Authors: Anne Holman
Vera decided keeping herself busy was the best thing she could do, to prevent herself from moping. And knowing women all over Britain, were probably doing the same thing as they waited for their menfolk to return, helped her to accept her ache for Geoff to return.
“Come on then, you rascals, “she said, “Let’s see what I can find for you to eat. And that applies to baby and me as well.” She added patting her tummy.
Whatever lay ahead she thought it was going to be a very busy and exciting time.
She just wished she could hear from Geoff again and know that all was well with him.
LEAVING the dogs with the farmer every day, as Vera usually did when she went off to work, allowed the animals to be with the farm dogs around the farm yard, instead of being locked up in the cottage all day. They were used to spending the day at the farm and were trained not to run off - or chase the farm animals. They had the hay barn to shelter in if they wanted to sleep until she fetched them later in the day.
The farmer wasn’t in the least curious to know where Vera had been for the past few weeks. His mind was wrapped around his hectic daily routine of farming, and even with the help of his hardworking Land Girls, he as still left short of male workers because the men had been sent away to join one of the armed forces. But, leaning on his walking stick, he greeted her with his warm smile when she dropped the dogs off.
“We’ll keep an eye on ‘em,” he told Vera good-naturedly, giving both dogs a hearty pat, as Vera thanked him.
“What’s that brain box husband of yourn been up to, then?”
Vera replied, “Goodness knows!” Vera said as got back into her car. “I don’t like to think about what he’s doing – I just want him home again.”
“Has he left you?”
Vera laughed, “I hope not! But there’s a hell of a fight going on over there in Europe.”
The farmer looked at the peaceful countryside that surrounded him. “I can’t be thinking of that,” he said, “I have my cows to worry about - and if the weather holds for the corn to be cut.”
Vera knew farmer’s jobs, feeding the nation, was vital war work, so she didn’t make any comment about the terrors the fighting soldiers faced. She just said, “I just pray every day for Geoff to return home safely.”
“Expect you do, Mrs Parkingon. Now do you want my lad to start delivering milk to the cottage again?”
“Yes please - and I’ll need an extra half pint.”
The farmer touched the rim of his cap, and winked at her. “Aye, I can see that.”
Vera chuckled and drove off towards Lynn.
* * *
When she arrived at the British Restaurant in Lynn she parked the car and strode into the building.
Confronted by a gawky woman, dressed in a white overall and her hair covered turban style, who yelled at her, “Can’t you read? We don’t open till twelve o’clock.”
Vera was taken aback.
Seeing Vera was not backing out of the door, the dinner lady approached and put her long nose inches away from Vera’s. “Didn’t you hear me,” she said, “we are not open. Wait outside.”
Vera giggled. She was being ordered out of
British Restaurant! The first restaurant she had started over a year ago when it was no more than a hall, with a kitchen attached, that she had had to turn into a mass feeding centre.
Seeing the woman’s face becoming furious with her, Vera said hastily, “Don’t panic. I work here – I’m the local supervisor of British Restaurants.”
The woman looked her up and down sceptically, “Oh yes?”
“Yes. My name is Mrs Vera Parkington.”
It obviously didn’t ring a bell with the hostile woman who still seemed determined to throw her out of the building.
A voice from afar called, “Mabel. Come and give me a hand carrying this basin.”
“Coming,” shouted back the overall clad woman, “but I’m just shooing out an early customer whose come in and doesn’t want to leave.”
“Ok. I’ll deal with them.”
Moments later, Margaret Smallwood appeared, and shrieked, “Vera! Is it really you back at last?” as she rushed in the hall to greet her boss.
Vera was soon ushered into the kitchen and receiving smiles all round from the dinner ladies. There was elderly Gladys, still doing volunteer war work although in her late seventies. Young Sally, who was now a competent cook and teaching even younger, Mary. And Margaret herself, who Vera had known at school as a bossy individual, but because she had become an unmarried mother, her career had been changed to cookery – which she soon learned, and had become very competent at organizing the restaurant meals after Vera left.
Crowding around her, all the girls wanted to know what she’d been up to.
Vera put her hand over her eyes and sighed, “You wouldn’t believe all I’ve been through. I went to France.”
“Whatever for?” said Gladys, straightening her cook’s cap.
Vera replied, “I had to get a message to Geoff.”
Mary piped up, “Couldn’t you have sent it by post?”
“No, the Germans wouldn’t have delivered it.”
There was a shocked silence.
Margaret asked, “You mean you went over there?”
“Yes,” said Vera, “I did.”
Stunned into silence for a moment or two, then the girls looked aghast. Then they bombarded Vera with questions.
“Did you see Geoff Parkington?”
“Ahh! How is he?”
Vera’s husband was known and liked by them all when he was the supervisor of the British Restaurants, as a cover for his Top Secret war work preparing the floating docks for D-Day. Vera had taken over his job as supervisor when he married her. She smiled thinking of him and momentarily hoping he was still OK.
“He was fine. But we all had to keep our heads down all the time – with the Gestapo around.”
Sally’s eyes almost popped out of her head. “You mean the enemy was there?”
Vera laughed, “Surely you know they took over France, and our Tommies had to shove ’em out on D-Day?”
“Crikey!” exclaimed Sally, “I don’t know how you were in the middle of all that!”
Gladys nodded and said, “Well, I think that was very valiant of you.”
Margaret snapped, “Madness, I call it, to have been caught up in all that - it’s a wonder you got back in one piece, Vera.”
Vera took in a deep breath and gave a long sigh, “I sometimes wonder how I made it, myself. Yes, indeed, it seems like a dream now.” And not all of it pleasant she thought looking at her friends faces all anxious to know all about what she’d done.
“Do tell us about your adventure – we want to know everything mind.”
Vera said firmly. “Not now, later, after the meal’s over.”
Although it didn’t take long for Sally to guess, “Vera, you’re expecting!”
Vera went a little pink in the face. She was hoping to break the news later.
Sally skipped around Vera joyously because she loved babies. Until Margaret barked at her, “Sally get those biscuits made and put them in the oven. At once!”
With hundreds of hungry customers who would soon be forming a queue outside the hall door, ready to be fed, everyone went back to the jobs they were doing. Vera quickly washed her hands saying, “What’s on the menu, Margaret. Can I give you a hand?”
The activity in the kitchen was abuzz as all the women set too to make up for lost time.
But Vera wasn’t surprised that the dinner ladies – all of whom were completely ignorant of cooking for the masses until she had trained them, soon got to work and produced a tasty sausagemeat loaf and vegetables with a parsley sauce, followed by a semolina pudding with some biscuits, a somewhat stoggy meal - but designed to fill empty stomachs. As Margaret remarked to Vera, “The food rationing gets worse and worse. Thinking of how to feed everyone becomes more of a headache for every cook these days.”
Although the battles in Europe were going to bring success for the Allies, Vera knew the people at home were being asked to pull in their belts even more. Food shortages were a headache. She sympathized with Margaret.
“You’ll be all right, being pregnant. You’ll get a green ration book for extra rations,” said Margaret, who’d been through her own pregnancy.
“That’ll come in handy,” Vera said, thinking she would have to consult Margaret about a lot of things concerning motherhood.
* * *
Later seated around the big kitchen table, after the meal was over and everything cleared away, Vera was just as keen to know their news as they were to hear hers.
Over cups of tea, Mabel was properly introduced and Vera was pleased to find that despite her first impression of the woman was not favourable, Mabel was in fact a valuable addition to the kitchen staff.
Careful not to tell the girls about the most harrowing experiences she’d had, Vera kept them all long after they would normally go home, but at last they had to part and only Margaret remained.
“So, how is little Deanna?” asked Vera when the other had gone.
“She’s a right little rascal, running about, into everything,” replied Margaret fondly. “But her Dad helps me to look after her.”
Vera asked cautiously, “Her Dad?”
Margaret shook her head. Vera knew Margaret’s family had cast her out when she’d become pregnant and was not married. The old stigma of unmarried women being sinful was still strong with many people.
Geoff Parkington, who had been to university with Margaret had helped her find a place to live and had got her a job at the British Restaurant.
“So, he came back?”
Margaret smiled, “Yes. He said he didn’t know I’d become pregnant. And now he’s keen to marry me.”
“That’s wonderful news!”
Margaret pursed her lips. “Well I told him I’m thinking about it. You see I suffered so much when he left me, and I thought he shouldn’t have walked out of my life. I keep asking myself now, does Tom really want me - or Deanna? He loves his little girl.”
Vera could offer her no advice on that query Margaret had. She didn’t know Margaret’s brother’s friend, who Margaret claimed was her daughter’s father. She knew the couple must work it out for themselves. So she asked, “Have you any baby stuff Deanna’s grown out of I could use?”
“Sure. I’ll look some things out for you.”
Vera poured them another cup of tea, saying, “I don’t want to delay you getting home much longer, but we must just discuss something important.”
Margaret looked a Vera apprehensively.
“I am going to be unable to work, so I was wondering if you would take over my job as supervisor?”
Vera could tell Margaret like the idea. Being a natural leader, Margaret would be able to do it with no difficulty – especially if Tom was helping her by baby-sitting.
“You’ll have to learn to drive, of course.”
“Tom has a car. He’ll teach me.”
It was not necessary for new drivers to pass a test when they wanted to drive a car in wartime, so Vera knew that if Margaret wanted to drive – she would.
“Now as for this canteen. I think we should train Sally to take over.”
Margaret huffed. “She’s just a kid.”
“I know, eighteen is very young, but think of all the eighteen year olds who are fighting for their country at the moment? And youngsters who have other important jobs. I think Sally will be glad to avoid going into the services - anyway it would be a waste to see her leave here. It she is made the manageress here she will be able to qualify as having a reserved occupation.”
Margaret, who in the past had had a good deal of lip and as well as fights with young Sally, had to admit that the girl was now very good at the job. Gladys was too old, Mary was too inexperienced and too young, the new woman, Mabel, was as brittle as hard toffee, besides she was too new to know the ropes yet.
“I think Sally will do fine,” said Margaret, “only you do realise the girl played about at school, consequently she can barely read and write, don’t you?”
Vera was not really surprised. “We’ll just have to ask her if she wants the job, and if she does – and she’d be a fool to miss the opportunity – she’ll have to give up going out with the boys every night and knuckle down to doing some simple reading, writing and arithmetic. She must be able to ready the recipes correctly and the Ministry of Food will expect the stores to be ordered properly - and all the paperwork kept up to date.”
“Who’s going to tell her that?” asked Margaret.
Vera drank the last drop of tea in her cup, “I will. I’ll have a few weeks before the baby is born and I’ll find time to coach her.” She didn’t like to add that keeping herself occupied was the best thing as it would prevent her from brooding and pining for Geoff.
Having sorted out her plans for her job being taken over, Vera returned to the farm to fetch the dogs with mixed feelings. So much was going to happen in the next few months. The winter had be got over. And baby clothes as well as a room prepared for the new member of the family. Would her Mum decide to marry John Baxter she wondered. And would Margaret marry Tom? And would she and Geoff have a boy or a girl? She must got to the doctor and arrange for a midwife . . .
Then her job had to be prepared for Margaret to take it over. And Sally had to be instructed to enable her to take over Margaret’s job.
By the time she got home she was feeling shattered. Carrying around the weight of the baby was tiring.
After parking the car in the barn, she walked around to the front of the cottage and saw on the front doorstep, a package.
Picking it up, Vera was alarmed. It had been delivered a military courier. Who had sent it to her – was it Geoff?
What could be in it?
TEARING off the wrappings of the package, Vera felt some slippery things fall out of her fingers onto the floor. Looking down she was amazed to see several smaller packets.