Continued from 11th April
Part 4 of our 4 part Short Story
A Lucky Escape – Part 4 of 4
Lucy covered her mouth with both hands and stared. Broken parsnips and carrots were scattered in the mud. Her friend, Olivia was picking over the mounds, gathering them and placing them in a metal bucket.
"Our windows are cracked, and I fell out of bed," said Olivia, as Lucy joined her.
"We made a den in our parlour," said Lucy in reply as she joined in the great parsnip hunt.
"The factory's gone, I went to see. Mummy says Mrs Beckett's probably under it."
By mid morning, Lucy's father had still not returned home from his shift. Instead of the familiar sound of his key in the lock, there was a knock at the door. Lucy's mother opened it to a tall, middle-aged police officer wearing a peaked cap.
"Mrs Taylor?" he enquired.
"Yes?" Lucy's mother replied. "Oh, good morning, Inspector Lucas. Did you hear about our lucky escape?"
"Yes, lucky indeed, Mrs Taylor. I'm afraid I have some news about your husband. You may prefer to hear it in private."
* * *
As the kettle sang on the stove, Inspector Lucas explained the reason for his visit.
"This will not be easy. I'm sorry to tell you that Constable Taylor was arrested this morning and is in custody. We've been watching him for a few months, Mrs Taylor. Are you aware that he has been thieving and running a black-market protection racket?
Lucy's mother paused for a few moments; "No, I wasn't," she replied, simply, lips tightly pursed. She gripped the handle of the kettle so hard, her knuckles were white as she poured boiling water into the teapot.
"Yesterday evening, during the tragic bombing of the rifle factory," the iInspector continued, "Mr Briscoe's shop was badly damaged. There was looting and I'm afraid Constable Taylor was one of those arrested."
"I see," she said, pouring tea with great care into his cup, "I suppose he will have the book thrown at him. Milk?"
"Er, yes please. I'm afraid, Mrs Taylor, there is another problem," said the Inspector, taking a sip of tea. "If your husband is convicted, he will lose his job and, of course, the privilege of a police home. Do you know anyone with whom you and your children might be able to stay – until you find your feet?"
Lucy had been hiding in the hallway, behind the door, listening to the conversation. She didn't really know what "Custardy" was or why her father was in it, but she certainly knew what arrested meant. She curled her fingers around Uncle Eddie's letter in her pocket and smiled shyly as she peered around the doorway of the scullery.
"I do," she said.
During WWII BSA Guns Limited, based at Small Heath, a suburb of Birmingham was bombed on 26th August,19th November and 22nd November. The 20th November being by far the worst; levelling two major gun factory buildings, destroying over 1600 machine tools, killing 53 workers and over 50 local residents. There was only one survivor of those who sheltered in the basement of the factory. My mother lived in a street of police-houses near to the factory. This story is based on my Mother's recollection of that night.
During this time, the familiar, arched corrugated iron Andersen shelters were built, half-submerged and covered in earth, in residential back gardens and were often shared between neighbours, even though they were designed to hold only six people.
An air-raid siren would go off if Nazi bombers were spotted early enough and residents would huddle in the shelter until all-clear whistles were blown. Those who didn't have a bomb shelter were advised to hide under a table or bed with cushions and mattresses so that, in the event of bomb damage to their home, they may survive falling masonry.
Police officers at that time were not as rigorously assessed for the job as they are today, although as part of their remuneration, they were allowed to live in designated police houses. My maternal grandfather lost his job as a policeman and the family lost their police home. The couple separated and my pregnant grandmother and the children moved to Stockport without him at very short notice. My mother lived with her younger brother in the house of an uncle. Names and some details have been changed.