Under The Elm Tree – Episode 55

ELLA held open the passenger door of her car, leaning down to give Margaret a hand.

“It’s all right,” the old lady said, waving her away. “I’m better doing it on my own. Just hand me my stick.”

She heaved herself up, and began the short walk up the path to the bungalow where Harry Pagget lived with his daughter, Sandra.

“Careful of the icy patches!” Ella called, shutting the car door and pressing the central locking button on her key.

Soon they were making themselves comfortable in the little room overlooking the garden that had been turned into a sitting-room for Harry.

“Can I get you all some tea? Sandra asked, after settling Margaret in a winged chair.

“That would be lovely, dear, thank you.”

When she had gone, Margaret introduced Ella properly.

“Ella is Sid and Kitty’s granddaughter,” she said.

His eyes narrowed for a moment, then he nodded his head.

“I know that,” he retorted with a twinkle in his eye. “I might be in my dotage, but I’m not ga-ga,” he added, and they laughed. Then he sobered.

“I was sorry to hear about her passing,” he told Ella.

“Thank you, Mr Pagget.”

“Harry,” he corrected.

“Thank you, Harry.”

“There aren’t many of the old gang left now,” he continued. “Just you and me, eh, Margaret?”

“Just you and me.” She nodded. “But there’s still life in the old dogs yet.”

“Too right, despite all the aches and pains,” he agreed. “My daughter said you wanted to ask me some questions?” He raised his thick white eyebrows at Ella, and she nodded.

Sandra returned with mugs of tea.

“I’ll leave you alone to chat.” She smiled. “Give me a shout if you need anything. I’m only in the kitchen.”

“Thank you,” they chorused.

When the door had closed, Ella reached into the bag she’d brought with her and drew out the shoebox. Placing it on her lap, she took off the lid then lifted out the bundle of letters.

Harry leaned forwards, looking at them intently.

“Well, I’m blessed,” he said. “Are they what I think they are?”

“They’re the letters you wrote to Grandad during the war,” she confirmed. “I found them when I was clearing the cottage. I thought you might like to have them.” She got up and placed them on the blanket covering his lap.

With a shaking, arthritic hand he lifted one and stared at the envelope.

“My, these bring back memories.” He leafed through the envelopes, gazing at each one before going back to the first and slipping out the letter inside. A wistful smile creased his face.

“We were in North Africa together, your grandad and me,” he told her. “The Western Desert Campaign, it was. We were stationed in Egypt when the Italians invaded. There was a battle and Sid . . . well, let’s just say that if it weren’t for your old grandad, I wouldn’t be here today. He saved my life, you know.”

His blue eyes took on a faraway look.

“He risked his life to come and get me. We were under heavy fire and I’d been hit by a mortar shell. I was pretty badly injured, I can tell you. I would have been done for if he hadn’t come and dragged me out. I was in hospital for several months before I was fit enough for active service again.

“He was a hero,” he continued. “He was never one to blow his own trumpet, but he should have got a medal for what he did.”

Ella felt her heart swell with pride. Her quiet, unassuming grandad was a hero! Was there no end to the things she was finding out about her grandparents? Suddenly, something clicked in her mind.

“Is that why you let Gran and Grandad stay on at the cottage?” she asked.

Harry nodded.

“I wanted to show Sid how grateful I was. When he was demobbed they got married. He’d always carried a torch for your gran, you know. Even at school, he’d offer to fight anyone who pulled her pigtails!” He laughed.

“Anyway, after that he came back to work at the farm. The tied cottage went with the job and my family agreed that the tenancy should be theirs for as long as they wanted it, in recognition of what he did for me.”

They chatted on for the best part of an hour, and the day was beginning to fade when Sandra put her head round the door again.

“Now, then, Dad,” she said, smiling, switching on the light. “We don’t want you getting too tired.”

She walked over to Harry, and put a protective hand on his shoulder.

“Perhaps you’d both like to come and visit again?” she suggested.

“That’s very kind of you, and I only wish I could,” Ella replied sadly, for she would have loved to have kept in touch with her grandparents’ old friends.

“But I’m going to live with my mum and dad in Norfolk for a while,” she explained. “Then I’ll probably go back to London.”

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”.