Authors: Beryl Matthews
Tags: #General Fiction
Table of Contents
BATTLES LOST AND WON
DIAMONDS IN THE DUST
A FLIGHT OF GOLDEN WINGS
THE FORGOTTEN FAMILY
HOLD ON TO YOUR DREAMS
THE OPEN DOOR
A TIME OF PEACE
THE UNCERTAIN YEARS
WINGS OF THE MORNING
This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
First world edition published 2011
in Great Britain and in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2011 by Beryl Matthews.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Battles lost and won.
1. World War, 1914-1918–Veterans–Family relationships–
England–London–Fiction. 2. World War, 1914-1918–
Influence–Fiction. 3. Post-traumatic stress disorder–
Patients–Fiction. 4. East End (London, England)–Social
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-339-6 (EPub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8052-9 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-359-5 (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being
described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this
publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
The war was over and the men were beginning to come home. Robert Hunter couldn’t wait to see his dad again. His mother wasn’t strong, and the last year had been hard for her. He had done his best to see she had plenty of rest, and he was taking any job he could so he could buy decent food and help to pay the rent. It wasn’t easy though, and he could only get casual work. They struggled even with him doing two jobs a day. But he was strong, just like his dad, and once he was home there would be two of them to look after her. Without the worry she’d be all right again.
‘Bob! Bob!’ Ruth Cooper from next door tumbled into the scullery where he was preparing a stew for their dinner.
He placed a large hand on top of his little friend’s head to stop her jumping up and down. ‘What’s up?’
‘Dad’s on his way home! Mum’s had a letter saying his ship has arrived in Portsmouth. He’ll be back any time now!’ Her large hazel eyes were shining with excitement.
‘That’s terrific, Ruthie.’
‘Any news about your dad yet?’ she asked.
‘No, but he should be back soon.’
‘Should be.’ Her expression became troubled. ‘Hope they’re all right. I saw Mr Hall from number eight, and he can’t stop shaking, and the man from number twenty-three has lost a leg.’
Bob stopped what he was doing. ‘I know it’s terrible, Ruthie, but you mustn’t worry about your dad. He’s in the Navy, and hasn’t been in the trenches. Mine has, but he’s a strong man. They both are. They’ll be all right, and anyway, if they’d been hurt we would have heard.’
‘Of course.’ Her smile was back. ‘How’s your mum?’
‘Better today, but I’ve made her take a little nap. All the worry about Dad has been hard on her, but that’s over now. Once he’s home she’ll be strong again.’
Ruth nodded. ‘Are you still working at the market?’
‘Yes, and I’ve also been able to get some work at the docks in the afternoon. With the men home that won’t last long, but I’ll take whatever I can get. I’m trying to get a permanent job there, but I don’t hold out much hope at the moment.’
‘You work too hard, Bob. You’re only sixteen, and you never have time to go out with your mates. You ought to be having some fun.’
He laughed. ‘You’re a fine one to be talking. You take care of your young sister and two brothers, and just about anyone else in the street who needs help!’
‘I enjoy helping people,’ she protested.
Bob leant back and rested against the large scrubbed kitchen table. ‘I know you do, Ruthie, and it’s time you thought about what you’re going to do. You’re fourteen now, intelligent, and have a real nice way with people. Why don’t you see if you can train to be a nurse, or something like that?’
She shrugged. ‘I can’t leave home. Mum needs me. You know she has to do home sewing to help with the food. She’s got five of us to feed.’
‘I know, but she’ll be all right when your dad’s home for good. Think about it.’
‘I promise.’ She glanced at the clock on the mantle shelf. ‘Oh, I must go! The kids will be home from school soon. Bye.’
‘That girl’s always in a hurry.’
Bob turned and saw his mum standing in the doorway, a smile on her face. He smiled back, relieved to see her looking rested, and with some colour in her cheeks for a change. ‘I’ve been trying to get her to train for nursing, or something like that. She’s always looking after people and ought to think about her own future. But she won’t do anything about it.’
‘Keep on trying, Bob. Daisy’s quite capable of managing, and she’ll have Steve home soon. I’ll have a word with her about Ruth, if you like.’
‘Thanks, Mum. I do worry about Ruthie. She’s a bright kid and ought to think about doing something useful with her life.’ Bob poured her a cup of tea. ‘They’ve heard Steve’s ship has docked and he’s on his way. When do you think Dad will come home? The war’s been over for three months now.’
‘There’s hundreds – thousands – of troops stuck in France and Germany. They’ll get them all back eventually. I expect he’ll just turn up one day . . .’
Two days later Ruth came in all excited. ‘Dad came home last night, but it was late and I didn’t see him until this morning. Mum’s ever so happy, but the kids just keep staring at him, because he’s been away so long they don’t remember him. It’s the first time he’s ever seen Sally, but she’s chatting away.’ Ruth grinned. ‘You know what she’s like, and she’s making him smile.’
‘I’m glad he’s back safely,’ Helen said. ‘How is he, Ruth?’
‘All right, I think.’ Ruth chewed her bottom lip. ‘He looks awful tired. Mum’s told us we mustn’t ask him about the war, because he won’t want to talk about it.’
‘That’s right,’ Helen agreed. ‘They’ll talk when they feel like it, but we must leave them to do it in their own time.’
Ruth nodded. ‘I’m going to the shops, Mrs Hunter, so is there anything I can get you? There’s a nasty wind blowing today and I wouldn’t be surprised if it snowed.’
‘That’s a good idea, Mum.’ Bob put another piece of wood on the kitchen stove. ‘You stay in the warm, and I’ll be home about one o’clock to get you something to eat.’
‘Oh, you two,’ she laughed. ‘I don’t need you both running around after me. I’m feeling much better now.’
‘The weather’s bitter though, Mum. What’s the point of going out in it when you don’t have to?’
‘Write me a list, Mrs Hunter.’ Ruth fished a piece of paper out of her pocket, and a short stub of pencil. ‘It won’t be any trouble to get your shopping along with ours.’
Seeing she was busy writing down what she wanted, Bob grabbed his coat. ‘I must be off. Don’t want to lose my job at the market.’
He ran all the way, his long legs eating up the distance to the market, where the fruit and vegetables were already being unloaded. He skidded to a halt and pushed his light brown hair out of his eyes.
‘Ah, there you are, lad.’ The stallholder looked uncomfortable. ‘But you needn’t have rushed. Ted’s back now and I promised to keep his job for him. Sorry, Bob, but I can’t afford to employ you as well. You’ve been a good worker and I’ll be sorry to lose you, but I must keep my word. You understand?’
Bob glanced at the man setting up the stall, and he nodded. ‘Do you know anyone else who needs a strong hand, Mr Peters?’
‘Not at the moment, but I’ll keep my ear open and let you know if I hear anything.’
‘Thank you for employing me; I’ve enjoyed working for you.’ Bob walked away, bitterly disappointed. He’d known this could happen, of course, with men streaming back looking for work again, but he had hoped he would be able to keep this job.
He hurried towards the docks to see if he could get some extra work there today. They were never going to manage if he didn’t earn some money. Dad’s army money would stop as soon as he came home, and he had to earn enough to see them through until his dad found a job. Then they’d be all right.
That thought lifted his spirits, and he began to whistle as he strode along. Perhaps he’d be able to continue his education and become a teacher. It was something he had always thought he would like to do. He had loved school and hadn’t wanted to leave. Mr Jenkins at school had said he’d make a good teacher, and would easily pass the tests. Yes, he would seriously consider that once things had settled down at home.
As promised, Bob went home at lunchtime. Mum had lost a lot of weight lately and he wanted to make sure she ate something. It had been a depressing morning, but he smiled brightly, not wanting to worry her. Not only had he lost his job at the market, but there hadn’t been anything for him at the docks either.
After the meal he banked up the fire, concerned at how low their stock of coal and wood was. The weather was bitter, and it was only the beginning of February. Spring was a way off yet, so he’d have to see what he could do about it.
‘I’m off, Mum. You have a nice rest, and stay in the warm.’
‘Bob,’ she laughed. ‘All I’ve done is rest!’
‘I know, but it’s done you good, hasn’t it?’
‘It has, but you mustn’t worry so. I’m fine now. I’ll get your dad’s best suit out and give it a press. He’ll need that when he gets back.’
‘All right, but you make sure that’s all you do today.’
‘Go on,’ she laughed, ‘and stop giving me orders. Ruth got us a nice piece of cod today, so we’ll have that for our tea. You’ll be home at the usual time?’
‘Same as always.’ He closed the door behind him, determined to find a job of some kind. He’d do anything.
The first person he saw was the coalman, hunched up on his cart and looking miserable in the cold. ‘Hey, Tom, you on your own today? Want some help?’
‘Could do with it. Jump on, Bob, and I’ll give you a bag of coal if you help with the deliveries.’
Remembering their depleted stock, Bob leapt up, blessing his good fortune. ‘Where’s your lad today?’
‘Got a shocking cold. Little devil hasn’t got the strength to hump sacks of coal, so I told him to go back to bed.’ Tom pulled the horse to a stop. ‘Two sacks here. Coal bunker’s round the side.’
They didn’t finish the deliveries until six that evening. It was dark, and very cold when Tom stopped outside Bob’s house. ‘Thanks for your help. Take that last sack as payment. I’d never have managed without you.’
Jumping down, Bob lifted the sack on to his shoulders. ‘Are you going to need help tomorrow?’
‘I expect so. Come to the depot in the morning. I’m sure we can find a strong lad like you something to do.’
‘I’ll be there.’
After tipping the precious coal into their bunker, Bob went into the scullery, dirty, but well pleased with his afternoon’s work. He might even have a job for tomorrow too with any luck.