Under The Elm Tree – Episode 45

IT’S really good to see you, Sid.” Kitty smiled. “It seems ages.”

“That’s because rather a lot’s been happening, eh?” Sid replied, winking at his friend, Harry Pagget, across the table. They were sitting with their friends, Margaret and Ivy, in the Fox and Hounds, celebrating the boys’ weekend leave. There were lots of other servicemen and women there, too, and the air buzzed with the sound of laughter and the clink of glasses.

Kitty looked at Sid’s bandaged hand.

“I would have thought they’d let you home for longer, being injured and that.”

He shook his head.

“It’s not serious. The bullet went clean through. It’ll heal soon enough.”

They chatted on, and as usual the war dominated the conversation.

“I can’t believe the Germans just marched into Paris the way they did,” Ivy announced. “Why didn’t the people fight against it?”

“How could they?” Sid challenged her. “Most of the men were off fighting, and even if they weren’t, I don’t see what they could have done against all those troops and tanks.” He shook his head. “They wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

“It’s not just France that’s occupied,” Harry chipped in. “There’s Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands . . .”

“It scares the living daylights out of me, if I’m honest.” Ivy gave a shudder. “It must be awful to have your country taken over by foreign forces. Can you imagine if it was here?”

“I don’t think they’d march into our capital without a fight.” Harry grinned. “Not if our Home Guard has anything to do with it!”

“It’s all very well joking about it,” Margaret remonstrated, “but it’s a really serious probability. Mr Eden said the Germans might parachute soldiers in as well as land on our beaches.”

Harry’s face lost its smile for a moment.

“I’m not denying the seriousness of it,” he said. “It’s just that I don’t see what good can come of getting down about things.” He grinned again. “We’ve got to keep our peckers up – we’re British, after all! That’s our way.”

Sid took a Woodbine from his packet on the table and placed it between his lips before striking a match into life. Behind them, the landlord began the nightly ritual of drawing the blackout curtains before switching on several small lamps. It gave the room an exclusive feel, Kitty thought, as if they belonged to some kind of club.

“Actually, I think the government’s expecting an invasion pretty soon,” Sid resumed, drawing on his cigarette. “All that barbed wire and the mines on the beaches, and the look-out posts, too. They wouldn’t be doing that if they didn’t think they were coming.”

“Well, it’s all giving my mum nightmares,” Ivy said. “She can hardly sleep at night for fear of waking up with a German gun pointing at her.”

It was a threat that hung over them all and as the discussion continued, Kitty took the opportunity to speak privately to Sid.

“What was it like at Dunkirk?” she asked. “Was it dreadful?”

His face clouded.

“Worse,” he said. He paused as a roar of laughter rose from a group of soldiers at the bar. “Nothing we did in training prepared us for it, Kit. We did our best, but they pushed us back to the beach, and we were just sitting ducks. Then they began firing shells and mortars at us . . .” His words evaporated, drifting upwards to join the haze of blue tobacco smoke that hung beneath the ceiling.

“How did you get out? Did one of the boats come and pick you up?”

He nodded.

“The big boats couldn’t get near enough so the smaller ones ferried us out to them. I managed to join a queue in the sea, but their planes started strafing us. I’ll never forget the sight of those Junkers coming out of the clouds.” He lifted his bandaged hand. “There were plenty who weren’t as lucky as me,” he said.

Kitty took a sip of beer as she tried to take in the awfulness of what Sid and Harry had gone through. They could so easily have been amongst those who hadn’t made it back, she thought, and suddenly she realised how dear they were to her. It prompted a question that had been nagging at her.

“Why did you leave without saying goodbye to me, Sid?” she asked. “You promised to come and see me before you went. I waited and waited, and when I went round to see your mum, she told me you’d gone.”

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.