Edna the Evacuee
Edna The Evacuee had a perpetually worried look about her. It wasn't down to the trauma of leaving her mother, two grandmas, two grandads, three slightly bonkers maiden aunts, eight siblings and Eric the cat behind in their two up two down terraced house in Tooting.
No, it was the thought that she'd have to spend the war with Mrs Fox. The entire war. With Mrs Fox. In Yorkshire...
Some might mock, but Edna made tuppence a week treading those elderberries for Mrs Fox's illicit still behind the pig pen...
Penny might have been registering mild alarm at the price of cod liver oil, but that was nothing to the shock she'd have when Edna opened that box...
Once again, on the stroke of midnight, Mrs Fox was awakened by a terrifying vision stood at the bottom of her bed. "I can't sleep" it muttered, "There's a big black and white thing with horns mooing over your back hedge..." Mrs Fox frowned and reached for her spectacles, "It's Daisy or Cowslip from Bell End Farm," she explained, "Either that or the vicar's been on the wormwood tea again..."
The most annoying thing about an air raid was a twelve year old evacuee with no respect for personal space. It occurred to Victoria that at the very least Mrs Fox might have doctored the child's Ovaltine with a nip of whisky or failing that bought the bottle down into the shelter for adult medicinal purposes...
Between the Home Guard and Edna, fifth columnists had bugger all chance of making a go of it in Little Hope. Meanwhile, Brown Owl was confident that Edna would be the first member of Swallow Patrol to attain her counter-espionage badge.
The Evacuees of Little Hope:
“Well how many are there, do we know?” Lavinia Fox, a woman of a certain age and uncertain temperament was standing with her hands on her hips in the dead centre of the stage at Little Hope Village Hall with an air of slight exasperation about her as she addressed the assembled members of the local Womens Institute.
“About twenty, they said, roughly, you know…” Penelope Stamp, village postmistress fiddled with her clipboard and looked a tad uncertain, “But it depends largely on if they all got away alright, apparently it’s customary to expect some of them to have lost their nerve at the last minute and gone back home and several will have been physically wrestled from the train by family members, primarily by anxious mothers.” Penelope was a stickler for detail.
“And Aunts,” piped up timid Imogen Sykes, as small and wizened as a poorly preserved Egyptian mummy, “They can be quite attached too, you know.” Several heads turned to look at her in unison.
“Yes, yes, so essentially we have no idea?” Mrs Fox adjusted her glasses and peered over the top of them, “Other than to say that it’s probably less than twenty but presumably more than say, ten, yes?”
“Yes.” the mustered women answered as one, although clearly none of them had the foggiest.
“Right. Well, we have twenty-five households registered to take in one or more of these unfortunates, and so it’s fair to assume that some of you may be disappointed."
There was an awkward silence before Mrs Fox continued “Does anybody here wish to be removed from the list voluntarily?” A general clearing of throats and sideways glances. “Speak up if there is!”
“Um,” a tanned arm, index finger pointed upwards, was raised at the back of the crowd, ”I, that is we, Bill and me aren’t too fussed, what with having sweets in the shop and all. Not to be nasty but you never know what’s coming here on that train, you know, Londoners. Oliver Twist and all that. Could be anyone, and we do have a business to run and there is a war on. You know, Fagin and Nancy and all.”
“Jolly good,” if Mrs Fox was amused, it didn’t show, “Cross the Muffets off the list, would you Miss Stamp?”
“Excellent, anybody else?”
“We’re allowed to choose what we have, presumably?” Olive Hughes, Welsh and precise,”You know, boy or girl?”
“Obviously the choice will be limited due to numbers, Mrs Hughes,” Mrs Fox wasn’t a huge fan, “But yes, generally the choice will be either a boy or a girl.”
“And do we call them evacuees or refugees?”
“We call them by their names, Mrs Hughes, by their names.”
Penelope Stamp pursed her lips and stifled a smile, Mrs Fox wasn’t one to suffer fools gladly.
“And what time will they be arriving, only Mr Hughes likes his dinner to be on the table by six o’clock at the very latest?”
Mrs Fox gave Mrs Hughes a long, hard stare over the top of her spectacles, “Would you like me to telegraph Reichesmarschall Goering and ask him not to bomb any railway lines between here and London this afternoon, Mrs Hughes? I’m sure that he’ll be happy to oblige?”
“There’s no need to be funny, Mrs Fox.”
“Clearly, they’ll be here sometime this evening, if and when the train gets through. Now,” Mrs Fox paused, “Would you like Miss Stamp to cross you off the list on account of Mr Hughes potentially lukewarm Wooton pie?”
“No, thank you Mrs Fox, you may leave me on, but I shan’t stay here to be insulted. Good day to you!” the clickety-clack of heels on parquet flooring, the bang of a swinging oak door and Olive Hughes was gone.
“A tad harsh?” Penelope mouthed at Mrs Fox, more a suggestion than an accusation. “Bollards.” replied Mrs Fox, which was a code that Penelope knew to actually mean ‘bollocks’..."
(©J Warrington 2017)
"...So packing and sulking it was then, Edna had had a face like tripe for three weeks now, not that anyone appeared to have noticed.
“Pick your lip up, you’ll trip over it!” was Granddad Bingham’s contribution to what Edna had come to think of as The Edna Tebbit Lack Of Support Of Any Kind Whatsoever Society, Granny Bingham had muttered something into her crochet about there being “more vitamins in the air, in the North” and Aunt Fanny had just sat polishing her glasses vigorously with a half-smirk on her face before mouthing “Men. You know…You’ll have to tell her!” at Ma.
“Tell me what?” Edna had given Aunt Fanny a withering look as she sat on the lino next to Granny, having been press-ganged into doing that wool-winding thing with her hands again, “Tell me what?"
There had been an awkward silence, during which Granny let slip a tiny bit of wind and excused herself before doing exactly the same thing again.
“Just don’t touch raw meat and keep your knees together,” had come Ma's terse reply, “And if anyone asks you, the answer’s no.”
Many years later, Edna would have said “What the very fuck?” but as it was, it was 1939, she was twelve and fairly sure that she lived in a house full of lunatics.
The days had slipped by quickly. Every day there were instructions at school to ‘make sure you’re ready, because when we have to go, we go’ and a steady stream of letters being sent home to parents with utterly spurious claims that the evacuation of Cowley Road School would take place on Tuesday, no Wednesday, actually no, Friday next, Tuesday week…
“Just have your case packed!” Ma had raged eventually, having declared that she now had enough letters to paper the outside privy twice over with, “And be ready to go when they say go, although at this rate,” she’d nodded out of the window towards the street, there was clearly a Jerry reference coming, “Jerry will be ten yards behind you in a bloody Panzer!...”
(©J Warrington 2017)