Read Welcome Home Online

Authors: Margaret Dickinson

Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas, #Historical, #Romance, #20th Century, #General

Welcome Home

BOOK: Welcome Home
6.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

For Mandi

With My Love Always






















































Jenny’s War

The Clippie Girls

Fairfield Hall


Grimsby, May 1945

‘Edie! Edie – are you there?’

Lily Horton pushed open the back door of her neighbour’s home and stepped into the scullery.

Edie Kelsey, in her late forties, was tall and well built with a round face and short, glossy dark brown hair. When she washed it, she pinched it into neat waves with her fingers and secured
them with metal wave clips. The only time she ever visited a hairdresser was to have a trim. Until the beginning of the war, there had not been even a hint of grey, but the last six years had
brought unending worry and now there were little wings of silver hair at her temples. She was standing at the deep white sink, scrubbing her husband’s shirt collar. She paused, thankful for
the respite, resting her arms on the edge of the sink.

‘Put kettle on, Lil, there’s a duck. I’m parched. How my Archie gets his shirts in such a state, I don’t know.’

‘It’s not easy being at sea, Edie.’

‘I reckon he doesn’t take his shirt off from one day to the next, Lil. I bet he even sleeps in it.’

Lil, smaller, thinner and three years younger than her friend, had fair, naturally curly hair. Once, she had been described as a ‘pretty girl’, with smooth skin, blue eyes and a
smile to melt ice, but the years of hardship had etched lines into her face and deep in her eyes was a sadness that would never quite go away. She moved through Edie’s scullery and into the
room that was a cross between a kitchen and a living room. To one side was a black polished range with a fire, oven and hob for the kettle, but this room was also where the family ate at the table
in the centre or sat in one of the two fireside chairs.

Lil set the kettle to boil and then, from the sideboard, laid out cups and saucers
Edie’s tea drinking was legendary in the street, but today there was a very good reason for a
celebratory cup.

Lil went to stand in the doorway between the scullery and the living room. ‘He’s really dead, then.’

Edie had resumed her vigorous scrubbing.

‘Who is?’ she said absently, still concentrating on removing the last unsightly dirty mark from Archie’s shirt collar.

‘Hitler, of course. They’re saying now that he committed suicide. Haven’t you heard? But the Russians are doubting that he’s dead at all. They think it’s a trick to
allow him to escape capture by the Allies.’

This was probably the only thing that could have made Edie stop and turn round slowly to stare, wide-eyed, at Lil. ‘No – no. I hadn’t heard. I don’t listen to the
wireless – well, not the news – or read the papers when Archie’s at sea. You know I don’t. I’ll know soon enough if . . .’

Lil nodded in sympathy. Her husband, Tom, had been lost in 1919 when, it was believed, the trawler on which he was serving had hit a mine left floating in the sea from the Great War. No hands
had survived the disaster. Since then she had struggled to bring up their only child, Irene, who had been born five months after the tragedy. Sadly, Tom had never seen his daughter – and now
that daughter was married with a little boy of her own, Tommy. But through all that dreadful time, Lil had had the help and support of her next-door neighbours, Edie and Archie Kelsey. Lil had
always worked; she’d had to. Fisherfolk looked after their own and Lil had never been short of nets to make or mend, fastened to the wall in her backyard in fine weather or in her living room
in winter. She was employed by The Great Grimsby Coal, Salt & Tanning Company Ltd, who manufactured all sorts of equipment for the fishing industry and was allowed to be a home worker because
of her young daughter. But still, times were hard and the recent war had not improved matters, though she’d always had a roof over her head, her daughter Irene and good friends next door.
Indeed, all the inhabitants of their street were friendly; a close-knit community, many of whom were involved in the town’s fishing industry. The men went to sea together and the women
supported each other when their menfolk were away. The street, where Edie and Lil lived side by side, was a long road of red-brick terraced houses not far from the fish docks. The front doors were
painted brown, the doorsteps and windowsills worn by constant scouring with donkey stone by the house-proud women. Every so often, a passageway ran between the houses, one of which was on one side
of Edie’s house. On the other, Edie shared the wall between her house and Lil’s. Often, they could each overhear what was going on next door. The back door opened from the scullery on
to a small, concreted area where a tin bath hung on a hook near the outside privy and then there was a long strip of ground where most householders grew vegetables. At the end of the
‘garden’ was a shed and a fence with a door in it leading out to an alleyway shared not only with the other houses in their own road but also with the occupants of the terraces in the
adjacent street.

Lil wasn’t the only widow on the street whose husband had been drowned in the course of his dangerous work. Now there were so many more who’d been lost; husbands, fathers, brothers
and sons, killed in the war. Lil never complained, however; she accepted her lot in life and ‘got on with it’. But what she would have done without her good friend, Edie Kelsey, Lil
didn’t know.

Lily Bailey had been born in the back streets of the town with an indolent father and a care-worn mother. The eldest of six children, she had frequently been kept at home from school to help
with the younger ones and the never-ending housework. When Tom Horton – a handsome, hardworking deckie – had proposed to her, she had accepted gratefully, but, sadly, she wasn’t
to escape the hard life as she had hoped to do, for only two years later Tom was gone and Lil was a widow at only twenty. When they’d married, Tom had found them a terraced house as far away
from her former home as he could, but Lil had still felt obliged to visit her family to help her mother when Tom was away at sea.

‘You would go and get yourself married and leave me to do all this,’ Norma, the next sister in line, who had had to take on the household duties from Lil, had grumbled. Norma was a
cheerless, plain girl, resentful that she had none of Lil’s prettiness. ‘And I’m not likely to snare a husband with all them young fellers not coming back from the war, am I?
You’ve been lucky.’

That had been the Great War; the war that had been supposed to end all wars, and yet here they were just emerging from a second conflict that had robbed them of another generation of young men.
In the First World War, Grimsby had been devastated by the losses sustained by their local pals’ battalion – the Grimsby Chums – when men from the same families, the same
workplaces, even the same streets, had been lost. This time, when the authorities realized what heartbreak had been caused to communities, there had been no pals’ battalions. But it
didn’t mean that towns and cities didn’t lose their loved ones and Grimsby was no exception. And the civilian population had been hit hard too. Situated on the north-east coast of
Lincolnshire and just across the Humber from Kingston Upon Hull, the town had taken its share of the bombing.

The Bailey family were all scattered now. Their parents were both dead and only Norma – apart from Lil – still lived in Grimsby on her own in the old family home. Yet the sisters
hardly saw each other. Norma worked as a cleaner in two or three of the grander houses on Bargate and was well thought of by her employers as a conscientious worker, albeit rather dowdy in the
black coat and felt hat she always wore, her sensible low-heeled shoes and her perpetually grim expression that did nothing to alleviate her plainness.

‘If you’d only smile a bit more,’ Lil had said daringly on one occasion, but her kindly efforts were met with a baleful glare and a dismissive sniff.

‘What have I got to smile about? Scrubbing – that’s all I’m good for. I never had the chances you had, Lil.’ It was Norma’s constant grumble on the rare
occasions that the two sisters met. And so perhaps it was only natural that Lil felt closer to her neighbour, Edie Kelsey, whom she saw every day, than she did to her sister.

‘Sit down, Edie, while I tell you. Tea’s mashed.’

Edie dropped the shirt into the soapy suds, dried her hands and sat down with a sigh. She smiled across the table. ‘What would I do without you, Lil, to pop in and make me a cuppa just
when I need it?’

The two women sat in companionable silence for a moment, savouring the hot tea and the broken biscuits Lil had laid out on a plate.

‘Come on then, Lil, spit it out.’

‘Evidently he killed himself along with his mistress – well, his wife by then, it seems.’

‘Eva Braun? He married her?’

Lil nodded. ‘At the last minute. Then they both killed themselves the very next day. In his bunker in Berlin. She’d taken poison and he’d shot himself – through the
mouth, the papers say.’

Edie was silent. She’d never considered herself a spiteful woman and yet at this moment she was tempted to say, Good job, an’ all.

‘So, is it all over, then, or is there some other bugger ready to step into his shoes? Mussolini, I suppose.’

‘Oh no. He’s dead too. He was shot several days ago by Italian partisans. He was hung upside down by his heels with his mistress beside him in the Piazza Loretta in Milan. Gruesome
end for a man who used to be called
Il Duce
, wasn’t it?’

‘Ee, hark at you with your Italian,’ Edie teased, but then she sighed. The war might be nearly over but already revenge killings had started.

‘There’re all sorts of rumours flying round about the German leadership,’ Lil went on. ‘They reckon Doenitz has taken over.’

Edie blinked. ‘The Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy? I’d’ve thought it would have been Goebbels, Himmler or even Goering.’ Despite her declaration that she rarely
listened to the news, Edie was remarkably well informed. When he was at home from the sea – often only for about thirty-six hours and then he was off again on the next tide – Archie
followed the news avidly, listening to every bulletin and devouring the newspapers. Edie couldn’t help but overhear, or be obliged to listen to, Archie ranting when he read or heard something
with which he disagreed. A mild, good-tempered cuddly bear of a man most of the time with thinning fair hair and blue eyes, Archie could become surprisingly incensed by controversial news

Lil shrugged in answer to Edie’s comment. ‘You’d’ve thought so, wouldn’t you, but it seems that Hitler fell out with Himmler because he’d tried to negotiate
with the Allies and with Goering because he wanted to take over the leadership.’

‘What about Goebbels?’

‘He died in the bunker with Hitler, apparently. Anyway, everyone seems to think the war’s over – at least in Europe. We’re all just waiting for Mr Churchill to make an
official announcement. And the German forces in Italy have surrendered.’

‘What about the war with Japan?’

Lil shook her head. ‘That’s still going on.’

There was a long silence before Edie murmured, ‘They’ll not be coming home yet, then.’

Edie’s eldest son, Laurence, had been killed at Dunkirk and, though she would never get over the loss, she had, along with many more mothers, learned to live with her grief. Like her
friend Lil, she just ‘got on with it’. But now, when there had been a glimmer of hope that her second son, Frank, still serving in the army – God alone knew where – would
soon be back, she was sensible enough to know that although one theatre of war might be over, whilst there was still another enemy to defeat, demobilization was unlikely. ‘Frank won’t
be home until it’s all finished with, will he?’

BOOK: Welcome Home
6.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Azazel by Isaac Asimov
Bee Happy by Marcia C Brandt
Burning Wild by Christine Feehan
Love Is... (3.5) by Cassandra P. Lewis
Dido by Adèle Geras
Happily Ever After by Susan May Warren
The Dance Boots by Linda L Grover
Timeless Love by Gerrard, Karyn