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WW2 through the eyes of a child: It is mid-summer, 1944 and Britain is embroiled in war. A large percentage of city and town dwellers are being killed; homes bombed, and personal belongings destroyed. The people not only fear for their own safety, but they also realize, that even if they are fortunate enough to survive there is a slim chance their offspring will not. They feel they have no choice, but to send their children to remote country villages to be raised by strangers, in the hope they will have a better life. The only adults permitted to travel with the children are mothers with youngsters under five years old, the infirm and the elderly. Meantime, the community of Honesty Brook Dale feel it's their duty to rally together to help the evacuees by sharing their homes and limited food and clothing supplies. (Written in UK English)
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Copyright © The author as named on the book cover.
The author or authors assert their moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author or authors of this work.
All Rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, copied, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent of the copyright holder, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Reviewed By Sarah Stuart for Readers’ Favorite
Honesty in World War 2 by Chris-Jean Clarke sets out to recreate Britain in 1944 when London was under attack from German rockets known colloquially as doodlebugs. Over a million people, the majority of them children with only the under-fives accompanied by mothers, were evacuated to the country where anyone who had space was asked to open their homes and hearts to them. Ms Clarke uses the fictional mining village of Honesty Brook Dale as the setting for the story of a group of these children, including traumatised Cyril.
Honesty in World War 2 by Chris-Jean Clarke holds strong echoes of Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mr Tom, but no way is it a carbon copy. Ms Clarke adroitly presents a very different view of the same era in British history, effortlessly sweeping her readers back in time to the summer of 1944. The place is Waterloo Station and the train engines puff and hiss with a clarity you can hear. The experience is shown mainly through the eyes of a child; he is one of many, the majority of whom were separated from parents and evacuated to the country. They live and breathe so vividly you feel you’ve met them. Cyril especially will remain with me for a long time as he struggles to adjust to life in a mining village, loss when his older brother is called up, and attempts to see more of the lovely, but older, Marianne. To a great extent, this is Cyril’s story and it is not just a must-read novel. Chris-Jean Clarke’s Honesty in World War 2 is a “must-read-to-the-end.”
Many thanks, to my parents who wittingly or unwittingly provided the inspiration for my story.
I would also like to give a special mention to the following people, who have tirelessly devoted their time to read my work and offer their expertise:
Emily Ann Roesly: author of ‘Whispering Waters’ for the awesome pictures used in my cover design.
Sharon Brownlie: author of 'Betrayal' for formatting my work & cover.
Gabrielle Rollinson: Personal Tutor - Oxford Open Learning Course - Writing for Children for editing my first draft of 5,000 words.
Valerie Byron: author of 'No Ordinary Woman' and other works for editing my extended version.
Trish Reeb: author of 'Death by Default' and other works for proofreading.
Patrick Sean Lee: author of 'One Year on Meade Street' and other works for advising me re. my opening chapter. Dave Ardent: for critiquing my opening chapter.
Geoffrey Clarke: for research material.
Ann-Marie Bellerson: for research material.
Tatyana Black: for her support.
I wrote this book for my children, Nathan and Kyrsten and for all the young children who have started to learn about World War 2. I hope they have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
I am also dedicating this book in loving memory of my beloved Mum and Dad. Thank you, for sharing your childhood experiences.
It was mid-summer 1944, and the air at Waterloo station was filled with smoke billowing from the steam trains, officials shouting orders to the masses and families, friends and neighbours chatting nervously, hugging each other or begging officials (or anyone who would listen to them) for more information.
Doris, a lone traveller who was very sprightly considering her advanced years, wandered up and down the train station, checking the name tags pinned to each person's coat in an effort to find out their destination.
More often than not, she would address the person by their first name and say something like, “Hi Maureen! I’m Doris … oh; that’s a shame yer tag says your heading for Meadow Brook Valley. I’m hoping to find someone who will be my neighbour in Honesty Brook Dale. It’s been nice chatting to you. Have a safe journey, dear.”
As Doris bustled around the platform, she recognised a red haired girl holding her younger brother’s hand. Both were looking intently at their parents. Doris paused, instinctively and listened to their conversation.
“I’ve asked the officials to house you and Luke together, Marianne … I just pray to God; they keep their promise,” said the mother, dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief.
Marianne Senior bit her lower lip and swallowed hard in order to stop herself from crying. Looking down at her daughter, and in a no-nonsense voice, she continued, “Marianne, I am relying on you to make sure Luke minds his manners at all times, and says please and thank you. Just be grateful for everything that is put on the table … and eat it whether you like it or not. Furthermore, don’t wait to be asked! Remember to offer to help yer new family with the chores and do everything that is asked of ya - without complaining. Oh, and don't forget to check that Luke washes behind his ears and brushes his teeth and hair.”
Her husband gently placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Marianne. I’m sure the Women’s Voluntary Service will keep families together wherever possible but if not, I’ve heard tell that Honesty Brook Dale is just a small village, so I’m sure our Marianne will still be able to keep ‘an eye’ on him.”
Doris smiled with compassion at the young girl and turning to her parents, said, “Excuse me. I couldn’t help but overhear that your children will be staying in Honesty Brook Dale. I used to attend the local chapel and have noticed them in the congregation several times. I have always remarked to the vicar how well-mannered they are. You must be really proud of them. I would be more than happy to watch over them … if you would like me to?”
The youngsters’ parents couldn’t thank Doris enough for putting their minds at ease.
On the far side of the platform, a young dark-haired boy, who had been severely scarred during the war, was clinging to his mother, crying and pleading with her, “Please, Mum, don’t make me go without ya. Simon and Samuel are in the class below me at school, and they say their mum has been allowed to travel with them – so why can’t ya come with me?”
His mother shook her head, tears coursing down her cheeks, as she held him close and said, “Graham, I don’t want you to leave … but it’s not safe for you to stay here … and believe me when I say I’ve begged the officials to let me travel with you. I have also spoken to the twins' mother, Madge, on more than one occasion when we sought refuge in the communal air raid shelters, and I know she has three other girls, one of whom is only two years of age … and in another two or three months, she will have a new addition to the family.”
A sudden commotion to the right of them helped momentarily to ease the situation. An elderly man was jigging around, shouting thanks to God for his new home and family. As they watched, they noticed a member of the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) approach and point him in the direction of one of the trains.
“Excuse me,” Graham’s mother shouted to her, “whom should we speak to about Graham being escorted to Honesty Brook Dale.”
“Only those who are on the list will be allowed to travel,” the WVS shouted dismissive. “If your child is going to Honesty Brook Dale, he will need to catch this train and then alight at Endlea Brook Dale. He will be given further directions when he gets there. I should hurry up and say your goodbyes as you don’t have long before the train departs.”
At this precise moment, the guard blew his whistle and a sea of hands and faces pressed either side of the windows in desperation. As the train started to pull away from the station Graham's mother resigned herself to step back on the platform with a throng of other parents. The windows were smudged with tears, fingerprints and lipstick. However, Marianne's parents, along with a few others, ran alongside the train hoping to gain a few more invaluable seconds with their loved ones.
During the journey, the elderly man wandered up and down the corridor between the carriages, amusing the youngsters with childish jokes. He finally settled in Graham’s carriage and introduced himself to anyone who was in the least bit interested, as Malcolm.
“Does anyone know why we are fighting this time?” he asked, but swiftly continued before anyone could answer. “I thought we had all made back friends, but ya can never tell. I thought the last war was over ... in 1914 or was it 1915 ... I can't remember now - but I do remember having fun playing football with the enemy one day and then having to fight them the next.”
“Does anyone know why we are fighting this time?” he asked, but swiftly continued before anyone could answer. “I thought we had all made back friends, but ya can never tell. I thought the last war was over ... in 1914 or was it 1915 ... I can't remember now - but I do know it were Christmas Day. I remember having fun playing football with the enemy one day and then having to fight them the next. ”
Graham tugged at his sleeve and said, “I know what ya mean. I was sent away with a few of me friends for a short while at the beginning of this war. I thought it was all over when we were sent back home ... but then our house got bombed ....”
“Is that when ya got hurt?” Malcolm asked.
Graham nodded, “When the air-raid siren sounded, we all made our way to the air-raid shelter, but me mam hadn’t realised, until it was too late, that I had slipped back into the house for me pet budgie. She said God must have been looking after me that day as our house was burned to the ground.”
“Did ya manage to save ya pet?”
Graham shook his head solemnly, “I didn’t want to leave me mum again and pleaded with her to stay … but she insisted she was doing it for me own good. I think she was terrified about the new bombs they’re using because I overheard her talking to one of me neighbours.”
“That’ll be the doodlebugs ….”
Further along the train, Doris was making small talk with Madge, but made her excuse to leave as soon as the children became restless and showed signs of unruliness.
Standing up, Doris smiled at Madge and said, “I won’t be long I’m just going to stretch my legs,” whereas, in reality, she was going in search of Marianne and Luke.
She found the young girl smiling and whispering words of comfort to her brother at the far end of the train.
“Are you both all right?” Doris enquired.
Although, Marianne nodded confidently and politely responded, “Yes, thank you,” she could not hide the fear in her eyes from Doris.
“Would you mind if I join you? I’m feeling a bit lonely … and if I am honest, a little scared at the moment. It doesn’t seem so long ago when I had to wave goodbye to my two sons when they were evacuated during the last war. It’s hard … isn’t it?”
Marianne nodded and hugged her brother. She liked Doris.
The train pulled into Endlea Brook station six hours later and the evacuees alighted, feeling tired and hungry. However, their journey was not over … the next part had to be covered by foot.
The WVS swiftly instructed them to form two smaller groups - one for Meadow Brook Valley and the other for Honesty Brook Dale, depending on the location they had been designated.
Madge carried her youngest child on her bump, whilst the older children helped by carrying their brown paper parcels and gas masks. Doris assisted the family as best she could. Marianne followed behind and held onto Luke's hand. In her other hand, she carried a small leather suitcase.
Every so often, the WVS would stop and count their heads to check no one was missing. It was at one such point that they noticed the dark-haired boy had begun to lag behind.
They waited for him to catch up and then Malcolm fell in step beside him and said, “I hope it’s not much longer. Me bones are hurting … are yours, Graham?”
Graham didn’t have chance to answer as Malcolm continued talking.
“I don’t care if I have to sleep on the floor. At least, I will have a roof over me head and not have to worry about them bombs.”
Graham nodded and said, “I’m frightened. What if they don’t like us?”
Malcolm was at a loss for words. He had never contemplated this possibility.
Earlier that day the children of Honesty Brook Dale had attended school, which was located in the church hall. The room was separated into two areas: one section for the five to seven-year olds, and the other for the eight to twelve-year olds.
The older children chanted their times tables in unison while their teacher, Mrs Brown, tapped the blackboard with her thinnest cane. No one dared talk or turn their head for fear of the board rubber being thrown in their direction. Each child, regardless of age, had been taught to respect their elders and never to question their ruling. Even if the adult was wrong, the child would still have been disciplined for being disrespectful.
Mrs Brown suddenly noticed ten-year old Cyril Blessum fidgeting at his desk. She raised her hand to halt the class. The board rubber was poised in her other hand, ready to be thrown.
"Am I boring you, Master Blessum? Do you think you're too clever to learn these sums?"
Cyril started to shift uneasily in his seat.
"No ma'am! I know ya said the three Rs stand for reading, writing and ‘rithmetic and was just wondering whether that’s because they all start with a ‘r’?"
"Who gave you the authority to change our math lesson to English, Master Blessum?"
"Louder - I can't hear you when you mutter."
"Good ... then we will continue! Class will be dismissed before lunch today, but first it is important that I talk to you about the war. These times have led to new beginnings for many ...."
Mrs Brown's voice droned on … about friendships, comradeship and sharing. However, the only thing Cyril could reason was that war equalled devastation and loss.
As the morning’s lessons came to a close, Mrs Brown told the children that their school day would end as soon as they had each placed their chair onto their desk. Following this task, the children stood in an orderly line by the door waiting to file out of the classroom.
After what seemed like an eternity Mrs Brown stated, “Class dismissed - not you Cyril Blessum. I want a word with you.”
Her manner softened as the last child closed the door. "Cyril, I know it’s hard times. Your father was a brave man who was proud to fight for his country. He loved his family."
"He wasn't being brave, ma’am. He was sent one of them pieces of paper telling him he had to fight in the war. I used to see him crying in the back yard when I looked through me bedroom window," the child sniffled.
"That makes him all the braver in my book, Cyril, and that's why it is important for you to make your father proud in return. Tomorrow is a new day, and you will meet others who are in a worse situation than yourself."
Cyril blinked back tears and muttered his apologies and then shuffled out of the classroom.
As he walked across the churchyard, he kicked the loose pebbles, deep in thought: She doesn’t understand. I don’t want a hero who can’t hug you, or be there for you ... I just want me Dad.
Even the shrill voices of his fellow classmates failed to cut through his thoughts. It wasn’t until a ball almost hit him on the head that he stopped in his tracks and looked across the green, which was the heart of the village. He smiled when he recognized the ball as one of Farmer Townsend’s creations. It was made from a pig’s bladder.
Cyril recalled how his dad had often said, “The only thing ya can’t use on a pig is its squeal.”
“Over here Cyril!”
“Pass it to me –”
“No to me!”
“Come on, buddy,” his mates pleaded.
Cyril’s initial reaction was to sidestep the ball and continue walking, but deep down he knew what his dad would have done. So he turned on his heel and booted the ball back to his friends.
“Mam, I’m home!” Cyril shouted as he dropped his satchel on the lounge floor. “Mrs Brown says we can have the rest of the day off.”
A gaunt looking woman appeared from the kitchen, dusting flour from her hands down her pinafore. “Good! Ya can pop ‘round ya Aunty Gladys’s and fetch me a couple of eggs for the pie. Be quick, mind, as I need ya to run another errand, before the shop shuts.”
Cyril was chuckling so loudly on his return, Rachel, his mother, had to rush to retrieve the small cereal bowl his Aunty Gladys had loaned him, wherein three hen’s eggs rattled.
“What’s tickled yer fancy now? Ya sound like one of them birds Mr Townsend gave yer Aunty Gladys.”
“Ooh Mam, ya should see where Aunty Gladys and Uncle Reuben have put the chickens! They’ve fixed some wire netting around the table legs in the kitchen and put them under there because they kept chasing Scamp 'round the yard. He was pecked so many times she thinks he has no bark left in him … but that can’t be right Mam; I heard Scamp barking only this morning.”
“I hope you didn’t let her see you giggling? I didn’t bring you up to be rude … people matter, not things - items can be replaced. ‘Please and thank you’ don't hurt anyone. Besides Aunty Gladys and Uncle Reuben have been good to us since yer dad died.”
“Sorry, Mam, I didn’t mean to upset her. I did say 'thank you' – honest. Do ya want me to go back ‘round and say sorry for being rude about her birds, Henny Penny and Peckham?”
His mother tutted and then said, “I’ll pop ‘round and see her when I’ve finished here, and if you’ve upset her; you will have to go ‘round and apologise. First of all, though I need ya to pop to the grocers to fetch me a pound of onions. I couldn’t fetch them this morning as Mr Williams still needed to go to his allotment. Be quick mind, as the shop’s closing early today, and I need to finish the pie before our George comes home from the farm.”
As Cyril stepped out of his front door, he was surprised to see a group of strangers on the far side of the common. He couldn’t make his mind up if they were heading for PC Roberts' house or Dr Brown’s surgery, as they seemed to be propping each other up. He started to walk in the opposite direction towards Mr and Mrs Williams’ grocery shop, but stopped after a few steps to crane his neck. Everyone knew everyone, and most were related to each other as they had married cousins of cousins. It was rare for strangers to pass through, and even solitary ones stood out like a boil on the end of your nose - so a group was something to be reckoned with.
By the time he had reached the Miners' Brook Tavern, he was puzzled to see that the strangers didn’t need medical or police help.
Perhaps, they will head down the main track towards the opencast mines to ask for work, he pondered. I’ll ask me Uncle Reuben or his son when I pop ‘round to their house. One of them’s bound to know as they both work down there. I wonder if all of them people have been conscripted as Bev … Bevin's boys the same as Reuben junior.
By the time he had reached the door of the grocer’s shop, his curiosity had virtually reached bursting point as the group had finally reached their destination. They were heading into the very building he had been taught in, earlier that day.
As he turned back towards the shop, Peggy Williams was just about to pull the lead bolt across the door. Cyril tapped the pane of glass and politely mouthed, “Please.”
She beckoned him to stay where he was and walked back into the shop. When she returned she held a small brown paper bag and offered it to Cyril.
“Tell yer Mam that Harold … Mr Williams … has only been able to allow her one onion as he has had a bad crop this year. He has given her one of his best, though.”
“Thank you,” Cyril murmured as he held out a halfpenny to Mrs Williams.
“It’s ok, Cyril, tell yer Mam, there will be no charge. She’s promised me a piece of pie when she’s finished baking it. Mind ya put that money safe, now. I will ask yer Mam if you've given it to her.”
Cyril nodded and pushed the money into his shoe for
safekeeping. “Thank you,” he muttered again.
“In fact, young man, I’m going your way, so I’ll walk with ya. Time passes quicker if you have someone to natter to. Mr Williams had to go back up to his allotment and won’t be able to join me until later.”
Cyril seized the opportunity and said, “I saw a lot of strange people walking on the other side of the common. I think they went into the hall … well that’s what it looked like when I was outside your shop.”
“I’m surprised your teacher, Mrs Brown, didn’t explain to you so that you were prepared for their arrival.”
“She said something about meeting people tomorrow … but nothing about today. I hope they are nice -”
“I shouldn’t worry, Cyril. They probably think the same of us. Go straight into your house. Yer mam will be waiting for the onion – and don’t forget to give her the money. Also tell her Mr and Mrs Williams say, ‘Hello.’”
“How long will they be staying for? I don’t think they have any beds in the hall. Least I haven’t seen any.”
“Ooh, I do believe that’s Mr and Mrs Bailey from the Miners Brook Tavern. Excuse me Cyril. If I can catch up with them, it will save me having to go in by myself - Beryl!"
"Oh Beryl, I’m glad I caught you,” she gasped as she drew level with them.
The women duly dropped behind Mr Bailey and started chatting together.
“I didn’t expect to see you and Ron this evening, otherwise, I would have suggested walking down to the hall together. What’s made you have a change of heart about looking after someone else’s kid?”
“No change of heart, Peggy. I can understand that you and Harold may be desperate for a child to call your own. It must have been hard losing your little one, especially after having so many miscarriages, but with Ron and me, it’s different. We never planned to have little ones of our own. You see we both feel the pub is no place for kids. I’m only going to the hall this afternoon because I’ve been told there may be a few older people among them that need housing. We are just looking for now and keeping our options open.”
Cyril listened in astonishment to his neighbours' chatter. Thankfully, the women hadn’t realized that he had decided to follow them and was straining to overhear their conversation; otherwise, they would have sent him straight home with a sore ear.
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