Blackberry Lane – Episode 19

January, 1943

LESS than a month after Christmas, Jeanie had to return to the farm. She had news, and it simply wasn’t the sort of thing she could tell the boys over the phone.

This time, when Amos greeted her at the station he wasn’t his usual cheery self.

“Jeanie, love, I’m so sorry to hear about your husband.” His wrinkled cheeks sagged sorrowfully.

The official letter had come as a total shock to her. “Pneumonia, brought on by a short illness.”

Everyone at the bus depot had been very kind and sympathetic. Her manager had given her time off for this visit. The girls had all gathered round and offered hugs and kisses. It hadn’t seemed strange to them that she was so quiet and unresponsive. Grief took everyone differently.

Only her neighbour Daphne had an inkling of the turmoil Jeanie was in. The walls of their houses were not that thick, and there had been many times over the years when she’d had clues as to the state of things next door. She was a tactful woman, though, with a kind heart; so all she said was, “You know where I am if you ever need to talk.”

As Jeanie entered the farmhouse Kate rushed to greet her.

“Jeanie, I’m so sorry, love.” She wrapped her arms around her. “Come on in. Sit yourself in front of the fire.” Kate drew her into the warmth of the kitchen, and was soon plying her with tea.

It was there that the boys found her when they ran in from school.

“Mum! What are you doing here?” At nearly twelve now, Russ realised that there must be something going on for his mum to make an unexpected visit, and so soon after her last stay here. Marty was simply pleased to see her again, and threw himself into her arms.

“I’ve had a letter from the Army. Your dad has died in prison camp. They say he got an illness called pneumonia,” she explained.

The boys remained quiet and thoughtful for a moment. What were they thinking, she wondered.

“Poor old Dad,” Russ said at last. “He must have been very lonely, being ill so far from home.”

In that moment, Jeanie was enormously proud of her son.

“Yes, love, he must,” she said.

Marty remained silent, his arms still entwined around her neck. From his position curled up on her lap, he exchanged a look with Russ. It was a look she found hard to read.


Kate walked into the hall and looked around nervously. The floorboards were bare, the cream walls dingy, and the few information leaflets pinned to them did nothing to cheer them up.

Women were gathered in groups, chatting. Kate didn’t like to interrupt, so stood hovering uncertainly.

A woman glanced her way, then broke away from her friends and came over.

“Hello,” she said. “Can I help you?”

“I… er…” Kate faltered, took a deep breath and began again. “I’d like to help with your fund-raising.”

“Excellent!” The woman’s face broke into a charming smile. “I’m Muriel Greenwood.” She held her hand out.

Kate sighed with relief as she shook the small, slim hand. Even doing this much had taken courage, and now she’d passed the first hurdle.

“I’m Kate,” she said. “Kate Proctor.”

“Come on over and I’ll introduce you to everybody,” Muriel invited.

They were a strange group of women, Kate thought – a mix of young and old, smart and quite shabby, and all of differing classes.

“Tremendous, wasn’t it?” a tall, gangly woman named Dorothy began. She was dressed in tweed, with an uncompromising hat pinned firmly to her iron-grey hair. “The raid, I mean. Didn’t our boys do well.”

“Oh, yes, they certainly did,” Kate agreed, understanding at last that she was referring to the “Dambusters” raid. The government had set up the “Wings For Victory” appeal in its wake, and it was this that Kate wished to help raise money for. It grabbed her imagination as nothing else had since Ken’s death. It could be her tribute to him.

“Florence here had a nephew who was on the actual raid,” Dorothy went on, drawing Kate’s attention to an unassuming, plump little woman.

“Oh, really? You must be tremendously proud,” Kate said.

“She is,” Dorothy stressed, as if Florence was incapable of speaking for herself. She retained her hold on Kate’s hand for a little longer than seemed absolutely necessary.

“You’ve lost someone, too, haven’t you?” she said, looking deeply into Kate’s eyes.

“Yes… my son.” Kate stumbled over the words. “Back in 1940,” she concluded breathlessly.

“Well, never fear, my dear. You’re amongst friends here,” Elizabeth said.

At last Kate understood. That was what brought this varied group of women together. Her loss was their loss.


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!