... continued from 10th April.
A Lucky Escape Part 3 of 4:
“Mother,” Lucy pleaded, her voice quivering.
“Lucy, parlour, NOW!” Mother snapped. She followed Lucy’s running steps with the plate in her hand.
“Look Mummy, a-aeewoplane!” Henry squealed, face pressed against the window.”
“Away from the window, Henry!” his mother hissed. The bright shooting stars of the anti-aircraft guns preceded another series of da-da-da thuds as she drew the blackout curtains shut.
“Lucy, Henry,” said Mother, with a forced cheeriness to her tone, as she pulled the chair away from the piano. “Let’s make a den. Help me push the table up against the piano,” she said.“Lucy, grab the cushion and the seat from the chair like we practiced. Henry, get as many cushions as you can find.”
Lucy’s mother grabbed the padded seat from the monk’s bench and her red wool coat from the hall. Tossing them both to Lucy, she then ran to the scullery and fetched the paraffin lamp.
“In you get,” she chirped, “we can have our supper in there. Won’t that be fun?”
Henry and Lucy crawled under the table. Their mother followed, with the plate of supper in one hand. The children grabbed two slices of fried bread each and placed a cold fried egg between them. Lucy got the unbroken one but it was no longer very gooey. Mother pulled the long padded monks-bench cushion over their heads and covered the children with her coat. It was uncomfortable but strangely cosy.
The deep rumble of another aircraft engine could be clearly heard. Lucy clamped her hands over her ears and began to rock to and fro. “Half a pound of tuppenny rice,” she sang; “CRASH!” The house shook so violently, the piano wires sang. Henry began to wail. It was rather like an air raid siren, starting with a low but rising “Woooo,” building up a head of steam with “oooooaaaaar” up to an ear-splitting “aah haaaaaaaah!”
Mother pulled him close, rocking him as he cried. BOOM! Thud, thud, thud. Lucy saw her Mother’s chest heave as she also began to sing: loudly, competing with the guns. Lucy sang louder, Henry joined in, out of tune and discordant. The three sang the old nursery rhyme three times without rest, louder and more in tune each time.
Mother stopped first. She shushed and held a finger to her lips. Henry stopped mid – ‘weasel’. “Pop goes the weasel.” Lucy finally sang, her voice trailing off.
They listened hard. No engines, no bangs, no thuds. Lucy began to snigger, nervously then her mother laughed. Henry looked first to his mother and then Lucy, a frown slowly creasing into a smile as he began to chuckle. Soon, all three were laughing, fit to burst.
When the laughing subsided, Lucy crawled onto her mother’s lap with Henry. Her mother pulled her close, kissing the top of her head.
“Let’s sleep here tonight.” She said.
20th November 1940
Weak sunlight filtered through the gap in the blackout curtain. Lucy blinked, peering around in a daze. Henry was curled up at one end of the den, fast asleep. Lucy reached in her pocket for her hanky and her fingers found Uncle Edwin’s letter. She covered Henry’s sleeping form with the patchwork blanket and crawled out of the den. There was a strange smell that she couldn’t place, more acrid, even, than burning toast.
Lucy went to the scullery to find her mother, but her black wellingtons were missing. The back door was open, just a crack. A biting wind fanned the newspaper where their boots were kept. Lucy pulled on her own boots over her bare feet and hurriedly slipped on her green wool coat. Although two sizes too big, it kept her warm enough. The November wind bit her face as she went down the steps; that acrid smell again, carried upon it. Grey smoke could be seen behind the houses opposite which obscured the rifle factory. Something was missing, but she couldn’t quite place it. She spotted their neighbour, feeding hens in the little garden behind her house.
“Hello, Mrs Nuttall, have you seen my Mother?”
“Hello, Lucy luvvey,” she replied, “she’s at Mrs Poole’s. You be careful now.”
Lucy skipped down the alley that ran along the gardens behind the police-houses to Mrs Poole’s. She could see her mother in her red coat at the garden gate, with Sergeant and Mrs Poole. Lucy ran to join her, hoping to be allowed play in the Anderson shelter with Mrs Poole’s daughter, Olive, but what she saw in the Poole’s garden, was not the familiar buried arch of corrugated metal, with its heavy door, surrounded by Sgt Poole’s regimented vegetables, but a mess of muddy mounds of earth and a crater around fifteen feet wide. Smashed pieces of garden fence and crumpled shards of corrugated metal stuck out at odd angles from the mud.
...to be continued...
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