Blackberry Lane – Episode 07

June, 1940

GOODNESS but my old joints do ache, and the warm weather don’t seem to make ’em no better, and it takes so long to do anything. And as for Cyril, why, it’s an effort for him to just get out of bed some mornings, and…”

To Dougie Painter, old Mrs Sharp’s monologue was no more than background noise. As he carried on fixing rods together, his mind was far away. The news from Dunkirk had been gradually filtering through over the last few days. It seemed that boats of all shapes and sizes had sailed over there. They’d brought out tens of thousands of men – men who’d been stranded on the beaches and at the mercy of the advancing Germans.

But not all the troops had escaped, and as yet Dougie had received no news of his son, Davy.

“And the good Lord only knows what they’re goin’ to ration next. Cyril says first thing he’s goin’ to do after this war’s over is to enjoy a proper.”

Dougie carried on working the brush up the chimney with rhythmic strokes. His effort was rewarded at last by an absence of resistance. His hands worked faster, as he suddenly became impatient to finish this job. He wanted to clear up here and get away.

There might be news waiting for him at home.


Time went by, but no word arrived. With each day that passed the dreadful suspicion grew in Dougie’s mind. If Davy had made it, then surely he’d have been in touch.

It was some time before the dreaded telegram arrived.

“Missing, presumed dead.” That was all it said.

Dougie sat on the kitchen chair and stared at the document. Twenty years of loving and nurturing flashed before his eyes; years of scraped knees, torn shirts and exuberant boyish laughter. And this was what it came down to in the end – no more than a few words on a piece of paper.

His head sank on to the hard, scrubbed table. As his tears fell, the piece of paper turned to a sodden, crumpled mess in his hands.

Word was quick to spread around the village. Everyone knew when anybody had received a telegram.

Kate heard of it from her daily help, Annie. The news cut her like a knife, and tears sprang to her eyes.

“Oh, no − not young Davy!” She sank on to a chair, and fumbled for her handkerchief. “What in the world will Dougie do without his boy?”


“So, what do you think?” Jeanie stood proudly showing off her new uniform, and waited for some reaction from the boys.

“Seen it before. It’s the same as Auntie Marge’s,” Russ said.

“Yes, I know that. She drives the buses, too. What I’m asking is, how does it look on me?”

“It’s all right.” He shrugged.

Jeanie sighed.

“Is that the best you can say? What about you, Marty? What do you think of it?”

“Mmm, what?” Marty’s head was buried in a comic and he barely glanced up.

“Oh, you two! I sometimes think I might as well talk to the wall.”

“Will you still drive buses when Dad comes home?” Russ asked suddenly.

Jeanie hesitated. She always felt uncomfortable when Russ questioned her in this way. It made her very aware that their unhappy home life was having a bad effect on the boys.

“Right, then,” she changed the subject firmly, “there’s sandwiches and a flask of tea to take out with you, and I’ll be at work till four”

“Yes, Mum.” Russ sighed. “You’ve told us already − several times.”


As Jeanie headed down the street she felt quite excited. This was going to be her first real shift, rather than just a lesson.

Ray would certainly be surprised, she thought, though not necessarily pleased about her job. Her thoughts returned to her marriage. She’d been so troubled that she’d gone to see Reverend Edwards.

“Oh, Jeanie,” he’d said, looking at her reproachfully, “why haven’t you been to see me before.”

“Aren’t you going to say I’ve made my bed, so now I’ve got to lie in it?” she’d asked, swallowing tears and blowing her nose.

“But this is not what a marriage is supposed to be,” he’d said gently. “Yes, you made promises, but so did he.”

“So what can I do?”

“Well, while he’s away you must write him letters which keep his spirits up. And then, when he comes home, I hope he’ll agree to come to visit me.” Reverend Edwards placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “You never know,” he said, “you may well find he’ll return a changed man. War can do strange things to people.”

Goodness, how she hoped he was right.


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!