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Authors: Anna Mackenzie

Evie's War

BOOK: Evie's War
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They offered up the innocence of a generation …

 

Edwardian England: for Evie, newly arrived from New Zealand, it proves a genteel world of tea parties, tennis and snobbery — and of the burgeoning suffragette movement … until Europe is set aflame by a war that will engulf half the world.

 

Unwilling to stand on the sidelines Evie volunteers, her commitment — to service and to friendship — leading her ever further from the protected world of her childhood.

 

As her innocence is stripped away, can she hold onto her identity, her belief, her love?

 

Delicately crafted, meticulously researched, this poignant novel does not hide the hard truths about the ‘War to end all wars' — but it is Evie's strength and innocence that carries us through.

In memory of Jean Ross MacKenzie.
And for Callum and Emma.

 

 

7 May

All around us is ocean. I am cast-away on a small, tall island from where I can gaze out across the empty waves — but truly, though the
Remuera
is an island, it is a very luxurious one. As well as fine sea views, it boasts drawing room, dining room, music room, library, ladies' lounge and gentlemen's smoking room. Our stateroom is quite compact, but the claustrophobia it induces is easily dispelled by promenading along the viewing deck or leaning out beyond the railing to gaze upon the frothing waves. Edmund suggests that if I lean much farther I will fall and be eaten by a shark. At dinner I asked Commander Greenstreet whether sharks were to be found at these latitudes — I had earlier been reading about latitudes in the Ship's Information Pamphlet — to which he replied I would more likely see a dolphin or whale, then set off on one of his interminable, rambling tales. Mother chastised me as soon as opportunity allowed, advising that a lady should at least appear to pay attention when a gentleman is speaking. In my view the onus should be on the gentleman not to be boring.

8 May

The Purser has arranged for various games to be set out, no doubt with the object of keeping the passengers amused, but I find it rather too reminiscent of School, and would by preference study the Great Ocean. We are raised to think of it as blue, but it is so much more: green and grey and a dark velvety black and aquamarine and even a pearly translucent white. I could not write a description of deck quoits that offers such variety.

9 May

Today's menu consisted of an agreeable concoction of fish in white sauce followed by roast mutton. Mother describes the meals as ‘adequate', by which she means Not Up To Par, but I find them a considerable improvement over School. With regards the fish, I wonder whether the cooks throw a line over the side? The pudding was excellent: golden and sticky with thick, sweet custard. Mother didn't have any. She hardly eats at all; it seems the motion of the ship does not agree with her.

10 May

It is five days since we embarked and the weather has become rather chill. As Mother and I promenaded (well muffled) Miss Fairfield, who is in the stateroom along from ours, gave me a shy wave, causing me to wonder whether we might become friends. I do miss Harriet and Ada. It is odd to think of my schooldays as over and the rest of my life about to begin. I am sure I do not feel any different, though perhaps that is because there has as yet been nothing to ‘put on the polish', as Father determined I required. Mother's response to his notion was, inevitably, tepid. I intend to convince her that I am not quite the Hopeless Case she imagines.

11 May

Miss Fairfield is travelling to England with her aunt and uncle, and confided that it is her great desire to study at Oxford University, where several Colleges are now accepting female students. To aid her application she is endeavouring to teach herself Greek, and asked whether I had any interest in joining her in the venture. I assured her I had none!

Ship life has fallen into a predictable routine involving as much fresh air as one likes — and, at times, rather more than one likes — but is without variation, being all promenading or deck games or cards. My proposal to Edmund that we explore the rest of the ship earned a scathing reply: ‘I hardly think the Mater would approve of your visiting the boiler room or third-class deck.' Which makes me all the more curious! I shall ask Miss Fairfield to join me, as she must surely be brave to take on Oxford. I have decided against telling Mother of Miss Fairfield's ambition in case it should damage her potential approval of our friendship.

12 May

We saw an iceberg! Very large, and not white, as you would expect, but pale green; the colour hidden within the ice so that it seemed to harbour an iridescent glow. The sight caused much fluttering, with several of our number quite convinced that, like the
Titanic
, we will be sunk. Lady Marchmont fell back into a chair and her companion, who is a quiet little thing not much older than me, rushed forward with smelling salts and patted her hands.

I thought the iceberg very interesting. It was like a small continent, complete with peaks and valleys and cloud clinging to its highest point like a flag. Miss F told me that by far the greatest part of an iceberg is hidden beneath the water. Edmund scoffed when I repeated this, then became rather sullen when Commander Greenstreet confirmed it.
I've asked Mother if we might invite the Fairfields to join our table one night. So we shall see.

15 May

Mother having judged finding potential friends for Edmund the priority, we were last night joined for dinner by a Mr Lindsay. He is very tall, with high cheekbones and rather a broad mouth, courteous but quiet in disposition. On learning that he is to take up a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford, my interest was engaged! There is no doubt that he is frightfully clever, having been selected to undertake a Masters Degree in Mathematics, and, it transpired, is also possessed of a subtle wit. Edmund would prove rather dull company, I fear. Most exciting is that he is fluent in both Latin and Greek. He shall be a great help to Miss F, if I can only arrange it.

18 May

The last two days have been singularly unpleasant. There is a wild power in the ocean such as I never imagined. When we embarked at Port Nicholson, the
Remuera
looked so huge and stately that it seemed all in her presence should step back in awe. But not the sea. It tosses us about as if the ship is a child's toy, which proves extremely disagreeable. Mother was first to succumb, Edmund and I following in quick succession. Only Father seems immune, and has left us very much to our own devices. Somewhat recovered this afternoon, I ventured on deck, but it proved quite difficult to walk with the floor tilting beneath one — I don't doubt I looked like one of the drunkards we saw loitering near Wellington's docks — and cannot imagine how the Stewards and crew can do their work. Fresh air proved more beneficial than the stale air of the cabin,
however, so I tucked myself up on my deckchair, well bundled in a rug with just my eyes and nose peeking out. There were a few other similarly swaddled lumps, but we were none of us feeling very sociable. A little while later Mr Lindsay staggered past and I proposed he take Mother's chair, though I warned he was not to expect conversation as I was not in the least up to it. With this he seemed content and we lay there quite companionably, rather as if we were an old married couple, accustomed to rubbing along together without the need to talk. Really it was the queerest thought, as I am not at all interested in Mr Lindsay in that way.

19 May

Mother still cannot manage even the smallest square of toast though Edmund and I are both fully recovered. First Officer Mr Yelland says it will be calmer now that we have rounded Cape Horn, which is where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans meet. Strange to think of oceans meeting! I wonder do they make each other a little bow before engaging in small talk about the weather? Perhaps that is what the fuss and bother of waves is about.

21 May

We are proceeding up the coast of South America. I should like to stop, or at least travel closer to shore so that we might see the strange lands we are passing, but Mr Yelland says the only time we shall disembark is at Montevideo in Uruguay. Mr Lindsay has told us that there is an army of men currently engaged in digging a giant channel right across the narrowest part of the Americas. How very odd that will be, to sail a ship where once had been solid land! Mr Lindsay says the canal is due to open in a year, but that
work is ahead of schedule. Also, that as many as 30,000 men have died in constructing it. I am sure it will be a marvellous achievement when it is done but, set against such suffering, I must wonder whether it will be judged worthwhile in the end.

23 May

Finally we are to be allowed ashore! I cannot wait. We are expected to make landfall about lunchtime tomorrow.

24 May, Uruguay

I stood today on foreign soil and gazed about in wonder. Montevideo is a Portuguese settlement, though to my eye the town has a Spanish air, albeit surrounded by jungle which must constantly be pushed back. The buildings are either brisk and modern or stately and old, giving the city the look of an eager young girl tugging on the hand of her tired but starchy grandmother (which was a little how Lady Marchmont and her companion appeared as they walked along the ‘Rambla'). This evening I saw an astonishing bird with plumage of red and gold and peacock green and blue. Birds are clearly disinterested in camouflage in these Amazon jungles, unless everything is coloured so.

Mother spent only a very little time ashore. Her seasickness has lingered far past our wild passage around the Horn. I do hope she is not taken seriously ill, for I could not bear it if our Tour should be delayed.

27 May, Atlantic Ocean

We have passed the halfway point of our journey, and I am glad. I am weary of it.

28 May

Lettie — Miss Fairfield — asked if I might promenade with her after dinner that she might make a confession. It is that she has been seeing Mr Lindsay in secret! Had I suspected my suggestion would lead to this, I would never have spoken. It seems they have been meeting in the music room to converse in Greek — though they have been somewhat hampered conversationally, Lettie's command of the language not yet being very great. It is all highly improper, though I do wonder why it should be, as neither are persons who would be inclined to do anything foolish. Of course Mother would say they have already been foolish. Lettie confessed that she has been using me as an excuse, having told her aunt that she and I have been practising a duet, and her aunt now wishes to hear what progress we have been making. I am not sure I care for being made a party to deceit.

31 May

Miss Fairfield has a sweet voice, let down by my playing. Edmund says that on the piano I am like a farmhand clumping over a cow paddock in hefty boots. I console myself that it is not entirely my fault, the Purser having told me that the changes in humidity and temperature make it impossible to keep the piano in tune. I would rather accept that excuse than Edmund's, but in truth I am simply not very accomplished.

2 June

Lettie has broken off her friendship with Mr Lindsay, her aunt having discovered that they have been meeting without a chaperone. She is quite irate. I wonder if Mr Lindsay is very sad, as he has seemed so alone on the occasions I have
spoken with him. I asked Mother to invite him to dine with us, and she has decided I am sweet on him. (I am not!) She thinks me sweet on any young man I deign to notice. As most of the young men present are employed upon this ship, I hardly think she would be pleased if I did notice them.

4 June

Edmund is ill with a fever. Father has requested that he be kept in isolation until he is well so that neither Mother nor I might catch it.

6 June

Quite a number of passengers have fallen ill. Commander Greenstreet has issued a directive, on advice of the Ship's Surgeon, Mr Wheatley, encouraging us to promenade as much as possible. In addition the Purser has ordered deck tennis to be erected. I played half a set with Lettie and another with Mr Lindsay. Between the two a rather forward young man made quite a good fist of the game, but it turned out that he should not have been on our deck, which has once again made me curious about the rest of the ship. I tried to convince Lettie to come exploring but she would not.

While I was resting after my second set, Lady M's companion came over and introduced herself. Her name is Katherine Duncan and she comes from Napier. She is a trained nurse rather than the lady's companion I had supposed, Lady M clearly preferring not to entrust herself to the care of Mr Wheatley. Miss Duncan is like a mouse, darting glances here and there as if she is in fear of being seen by a large cat — Lady M — from whom she must scurry to safety. I wonder that she chose to take up her
current position, Lady M being quite formidable. Perhaps her previous employment in a Hospital was worse. Lady M is travelling to Switzerland to visit a spa.

Edmund is apparently showing signs of recovery.

9 June

Mother sea-sick again (without reason, the sea having been perfectly calm for a week). She has not left her bed for two days and says she simply cannot face eating. Father will speak to Mr Wheatley if she is no better tomorrow.

10 June

I am uncertain whether or not to feel relieved. Mother wept after Mr Wheatley's visit, which suggests his news grave, but Father says not (though nothing more).

We have crossed the Atlantic Ocean and will in a few days reach the Canary Islands where we will be able to walk somewhere other than up and down the deck!

13 June, Canary Islands

Tenerife is vitalising, offering sands of purest white and sea clear and bright as a jewel. The islands belong to Spain, though Mr Lindsay says the Greeks and Phoenicians went before, and pointed out ruins we should not otherwise have noted. It is quite diverting to think of the Ancients sailing into the harbour and strolling this very waterfront. Did they share the same petty cares? Did they admire the same rocky peak and emerald bay? I have not previously considered history on such personal terms. What will people think of us in a hundred or a thousand years? What will they remember from our time and say about the way we shaped the world? When I asked Mr Lindsay's views, he said he hoped we
would be remembered for the good we will have done. I hold no doubt that he will do good, having such an excellent brain, and said as much.

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