Authors: Anne Holman
“Well, ma’am, if you don’t want her. She can come home with me.”
“Sure. I can take her there.”
Vera looked doubtful. “The poor little mite. She can’t help her nationality.”
“I wouldn’t allow her to be harmed because she happens to have belonged to a Jerry. And I can assure you she won’t be. My family are from Germany originally. We have a farm in Wisconsin and she’ll be fine there.”
Vera thought quickly. She already had two dogs to care for. One belonged to Geoff and the other she was given by her previous fiancé to look after. A big dog, like young Freda would grow to be would take a lot of feeding.
“I’ve only been looking after this pup for one day, but I love her, and would hate her to come to any harm. Are you sure you can give her a good home?”
“The best. Our family love dogs.”
As a senior officer she knew he would have no great difficulty having Freda shipped to his home. “Well, I don’t know if I should . . . .” the American officer looked fairly old, a reliable gentleman - and he obviously liked dogs.
As she was hesitating he asked, “Can I give you anything for her?”
Vera hesitated. The Americans had so much more money, food and it was tempting to ask for something. “No, no. Just look after her, please. And in Fred’s memory, call her Freda, will you?”
She felt tears coming into her eyes as she handed the puppy over to the American. But she felt quite sure Freda would have as good a life as she could give her.
She was asked for her name and address, so that he could send her a report on Freda. And then the officer gave her the directions to the NAAFI Headquarters.
It was hard to have to get on her bike again and pedal away without the little dog sitting up in her basket.
“Sure you don’t want anything?” he called after her.
Vera was so close to breaking down. She dare not stop. She pedalled on but shouted over her shoulder, “Send me some nylon stockings.”
* * *
It was just as well she knew Dulcie Swanton, and was soon given the help she needed. After a bath in the regulation height of four inches of water, and a change of clothes - albeit wartime utility quality - and a hair cut, Vera felt more herself. And yet, she knew she was not as she used to be, she’d changed forever.
Tucked away in her heart and memory were all those people she’d met in the last few weeks. Brave people, who had died, or some had survived as she had through one of the most eventful periods of mankind. Each person had their own experiences to talk about, or refuse to talk about because it was too painful for them.
She would be able to share some of her experiences with Geoff when he got home, because she now had some knowledge of the war. And in later years they would be able to tell their child about the wartime they’d experienced.
She was delighted to meet Susie and Doreen again, when they came off duty in the evening. Having an evening meal they listened to what Vera told them, with urges to go on and tell more.
Susie said, “Well I think you are very brave, Vera.”
“Me? Go on. I merely did what I had to just to survive.”
“And how is Parkie? I mean your husband, Colonel Parkington?”
A cloud came over Vera’s face as she chewed a piece of sausage. “He was well the last time I saw him . . . but he looked as if he’d had . . . “
To her surprise picturing him was too much for her, and Vera put her hands over her face and sobbed.
“She’s exhausted,” said Doreen standing up and putting her arm around Vera. “Come on love, we’ll get you to bed.”
In a motherly fashion the two NAFFI girls soon had Vera tucked up on a camp bed having given her another nice cup of tea.
“Thank you,” murmured Vera, and went to sleep almost at once.
The two NAFFI girls looked back at sleeping Vera before they switched off the room light.
Susie said quietly, “I can’t imagine what she says she’s been though. Can you? I can’t believe all she said had happened to her was true.“
“I dunno,” whispered Doreen, “she didn’t strike me that she was making it all up.”
They closed the door and walked along the corridor, Susie commented, “Well it’s true she’s expecting a baby – that’s obvious.”
AFTER arriving home at last, her mother hugged her tightly.
“You’ve been away for so long. Now tell me about what you’ve been up to,” Mum said, as the two dogs barked and wagged their tails furiously. The dogs demanded their share of the joyous homecoming, and Vera had to spend a few moments quelling their enthusiasm to jump all over her.
Vera, who was dressed in a government utility issue suit, shoes and stockings, took off her battered kitbag and said, “I got my bicycle mended by a German soldier.”
Mum looked down at her visible bump and quipped, “I hope you didn’t get that too!”
Then Vera kissed her Mum saying, ”Geoff gave me that before I saw him in France.
Her mother’s eyes sparkled, “I’m thrilled to be a grandmother.”
“You’re not quite yet, Mum.”
“No, but I’m going to be. I saw some beautiful kitting patterns for baby clothes in this week’s magazine.”
Vera laughed, “Before you start on them, I need a new cardigan – I left mine in France.”
“Say that again . . . you say you went
Vera put her arm around her mother’s shoulders, and said, “Let’s put the kettle on a have a cup of tea. Then I’ll tell you all about my adventures in France. I was there for several weeks.”
Blinking, Mum said, “You might have sent me a postcard!”
It seemed hours later – over several cups of tea – that Vera related her experiences in France. From the humorous moments to the tragedy of lives lost when the invasion began.
“And Geoff?” asked Mum anxiously. “Where is he now?”
Vera shook her head. “I expect he is busy. He was elated when they got the floating harbour over to France. And then repaired it after the terrible storm that ripped the American A Mulberry to pieces. But that was his job – where he and the other engineers working with him showed their grit and skill.”
“You ought to be proud of him.”
“Oh, indeed I am, Mum. That dock enabled enormous supplies to get ashore after the initial invasion, until they capture a port.”
“So now Geoff will be coming home?”
“I doubt it! The army will dream up another engineering problem to solve I expect as the army moves across Europe. I wish that wicked Hitler would give in – but Geoff says the German army is an excellent fighting machine and they are making our soldiers fight all the way . . . I’m worried about Geoff.”
Thinking of all the people being killed and injured over there, made Vera put her hands over her face.
“You did your bit, love,” Mum said, “Try not to worry too much.”
“At least he hasn’t got to worry about me now,” Vera said, looking at her mother with a grin..
“But I’m sure he will be thinking of the mother to be.”
“He doesn’t know.”
“Vera! Didn’t he tell you? Didn’t he notice?”
“I don’t think so – anyway, he is such a worrier I didn’t want him to have to worry about his son too.”
Mum smiled with her mouth tightly closed. “You are something else, Vera.”
Then feeling her age, Mum got up stiffly and said, “Well, we must get on I suppose. I have some ironing to finish and then I’ll get us something to eat. And the dogs need feeding and the hens will have to be put to bed.”
“Oh, so you’ve got some hens in the garden now, have you Mum?”
“Yes, four. John helped me to buy them and house them. He knows a lot about keeping hens. And I can exchange eggs with friends for other things. And they are laying so will you make us an omelette. No one can make them better than you can.”
Vera looked at her mother with pride. The older lady had to cope with the wartime - just as the service personnel. Rationing had become even tighter - sometimes things difficult to buy even if they were on the ration.
“Of course I will. And are there any saladings left in the garden?” she was thinking of the lettuces, tomatoes and radishes that had been planted earlier in the year.
“You may find a few.”
As Vera began to think about cooking again, she began to wonder how her British Restaurants were managing while she was away – and then of course she’d have to arrange for someone to take over her job when she had the baby.
It was all a challenge. But Vera felt so glad to be home. Her only ache was wondering what was happening to her beloved husband in war torn France.
“John will be popping in to take the dogs for a walk. Can you make an omelette for him too?”
“You know John.”
Vera smiled. She had the sense that she would soon learn much more about her Mum’s neighbour, John Baxter, who’d been helping her with walking the dogs. In her mum’s conversation, John was thrown in all the time!
And when the elderly, upright gentleman arrived the dogs went mad to see him.
Struck by his kindly face and the fondness he showed to her mother – as well as the dogs - Vera shook his hand warmly.
“You would never believe half of what Vera’s been up to – in France,” Mum said, “It’s just as well I didn’t know all about it until she got back safely.”
Vera dismissed her mother’s quick account of her experiences, saying, “I bet John has many stories to tell about his soldiering years.”
Walking with his own dog, plus Vera’s two, was quite an art, but the agile ex soldier was well able to control all three on their leads as they trotted along with him. When John and the dogs set off down the road to exercise in a nearby park, Mum looked after him, and told her, “John has asked me to marry him.”
Shocks galore Vera had had in the last few months of her life - but this was a delightful surprise.
Mum studied her daughter’s face and asked tentatively, “Do you think . . . ”
Vera hugged her mother, “It’s what
want that matters, Mum.”
“But do you like John?”
“I hardly know him.”
“I said I’d wait ‘till you got home, before I made up my mind.”
Vera cried, “Your happiness is what matters, Mum. Will you be happy married to him?”
Her mother nodded her head. “I think so, dear.”
“Pity we haven’t some champagne to celebrate!”
“Hold on. He only mentioned it. And I said I wanted to wait and think about it. He may not ask me again.”
“Well I’m sure he will – especially as he won’t have to take my two dogs for a walk every day.”
* * *
It was a week later when John had checked over her car to make sure it was still in working order and Vera piled in the car, the dog beds, bowls, and her two dogs.
Before she left she thanked John for walking her dogs every day. “It was very kind of you John. Three dogs to take out couldn’t have been easy at times.”
John put his arm around her and gave her a quick kiss her cheek. “Vera, love, they were no trouble. It was my war work – and very pleasant to do. I love dogs.”
Momentarily Vera thought of the German puppy, Freda, and hoped she was as well looked after and happy as her dogs were.
John added, “Anyway, walking the dogs has given your Mum, and I the chance to get to know each other.”
“I’ll miss the dogs. I’ve got used to them now,” Mum said.
“You’ve got John, and his dog.”
Her mother smiled, “So I have.”
“Anyway,” Vera reminded her, “next week I’ll come over on my day off so we can go shopping for baby things.”
“Mind you,” Vera said, “New things may not be available to buy. Geoff will understand his son may have to have second hand things. We’ll look in second hand shops for a cot and pram. And you get knitting his baby clothes - because I won’t have the time.”
“I’d like to do that – it will make a change from knitting socks for soldiers. Which reminds me . . . “ she whispered. “John has kindly given me some clothing coupons for you to buy a larger size winter coat for yourself.”
Vera put her head on one side and smiled at her mother, and whispered back, “Isn’t that thoughtful of him – I’ll have to repay him sometime.”
Soon she was off in her car, with the dogs looking out of the window as she waved to her mother – and John – standing by her on the pavement.
She thought of Churchill’s words about and end of the beginning – or was the start of the end? Well, whatever it was, Vera felt a new chapter in her life was just beginning.
* * *
There was much to do settling back home again. Vera felt she was in a dream as she looked at familiar things and began to sort things out.
Of course there was the ache in her heart that Geoff wasn’t there. But there was a letter from him, which she torn open to read:
My dearest Vera,
Intelligence told me you had got back to England and I was so relieved to know
you are safe.
Fighting continues here and I have been assigned to constructing river crossings
because Mulberry did its job very well.
It is good to know we are winning at last – but the war will drag on because the
Germans are determined to fight to the end. I don’t have to tell you the horrors that
means to so many people. I hope and pray it will all be over soon.
The winter weather is setting in and I long to snuggle down with you –
It took some time for Vera to come down to earth after she’d read his letter. His face was pictured in her mind, and his new worries about other engineering projects he’d been given to do. And the cold Continental weather – she hoped he was able to wrap up warm.
Feeling a poke on her leg, she looked down to see Battle, Geoff’s dog, asking for his dinner. And close behind sat, Gyp, Bill’s dog, hoping to get his feeding bowl filled too.
Wiping the tears from her eyes, Vera heaved herself up from the armchair where she’d sat to read the letter, and felt her bump. “Let’s hope your father is safe – whatever happens,” she told her unborn child. “In the meantime, I must get on. There is so much to be done.”