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Authors: Annie Wilkinson

For King and Country

BOOK: For King and Country
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The daughter of a Durham miner, Annie Wilkinson now lives in Hull where she divides her time between supporting her father and helping her

Also by Annie Wilkinson

A Sovereign for a Song

Winning a Wife

No Price Too High

Sing Me Home

Angel of the North

The Land Girls

First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2007
This paperback edition published by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2015

Copyright © Annie Wilkinson, 2007

This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.

The right of Annie Wilkinson to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,

Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
1st Floor
222 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8HB

Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney
Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

PB ISBN: 978-1-47111-542-4
EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-47111-544-8

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY

The makers of war sacrifice their pawns, but what do the pawns sacrifice? This book is dedicated to them, on all sides and in all wars. God help them.


My thanks to the many people who have given me help and encouragement, especially:

Rene Collier, Librarian, for a great idea.

Dr Luffingham, Archivist, for medical background.

Richard Barsby, Northumberland Branch of
the Western Front Association.

John Eaton, Sheffield poet and wit, for an incident.

Rilba Jones, for help with research and the loan of books.

All at
Hornsea Writers
for constructive criticism.

Peter Walgate at the Mitchell Centre for help with my wayward computer.

Carl Bridge and Roger Beckett, of the
Menzies Centre for Australian Studies
, for information on the Australian Imperial Army and for recommendations for reading.

The staff at Newcastle Central Library, Durham Clayport Library, Hull Central Library, and Greenwood Avenue Library, the Women’s Library, London Metropolitan University,
and Tyne and Wear Archives.

I am also indebted to all who have published material on the Great War on the internet, including,,
to name a few. The British Journal of Nursing Archives, held by the Royal College of Nursing online, were extremely helpful, as were innumerable authors,
some of whom are listed below:

W.D. Lowe,
18th Durham Light Infantry
, Oxford University Press, 1920

G. Grey Turner,
Rutherford Morison and his Achievement
, Newcastle Medical Journal, Volume XXIII, June 1948

Richard Holmes,
Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front 1914–1918
, Harper Collins, 2004

John Laffin,
The Western Front Illustrated, 1914–1918
, Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1991

Max Arthur,
Forgotten Voices of the Great War
, Random House Audio, 2003

Michael McKernan,
The Australian People and the Great War
, Thomas Nelson, 1980

Eric Andrews,
The Anzac Illusion
, Cambridge University Press, 1993

E. Scott,
Official History of Australia in the War
, Angus & Robertson, 12 volumes: 1934-42


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter One

ath’s sister got married last week,’ her mother said.

‘Lucky Kath’s sister,’ said Sally, wrapped in an old apron and concentrating on the job of applying Zebo blacklead to the bars of the grate.

With a despairing sigh her mother lifted the half-bucket of soot Sally had raked out of the flues, and went outside to spread it on the garden. The clatter of the bucket being replaced and then
the bang of the outhouse door heralded her mother’s return to the kitchen.

‘Pity you can’t find a man.’

Sally put the blackleading cloth aside to apply plenty of Brasso to another rag. ‘Do you not read the papers, Mam? Do you not realize there’s nearly two million surplus women, and
most of them young ones? And there’ll probably be a lot more before this war’s finished, so somebody has to go without a man.’

‘Pity it’s got to be you, then. Pity you’ve been left on the scrap heap.’

‘Well, what choice have I got, like? I’m not a raving beauty, am I?’

‘Neither’s Kath’s sister, but she’s got a bit of go in her.’

Meaning I haven’t, Sally thought. She paused in her task to stare into the steel door of the oven and saw Sarah Wilde reflected there; unprepossessing spinster of the parish of Annsdale
who, compared with her sisters, was untalented and depressingly ordinary. If not – with eyes too small, and nose too large – downright plain. She smeared on the Brasso to obliterate the
image, and covered all the steel trimmings of the range in similar fashion before lifting the fender onto a kitchen table covered with newspapers, to set to the task of cleaning it there and save
her knees.

She thought she’d done well to land the job at the hospital, for ‘many are called, but few are chosen’, as Matron had told her at the interview. She’d stuck it for the
best part of a year already, and it was a job that would last her the rest of her life if she stuck it out to the finish. It might even provide her with a bit of a pension if she lived to be old.
Nursing was a job she could take a pride in, but no good expecting any congratulations here. For Sally’s mother, every woman who wasn’t a wife was a failure, although why she should
still think that after some of the beatings she’d taken while her husband was alive was more than Sally could fathom.

Her mother didn’t seem to grasp it; there were a million men dead, any one of whom might have made Sally a husband. Might have. In her mind’s eye she saw them, lying helpless on the
battlefields of France with the life oozing out of them, and slowed at her work. ‘I could have me pick, I suppose, if I could go and bring one of ’em back to life,’ she

‘What? What did you say?’

Sally shook her head to dispel the gloomy vision. ‘I said you don’t seem to realize how lucky our family’s been, Mam. You’ve got two sons and a son-in-law, and
they’ve all come through unscathed so far, touch wood. But when I was in the Post Office, about a week ago, the postmistress told me Mrs Burdett had a letter saying Will was missing.’
Sally’s lip trembled and she turned her face away, sniffing and swallowing her tears before she added, ‘And today she got all his poor bits of things sent back to her, everything except
his watch; that’s gone missing.’

Her mother failed to notice her distress. ‘That woman, she knows everybody’s business, and she doesn’t mind broadcasting it, either. “Oh, Mrs Wilde, I saw you had another
letter from your John the other day,” and she looked at me as if she expected me to tell her what was in it! I wonder the Post Office don’t get rid of her, and get somebody that knows
how to keep her nose out.’

‘She does no harm. A lot of people like getting the news about what their neighbours are doing. Poor Mrs Burdett, though, she must be breaking her heart. You’ve got four daughters
Mam, and only the youngest not married. If you think that’s a tragedy you ought to go and talk to her. All her lads are gone, now.’

Her mother lifted the kettle from the gas ring, poured boiling water onto the tea leaves, and gave it a thoughtful stir. ‘I know. Once had four strapping sons, and now she’s got
none. All the hard work and pinching and scraping she had bringing them up, all gone for nothing. She’ll have a lonely old age, if she lives that long. I’d go into a decline if I were
in her shoes. But I won’t tempt Providence by saying I’ve a lot to be thankful for. The war’s not over yet.’

Her mother poured two cups and handed her one, looking at her with an expression that said, and if you can’t get a husband, you’ll end up just the same as Mrs Burdett. Lonely.

Sally put the rag down. She might as well have a rest for five minutes, while the polish dried. Her hands were filthy, the nails blackened, but not much use in washing them yet. She lifted the
tea to her lips. Her mother was right, but the men who were left could have their pick of much prettier women than Sally – or women who had more ‘go’ in them. They both understood
it only too well, and sat in silence, avoiding the topic.

Her cup empty, Sally picked up the brush. She’d give the range a good rub, every bit of it, then go over the lot again with the velvet polishing cloths. Get a right good shine on it, then
go and see her sisters, and maybe her brother John’s wife if she had the time. ‘I think I’ll have a walk down to the Cock Inn and pass half an hour with our Ginny once I’ve
finished this, Mam,’ she said, ‘and then I’ll get the lend of her bike and ride into Annsdale Colliery and call on our Emma, and then maybes go round to Elsie’s.’

‘If you’re going to see them, you’d better go and see Arthur, as well, while he’s on leave. He’ll want to know why if you don’t. Lift your feet up. I want to
take the mat out and give it a good shake. I don’t think I’ll light a fire today; it’ll save a bit of coal. It’s the sort of weather that turns the milk sour.’

‘Our poor Sal. Only one day off a month – it’s not much, lass. And living in the nurses’ home, it must be like being in a bloody convent.’ Ginny
finished pouring a glass of whisky for a burly pit overman, and handed it over the bar to him with a wink.

‘You always give a generous measure, Ginny, war or no war,’ the man commented.

Ginny rattled his money into the till, and gave him his change. ‘Keep the workers happy, that’s my motto. Especially the ones who’re our best customers.’

‘I sometimes wonder where you get it from, though.’

Ginny laughed. ‘Ask no questions, and you’ll be told no lies. Shout if you want me, Ben. I’m not expecting a pub full, so I’m going to have five minutes with our Sal,
before she goes back to the hospital.’

BOOK: For King and Country
3.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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