Screams of the Silent
"If is such a simple word"
It seemed as though the whole world was gathered in our tiny village church, although that, of course, was impossible. The whole village was there however, and the pastor was at the front, fiddling with the radio, trying to get rid of the static bursting through at random intervals.
I fiddled with the collar of my dress, longing to change from the stiff, itching wool into one of my lighter cotton dresses. I couldn't, however, as I had a meeting of my Rangers unit, the section of Guides for 14-20 year olds. At 18 I was one of the eldest there, as when the girls turned 18 they generally left, to either become a full leader, or just leave, as that was the age at which many girls chose to go and work at nowadays, or marry and have children of their own, leaving little time for attending the weekly meetings.
I pulled the pins out of my hair, allowing it to float down, and cover the back of my neck, which I could almost feel burning, as the sun streamed in from the window behind me. My honey blonde hair swished slightly, catching my younger sister, Imogene, on the nose. She had already let down her much darker hair, the colour of bitter chocolate, and she turned to me with a giggle, her emerald eyes meeting my sapphire ones. At the sound of the giggle, our mother turned around;
"Faye and Imogene Clarke!" she hissed "behave, and show some respect."
We mumbled apologies, and sank down lower in our seats. Our mother was formidable when she was angry, although absolutely lovely at every other time. When she was angry her features became much more distinct – her dark brown hair, which Imogene had inherited from her, seemed to turn almost black, her green eyes seemed to flicker with her rage. However, when she wasn't angry, and admittedly, she very rarely became cross at us, she was the prettiest mother in the entire village, or at least, I thought so. My father was her complete opposite. I was the spitting image of him, as was my brother. All three of us had blonde hair, blue eyes, and a high forehead.
Although we were waiting for the announcement that could mean the end of the war in Europe, it felt all too much like the day, over 5 years ago, that had led to the announcement that we were at war with Germany. We had lost our brother Jesse in that war. He was missing, believed killed, and he had been since August last year.
Jesse was eight years older than me, and ten years older than Imogene. His mother was not our mother; his mother had died less than one month after he was born, and then our father had re-married. Jesse and I had always got on well – my mother likes to tell stories about Jesse keeping a chart on his wall, counting down the days until I would be born. After I was born, he was allowed to choose my name. He called me Faye, because I, supposedly, reminded him of a fairy.
When he went to school in the mornings, my mother tells me I used to wail and wail. I can remember being four years old, and going to sit on the windowsill of the window that faced out onto the front at 2 o'clock, waiting for Jesse to arrive home at 3 o'clock.
He signed up as soon as war was announced, and was sent to train in Berkshire, not far from where we lived, a little village on the outskirts of Oxfordshire. He was in training to become a lawyer at the time that war was announced, and was allowed to put his studies on hold to join the war effort. His piles of books are still on his desk at home. I hate to think that he will probably never open them again.
When he first went away he used to write a letter to the whole family and then an extra letter to me. The letter to me was generally telling the truth about what he was doing, how he was coping, rather than the edited versions he sent to my parents. Of course, he couldn't make it sound too bad, or else it would have been censored, but the way he conveyed it showed me how he felt.
When he went away, the letters to my whole family stopped, and the ones to me became sporadic. I would read them to my family, editing them while I read, as I knew Jesse didn't want them to know how down he felt. The last letter I ever received from him was telling me of the horrors of D-Day, and describing in graphic detail the deaths of so many men on the beaches. I pretended to my parents that there was no letter, just the birthday card, drawn by one of his friends, which had accompanied the letter. There was no way to edit a letter like that.
When the notice came, there was also a letter, one of the ones that many of the soldiers had written, only to be opened if they were killed. The letter was addressed to only me, and told me to keep on living, to keep "soldiering on." Jesse had written that he wanted me to live my life for him, rather than to not live my life because of him. He had promised to always be there, "in the corner of my eye." So that was what I had decided to do. Live my life for Jesse. I would do all the things that Jesse had wanted to do, but never had the chance to do, and more.
There was a sudden burst of static from the radio, and we could hear the BBC news reader announcing a special broadcast from our Prime Minister.
This was it.
"Yesterday morning at 2:41 a.m. at Headquarters, General Jodl, the representative of the German High Command, and Grand Admiral Doenitz, the designated head of the German State, signed the act of unconditional surrender of all German Land, sea, and air forces in Europe to the Allied Expeditionary Force, and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command."
There was a beat of silence.
And then the church erupted.
People were yelling, screaming, hugging, throwing hats. Couples kissed. Those who had sons, brothers, friends, husbands and fiancés in Europe were telling anyone who would listen that "they're coming home!" Even the people that had lost people they loved in the war were celebrating. I was hugging Imogene, Mother, Father, my elderly next door neighbour Mrs Harrison, anyone I could reach. I was so happy.
If Jesse was alive, and he might be, he was coming home!
Ten minutes later we were all pouring out of the church, gossiping excitedly. The war was over! Of course, Japan still had to be beaten, but that was so far away that it didn't affect us, in our tiny little village. Nobody had relatives there, and seeing as there would be no more bombing, the few remaining evacuees could go home.
Life could go back to normal.
As soon as the radio broadcast had finished, we hurried home. My mother checked the letterbox outside our house, as she did every time she arrived home. She was constantly hoping for a letter saying that Jesse had been found. The letter never came, however, and each time it didn't come it broke her heart a little bit more. She was desperate to have Jesse back, he wasn't her son, but she had looked after him since he was six years old, and he called her his mother.
I walked into the kitchen, filled the kettle up with water, and put it on the gas ring, before slitting open the letter addressed to me. As I had suspected it would be, it was from Violet, the young evacuee we had had staying with us, until around 3 months ago when she returned to Kensington, where she had lived. We could have had more evacuees, we had a large enough house and my mother had offered, but there were only around 30 children evacuated to our village, meaning that there was less than one per household.
Dear Faye, Violet had written,
I just wanted to write to see how you are, and ask after everyone in the village. I hope that you have good news regarding Jesse – I never met him, but I certainly feel like I know him! My family have had good news regarding my brother, Benjamin. He was in one of the camps, and has just been freed!
I hope you and your family are well,
Violet had been 9 when she arrived in 1939, and had been 15 when she had left. I didn't really notice her growing up, as I was growing up also, but my mother did. She really felt like Violet was another of her children, and I was glad to see that my mother had also had a letter from her, that was several pages long by the look of it.
I took my letter from Violet, and climbed the twisty staircase in our house to reach my room. The twisty staircase was the back staircase, and technically the one the servants should use, however I rather liked using it.
Our house was the old manor house that was built early into Henry VII reign as King of England. When the current Lord's ancestors decided to build a new manor house in the late 1700's, this house was sold. The house had approximately 50 rooms, perhaps a few less. It was much smaller than the new manor house, although the second largest in the village. It had been bought by my father's family when it was originally sold by the then Lord, and had been passed down the generations since. We also had all of the original grounds, which my mother had turned a section of into a very nice garden, and the kitchen garden was already there. The rest we rented out to local farmers. It was quite amusing to watch sheep using a priceless fountain from 15th century Venice as a drinking trough!
My room was on the third floor of four, not including the basement where the kitchen and pantries were. I would have liked to sleep right up on the fourth floor, however we still had a cook, a few maids, footmen and a housekeeper who slept up there, and the rest of the rooms were used for storage. We also had a butler, but he lived in a cottage on the edge of the garden (which was rather large, even though it was only a fraction of the original grounds) rather than in the house.
Our house was still decorated as it was when it was first built, and as we had the original front door, and front staircase in our half of the house, it was rather an imposing building, both inside and out. The walls are panelled with dark wood, and where they are painted, they are painted in deep red, hunter green, or blues. On the ceiling of our library there is a mural painted by a famous artist of the time, whose name I can never remember!
I fought long and hard to be allowed to completely re-decorate my room. Jesse and Imogene were perfectly happy with the rooms they had, partly because they had what were originally the children's rooms. Jesse had a deep blue room, which he had decorated with his toy aeroplanes when he was about five, and had then never taken down. Imogene had the room that had belonged to the original owner's youngest daughter, and was therefore in a shade of rose pink, which lent the room a slightly more homely air than the rest of the house possessed. Imogene also had much more homely furniture than the rest of the house, which had been purchased with its original furniture.
In my room I had covered the wooden floor with rugs, and had the walls painted buttercup yellow. I had wanted to paint the wooden panelling, but my mother wouldn't hear of it. So instead I had settled for changing the curtains of the window and the four-poster bed, something which almost every bedroom in the house possessed, and moving in some "personal touches"
I had also been campaigning pretty hard to have the servants bedrooms made slightly nicer. I had become good friends with one of the maids we had had, Holly, before she joined up as a VAD nurse, and so wanted better for the servants, even though Holly had now left. I had so far had no success, with my mother telling me that the bedrooms were comfortable enough, which they were admittedly, my mother had seen to that when she had first married my father, but many of the rooms were very small in comparison to other rooms in the house.
I had tried becoming friends with some of the other maids, after Holly had left, however many of them were set in the "old way," meaning that they were meant to be seen and not heard, and always murmured a demure "Yes, Miss Clarke" or "No, Miss Clarke" every time I spoke to them. Imogene, however, had found at a young age that if she went down to the kitchens they thought her a dear pet, and would feed "our little Miss Immy" the icing off whichever cake the cook was then baking. As she grew up she started eating less, and talking more downstairs, and had become close to several of the maids. It was impossible to call them her friends however, for she was always "Miss Imogene" and treated with the utmost respect by them.
There were few other young people in the village now, many of the young men had been conscripted into the services, and many of the young women had gone into war work as well. I was the only 18 year old in the village not actively involved with the war effort. My mother was terribly old fashioned, and thought it improper. That was why it was so nice to have Violet around - as she was only one year younger than Imogene, and three years younger than me, we all got on very well.
I sat down at the desk in my room, uncapped my pen, and prepared to reply to Violet. I wasn't entirely sure what to say to her; if I told her that we thought Jesse was never coming back, it would feel to me as if I had given up hope; if I told her he was fine, well, that would be lying and so in the end I decided not to mention him at all.
It was lovely to hear from you at last, it feels so long since I last spoke to you! Mother was most certainly happy to hear from you, and is now reading your letter out to cook! We are all missing you greatly, so perhaps you could come down soon for a visit? I'm so glad to hear about your brother, and expect that you are all overjoyed.
Faye (and Imogene)
I walked down to the post office in the village to post my letter to Violet. I always enjoyed walking through the village, especially when the sun was shining like it was that day. The trees were sparkling, the berries on the trees looked as if they had turned to jewels, the road seemed to stretch forever, and people were out in force celebrating VE day.
It was as I entered the post office to post the letter to Violet that I first heard it. There was a troop lorry coming up the road towards the village, possible carrying some of the village boys back home. I paid to post the letter, and stepped outside. The lorry had stopped on the village green, and there were troops pouring out of it, some of them I recognised immediately, others I only recognised when I saw which house they went to, or who they went to greet.
Although I knew it was pointless, I found myself looking for Jesse amongst the sea of faces. I realised that he was unlikely to be back even if he was alive – the boys back on the day that peace had been announced would be those who had been on bases nearby, rather than those who had been fighting in Europe, or in a camp on the continent as Jesse would be, if he was alive,
If. It was such a simple word, but yet a word that brought such a tug to my heart. So many hopes and dreams of thousands, if not millions, of people rested on that one tiny word. If. If Jesse came home. If Jesse was alive. If Jesse was in a camp. If. How I loathed the word. It gives a false sense of hope, lulls us into a state of security, when really we should be expecting the worst. If.
One person I did recognise immediately was Charlie Williams. He had been a childhood friend of Jesse's, and had signed up at the same time as him. I saw him looking around, seemingly bewildered, and looking for something familiar. His entire family had been killed in a bombing raid in '42, whilst visiting relatives in London. He had been back for the funeral, and then left again, and I hadn't seen him since. He had also been in the same regiment as Jesse, so if anyone would have any more information than the meagre amount that my family and I had, it would be him.
I ran up to him, and threw my arms around his neck. He had always looked upon me as an honorary little sister, and had always treated me as such. His arms went around my waist as he lifted me up and spun me around.
"Faye!" he laughed "My, but you've grown up since I saw you last," he said as he put me down, and looked me over "A right little lady you are now, I see"
I mock punched him on the arm, before engulfing him in another hug.
"You have no idea how pleased I am to see you, Charlie!" I said "I thought that I might not see either of you again!"
At my almost mentioning Jesse, Charlie's face fell slightly. He and Jesse had been remarkably close, enough so that when Charlie's entire family had died, it had been my mother that Charlie had then listed as his next of kin.
"You have no idea how sorry I was to hear about Jesse, Faye," he said, taking off his cap "he was like my brother. I really hope, for your family's sake as well as mine, that he's safe somewhere."
I nodded, letting the tears that I had held in for so long fall, now that I was with Charlie. Having my surrogate brother back, made me feel the loss of Jesse even more. Of course, we were all hoping that Jesse wasn't dead, but even if he had merely been captured, every one now knew that many of those who went into the camps didn't come back alive.
I shook of my morbid thoughts, and gestured at Charlie to follow me. I took him back to my house, through the back way and into the kitchen of course. There were no parades of civility to Charlie, he was almost family.
"Sit," I said gesturing to a chair, and pulling out a mug to fill with tea from the kettle on the stove "you look exhausted. Here – drink the tea, and tell me everything."
So Charlie told me. How he and Jesse had trained together, been deployed together and fought together. How it was Jesse that had helped him stay together when he heard that his entire family had been killed. How he had come back, and left again as soon as possible, not wanting to stay in the house that was now so empty. That the last time he had seen Jesse, he had been grinning, and whistling a tune, just about to enter the battle, from which he would not return. He had carried on fighting, and then been invalided out, when he was shot in the leg. How he had been recuperating since December last year at the base three miles away, but had never come back, because of the memories. He told of how he was dreading having to live in his house, and didn't know how he'd cope on his own.
I waited for him to finish before I spoke;
"Well, I'm glad that your leg seems to have mended so well, Charlie, that's one thing you can be thankful for at least. As for this nonsense about not knowing how you'll cope on your own, well, you'll be living here of course. Surely you didn't think that my family would completely abandon you. You're practically family yourself! You can have your pick of the guest rooms, and stay as long as you like. I'm sure that Papa can help you with finding yourself a new house, if that's what you want of course."
"I could never intrude upon your family in such a way," Charlie said, trying to turn me down.
"Nonsense. You're staying here, and that's the end of it" Mama will agree with me, as will Papa and Imogene."
"How is Imogene?" Charlie asked, trying to adopt a disinterested tone, although I could see straight through him. Although he had always looked upon me as a little sister, he was sweet on Imogene, and always had been. They had played at getting married whilst they were children, and had written to each other regularly at the beginning of the war, before the letters from Charlie became more sporadic, and finally stopped.
"Oh, she's fine." I said.
Charlie's relief at my words was almost tangible. I smiled slightly, if they were married, then Charlie would really be family.
"She's probably in the parlour, writing her letters or listening to the wireless. I could have her fetched if you like?"
"Wouldn't it be more socially acceptable for us to go to the parlour, than to fetch Miss Imogene to the kitchen?" Charlie asked with a grin. He hated social conduct almost as much as I did.
"You're probably right," I said regretfully "Although I really wish you weren't. The parlour somehow isn't as inviting as the kitchen. It's not as warm, and if you spill ink, or tea, or anything really, in there, then Mama gets in the most frightful temper with you."
"I do hope that's not a warning!" Charlie said, as he placed his cup next to the large ceramic sink.
"Of course it is!" I laughed "You're probably the most clumsy, accident-prone person I know."
"Apart from yourself!" Charlie said.
I would normally have jokingly reprimanded him for that sort of comment – for, of course, he was much more clumsy than me – but I was far to glad at having at least one of the two people I regarded the highest in the world back, to even dream of scolding him – even jokingly.
We reached the parlour door, and I motioned at Charlie to wait outside. I didn't want to shock Imogene – and I had something of a hunch that upon seeing Charlie, who she had missed most terribly, she would be rather surprised.
"Imogene," I said as I pushed open the door leading to the parlour, to see my sister sitting at the desk, writing her letters, "There's someone here to see you."
I motioned at Charlie to come in. Imogene looked at him, not realising who he was.
"Immie." Charlie said, and with that one word, the name that only Charlie called her, Imogene stood up, knocking her bottle of ink to the floor, where it smashed.
"Charlie?" She whispered
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