Also by Katie Flynn
A Liverpool Lass
The Girl from Penny Lane
The Mersey Girls
Rose of Tralee
No Silver SpoonPOLLY'S ANGEL
For Nell Shepherd, whose lovely letters always make me laugh and who keeps me up to date with what's going on in Liverpool.
My thanks are due, as usual, to a great many people. First and foremost, Cyril Dodman explained the ramifications of becoming a yeoman signaller, the conditions experienced on the Russian convoys and in general life in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He also checked the MS for me and corrected a couple of awful errors I had made â thank you, Cyril!
Regarding Liverpool during the Blitz, Rosemarie Hague gave me a child's eye view of this ghastly time and put me right on the transport conditions during early May 1941.
Information about Anglesey during the war came to me via Rhys Bebb Jones of the library service, who put me in touch with John Cave of the Maritime Museum, Holyhead, who, in his turn, told me who could help me most. Life in the WRNS was made explicable to me by Kathleen Roberts of Holyhead, who was actually stationed on the island and was thus able to tell me most of the things I needed to know. The late Captain Pritchard had told me about the ferries in wartime for another book, and his widow, Margaret, refreshed my memory, whilst John Emlyn Williams of Four Mile Bridge was kind enough to tell me of his own experiences on the Irish ferries. Information about RAF Valley was provided by Ken Grey, who also gave me titles of books likely to prove helpful to one wanting to know about Beaufighters.
I spent a good deal of time in the Maritime Museum in Holyhead, talking to people, looking at the exhibits and drinking tea in their excellent little cafe, so I'm very grateful to all the staff there, most of whom are volunteers, for the generous giving of their time. What could be nicer than researching in such surroundings and amongst such company!
Because I'm still suffering from ME this book has taken me nearly twice as long as usual to write and consequently, what with the time-lapse and my highly unreliable memory, I may have left someone helpful out, so I do apologise if I have done so.
It was a warm Sunday afternoon in late October, with the leaves on the trees already turning from green to pale gold, crackly brown and deep, gleaming scarlet. Polly O'Brady and her small brother Ivan, each with a basket at the ready, were picking blackberries whilst the dog Delilah roamed ahead, occasionally raising a leg against a particularly inviting bush to a chorus of objections from both children. Polly, who adored her dog, nevertheless scowled at his scraggy, long-haired body as he pottered around the brambles, inhaling deeply whenever he found a new smell.
âDelly! Oh, Ivan, isn't he the worst dog in the whole world now? Why can't he understand not to widdle on the blackers, when we's still only half filled our baskets?' Polly stamped an imperious foot. âCome back here at once, you tarble animal, or I'll tie a knot in your penny whistle, so I will!'
Delilah, unmoved by this dreadful threat, turned and grinned at them, gave a perfunctory wag of his undisciplined ginger tail, and suddenly whipped round and broke into an ungainly canter as his large nose caught a whiff of something he hoped might prove to be rabbit. Although he had yet to catch anything â apart from fleas â he was a grand chaser and was hopeful of meeting a rabbit one day which could not run quite as fast as the rest.
âYou've got to catch him before you can do anythin' to him,' Ivan observed, watching Delilah's shaggy backside disappear into a likely-looking bush. The children could hear his crashing progress gradually getting fainter as he charged up the hill. âHe's a bad feller, so he is, but we loves him, don't we, Poll? And anyway, Mammy washes the blackers, so it doesn't really matter whoâ'
âYes, it does,' Polly interrupted, much shocked. She glanced around her. âBesides, you shouldn't talk like that. It's rude, so it is. But we've picked the best berries here be now, so we ought to go further up the hill where the bushes haven't been touched yet, 'cos tomorrow's Hallow'een and that's when the girls at school say the devil overlooks the berries an' turns 'em bad, an' they give you bellyache. So if we don't get enough today, that'll be the end of our mammy's blackberry jelly, 'cos you can't pick 'em once the month's turned.'
âThat's a lot of nonsense, so it is,' Ivan objected. âWhat does the ole devil want wit' blackers, anyhow? I never heared he turned 'em bad in Ireland, so why should he do it here? Not that it matters, 'cos we'll fill our baskets well before teatime.' He sighed deeply and gave his sister a pathetic glance. âOnly me arms is achin' somethin' tarble, an' me basket's only half full.'
âThey'll ache worse by the time we get home,' Polly said callously. She picked a couple more berries, popped them into her mouth, then set off up the hill in Delilah's wake. âCome to think of it, the blackers will be better up there, out o' the trees, because they'll have had more sunshine on 'em.' She glanced back at Ivan, trailing well in her wake. âCome
will you, Ivan! Aren't you lookin' forward to eatin' Mammy's lovely jelly on a nice round of bread an' butter?'
âYe-es, but me legs is achin' as well,' Ivan said in what was perilously close to a whine. âAn' don't you say yours is too, Poll, 'cos my legs is only seven, yours is great, twelve-year-old legs â almost a grown-up's. So just you go slower, or â or I'll tell Mammy on you.'
âCall yourself a boy! They say as girls are the weaker sex, but I'm stronger than you,
' Polly said mockingly, using a hated nickname which Ivan had had many a fight over in school. âNow do stop moanin' an' come along, or it's me what'll be tellin' the mammy a t'ing or two.'
âYou called names! Oh, won't Mammy tell you what a bad girl you are, Polly O'Brady!' Ivan said triumphantly. âAn' Daddy won't be too pleased wit' you either. Just wait till we get back to the crossin' cottage.'
Polly, seeing that she had gone too far, slowed and waited until Ivan caught her up, then she took his free hand, saying guiltily: âIt's sorry I am, Ivan â there, isn't that handsome of me now? I shouldn't have teased you, for you've picked like â like Bevin would have. Now I can't say fairer than that, can I?'
âNo, you can't say fairer than that,' Ivan agreed, cheering up immediately: such comparison with elder brothers was always welcome. For he admired both of them greatly, as Polly well knew. Now she squeezed his small, grubby paw and smiled down at him. He was a broth of a boy was her little brother, and it was mean to tease him, so it was.
The trouble was, she was missing Grace. Grace Carbery had been her best friend ever since they had come from Dublin to live on the Wirral, and the two girls had been inseparable during holidays, which Grace had spent at the railway crossing cottage. But Polly would never have met Grace, she knew, had it not been for her eldest brother's wife, Sara, who had worked at the Strawberry Field Orphan Home, where Grace had been one of the inmates. Sara had brought Grace to the cottage, and the two girls had become great friends, for all that Grace was some four years the elder. And then Brogan and Sara had married and gone to America, where they had speedily settled down and had a baby boy. They had named him James Peter, after Brogan's father, Peader, though they usually called him Jamie, and the young couple had kept an old promise â they had invited Grace over to America to stay with them and, hopefully, to find herself a better job than had been possible in Liverpool.
So eight months ago, Grace had set sail for the States, where she looked after the baby in the mornings, when Sara was teaching at the small private school where she had worked before Jamie's arrival, and worked at something called a delicatessen in the afternoons and evenings; Polly thought it was some kind of a shop. Grace and Polly exchanged frequent letters, but Polly missed her friend terribly, and found young Ivan a poor substitute, though she did her best never to show it.
But Ivan was a good kid and Polly knew it so she was about to offer to carry his basket for a bit when a shrill, excited bark came from higher up the hill and she and Ivan exchanged anxious glances. âCome back, you tarble feller,' Polly shrieked, but was not surprised when the dog failed to reappear. Delilah was always chasing rabbits, squirrels and anything else that would oblige him by scuttling ahead, but suppose, just suppose, that he had actually caught something, or was about to do so? Polly knew she would find it hard to forgive Delilah if he killed a fluffy little rabbit â or a squirrel, come to that â but if he half-killed itÂ .Â .Â . She closed her eyes tightly for a moment in order to say a quick prayer for the safety of all small animals in the area, then she and Ivan dumped their baskets and set off at a run towards the barking, bursting out of the shade of the trees and into sunshine almost at once.
They saw Delilah immediately, emerging from a bramble patch and dancing across the rough grass and heather towards them, his dark eyes shining with excitement, his mouth open to show what looked like yards of pink tongue and a very capable set of white teeth. To Polly's relief, however, the teeth were his own; the rabbit had clearly escaped.
âStay wit' us, Delly,' Polly commanded, almost breathless with relief. âAnd if you go off after rabbits, me fine boyo, I'll â I'll marmelise you, so I will.' She turned to Ivan. âWill you stay here, Ivan, while I fetches our baskets? You could pick some blackers to eat, for I've seldom seen bigger berries. Aren't they just great now?'
âYou stay here, I'll go for the baskets,' Ivan said. âAnd isn't it Delly we ought to be t'ankin', Poll, for bringin' us out o' the wood? 'Cos these are the best blackers I ever did see.'
He turned as he spoke and trotted into the trees and Polly, not to be outdone in helpfulness, followed him. They reclaimed their own baskets â Ivan's had a piece of blue ribbon tied round the handle and Polly's a piece of pink, in order that there should be no squabbles over who had picked what â and returned to the blackberry heaven at the top of the hill where Delilah, still recovering from his earlier pursuit, was lying in a patch of sunlight thoughtfully licking his front paws.
âYou're a good feller,' Polly said approvingly, handing the dog one of the larger blackberries. âHere's a treat I picked specially for you. Now no runnin' off, or Mammy won't let us take you out again.'
Delilah accepted the blackberry and ate it absently, more from politeness, Polly thought, than pleasure. Still, she could see he would stay where he was for a bit, because his sides were heaving from his recent efforts, so she moved away from him and began to pick, telling Ivan that she rather thought another ten or fifteen minutes' work would fill their baskets, so richly berried were the brambles hereabouts.