Blackberry Lane – Episode 01

September 3, 1939

SUNLIGHT streamed in at the bedroom window, landing in pools on the bedroom rug. Jeanie Pryce took her hat from the top shelf of the wardrobe and pinned it firmly on to her thick hair.

She paused a moment, listening.

Downstairs, Raymond could be heard opening and shutting cupboard doors. She frowned. What on earth was he looking for? Grabbing her cardigan, she skipped quickly down the stairs and poked her head cautiously around the kitchen door.

“You all right, love?”

“Where’s the aspirin?”

Raymond had one Sunday off a month from his job of hotel porter, and he always gave himself a headache by lying in bed late.

“Top shelf in the kitchen cabinet,” she replied.

He glanced at her and frowned.

“Whatcher got yer hat on for?”

“I’m taking the boys to church. Reverend Edwards is doing a special service of prayer that this war can be averted.”

“It’s not prayer that’s gonna do it. Chamberlain will sort things out − tell that Hitler bloke what’s what.”

“Yes, I expect you’re right.” She watched for a moment as he poured water into a glass and swallowed a couple of the pills.

“I’ve left the dinner on a low heat,” she said. “It should be just fine till I get back.”

His grunt was the only acknowledgement that he’d heard her.

Slipping quietly from the kitchen, she picked up her bag and headed for the front door. Hopefully he’d be in a better frame of mind by the time they got back.

Standing on her top step, Jeanie could see up the street to where a group of children were playing, shouting with glee as they chased one another around.

“Russ, Marty!” she called out.

A boy of about eight looked her way. As she beckoned, he grabbed the arm of a smaller lad who was too wound up in the game to have heard her. They left the group and ran down the street to her.

“Come here.” She tutted, pulling each one closer to her for a moment. She brushed their hair smooth with her.

“Oh, Mum.” Marty wriggled in protest.

“Oh, nothing,” she replied. “You’re not walking into church looking like an urchin.”

She was smiling as she spoke. They were a lovely pair of boys really.

They turned the corner at the end of the street, and headed down towards the centre of Southampton. Though it was a fair walk, Jeanie still liked to attend the church she’d married in and where her sons had been christened.

Inside the old church it was cool and dim after the bright sunlight. Jeanie nodded in greeting to several people as they made their way to a pew. She ushered the boys in ahead of her and took her seat, trying for a moment to compose her thoughts. The harder she tried, the more her worries seemed to jostle around in her mind.

The vestry curtain suddenly twitched violently to one side, and the familiar figure of Reverend Edwards burst into view.

The eyes of the congregation all turned to him. Some even smiled fondly. He possessed such a vibrant personality that it was uplifting simply to be in his presence. As he reached the nave, his progress was halted by the hurried approach of his curate.

The young man leaned close and whispered into his ear. Reverend Edwards seemed to sag, as if weighed down suddenly by a heavy burden.

He looked around him at the sea of expectant faces.

He spoke at last.

“Mr Collier has just informed me that our Prime Minister has made a radio announcement. It seems that the thing we all dreaded has come to pass, and that we are again at war.”

There was an audible gasp from the congregation.

Reverend Edwards’s thick silver-grey hair had fallen forward over his forehead, as it so often did, but for once it remained unchecked. His usual vigour seemed to have drained from him.

“You must all return to your homes,” he stated solemnly.

Jeanie took hold of the boys’ hands.

They set off up the street, but had gone no more than a few hundred yards before a noise began − the sound of sirens. Jeanie’s grip on their hands tightened. She scanned the sky anxiously.

All around them, people were doing the same thing. Although there was nothing in sight, they couldn’t trust the evidence of their own eyes. The warning had been sounded, so there must be danger.

Gripped by fear, Jeanie sped them up the hill to the junction where Commercial Road met Shirley Road. Once across, it was a straight run home. She released her hold on their hands and gave each a shove.


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!