The war is over
But London is still a wasteland
After eight years in the ATS, Hattie Wright returns to a Bermondsey she doesn’t recognise. With so few jobs, she reluctantly takes work at the Alaska fur factory – a place rife with petty rivalries that she vowed never to set foot in again. But while she was a rising star in the ATS, Hattie’s work mates are unforgiving in her attempts to promote herself up from the factory floor.
After journeying across the world to Australia to marry her beloved, Clara is betrayed and returns penniless, homeless and trying to raise a child in the face of prejudice. While war widow, Lou, has lost more than most in the war. Her daughter and parents were killed in an air raid bomb blast and her surviving son, Ronnie is fending for himself and getting into all kinds of trouble.
The lifelong friendship these women forge while working in the fur factory will help them overcome crippling grief and prejudice in post-war Britain and find hope in tomorrow.
About the Author
Mary was born and bought up in Bermondsey, where both her grandmother and mother were factory girls. In 2009, after a thirty year career in publishing, Mary took the opportunity of early retirement to write a book of her own. She is the author of the bestselling Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts, which was selected for World Book Night in 2015. She lives in Kent.
Other books Mary has written:
- Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts
- Jam and Roses
- Gunner Girls and Fighter Boys
- Bourbon Creams and Tattered Dreams
If you would like to keep up to date with what Mary is up to you can have a look at her website here. Or follow Mary on Twitter @MaryGibsonBooks.
You can purchase Mary’s book through her amazing publishers Head of Zeus, please click here.
Mary has kindly provided an extract to Hattie’s Home to give you a taster.
Life was moving on for Hattie Wright, but it seemed the number forty-seven bus to Bermondsey was not. Too much snow and too little skill on the part of the driver had brought the bus to a halt in Tooley Street. A resigned groan from her fellow passengers rippled along the bus. Hattie stood up. Hefting her well-worn army kitbag down from the overhead rack, she hopped off the running board into the deep bank of snow piled against the kerb. Still wearing her stout army shoes and ats greatcoat, at least she’d be warm. They were calling this the worst winter in living memory, but she’d been hardened up by three biting winters in Belgium.
The journey by rail from Southampton had been predictably slow. Everything in the country seemed broken. Trains, rails, ticket machines, buffet cars, signals and even the people, hustling along platforms, huddling in smoke-filled, freezing carriages, seemed worn out beyond repair. There was a national stoop she’d noticed – which surely hadn’t been there last time she was home – a universal taut-faced, clenched-fist bowing to the bitter Arctic wind sweeping across the country. She marched along Tooley Street, glimpsing herself in an office window. Had she developed the stoop? Not yet. Her tall figure was slim and strong. Perhaps staying on in the army had saved her. Her shoulders were square beneath the kitbag’s weight and, in spite of the hampering snow, her stride purposeful. At twenty-seven, her pale ivory skin was still good, her pointed chin taut and her red-gold hair still abundant. The war hadn’t worn her out; it had honed her.
Hattie hadn’t been back to Bermondsey since 1942; five long years and it hadn’t been long enough. She certainly didn’t want to be here now. But what choice did she have? Eight years as an ats sergeant fighting the war hadn’t prepared her at all for the peace. The sort of roles she felt ready for were being reserved for returning servicemen. Besides, her mother had made a rare plea for her to come home. She was, she’d said, finding it hard to cope these days and was nearly blind. Sometimes her mother was prone to exaggeration, but the spidery, blotted handwriting of her letter spoke more persuasively than her words.
The devastation along the riverside was plainly visible from Tooley Street. It wasn’t so much what was still there, as what was now gone that struck her. Here, the Thames had always been obscured by slab-faced offices and docks, but now through jagged gaps she could see the river riding high, a dull afternoon sun raddling its ice-black surface. The destruction in this area was exactly what she’d expected. The docks had always been the target, of course.
Hattie cut down Bermondsey Street – a whole tract of which had disappeared in a tumbled wreckage. Burned, eyeless windows stared from shells of buildings and she passed one tall house, still inhabited by the looks of it, which stood exposed on three sides. Wallpaper and fireplaces patterned its outside walls as it stood in isolation amongst the piles of rubble. She wondered who would have wanted to stay living there, and yet where else would they go? She wasn’t the only one facing a life of limited choices.
But as she came to the end of Bermondsey Street shock hit her like a bomb blast. She was about to cut across one of the many small side streets leading into Abbey Street, but she couldn’t find one of them. Where was Larnaca Street? Stanworth Street? There was nothing left. Instead she was forced to cross a moraine of tumbled bricks, stone boulders and splintered timber. Where rows of terraced houses ought to have been, was instead a wide tract of wasteland, littered with rubble, heaped with pyramids of charred beams, punctuated by twisted metal. In one street, only the back wall of a row of houses was left standing – a patchwork mural of water- and fire-damaged wallpapers.
She pushed on, astonished that in the twenty months since the war’s end so few areas had been cleared. But in those that had, no sign was left of their former occupants or usage, all trace of the life that had gone on in that place had been eradicated. The cleared sites looked somehow more forlorn than the jumble of walls and collapsed roofs. At least they remained a memorial to the life that had been lived before the war.
So many once familiar landmarks had vanished, it made her feel queasy and disorientated, as if set adrift on a featureless ocean and washed up on a barren island, where some giant’s scythe had cut down houses like so many stalks of corn, leaving only an irregular stubble of truncated walls and crushed plaster behind. The air was thick with dust, picked up on the chill breeze, which swirled the beginnings of a new snowfall around her feet. Panic seized her and she had to fight for her breath as a great weight seemed to press on her chest. But she knew the stifling, choking feeling wasn’t simply a result of the fields of debris. She was approaching the place where she feared her spirit might be crushed into as many particles as the dust at her feet. The Alaska.
During all the war years she’d feared nothing so much as the prospect of returning here, but now it seemed her only hope. Bermondsey smelled of death to Hattie, and right now it felt like her own. The Alaska fur factory, brimful with the pelts of dead animals, was somewhere she’d vowed never to return. She’d experienced another life, another country and another self; now she was determined to do more with her life than paint stripes onto beaver lamb furs. She’d be the one wearing the musquash and the mink, and she wouldn’t put up with any fake beaver lamb either. She passed some hastily erected ten-year bungalows in The Grange – prefabs people were calling them. Uninspiring barrack-like cubes they might be, but at least they were evidence of life going on.
Her feeling of nausea increased as the Alaska’s square white tower came into view. The high tower had proved its worth for spotting approaching Heinkels during the war, but she thought it resembled a watchtower in a German prison camp. Once in Grange Road she stood outside the Alaska’s gates, staring up at the sad-eyed seal carved above its entrance arch, along with the date – 1869. The creature’s mournful, drooping eyes mirrored her mood, and she lifted her gaze beyond the arch to the hotch-potch of Victorian and modern buildings that made up the factory. The white tower was one of the newer buildings, only fifteen years old but already looking worn out by the war. Though the factory had largely escaped the bombs, she’d heard one had dropped through several floors of K building without ever exploding. A guilty wish crossed her mind that the German bomb-maker had been more efficient. But she dismissed it, horrified at her callousness, for her friend Buster Golding and a few hundred workers had been sheltering in the factory basement at the time. She peered between the gates into the yard and thought of Buster. He was the foreman in charge of the Alaska girls and he’d been exempted military service so that he could continue doing war work at the Alaska. He’d stayed throughout the war, working day and night to produce sheepskin flying jackets for the RAF and fur mittens for Arctic manoeuvres. All that patriotic team spirit and sacrifice and what had they ended up with? A wasteland.
She turned away. Time enough for thinking about the Alaska when she was actually clocking on. She didn’t even know if they’d take her back. Besides, there was still hope that one of her office job applications might be successful. For now, she was tired, hungry and looking forward to falling into a bed at her mother’s house in the Square. Dusk was coming on as she hurried along Spa Road, stopping only to look at the half-ruined town hall. There was evidence of some shoring-up work, but little attempt had been made to repair it. She crossed the road intending to take a short cut across an uncleared bombsite, but as she moved through its stone-strewn heart something made her stop. A fire was burning. Made from roof timbers stacked teepee-like and packed with assorted smaller debris, the fire’s heart was white-hot and red flames flicked up into a yellowish evening sky. Figures were silhouetted against its glare. They were moving; dancing round the pyre, hopping first on to one foot, then another, stomping the ground and whooping.
Kids. She shifted the kitbag on to the other shoulder, considering whether to tell them to clear off. She didn’t mind if the rest of Bermondsey burned down, but she supposed she ought to care that a child in one of the nearby prefabs might get fried to a crisp. She sighed and in her loudest parade-ground voice roared: ‘Oi, you lot, clear off out of there!’ But the whoopers continued to whoop, oblivious to her order. She began picking her way towards them across the rubble-strewn ground.
Thick oily smoke serpented from the fire. She smelled creosote and soon spotted the fuel source: a pile of tarred roadblocks, no doubt dug up by the little ‘Red Indians’ for their fire-lighting potential. Heat rolled towards her in billowing waves, searing her cheeks as she drew nearer. How the kids weren’t getting their hair singed she didn’t know. She tugged on the unravelling jumper sleeve of the nearest boy, who spun round, fists already raised to defend himself. Each cheek bore three charcoal stripes and he had a grey pigeon’s feather stuck in his hair.
‘Oi, get yer bleedin’ hands off me!’ His voice was hoarse, perhaps from the smoke or else from continual shouting to his mates. His bony, elfin face had the street-urchin’s pallor, and wary eyes stared at her beneath pale lashes. His hair was brittle straw, spikey with dirt and sweat. Around his neck, in spite of the failing light, she saw a visible tidemark. Just where the noose might go one day, she prophesied.
‘If you want to burn yourself to a cinder that’s up to you, but if those flames catch the prefabs all the little children in bed where they ought to be will go up in smoke too. So, sling yer hook, you, Sitting Bull, or whatever your name is, and take your tribe with you!’
The straw-headed boy thrust out his chin. ‘This is our place, not your’n! Piss off, scrubber!’ he said, using the pejorative term for ats girls she hadn’t heard in a while.
‘That’s enough of that, you cheeky ’apporth,’ she said as he put two fingers in his mouth and emitted a shrill whistle, at which the rest of his tribe moved away from the fire and fanned out round her. Soon she was encircled by a crowd of street rakers, one as young as four or five. The straw-headed boy, obviously the leader and about eleven, squatted down and wrapped dirty fingers around a broken brick. Before she realized what was happening the brick was hurtling towards her. She ducked, but its jagged edge caught her cheek and she heard the crack of brick on bone even as she felt the sting. Rubbing at her face, she brought away blood-smeared fingers.
The gang of kids shuffled closer. Each now held a missile of some sort and she felt a growing unease as something like fear prickled up her spine. There were two girls amongst them, obviously twins, sporting identical bows in their hair, but the looks of glee on their pretty faces were even more unsettling than the stony-faced boys. The girls were the first to scream, ‘Let’s get her!’
The street was deserted. Too early for the night shift to be clocking on or the pubs to be turning out. The smallest kid darted behind her, harrying like a yapping terrier before giving her a sharp kick in the ankle.
‘Oi! Stop that!’ She made a grab for his shirt collar, but he eluded her, to hoots of laughter from the others.
One of the twins produced a sharpened wooden stave and now, like a spear-wielding Amazon, launched it at Hattie, who dodged aside just in time. The missile whizzed past her ear. But now the boys began to howl and leap with strange high-kicking steps round her. It reminded her of country-dancing lessons at school, where the boys had been taught to leap over the sticks, shaking their ankles to make the bells ring. But this cavorting was nothing so innocent. She didn’t know what had happened to kids in her absence, but this lot were more vicious than any she’d ever seen. When straw-head picked up a piece of pipe so heavy it required two hands to lift, she judged it time to retreat. But it was too late – a wall of kids blocked her way.
She turned back to straw-head. ‘I know your name,’ she said, ‘and I know who your mother is!’ A complete lie, but it was a threat that had always worked on her as a child.
A lanky, black-haired boy sniggered. ‘His mum! Everyone knows that slag!’
Suddenly the other children froze and straw-head’s face flushed red. He seemed to catch fire, as the flames behind him licked higher and higher. His face twisted in fury and raising the rusted piping like a golf club, he slashed at the lanky boy, catching him behind the knees. The boy yelped in pain and fell forward on hands and knees. But straw-head hadn’t finished. He swung the pipe above his head and charged at Hattie, roaring, ‘Don’t you talk about my mum!’
Hattie turned and ran, but the phalanx of dirty-faced kids was like a shield wall and she felt the pipe smash into her back with the force of a kidney punch. She fell on to her knees as straw-head followed up with another whack across her shoulders. She covered her head with her hands as he smashed the iron across knuckles and wrists. He was trying to break her skull! They would kill her if she didn’t get up. The time for reasoning had gone. She curled up into a ball as small fists wielding bricks and wooden sticks battered the tender places of her body. She dug her toes into the frozen earth and sprang to her feet, but not before straw-head caught her another glancing blow to the head. Now she swung her kitbag like a shield around her, fending them off. Then she ran. Turning her ankle on bricks, tripping over beams, she daren’t look back but she heard them whooping as they chased after her. She sprinted, as fast as her injuries allowed, along Spa Road, not stopping until she reached the corner of Pearce Duff’s custard factory. The kitbag, heavy as lead, had bitten into her shoulder.
Hoarse breaths raked at her chest and she coughed up residue from the tarry fire, which seemed to have coated her throat. She could run no further; they would be on her in seconds. Venturing a look behind, expecting to see them closing in, she was surprised to see they had retreated to the bombsite perimeter. Stony-faced little sentinels, they stood to attention, each holding their weapon, staring hard in her direction, daring her to return.
She felt a rush of humiliation. So much for being honed by the war. So much for all those ju-jitsu lessons in PT. A crowd of kids had done what no German ever could. She’d been terrified. She slumped against Pearce Duff’s wall, letting her forehead rest on the ice-cold green tiles.
‘Should have let them burn. The little gits,’ she muttered to herself, and pushed herself off the wall and headed for the Square.
Hattie’s mother, Cissie, lived in the Square – its full name was never used. In the distant past it had been the ‘posh’ part of Bermondsey. But its three-storey Victorian houses had long since been deserted by the posh and taken over by the poor. Three or four families were crammed into each house, though the corner villas were still reserved for the vicar and doctor and other better-offs. Four streets led into the Square, so that it formed a sort of cross at the heart of Bermondsey and at its centre was a church. Cissie occupied the top floor of an end house adjoining one of the incoming streets. Hattie hoped her mother had received her telegram. She’d sent it two days ago before she’d caught the train to Ostend.
The last time Hattie had seen Cissie was in 1944, shortly after D-Day, when she’d taken her chance and volunteered to join a new battery going to Belgium. Cissie had made the trek down to Southampton to see her off. She’d been touched. Cissie had never been a typical mother and perhaps that’s why Hattie rarely called her ‘Mum’. But obviously the thought Hattie might never come back had penetrated her normal cavalier indifference to her daughter’s life. When after VE day Hattie still hadn’t come home, Cissie didn’t complain. By then Hattie had switched from big guns to a pen – transferring to the army records office in Brussels. She was doing important work, helping to wind up the war in Europe, that was why she couldn’t go home, or this was what she told her mother. But Hattie knew better. When she’d received her notice to leave Brussels, she’d actually cried.
Now she stood outside Cissie’s house, the only one in the Square with bomb damage by the looks of it. Adrenaline had sustained her this far, but now her battered ribs and legs began to scream in pain. She hadn’t stopped to wipe the blood trickling down her forehead and caking her hair. She put a hand to her ribcage and looked up. A snow-covered tarpaulin stretched across her mother’s roof, and she noticed with alarm that the three top-floor windows were boarded up. What if Cissie had been forced to move out? She groaned. There was nowhere else for her to go. She staggered, propping herself up against the low wall in front of the basement area, breathing painfully. If Cissie was still living on the top floor it must be very dark and damp in there. The front door was reached by some stone stairs, which Hattie mounted slowly, wincing at each step. As she waited for someone to answer her knock, she peered down into the airey where the basement flat was also boarded up and deserted.
‘Hattie? Is that you, Hattie?’ Cissie stood at the door, squinting hard. Vanity usually prevented her from wearing the round, pebble glasses she needed to see any distance.
‘It’s me, Ciss, it’s Hattie. Let me in for chrissake.’ She slumped against the door jamb, feeling splintered wood under her palm. A band of pain tightened around her ribcage. Something was broken.
‘Good gawd, Hattie? What are you doing here?’ The look of surprise on her mother’s face told her either the telegram hadn’t been received or had been forgotten about, which wasn’t impossible with Cissie, who had always had a jumbled-up, disorganized sort of existence, however much Hattie had tried to combat it with her own tidy, ordered mind.
‘Didn’t you get the telegram?’ She stumbled into the passage and into an awkward embrace, which was absolutely necessary if Hattie were to keep upright. Cissie threw her arms round her.
‘Don’t stand on the doorstep, love, come in!’ Cissie said, helping Hattie into the house.‘Whatever’s happened, are you all right, love? I wasn’t expecting you.’
They staggered together along the passage, Hattie leaning heavily on her mother, who barely had strength to support her. ‘Why wouldn’t you be expecting me? You asked me to come home!’
Streaks of water damage had lifted the passage wallpaper and a damp smell permeated the place. She waited for her mother to lead her upstairs to the top-floor rooms, but instead, Cissie stopped at the first door in the passage. It had once been the Weller family’s front room.
‘We’re in here now, love. The Wellers moved out to Beckenham when we got bombed.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me about the bomb, Ciss?’
‘Oh, there’s worse off than us, it was just blast damage. But the Wellers and the family that was in the basement couldn’t take it no more and moved out. I’ve just got the one room now. They say all the rest of the house is inunhabitable,’ Cissie said, flashing a red-lipsticked smile in her direction as she fumbled for the door handle. Sometimes her mother’s words were as jumbled as her life. Cissie lowered her voice. ‘Just to warn you, I’ve got a new friend staying.’ She dropped her voice to a whisper. ‘’Scuse the mess. Now don’t start jawing me – we was just having a bit of fun.’
Net curtains were stretched taut round the front bay window and the room was lit by a single gas mantle. In the orange glow, Hattie saw that what appeared to be all the furniture from her mother’s upstairs flat had now been crammed into this single room: table, chairs, a sofa, a metal kitchen cabinet and a gas ring. A heavy green satin curtain was strung across the room and from behind it she heard a rumbling cough.
‘That’s my new chap,’ Cissie mouthed. ‘Mario! Well, his name’s Marian really – he’s Polish! But I can’t call a feller Marian, can I? Come out here and meet me daughter, darlin’!’ Cissie tweaked aside the curtain, revealing a dark-complexioned, black-haired middle-aged man lying on the bed, dressed only in vest and underpants. When he saw Hattie, he sprang up.
‘Cecilia, she is hurt!’ he said in a heavy Polish accent, taking hold of Hattie’s arm, as Cissie finally registered the blood and bruises.
‘Oh, gawd above, you’ve been in the wars!’
Hattie gave a wry smile, which hurt, and said, ‘Yes, Ciss. I have, for eight years…’
Mario helped her to the sofa, then turned away while he pulled on trousers and shirt. Hattie looked in vain for the bed she had hoped to fall into, while Cissie cleared space on the sofa.
‘Who did this to you?’ Mario asked. ‘I will find them and beat them.’ He seemed eager to go out into the night and avenge her, but she was too exhausted for any more battles.
‘I was crossing a bombsite, bunch of street rakers set on me…’ She put a hand to her ribs. ‘Think I might have bruised a rib or two… nothing to worry about.’ Mario looked unconvinced, but Hattie saw him register Cissie’s bewildered expression.
‘Is it bad, Mario?’ she asked in her little-girl voice, which she often reverted to when a problem presented itself.
‘I get bandages,’ Mario said helpfully.
‘I’m fine!’ Hattie snapped, pain fraying her manners.
‘I will make tea,’ he said, looking hurt.
‘Well, if you’re boiling water, I’ll have some in a bowl to clean up this mess… thanks, Mario.’
He smiled. A nice smile, that puffed his cheeks into two pouches.
‘Did I say he’s Polish?’ Cissie puckered her red lips in appreciation, as if she had just eaten a juicy peach. ‘Very polite. Ex-airman. I saw him one day down by John Bull Arch clearing a bombsite, had his shirt off, the physique on him! Didn’t even have me glasses on – but I saw enough.’ She lowered her voice. ‘I offered him the basement on the “share a house” scheme, but we ended sharing a bit more, if you know what I mean.’ Cissie gave her a knowing look, which would have scandalized any other daughter, but Hattie had grown up being her mother’s confidante. ‘Well, that basement’s not fit to live in now,’ her mother continued. ‘The drains is up, pipes froze, water everywhere, and the rats! ’Course you can stay here with us as long as you like, darlin’,’ she said.
‘That’s big of you, as you’re the one asked me to come home and then forgot all about it!’
She’d raised her voice and Mario looked alarmed as he came back with a bowl of steaming water. He offered her a rag and a mirror.
‘Take no notice, darl’. I’m used to it. Talks to me like shit, her own mother.’
Hattie ignored her and began wiping her grazed knuckles and knees, then dabbing the cuts on her face. She couldn’t reach the gash on her neck, because her shoulder didn’t seem to be functioning as it should.
‘I will help?’ Mario asked cautiously, and Hattie nodded.
He was remarkably light-handed for a large man, gently bathing her cuts, then applying Germolene and dressings made from an old sheet that had already been topped and tailed into a patchwork.
‘Thanks, Mario, you’re a better mother than Ciss ever was!’
He gave a warm, deep laugh, which she was relieved to see Cissie join in.
They fished out some blankets from a box under her mother’s bed and made up the sofa. After pulling the dividing curtain closed and saying good night, she examined the wounds to her legs. They were covered in grazes and purple bruises but she didn’t think anything was broken. Her main worry was her ribs, which hurt with each breath. She turned down the gas mantle and eased herself back into the sofa. For all its lumpiness and the suffocatingly overcrowded room, Hattie found herself drifting off gratefully within minutes. She’d been on the move for two days and her tiredness was almost as painful as her wounds. But her relief was short-lived for she was kept awake by the unmistakable sound of Cissie and Mario sharing more than just the house.
‘For chrissake!’ she muttered, throwing off the stifling blankets and getting up. She’d spent most of her childhood, ever since Dad left, accommodating Cissie’s string of ‘gentleman friends’, but never at such close proximity. There were limits. She padded over to the front bay window. A thick freezing fog now enveloped the Square and a full moon hung over the church, washing it with an opaque, silvery light. It looked pretty, under the earlier snowfall, an undamaged incongruity in this war-ravaged place. She’d almost rather be out there than cooped up in here with the two lovebirds behind the curtain. For now, proceedings had come to a halt but she knew sleep wouldn’t come again for her tonight. She was about to let the curtain fall when she thought she heard a noise coming from downstairs in the basement. She craned her neck, but couldn’t see down into the airey; the angle was impossible and she daren’t open the window. The sound came again. Just a cat, crying like a baby. She shuddered, remembering her mother’s description of the rat-infested place below. The cats would have good hunting tonight.
* * *
That night, as the embers from the bonfire opposite the town hall folded into grey ash, a woman picked her way across the moon-washed bombsite. Dressed only in a thin frock and a wraparound pinafore stretched taut across her swollen stomach, revealing her heavy pregnancy, she was wearing carpet slippers and, though she wore no coat, didn’t seem to feel the bitter cold. She was a short, skinny woman of about thirty-five, though she looked older, with unkempt, pale, straw-coloured hair. Her stockings were falling down, wrinkled at the ankle, and as she walked her head moved from side to side, as if searching the rubble. She wove an aimless path through scattered masonry and mangled wooden window frames. And though there was no one to hear her, she continually asked invisible passers-by, ‘Have you seen my Sue, my little Sue? I’m sure it was here I left her. She was with me mum and dad. Have you seen my Sue?’ And then she raised her voice. ‘Sue! It’s time to come in for bed, darlin’. Sue?’
A slight figure rose up from behind the fire where he had been poking at it with a piece of rusty pipe. He rubbed at his elfin features, smearing the charcoal stripes on each of his cheeks, then ran dirty fingers through his straw-coloured hair. He walked over to the woman who seemed not to notice him. He tugged at her arm. ‘Mum, it’s me, Ronnie. Sue ain’t here. I told you that before – she’s gone! Come on, you’re catchin’ your death. Hurry up, it’s time to go home!’ But when the woman did not move, the boy took his mother’s hand and, pulling her gently, led her out of the rubble-strewn wasteland.”
This book transports you to the aftermath of the war and communities making attempts to get back on their feet and come to terms with how things have changed, the country, families and life in general. Local communities are dealing with grief -losses of family members, their homes, their jobs and war in general has changed people who come home.
Mary has a way of picking you up and placing you at the heart of Bermondsey. You can feel their community starting to come back together, when there is a realisation of they are all in the same boat and the only way they can get out of this is to work together even, against authority at times and Hattie is at the heart of this and driving the community to make improvements and make positive changes for the next generation.
“After skirting a bomb crater, which was all that remained of the children’s paddling pool, she came to the once grand boating lake. It had been commandeered as an Emergency Water Supply during the war. Now it was a dwindling stagnant pond, as the bomb craters on either side had been slowly leaching away its water since the Blitz. Hattie’s heart contracted at its ruined beauty. The war had made everything ugly and the place which had once allowed her to breathe now seemed to suck the very air from her lungs. Perhaps it hadn’t been such a good idea to come here after all.”
The way Mary writes, made me feel the same emotions and feelings as Hattie I could smell the smells she had and I felt the suffocation Hattie had when she arrived back and the frustration of how the war had changed so much.
At the moment, there seems to be alot of books which explore the aftermath of the war and speaking with my great grandmother, who herself was in London during the war I feel that it is imperative for us to remember and never forget.
Bravo Mary on a great read and the compassion and respect you had throughout this book.