Chapter 1

1951 – News!


e picked his way carefully between the piles of rubble, the crushed bricks and splintered beams imperfectly shrouding the remnants of what once had been people’s lives. A pale pink arm poked out, long separated from the rest of the doll. A bit of tap glinted in the grimy afternoon sun.

No houses in this street were still intact; gaps now where most had stood, or empty fire-blackened shells. Sure, in some areas of the city, homes had already been re-built and work was going on to banish the destruction of war. The chuff-chuff of the rubble-trains floated over to him from a jagged skyline of new buildings and cranes. Now and again you also caught the odd metallic squeak from the few remaining trams they had co-opted to help shift the piles of rubble. Here though … still looks like a bomb’s hit the place.

He smiled grimly as that was of course exactly what had happened – hundreds of bombs, thousands of bombs. Well, what did they expect, when the place was right next to a major submarine pen? In this area it could have been yesterday, not five years ago, since the war ended.

He wiped the grime from his forehead. That was then; this was now. However was he going to tell her?

Do you want the good news first or the bad news? That would help lighten the mood.

Nope, that would make it sound frivolous. He could just hear her: “Is this another one of your silly jokes?” No. This news definitely was not frivolous.

This was going to upset her, he knew that; but there was no way around it. Hell this was making him more anxious than he had ever felt before a mission. He needed her to understand how important this was to them. It meant control of their future! The amazing thought stopped him in his tracks. Yes! That was it! Only since the war had finished had the possibility dawned on him that he actually had any control over what might to happen to him; which direction his life would take; and the right to make his own decisions.

He turned into their road and was confronted with its two rows of corrugated iron sheds. Each shed just two rooms. All toilet and washing was communal. You wanted privacy? – You got your water from the tap at the end of the sheds. You carried it back home one saucepan at a time, heated it, poured it into a tub, and washed yourself. Now what had that Yank said? You wash up as far as possible, you wash down as far as possible … and then you wash possible. He smiled, the man’s drawl still in his ears bringing back the American prisoner of war camp in Italy. He could still picture him. A really decent bloke who had treated him with respect; who had saved him from being beaten to death because of that supposed tattoo. Now what was his name? No. His face was still there; his name gone.

Share a few outside toilets between two hundred people and you get a really, really bad stench. As often happened, more memories were triggered: streams at dusk, clogged with rotting carcases. He pushed them aside. I wonder if that’ll ever change; if the memories will ever fade? He stopped thinking smells and he stopped worrying about what to say as he neared the shed he shared with Leni and the two children.

Yes! Control of our future. That was the best way to think about it. That news was surely, no, definitely, more good than bad! Surely she would see that too. The excitement built with each step and Martin caught himself grinning at the nosey next-door neighbour for whom he on less auspicious days reserved his best scowl. The door offered its usual resistance, its tinny squeak cut short by his energetic shove.

“Leni? Leni, where are you? I’ve got some fantastic news! LENI!!”


the chuff-chuff of the rubble-trains

Rubble-train (left) and tram (right) combine to cart away post-war devastation.