He’s Watching You – Episode 01

JOAN MERRIEL stared into the full-length mirror. She had tied her long hair into a bun, fastened with bobby pins, and a long-sleeved maroon dress with a high neck completed the outfit.

“Yes, I think I will be able to keep discipline,” she said to her reflection.

Joan had arrived at Stonecliff-on-Sea the day before to replace Mr Stringer, the former head of the school, who had been called up to fight in France. It was a Saturday and she was preparing to meet Colonel Winthrop, who had interviewed her.

He greeted her in his study, a clean-cut figure in plus fours and a hairy tweed hacking jacket.

“Miss Merriel, how do you do? I trust you had a trouble-free journey from Stamford.”

“Delays all the way, Colonel. We sat beside a cornfield for three quarters of an hour and got stuck in a tunnel with a dog fight going on outside.”

He ran a finger over his neat moustache.

“A sign of the times, I’m afraid. Troop trains have priority. Now, shall we go straight to the school?”

He threw open the classroom door and the familiar smell of chalk and polished linoleum drifted out.

“There are nineteen children on the register at present. You won’t find it an easy job. Many of the youngsters are unsettled, knowing that their fathers are away fighting.” He led the way to the playground. “This is where the children let off steam. Now let me show you the Anderson shelter. You’ll be needing it. There are frequent air-raids here. Mostly aeroplanes and doodlebugs on their way to London and the docks.”

Joan was glad when they emerged from the dank underground shelter into the sunlight.

“Have you fixed up satisfactory accommodation?” Colonel Winthorp asked.

“I’ve taken lodgings with Miss Hazelhurst at Huntingtower.”

“A good, old-fashioned sort. You’ve chosen well. If you have any problems don’t hesitate to contact me. You know where I live.” He turned just as he was leaving. “One thing more, Miss Merriel. You may find the village folk rather reticent, particularly with strangers. The atmosphere can seem strained at times.”

“Why is that?”

“There are miles of unpatrolled dunes and marshes along the coast. It is a difficult area to defend. It makes people feel edgy.”

“You think there is a likelihood of a German invasion?”

The colonel sighed.

“Mr Churchill’s government is aware that it is a possibility. One cannot be too careful.” He shook his head. “These are difficult and disturbing times for us all.”

*  *  *  *

On Monday the children sat down, eyeing their new teacher warily. Two boys immediately tried it on.

“Miss, Mr Stringer always lets us play games first lesson on Monday.”

“Yes, draughts and stuff like that.”

Joan took this nonsense in her stride.

“There will be plenty of time for games during break. What are your names, boys?”

“Clive James, miss.”

“And I’m Roger, miss. Us two is brothers.”

“Well, you can come and sit in these two desks in front. We’ll begin with the usual gas-mask drill, children. Has anybody forgotten to bring one?”

Up went the hand of a small child with a pale face.

“Me, miss.” She looked thoroughly upset.

“Never mind,” Joan said reassuringly. “There is a spare one in the cupboard. But you must try to remember it for tomorrow.”

Joan tried to keep the gas-mask drill light-hearted, but several of the girls began to grizzle and she was secretly pleased when Roger and Clive breathed furiously, making rude noises out of the side of the rubber masks – anything to lift the children’s spirits and keep them from being frightened.

Margaret Scott

Margaret is a sub-editor within the Production Team on the "Friend". Her main job is to work on the stories and make sure the magazine leaves us in its best possible guise. When not doing that, however, she either has her head buried in the old “Friend” volumes or is out and about giving talks or going on Warner trips (fab!). She hates cheese.