Authors: Ellie Dean
Julie Harris is working in London’s East End as a midwife when a bombing raid destroys her family and the house she grew up in. All she has left is her motherless baby nephew William.
Determined to uphold her promise to her sister to keep William safe until his father, Bill, returns from the war, she accepts a post as a midwife in Cliffehaven on the south-coast of England. Here they are taken under the wing of the Reilly family at the Beach View boarding house.
But all too soon Julie learns that Bill is ‘missing in action’ and William falls dangerously ill. As she begins the long vigil by William’s beside, she fears she will lose the little boy she has grown to love as her own . . .
Where the Heart Lies
is Ellie Dean’s fourth novel. She lives in Eastbourne, which has been her home for many years and where she raised her three children.
There’ll be Blue Skies
Far From Home
Keep Smiling Through
This series of books is dedicated to the ‘little
battlers’, the women who rolled up their sleeves
and fought their own war on the home front.
Strong and invincible, these women should never
be forgotten for, without them, the women of
today would not know such freedom.
I would like to show my appreciation here for all the help I received from Jane Hollings, who is a midwife, neighbour and friend. She cheerfully told me some of her experiences – some funny, some tragic – lent me textbooks and answered my many questions without making me feel completely idiotic. A great deal of this book couldn’t have been written without her guidance. The wine is on the way, Jane!
Thanks also to Jo George who, as a military historian, delved into archives and asked the right people all the questions I needed answering. It appears there was no official order to ‘Save Private Ryan’, as the Americans did when several brothers were killed like Frank’s sons – but unofficially, it was understood that the surviving son could be relocated to a somewhat safer post in such circumstances. Thank you, Jo. What a lucky meeting that was in Italy.
Once again I owe a great deal to my husband, who has to put up with the drama of living with an author who seems to spend every waking moment in another time and another world. He’s my rock
and my best friend, and I couldn’t do this without him.
Thanks too, to Georgina Hawtrey-Woore, my editor at Arrow, and to the wonderful team at my publishers who make sure the books look enticing. And last, but never least, to my agent, Teresa Chris, who has done so very much for me over the years, and seen me through the good times and the bad.
JULIE FINISHED THE
washing-up in the stone sink, tucked her short brown hair behind her ears, and helped her mother, Flo, stack the plates on the nearby shelf. Her few short hours at home were almost over and she would soon be on duty again, rushing about on her bicycle to help deliver the babies who always tended to arrive at the most inconvenient time of night.
Being a midwife in Shoreditch and the surrounding districts was always challenging, and, in the middle of a war, sometimes frightening, but ultimately it was very rewarding and Julie couldn’t imagine doing anything else. But these short visits home to Stepney were a blessing, too, for they were a reminder of how lucky she was to have such a warm and loving family to always guide and support her.
She finished putting the few bits of crockery away and watched her mother bustle about while her father, Bert, sprawled in his favourite sagging armchair by the small range. This cramped room, with bare floorboards and damp patches on the walls, was the heart of the two-up, two-down terraced house. It might be
damp and rather ramshackle, but it was luxurious compared to the squalor of the nearby tenements.
The tiny black range stood in the chimney breast, heating the room nicely as the wind buffeted outside. A scrubbed table was in the middle of the room, surrounded by a collection of wooden chairs and stools, and a dilapidated dresser stood against the wall, covered in photographs, cheap china ornaments, ration books and shopping lists. The wireless was a new and much prized addition, and it stood proudly in a corner, the mahogany casing gleaming from Flo’s industrious polishing. The heavily taped window above the ancient stone sink overlooked the tiny backyard, the outside lav, and the terraced houses beyond the crumbling brick wall.
The front room had once been used as a bedroom when all the family were at home, but now Flo used it to eke out her wages by doing a bit of mending and dress-making. Flo was an industrious little woman who could always find something to do. She was in her fifties, as skinny as a rake and inclined to chatter about nothing much in particular, but her kitchen was always open to her neighbours, her sense of humour rarely waned, and she had a terrific sense of fun. Her family adored her, and it was because of her that they’d had the self-belief to go out into the world and make something of themselves – but they always came home when they could, for this was where their hearts lay.
Julie had been born twenty-three years ago in the
big bed upstairs, as had all of Flo’s six children, and although the war had been going on for more than a year now, and her eldest sister, Eileen, had long left home for the south coast, it still felt strange not to have everyone sitting round the table on a Saturday afternoon.
Flo Harris seemed to read her daughter’s thoughts as she adjusted the floral scarf she had knotted over the metal curlers in her greying brown hair. ‘It ain’t the same without the three boys making their usual racket,’ she muttered, her brown eyes trawling the room. ‘Gawd knows I moaned enough about it when they was here, but I’d give me eyeteeth to hear ’em laughing and teasing and have ’em eating me out of ’ouse and ’ome again.’
Bert Harris shifted in the creaking armchair, his braces dangling loosely from the waist of his heavy-duty trousers, his shirtsleeves rolled to his meaty elbows. ‘They’ll get better rations than what we do, gel,’ he muttered round the stem of his pipe. ‘The army knows how to feed a man good and proper, never you mind.’
Julie and her mother exchanged a wise look. It had nothing to do with rations, but the longing to have things back to normal, to see the three boys home again, safe and well, and not to have to rely on heavily censored letters to get any news from them.
‘The rationing hasn’t seemed to affect you that much, Dad,’ said Julie with a chuckle. ‘The buttons are still straining on that shirt.’
He grinned at her. ‘Less lip from you, my gel. I can’t help it if I’m all muscle.’
‘Muscle, indeed,’ Flo snorted, swiping playfully at him with a scrap of tea towel. ‘It’s the beer what makes them buttons pop.’ She turned to Julie. ‘Him and his mates drink gallons of the stuff down at the Toolmakers’ every night, but at least it fills ’im up so he don’t notice how little there is on his plate when he comes home for his tea.’ She ran her hands over the faded wrap-round pinafore and gave it a tug. ‘I dread to think what would happen if that got rationed as well as everything else. A man needs a bit of pleasure after a hard day’s work.’
Julie smiled lovingly at her mother. Nothing much got Flo down, and despite the endless bombing raids, and the terrible fires that had raged through London only two weeks before, she still seemed full of energy and fun. ‘You sit down and put your feet up, Mum. I’ll make the tea.’
Julie reached for the old brown teapot which had survived the seemingly endless bombing raids, and carefully spooned in the used tealeaves her mother had left to dry on a saucer. The tea would be as weak as dishwater, with no milk or sugar to give it a boost, but it would be warm, and somehow they’d all become inured to it.
‘You’re looking tired, Jules,’ said Flo, as she lit a cigarette. ‘That Matron’s working you too hard.’
‘Nothing much I can do about that, Mum,’ said
Julie cheerfully. ‘There’s a shortage of doctors and nurses now they’ve enlisted, but that hasn’t stopped the number of babies being born. I swear I’ve attended more births in the last year than ever before.’
Flo grinned through the curl of cigarette smoke. ‘It were the same in the last war,’ she replied. ‘We all thought the world was coming to an end, and the only comfort we ’ad was when our men come home. How d’you think I ended up with so many kids?’
There was no real answer to this, so Julie concentrated on making the tea. It was funny, she thought, that she could spend her days and nights in the most intimate company of strangers, but she still found it embarrassing to talk about sex and babies with her mother. But nursing was all she’d ever wanted, a dream fulfilled only through her parents’ sacrifices and her determination to break the barriers and have a career that, until now, had been thought of as middle-class. Unlike so many of her colleagues, she’d decided not to enlist, but to stay in the East End and do her bit among the people she knew and understood, and give something back to the community who’d nurtured her.
‘I wonder how Eileen’s gettin’ on down in Cliffehaven,’ muttered Flo round the cigarette, the ash threatening to fall in her lap. ‘You ain’t heard from ’er, I suppose?’
Julie shook her head. ‘She wouldn’t write to me,
Mum. We never really got on, what with her being twelve years older.’ She saw the disappointment in Flo’s face and knew how much it must hurt to know your eldest daughter wanted nothing to do with her family – even in these dark times. ‘I’m sure she’ll get in touch soon,’ she soothed. ‘Especially after the latest firestorm we had in London.’
Flo sniffed and tipped the ash in a saucer. Sticking the fag in the corner of her mouth, she picked up her knitting and determinedly changed the subject. ‘I’m surprised Stan ain’t been round,’ she said, squinting through the smoke. ‘You two ain’t fallen out, ’ave you?’
‘Of course not.’ Julie put the cosy on the teapot and placed it on the table alongside the cups. Her smile was soft as she thought about Stanley Rudge, and the engagement ring he’d given her only three weeks before. Stan was big and brawny, with black hair, dark eyes and a way of kissing her that made her legs go weak. ‘We went out dancing the other night. He’s on duty at the police station today, that’s all. I’ll see him next week.’
‘I don’t see why you can’t get married now instead of putting it off until he passes his sergeant’s exams. We could all be dead tomorrow, and then where would you be?’
Julie laughed. ‘Six foot under without a wedding ring.’
Flo took the fag out of her mouth and waggled a finger playfully at her daughter. ‘You know what I
mean. I don’t want no more little surprises – not after what we’ve been through with Franny.’
Julie handed round the tea cups and glanced at the clock on the dresser. ‘Where’s she got to, anyway? I thought she was only popping next door for a minute, and she’s been at least half an hour.’
‘You know how she and that Ivy rabbit on. She’ll be back soon enough, I wouldn’t wonder,’ muttered Flo. She put down her knitting and eyed Julie solemnly. ‘I’m that worried about ’er, Jules, really I am. She should never have got ’erself in the family way, married or not. You will take care of ’er, won’t you?’
Julie was also deeply concerned about her youngest sister, but she merely nodded and patted her mother’s hand. ‘I’ve arranged it with the hospital, and she’s going in next week, two weeks before she’s due, just to make sure.’ They’d been over this ground many times already, but Julie understood Flo’s need for reassurance. ‘I know it’s a worry, Mum, but she’ll get the best care, I promise.’
‘Talking about me again?’ Franny waddled through the back door and slammed it behind her. She gave them all a weary smile. ‘Nothing like being the centre of attention, but there must be more important things to go on about than me and me bump.’
‘Are you all right, Fran?’ Julie asked, concerned at how pale her youngest sister was, and how laboured her breathing had become on the short journey from the house next door. Franny had always been delicate,
an elfin little thing who’d had to struggle all her life to keep up with her more robust brothers and sisters – now she looked exhausted, her eyes dull, her shoulders drooping. Julie swiftly took her pulse, which was far too rapid.