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Wednesday, February 1st

February 1, 2017

Where was I? Right. Mum and her sister had joined the Canadian air force and changed their names – or rather what they were called. (Bess going for her full name, Elizabeth, and Mum opting for Kay, a different variation on Kathleen.) If I ever knew where they were stationed, I’m afraid I’ve forgotten. Somewhere in that photo album I mentioned yesterday there is a picture of them with their full group. On my dressing table there is a picture of Mum alone in her uniform. (There is another photo of Mum on my chest of drawers, which I will try to get to later.)

Of course, there was no flying or even repair of planes for the sisters. Their roles were strictly clerical, but there was a great spirit of camaraderie. When they were granted leave (individually or together), they boarded a packed train and headed to the terraced house in an area of East London known as Manor Park. (Sounds posh, but is definitely not.) On one of these train journeys they met a soldier named Jim, home on leave from Burma. The sisters both liked him. He very definitely liked Elizabeth. Addresses were exchanged.

Whenever one of the Holmes siblings (my mum, her sister or her brothers Dick and Jack) arrived at a London terminal, they’d have a look out for waifs and strays – particularly after the Yanks finally joined in the effort. Soldiers, sailors or airmen, despatched to a strange city where they knew no one, would be invited back to Dersingham Avenue, where they would be offered a floor to sleep on and my Nana would stretch out their rations to feed one more. Yes, there was altruism involved in collecting those waifs and strays – that spirit of camaraderie – but there was often a reward, too. More often than not, the next time one of those soldiers, sailors or airmen were back in London on leave, they would trek out to east London, not necessarily to stay, but to present my Nana with a pound of sugar or tea or – in the case of the Yanks – a huge tinned ham. The family viewed the black market as a profiteering abomination, but this, well this was different, wasn’t it?

You know that game people sometimes play where they ask one another when, if they could have lived in any previous time, they would choose? (I always laugh when people go straight for Renaissance Italy or some similar period, because, of course, the game doesn’t guarantee you will be a rich person and who the hell would want to be a peasant in 14th century Florence?) I always go for London during the war years. Yes, there were bombs dropping nightly – particularly in the East End where my family lived – and yes, there was food rationing, but it was also a time of great common purpose, a time when tomorrow you really could be dead, an exhilarating time when people felt truly alive.

Okay, I know this isn’t a very long entry, but I really do have a number of things I need to get accomplished today before I go for my weekly pool game with my neighbour, so I’m going to have to pull the plug for now. I also need to give some thought to how I will proceed with the story. The reasons for this will become clear.

Hasta mañana.

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