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The Evacuee Christmas

Written by Katie King

Excerpt Five

Three streets away Barbara’s elder sister Peggy was having an equally dispiriting evening. Her husband Bill, a bus driver, had received his call-up papers already earlier in the week, and he had to leave first thing in the morning.

All Bill knew so far was that Susanne Pinkly’s brother Reece was going the same morning as he, and that after Bill and his fellow recruits gathered at the local church hall, all the conscripts would be taken to Victoria station and from there they would be allocated to various training camps in other parts of Britain, after which at some point he and the rest of them would leave Blighty for who knew where.

Bill was packed and ready to go, but he was worried about Peggy, who was four months pregnant and was having a pretty torrid time of it, and so Bill wanted her to hotfoot it out of London as soon as she was able as part of the evacuation programme, as pregnant women as well as mothers with babies and/or toddlers were among the adults that the government advised to leave London.

‘It’s daft you riskin’ it ’ere in the interestin’ condition you’re in,’ he told her.

‘Interesting condition’ was how they had taken to describing Peggy’s pregnancy as they thought it quaintly old-fashioned and therefore a phrase full of charm.

‘I want to go and fight for King and Country knowin’ my little lad or lassie is out of ’arm’s way, an’ ’ow can I do that if I know you’re still stuck ’ere in Bermondsey? Those docks will be a prime target for the Germans, you mark my words, Peg,’ Bill added.

Deep down Peggy knew there was sound sense to Bill’s argument. They had been childhood sweethearts and had married at twenty, and then had had to wait ten agonisingly long years before Barbara pointed out to her big sister that Peggy wasn’t getting plump as she had just been complaining about, and that the fact that her waistband on her favourite skirt – a slender twenty-four inches – would no longer do up as easily as it once had was very likely because Peggy had in fact fallen pregnant.

Peggy was dumbfounded, and then thrilled.

A fortnight later Bill actually passed out, bumping his head quite badly, when Peggy showed him a chitty from the doctor that confirmed what they had spent so many years longing for, and which they – or Peggy at least – had completely given up hope of ever happening.

Until the doctor had confirmed all was well to Peggy, she hadn’t dared say anything to Bill, knowing how many times he’d been cut to the quick when a missing or late period, or Peggy having a slight bulge in her normally flat tummy, hadn’t gone on to lead to a baby. Perhaps now they could get their marriage back to the happy place it had once been.

Understandably, their relationship had struggled as the childless years had mounted, and as everyone around them had seemed to be able to have a baby every year with depressing ease. Peggy had often had to bite back bitter tears in public when she’d heard a woman complaining about being pregnant again.

She would have given anything to be pregnant just once, while Bill had sought solace in the bookies or the pub, and occasionally over the last year or two, Barbara had begun to wonder if he hadn’t taken comfort in the arms of another, not that she ever dared raise the issue.

Being barren was bad enough, Peggy felt, but to be barren and alone, which could well be an inevitable consequence if Bill had found himself seeking a refuge from their worries elsewhere, was more than she felt she could cope with.

The doctor’s confirmation that, as he put it, ‘a happy event is in the pipeline’, had felt to Peggy very much like the strong glue the couple needed to stick things back together again between them, and Bill had seemed to agree, not that he had ever said as much.

But this sense of optimism hadn’t prevented Peggy’s pregnancy being full of problems and worries, as she had continued to menstruate as if she weren’t pregnant, she’d had terrible sickness from around virtually the very moment that Barbara had made the quip about the skirt waistband and more or less constantly since, until perhaps only a week or so previously.

This endless nausea had led to her losing a lot of weight and so one day when Peggy was looking particularly blue, Barbara had echoed the doctor with, ‘That baby is going to take everything he or she needs from you – they are clever like that. And so although the very last thing you might feel like doing is eating or drinking, that is precisely what you must do, as you really do need to keep your strength up.’

Peggy was inclined to agree with her sister about the baby being quite selfish in getting what it needed. Right from the start her stomach had become very rounded – much more so, she was convinced, than other mothers-to-be she met who were roughly at the same stage as she – while her breasts were tender, with darkened and extended nipples that couldn’t bear being touched.

While the baby seemed quite happy tucked away inside Peggy, the rapid weight loss from his or her mother’s arms and legs and face had made her look very weary and drawn, while her extended belly and puffy ankles and fingers suggested that Peggy might be a lot less happy health-wise than her baby.

In fact, she had recently had to take off her wedding ring as her fingers had become too bloated for wearing it to be comfortable any longer. Now she wore the ring on a filigree gold chain around her neck that Bill had got from a jeweller’s in Aldgate, Peggy saying that this was an even more special way for her to wear the ring as it held the precious wedding ring as close to her heart as it could possibly be.

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