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Peace For Our Time, Chapter Two

"“Don't send us away, Mum, Dad.”"

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Author's Notes

"After a long wait, here is the second Chapter of Peace For Our Time. Cissy wonders whether to evacuate the children to keep them safe."

Chapter 2

“You know what?” Jack said to no one in particular. “These last eight months have been really busy.”

Little Albert and Georgie took no notice but continued to bicker over some insignificant disagreement.

“Is it really?” he continued, the sarcasm was blatant. Cissy looked up from her sewing.

“Oh, Sorry, Love, what were you saying?”

Jack smiled.

“Nothing much. Just that we have been so busy lately. You know, at work. We've been contracted to shift a hell of a lot of munitions from the Arsenal. And it's not just us, neither. Jacksons from Lewisham and Waltons from Brixton have been utilised too, I've been told.”

Cissy put down the pair of trousers she was mending.

“Right, you two. Off you go. Bedtime.”

“Aww, Mum! Can't we stay up a bit longer?” George was always the first to grumble when bedtime came around.

“No, Georgie. You have school tomorrow. Come on.”

Jack clapped his hands with mock stringency.

“Come on, Boys, up you go.”

The traditional grumbling continued, but they knew it made no difference. After kissing Mum and Dad goodnight, they went obediently upstairs to bed.

“And clean your teeth!” Cissy called after them.

“What was that all about?” Jack asked his wife once they were alone. Cissy put her finger to her lips.

“Wait until they are in bed,” she said quietly. Jack opened his newspaper and waited patiently until Cissy was ready to continue.

Eventually, she snapped the thread from its accompanying needle and put down the trousers again.

“Sorry, Jack, but I didn't want to discuss the war in front of the children.”

Jack folded the broadsheet and put it on the arm of his chair.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

“No... well... I'm not sure.”

“Look, Cissy, I know you're worried but believe me, nothing is going to come of it. The Germans can't produce weapons like us, and our friends can. I've heard about the amount of stuff coming from Woolwich. We have other munitions factories too. And all working flat out, no doubt. Old Herr Hitler wouldn't dare go any further.”

Cissy frowned, her face etched with uncertainty.

“You may be right, but what if you're wrong?” Jack didn't say anything as his wife continued. “I've been thinking. You know the government has been arranging evacuation for the children?”

Now it was Jack's turn to frown.

“Yes, but surely you're not thinking...”

Cissy didn't wait for him to finish.

“If nothing happens, they will have had a nice holiday, but if it does, then they will be safe. You know that London will be their first target. Look at how easily they overran Poland.”

“Cissy!” Jack exclaimed. “I can't believe that you would send the boys, our boys, to live with total strangers! Do you really mean to?”

She pushed the trousers from her knee onto the table and stood up. Then she knelt beside the chair and took her husband's hand.

“I told you, Jack, I'm scared. I'm scared for them, and I'm scared for us. At least they will be safe if they are out of London. Somewhere in the countryside, away from bombs and shells.”

Jack looked at her. Her face showed genuine fear.

“Alright,” he said after a moment to think. “It's Friday tomorrow. Let me think about it, and we can discuss it further over the weekend, yes?”

Cissy nodded and stood up. She went back to her sewing table and picked up the trousers.

“You'd never have known they had been ripped,” Jack told her, trying to take her mind away from what they had just discussed. She smiled and folded them neatly.

“I wish they would be a little more careful with their school clothes.”

Jack stood up and put his arms around her waist.

He kissed her cheek.

“Boys will be boys,” he said.

The following evening, after the boys had gone to bed, Jack turned on the radio.

“It looks as though you were right, My Love, from what I have heard today.”

Cissy said nothing as they waited patiently for the set to warm up. Slowly, the volume rose.

German forces have invaded Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg by air and land.

The invasion began at dawn with large numbers of aeroplanes attacking the main aerodromes, and landing troops. The Dutch High Commission says more than 100 German planes were shot down by its forces...”

“About what I said last night, Jack...” She began, but Jack stopped her, raising his forefinger as he listened.

In London, it has been announced that Winston Churchill will lead a coalition government after Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said he was stepping aside.

Two days ago, his majority plummeted in a vote of confidence in the Commons during a debate on the war and there were calls from the Tory benches for him to go.

In his broadcast tonight, Mr Chamberlain said: "Hitler has chosen a moment when, perhaps, it seemed to him that this country was entangled in the throes of a political crisis and he might find it divided against itself.

If he has counted upon our internal divisions to help him, he has miscalculated the mind of this people."

The first news of the German invasion reached London at dawn. Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax received the Belgian Ambassador and Dutch Prime Minister at 0630 when they formally asked for Allied help...”

“Jack, we need to decide. Now!”

He looked across at her.

“You do realise that there will not be only us involved, don't you? Hitler can't take on the whole world single-handedly. What about the Americans? Think of their resources.”

As he spoke, the newsreader continued.

“...In Washington, President Franklin Roosevelt was asked at a news conference whether he thought Germany's invasion of the Low Countries would lead to US involvement in the war. He replied that it would not.”

Jack slowly turned the Bakelite volume knob anticlockwise until it clicked, and once again, the living room was silent.

Cissy waited patiently for what they had heard to sink in. It was Jack who finally broke the uneasy silence.

“Alright,” he said. “You are right, as you usually are. You had better go to the Town hall on Monday and find out what we have to do.”

“I already have,” she said gently. “I went this morning.”

Just for a second, Jack felt a little aggrieved that his wife had gone behind his back, but the feeling soon passed. He knew that she only had the children's safety at heart. How could he be angry with that?

“I suppose you did the right thing,” he admitted to her. “Who knows what will happen now. The English Channel has saved us in the past. But now, with modern technology, maybe that is not so certain anymore. What do we have to do?”

Cissy took a deep breath.

Well...” She paused, uncertain of his reaction to what she had arranged. “Next Saturday...”

“Saturday?” Jack almost shouted but then checked himself. “I'm sorry, go on.”

She breathed in again as she nodded.

“There is a train leaving on Saturday morning from Euston at Ten. It will take them to Chester. From there, they will be sent onwards to wherever. I have requested Llandudno.”

Jack couldn't believe his ears.

“You did all that this morning?” he asked with amazement. “Where is Llandudno anyway? Sounds Welsh.”

“I hadn't heard of it before,” Cissy admitted. “It is in North Wales, right on the coast.”

He went to the small bookcase and pulled out the world atlas he had bought when George had started school. After a moment or two of turning pages, he looked up.

“Blimey, Cissy. Why didn't you choose Scotland? It's about the only place that is further away!”

“Please don't be angry, Jack,” she pleaded. “I chose the furthest place I could find from the continent. It's well away from industrial areas too.”

Jack put his arm around her.

“I'm sorry,” he whispered. “It's all just so sudden.”

Cissy touched her nose to his and then kissed him.

“They will be fine. It'll be like an adventure. You know how much the boys love the scout camps.”

What more could he say? He knew she was right.

“Anyway, look on the bright side,” she went on. “If, as you say, all this comes to nothing, they will be home before we know they are gone, and, as I said yesterday, they will have had a lovely holiday.”

Suddenly, the door to the hallway began to open. Cissy let go of Jack and turned to face the young boy who stood there.

“Georgie! Why aren't you in bed?”

George looked sheepish.

“I was thirsty, Mum. Are we going on holiday next week?”

Cissy felt her heart drop. She was sure it had missed a beat.

Jack saw her discomfort. He hoped against hope that the eight-year-old had not heard too much.

“Erm, no, Son. Why do you ask?”

“You said that the train leaves at Ten and that it will take us to Chester. Does that mean we will be having time off school?”

“Oh, Georgie, Sweetheart.” Cissy went to him and put her arms around him. “No, we can't afford a holiday. Besides, your Dad is too busy at work. We were only saying, what if.”

“Don't send us away, Mum, Dad.”

Both Jack and Cissy were stunned into silence.

“I know about the evacuation trains. Some of the kids from my class have already gone away. Some have written postcards. I don't want to go, Albie doesn't either. Please don't make us.”

Tears welled in Cissy's eyes and rolled down her cheeks. She pulled her son closer to her.

Jack stroked George's hair.

“We just want to keep you safe,” he whispered. “If the war comes to us, you and Albert will be far away from it.”

“I don't want to be safe, Dad! I want to be here with you and Mum. You can't send us away! You can't! We won't go!”

“Alright, Georgie, alright. We'll talk about it tomorrow. Now, off you go, back to bed with you.”

The young boy stared at them for a moment and turned. Sobbing heartily, he ran from the room and up the stairs to his room. Jack went to go after him, to comfort him, but Cissy grabbed his arm.

“Let him be, Jack,” she whispered.

Neither Cissy nor Jack could sleep that night. Although neither said anything, they both shared the same thoughts. Would George and Albert forgive them for sending them away, and, if they didn't, what might happen to them if there was an invasion?

Cissy looked at the luminous hands on the alarm clock. In the darkness, she could just make out the time, almost three-fifteen.

“Are you awake?” she whispered, not wanting to disturb her husband if he was asleep.

She needn't have worried.

“Yes,” came the clear reply.

“Are we doing the right thing?” she asked.

Jack rolled over to face her.

“Yes, for their safety, of course we are. Is it right for us, though, as a family? I don't know. I don't want to send them away. Who knows when we might see them again?”

Cissy sighed.

“I was so sure, Jack. Send them to safety until it all blows over. Now though? Now it has come to it, I'm not sure that I can do it. I feel so selfish.”

Jack reached out and Cissy lifted her head onto his shoulder, pulling herself against him.

“It's not selfish to love your family and to want them close to you.”

They fell silent and sleep finally overcame them.

The bedroom was bathed in a grey light when they finally awoke.

“What time is it?” Cissy asked.

“Eight-thirty,” Jack replied. “I'll get the kids up, you put the kettle on.”

He slid out from the sheets and left the room, pulling on his dressing gown as he went.

Seconds later, he was back. Cissy had only had time to put her slippers on.

“They're not there!”

Cissy turned to face him.

“What do mean? They can't have gone anywhere.”

As she spoke, a loud crash rang out from downstairs. As one, they ran from the room and down the stairs.

Two very sheepish-looking boys were standing beside the remains of what had once been a brown teapot. The pieces of which were lying in a puddle of steaming tea on the linoleum floor covering.

Cissy immediately grabbed a mop whilst Jack bent down to pick up the shattered fragments.

“Are you alright? she asked. “Did it splash you?”

“A bit,” Albert whispered, looking down at the stains on his pyjama trousers.

“Let me see.”

Cissy carefully pulled up the legs of his pyjama bottoms but there were no marks. The fabric had absorbed all of the hot liquids.

“What were you doing down here anyway?” his father asked. “You know you are not allowed to use the cooker.”

“We wanted to make you some tea to have in bed!” Georgie suddenly blurted out. “We wanted to be useful so you wouldn't send us away!”

Cissy fell to her knees and hugged him.

“Oh Georgie!” she whispered. “You don't have to be useful. We love you whatever you do!”

She put her arm out and pulled Albert in to include him.

“I can't do it, Jack,” she said quietly, looking up at her husband.

Jack smiled, relieved. He had never wanted them to go but he fully understood why his wife would do what she did.

He nodded.

“Cancel the trip and we will talk about it later, alright?”

Cissy nodded and hugged her children even more tightly.

“Mummy...”

“Yes, Georgie?”

“I can't breathe...”

She released them immediately.

“Sorry,” she said, smiling and wiping away a small bead of moisture from her eye.

The war in Europe raged on. The Nazi armed forces pushed into France and Belgium. By the end of May, over three-hundred-thousand British, French and Belgian troops were surrounded and hemmed in against the sea, in the area of Dunkirk. Both Cissy and Jack followed the news reports closely.

During the evening of the fourth of June, Cissy, Jack and the boys were visiting Gramps and Grammie, who lived just a few doors away on the same street. As usual, the radio was tuned to the BBC and they were listening to reports about the evacuation of thousands of soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk.

Jack was unusually quiet.

Albert Dawkins took the pipe from his mouth.

“Everything alright, Son?” he asked.

“I think it's time, Dad.”

Cissy looked up from her sewing.

“Jack?”

Her heart began to thump, fearing what she had suspected for some time.

“I think I should join up.”

She felt as though her stomach had a lead weight in it.

“But, Jack. What about us? Me and the boys?”

“I have to do this, Cissy. I have to go and fight. If Hitler invades these islands, everything will be lost. I can't stay here and do nothing. France is going to fall, and when it does, there will be nothing but twenty-one miles of the English Channel between him and us. We need to be ready.”

Cissy turned to Albert but she could see, without having to ask, that he agreed,.

She sighed. She knew that, in her heart, he was right. Somehow, they would manage. Jack's parents would be there to help.

“I will go to the recruiting office tomorrow,” he went on.

Albert struck a match and applied the burning tip to the bowl of his pipe, drawing deeply before expelling a plume of blue smoke.

“Have you decided which service?” he asked.

“Yes, Dad, I have. I'm going to apply for the Air Force. I'm a mechanic, I fix engines. Aeroplane engines are not so different to lorry engines.” He paused and smiled. “Besides, I'm not cut out to be a soldier!”

Albert pointed the pipe stem towards his son.

“You do realise that you are exempt from conscription, don't you? You won't be called up.”

Jack nodded.

“Yes, I do, Dad. I can't sit around here doing nothing though. There are other, older, less fit men who can do my job. I would be far more useful repairing the aeroplanes that are needed to defend us.” He turned to his wife. “You do understand don't you, Cissy?”

Cissy gave a thin smile.

“Yes, Jack, I understand. It's for the best.” She looked sideways at Albert. “I'm sure Gramps and Grammie will help me if I need them.”

From the corner of her eye, through the haze of blue smoke, she saw Albert nod.

He didn't go right away. Instead, he waited until the company he worked for had enough mechanics to cover his job. However, when he did finally sign up, he was told that he would receive his papers when the R.A.F. was ready to take him. The recruiting officer didn't beat about the bush when he said they were taking the younger men first. Although he was only twenty-eight, they were more interested in those between nineteen and twenty-two.

Jack didn't have a long wait, as it turned out. Just two weeks later, a letter arrived with orders to report to RAF Halton for basic service training on the fifteenth of July. He opened the letter after the children had gone to bed. He really didn't feel like explaining things to them. That could wait until the weekend.

“Monday!” he exclaimed, as he read through the notes. “ Oh well, that could be worse,” he continued.

Cissy looked at him across the dining table.

“In what way?” she asked. “You are going away in just five days.”

Jacked smiled back at her.

“Do you know where Halton is?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“It's near Aylesbury!”

“Aylesbury?” she repeated. “But that's only just outside of London!” She thought for a moment. “It's on the tube isn't it?”

Jack nodded.

“It certainly is. In fact, It's at the end of the Metropolitan and District line. There might even be a direct train from Whitechapel.”

“Does that mean you will be able to come home at weekends?”

Now it was Jack's turn to look thoughtful. He rubbed his chin.

“Hmm, now that I couldn't say. I imagine there must be days off, though. At least, I hope so.”

As Jack continued to read his joining instructions, Cissy went over to the wireless set and turned it on, waiting patiently for the volume to rise as it warmed up.

The German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, has mounted a series of attacks on shipping convoys off the south-east coast of England.

It is the first major assault by the Luftwaffe and is being seen as what the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, dubbed in a speech three weeks ago as the beginning of the "Battle of Britain".

Although heavily outnumbered, the British fighter pilots put up a fierce fight and succeeded in driving off the attackers.

The Air Ministry says they inflicted "the greatest damage on the German air force since bombing raids on this country began".

In total, the Air Ministry says 14 enemy aircraft were shot down and 23 more were severely damaged.

Two British fighters were lost, but the pilot of one survived and is safe.

The bombing raids began at dawn hitting airfields along the south and east coasts of England.

But the main attacks took place offshore later in the day when two shipping convoys were targeted. The first was at 1100 hours off Manston and at 1325 hours a large force of about 120 enemy aircraft approached a convoy between Dover and Dungeness.

Spitfire pilots went into the attack shooting down a number of German Messerschmitts, Me110s and Me109s. Exact numbers are difficult to verify but it seems at least nine planes were shot down.

On landing, the Spitfire pilots said when they made their last attack and came round again to carry on the fight the sky was clear of German aircraft.

Towards evening Hurricane pilots sighted nine Heinkel bombers protected by more than 50 fighters attempting to attack shipping off the east coast. The bombers were surrounded by two rings of Messerschmitts - but the Hurricanes broke through and attacked the bombers shooting down at least two.

People watching from the southeast coast say the first sign of the attack was when a wave of about 20 German bombers with a similar number of support fighters dived out of the clouds.

They rained bombs down on a convoy of ships but did not hit. A second wave of bombers and fighters followed but before a second load of bombs could be released, the ships opened fire with their anti-aircraft guns.

At this moment, a flight of Spitfires appeared and flew straight into the middle of the German formation - hitting one bomber which crashed into the sea.

It appears the intensity of the attack took the Germans by surprise and completely destroyed their formation.

One eye-witness told The Times newspaper: "I saw 10 machines crash into the sea, they included bombers and fighters. The range of operations was too extensive to see everything, for it was over land and sea.

"The British fighters were fewer than the Messerschmitts sent to protect the bombers, but the superiority of our airmen and machines was most convincing."

Cissy turned the knob and, with a gentle click, the room was quiet again.

“That's it, then,” Jack broke the silence. “They are coming.”

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