps Oscar can fob them off a bit…provide a bit of protection. Then there was the family who had been bombed out in Bootle, and a young pregnant woman, Vivian—not much more than a girl—whose husband was overseas with the R.A.F.

Ethel found Vivian by far the most annoying of them all. She looked at her and shuddered; red-lipsticked, clip-clopping around in her high heels and weeping all day. No daughter of mine would be caught dead gadding about like a common tart. Ethel suggested she might help around the house, keep her mind off things and divert Margaret and the girl from all her frou-frou.

‘Call me Viv,’ she sniffed and offered to use her own rations to make a cake. Or tried to make a cake. All seemed to be going well until she looked in the oven. The shrieks and cries rivaled a direct hit on an air-raid shelter.

‘Oh, what a waste!’ Ethel moaned, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t know how to do it, Vivian? Didn’t your mother teach you anything?’

‘Ooohhhh, I’m so sorry. It’s Viv, Mrs Williams. I never had a mother, just me ’n Dad. I just wanted to help. I thought it would be so easy. All them lovely eggs and butter.’

‘Well, my girl, there’s nothing for it. Least said soonest mended. You’ll have to clean out the oven.’

Something in Ethel fractured. She blinked back her tears. How much more of all this can I bear? The agony and humiliation of starvation and filth frightened her more than bombs. It sucked her into uncharted waters.

‘Heavens! Didn’t anyone ever teach you? You have to put the mixture into a cake pan.’ She immediately regretted her reaction when she saw Vivian’s wounded look.

Where did this vitriol come from? Ethel and Margaret had seen first-hand the tragedy wrought by pestilence and grime.

She had been pleased that the nuns had instructed Margaret in the domestic arts, in particular, scrupulous hygiene; pleased that she followed her constant advice, ‘wash your hands’. Scrubbing brushes, bleach, vinegar or soap and water were their armory. The destruction and crowding of the war served to reinforce this regimen.

‘Margaret, come here and help Vivian clean out the oven, or there’ll be no supper tonight.’ Ethel felt her cheeks burning.

A flash of scorn crossed the girl’s face, then almost as quickly, she exploded into laughter—tears running down her cheeks—and swept Viv along with her.

Since the Blitz, Ethel’s sudden outbursts were often followed by strange silences; by withdrawal to some place deep inside herself.

‘Ma, Ma,’ Margaret said to her mother a bit later. ‘Can’t Tessie come and stay with us, too? There’s so many people in the house, what’s one more?’ She waited, staring into her mother’s face, where a horror story was playing out.

After a long silence, Ethel shook herself and sprang back to life. ‘Tessie? Oh yes…er…a lovely girl. But the mother…’ Ethel’s words, expressionless, sprayed like a machine-gun. ‘Got her nose in everybody’s business. Thinks she’s better than us.’

Margaret stood stock-still, staring at her for a time. Then she moved her hand to touch her mother. Before she could do that, Ethel snapped, ‘What would that woman know about our family? We’re Taylors. We’re Halsteads.’ Margaret nodded. Ethel had overheard Tessie’s mother’s comments; she’d seen her snobby airs. Aghast at the way Tessie pulled faces behind her mother’s back, Ethel, had later on admonished Margaret for laughing.

When Tessie was evacuated to the countryside along with most Liverpool children, Margaret complained, ‘Ma, everyone knows you have much more fun in the country.’ Ethel had to admit that was true, in spite of the unusual rainy weather that May. As if to mount a case, Margaret read aloud a recent postcard Tessie had written. It spoke of berry picking, delicious blackberry pies, fresh fruit, wildflowers and nature walks. Ethel’s heart ached to see Margaret’s eyes glaze over as she read out the words. Oh, how I’d love to take her out like with her brothers, like we used to before the war. Down visiting Dot on the Wirral; just being outdoors on that beautiful peninsula. Or simply spending the day on the beach, swimming, having donkey rides up at Blundellsands. Ethel looked away, wiping her eyes. Will we ever see that again?

Now, instead, they had to spend endless days and nights huddled inside their awful Anderson shelter, peeping out at the sky in flames while the Jerries bombed them deaf. And they were more squashed than ever. Sometimes Margaret grumbled to her mother, about those enlisted men and that daft Vivian.

‘Just be grateful for what you’ve got,’ Ethel snapped. ‘Think of the poor folk bombed by the Boche. Bombed to smithereens in Bootle and you’re whining about being a bit uncomfortable?’

When she saw Margaret shrink down into her threadbare dress, her face pinched -- Ethel felt her chest constrict with remorse. Oh, I’ve done it again. Why can’t I hold my tongue?

‘Look Luv,’ she gave the girl a hug, ‘when all this has settled down, we’ll go down to the Wirral to a farm for a few days. Or maybe over to Grandfather’s old friend in Cheshire. If Oscar’s still on leave he can come too. What do you think?’

‘Could we collect Tessie and take her, too? Tessie Sparks? My schoolfriend? She’s such a laugh. Please, please, Mother.’

Ethel gave her a now-familiar blank stare. What is she on about? Tessie? Is that the girl’s name?

Margaret tugged on her arm, ‘Ma! Ma! I’m talking to you.’

Ethel’s eyes widened. She looked straight through her.

‘Ma, you’re doing it again.’

Ethel blinked, then floundering, she said. ‘Oh, I’m too busy for all that. I have a household to run.’ The constant juggling of homelife, financial insecurity and maintaining her station in life – had sapped her. Whenever Margaret mentioned Tessie Sparks’ condescending, gossipy mother, the dark figure of a bailiff loomed before Ethel; keys in hand and accompanied by the twin monsters of social inferiority and chaos.


Christmas 1943: Waterloo

Margaret had just celebrated her fifteenth year, and Ethel gave her a new pair of dancing shoes. In the house beside Crosby Beach, Ethel, her sister Madge’s daughter, Edna, and the billeted men all continued to rub along together. More recently, Ethel had actually been thankful for the distraction of the busy household, for that year—in the middle of wartime— she lost her lively sister Madge.

At the funeral Dorothy dabbed her eyes, saying to her niece Margaret, ‘Be a love, do what you can to help your poor mother out.’

Oscar came over and Dorothy buried herself in his arms. ‘Dear, dear Madge. This has all been so hard on Ethel. She was at our mother’s side…when she died. I’m sure this all brought back what Mother endured.’ She took a breath, ‘We don’t want Ethel getting sick, too.’ She put her hand to her mouth when she spotted Margaret still standing behind him. The girl blanched, twisting her hands.

‘You be a good girl and help your poor mother…now that your big brothers are away and all,’ she turned her face to Oscar again. ‘She never expected the lot of them to be away from home at the same time…and now, her most cheerful ally is gone…’ and she dissolved into tears again.


Why oh why, do all the boys have to be called away, but not the dratted T.O.? Of course, he’s wanted on the docks, isn’t he? Ethel recalled how Norman and Trevor used to be absent at supper-time on occasion. No doubt with their father and his other woman…and all her brats. I wonder if he’s as stingy with her? I shouldn’t wonder. Ethel guessed where the boys were. But she didn’t ask, and they didn’t say. One day she did overhear the boys saying he had fathered yet another brat…another five so far?...and the woman looked pretty worn down. Well, good riddance to him!

Now that the boys were away, Ethel encouraged Margaret to focus her attention on writing regular letters to her brothers, most frequently to her closest ally, Tommy. For reasons of national security, she always glanced them over. She was relieved that Margaret seemed to have forgotten T.O.; she never mentioned his name.

A.R.C. WILLIAMS T 168491

B.H.P. SIGNALS

R.A.F. STATION

AGIR

PALESTINE 395395


CHRISTMAS GREETINGS 1943

Nov 1st

SENDER’S NAME AND ADDRESS: 4 Leopold Road, Waterloo


Dear Tommy

Do you like the Xmas pictures? Nice, aren’t they?

Well, everybody at home is OK, and we all send our love and hope you are OK too.

We wish you a very Happy Christmas and hope you will be at home with us next Christmas.

Billy is at home but is going back this week.

Well, Happy Xmas and New Year.

Love Margaret xxxxxxx


Each time Ethel watched her seal a letter, her heart gave a little thump. They rarely heard back from him, but then, everyone was used to that. Ethel couldn’t bear to think about the unspoken possibilities. Neither of them wanted to mention those. No news is good news, was Ethel’s refrain.



COPYRIGHT -- MAGZ MORGAN 2022

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