Summary: Dr Kelly and the Chalet School. Meg Kelly returns home after the War but keeps in touch with her Chalet School friends.
Categories: Ste Therese's House Characters: Hilda Annersley, Nell Wilson, OC
School Period: Armishire
School Name: Chalet School
Series: Dr Kelly and the Chalet School
Chapters: 20 Completed: No
Word count: 31355 Read: 13120
Published: 30 Oct 2013 Updated: 08 Aug 2017
1. Chapter 1 by shesings
2. Chapter 2 by shesings
3. Chapter 3 by shesings
4. Chapter 4 by shesings
5. Chapter 5 by shesings
6. Chapter 6 by shesings
7. Chapter 7 by shesings
8. Chapter 8 by shesings
9. Chapter 9 by shesings
10. Chapter 10 by shesings
11. Chapter 11 by shesings
12. Chapter 12 by shesings
13. Chapter 13 by shesings
14. Chapter 14 by shesings
15. Chapter 15 by shesings
16. Chapter 16 by shesings
17. Chapter 17 by shesings
18. Chapter 18 by shesings
19. Chapter 19 by shesings
20. Chapter 20 by shesings
Apologies for this long post but the bunnies had a lot to say. The international issues were current and the local based on real events. Meg and her mother would speak to each other in Scots with a Dundee accent but I've just kept some expressions and constructions to give a flavour.
“You know, in all my married life my press has never been so full!” Maggie Kelly beamed at the sight of the shelves stacked with tins, bags and packets. “And there's as much left still to share! Your friends have been really generous, Meg.”
“They have indeed! Louise said 'a few small things' so I nearly fainted when she produced those two huge boxes. Thank the Lord I had time to send a telegram to Pat to meet me at the station with the van! The taxi driver would have thought I was a black marketeer and driven me straight to Bell Street. Shame really - I could have produced the note from His Excellency the United States Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Court of St James's saying that the goods were his personal gift to me. That would have floored Sergeant Forbes!”
“He'd have thought you were the man's fancy woman and you know what a gossip he is. We'd have been black affronted!”
“Och, come on, Ma – anybody related to Auntie Bella should be well past being affronted!”
“Aye well, that's true enough.” Maggie looked thoughtful.“You've mingled with some high ranking people in the past few years, Meg - are you sure you wanted to come home? You had all those other chances. The Army , that big London hospital and the Sanatorium, and one or two lads that wanted to whisk you away to a life of luxury. Are you sure you'll not regret turning them all down?”
“Oh Ma” sighed Meg, “you have no idea how much it means to me to be back home with you and the family. I've made good friends, Gren and her people, Dunc and Dolly, Hilda, Nell and all the Chalet crowd and others that I'll want to keep in touch with but if the War taught me anything it was that my roots are here and this is where I want to be! This family didn't knock its collective pan in to put me through medical training so I could beggar off to Harley Street or some expensive clinic. And I was never in the least bit serious with any of the lads.”
“They were just all right for an occasional scratch?” queried Maggie with a wicked grin.
“Ma!” protested Meg, blushing to the roots of her dark brown hair.
“Dinna fash yourelf, lass,” returned Maggie. “I never thought that you would marry but I wouldn't want you to die wondering! But I glad you can still take a red face!”
“You're incorrigible, Ma.” Meg rose switched on the big wireless set on the sideboard and the pair settled down by the fireside to listen quietly to the news.
“I was speaking to Dr Ram and he's really worried about the situation in India,” Maggie said as the news ended. “He thinks it's not so much Jinnah that's the problem but the religious fanatics on both sides. What with that and the Yanks and the Russians squaring up to one another in Turkey you wonder how long it'll be before we're in another war.”
“I think that's the way of the world, Ma. Do you remember Granny K saying in '39 that every war that had happened in her lifetime just sowed the seeds of the next? I saw it when I was in Europe. But let me catch up on the family before we try to change the world. I'll make some cocoa and you can tell me what's wrong with my Star!”
Stella had been about to leave for her night shift at the maternity hospital when her sister arrived so there had been time for no more than a warm hug and a “Talk tomorrow, please?” before she left.
“The second wee doorstep twinnie died on Saturday. Stella wasn't on duty but she's taking it hard, worried that she should have done more, and she's still fretting about the mother. You know how she feels for people!”
“ I'm amazed that the wee soul lasted as long as he did. From what she wrote, he wasn't thriving and who could wonder? Some poor frightened lassie has premature twins in the park on a cold, wet March night and in desperation leaves them on a doorstep. She could have bled to death or died of infection without medical help. It's Dickensian. Have they never found a trace?”
“Na, there's just rumour. Some say she was a maid at a big house out the Arbroath Road – there are still them that have maids out there – and a couple of lassies ran away from the orphanage about that time. There was a lass found drowned at Eyemouth that they thought might have gone in the Tay but she wasn't identified so God alone knows.”
Meg shook her head sadly. “I'll see Star in the morning. I see Mickey is as full of fizz as ever, hard to believe he's going into 3rd year when he's only just 13! He was telling me he loves his paper round but do you not think he's too young to be going out so early every weekday?”
“And you were how old when you started your paper round, lady?”
“I know but that was me and this is him and I don't want it to be as hard for the young ones. I thought the bairn was a bit quiet tonight. The only time I got a smile was when she was telling me how much money she made at the berries.”
“That was for singing, not picking! With all the rain we've had the berries were waterlogged. A lot of days they just couldn't pick. It's maybe just going back to school and finding she's got a new teacher who seems to be a bit of a tartar and too free with the tawse. Mrs McCann had to have her appendix out a couple of weeks ago so they've got someone down from Queen's Cross, Sister Ignatius, I believe.”
“Sacred Heart, eh? She'll find the Andys a bit of a change! I wonder how Sister Marie-Therese will get on with her? Do you remember when the minister at St Mary's took to wearing a wooden cross and that wee evangelist with the ginger beard kept roaring that he was no better than a Jesuit. Sister Marie-Therese's response was 'He's damning him with faint praise!' I'll need to drop in and see her.”
“That reminds me. They've decided that sandshoes must be worn for drill and Kate is out of her last pair even with toe and heel cut. She's got drill on Thursday so if you could..”
“Of course, Ma, I'll meet her tomorrow and get her a pair. Shame though, I really liked drill in my baries and hated the sandshoes we'd to wear at the Academy. Will Birrell's have them?”
“Probably, they had a good few when I took them for their school shoes. I think they are about 4/-a pair, everything's such a price now. Oh, and have you got your bread coupons?”
“No, I've got my ration book but just bread stamps so I'd better get them changed tomorrow.”
“The Food Office should be fairly quiet now but you should have seen the carry-on last week. The queue was down the Wynd and up again and they ran out of coupons, had to be sent on the train from Edinburgh! The laddies did our queuing and Kate and Alice ran to get your Granny when they were near the front. Had to be an adult to actually get them, of course. I told them at the Sosh that you would be putting your book in there, so I hope that's OK?”
“Fine with me, the more we eat, the bigger the divvie! By the way, when I peeked in on Mickey I had to rescue his book before it landed on the floor. That's another present that went down well.”
“It was so good of Miss Wilson to send them books again. Were they her own?”
“Not this time! As she put it, this was the only useful thing that came out of her trailing round umpteen book shops with Hilda during the holidays. She came across a box of books that must have been some old family collection and spotted an old botany book that she wanted. The shop owner insisted the box was a job lot and as there were a few books that would do for the school library they decided to buy them. When they went through them they thought of our two so Mickey has “A First Book of Applied Electricity” and Kate has that book on plant families.”
“I just hope he doesn't want to try electric experiments! He had the place sailing twice trying things out from that last book.”
“I think that's why she sent him this one – Nell likes adventurous spirits. It's a shame she and Hilda can't get to Dolly and Dunc's wedding for I'd really love you to meet them. You'd like Nell, she's gallus in her refined way and you and Hilda could talk books forever!” said Meg with a fond smile. Maggie Graham Kelly had been a keen reader since childhood and was rarely without at least two books from the public library and, when finances permitted, several from the penny lending library.
“I'd like to meet them to thank them for all their goodness to you during the War.”
“Yes, the school was my refuge. If they hadn't been there I don't know where I would have ended up when........” Meg stopped and looked at the floor.
“When Martin was killed?” suggested her mother gently.
“Say it, lassie. When Martin was killed.”
Meg looked up, her eyes swimming with tears. “When Martin was killed. Oh Mammy!” She flung herself into her mother's arms and Maggie, her heart aching for her lost son and her heartbroken daughter, held her close as she wept.
It was several minutes before the sobs subsided. Meg gulped and said “I'm sorry, Ma, it's worse for you.”
“I'm not so sure of that, sweetheart, “ replied Maggie unexpectedly. “ When the War broke out I remembered the last one and I was in dread that I'd lose you all. I've come through this War still having my man and six of my bairns. You lost your favourite brother and best pal, the one that knew you best and always had your back. I know you love Pat and Alex and you dote on Star and the bairns but Marty was your other self. He kept you from being too serious and you kept him out of mischief, some of the time anyway!” In spite of herself Meg smiled, remembering some of the joint escapades that they had got away with by the skin of their teeth.
“Anyway, tomorrow is also a day, and you've places to go and people to see so it's bedtime. Goodnight, sleep tight!” The two embraced and Meg slipped in beside Kate, her heart lighter than it had been for a long time.
Another longish update. The belt incident is based on an incident in my own school career........
Nell Wilson was just pouring herself a second cup of tea when she heard the rattle of the letter box. “Goodness, what on earth is that? I wasn't expecting any post, were you? I told Megan not to bother forwarding anything as we'll be back next week and I thought we both needed a proper rest without any business matters getting in the way. It's been a fairly hectic summer one way or another.”
She stopped talking, realising that her companion had risen from the table and left the kitchen.
Less than a minute later Hilda Annersley was back in the room, bearing a white envelope and a surprised expression. “It's from Meg Kelly! I didn't expect to hear from her so soon.”
“She's only been home for five minutes,” said Nell, as she carefully unsealed the envelope. "I hope there is nothing wrong with the family.” She put the pencil-addressed envelope aside for re-use and began to read Meg's letter aloud.
“Dear Nell and Hilda,
I hope you are having a lovely and restful time on the moor and that the weather is being kind. According to all reports the weather here this summer has been as wet as the weather in England. Weren't we so lucky with the weekend of Gren's wedding? I had a postcard from her this morning. All it said was 'Having a lovely time, everything in full working order!' but that was the news I wanted.”
Nell laughed and, after a moment, Hilda did the same. “Well, it isn't the sort of information one normally seeks but in this case I am glad to know. Meg had great faith in the Professor's skill but I know she was concerned. What else does she say?”
“The family welcomed me with open arms but are holding off the main celebrations until Saturday, thank goodness, when my father will be home and possibly also Alex. It was such a joy this morning to have breakfast with Granny Kelly, Mickey and Kate. He brought in fresh morning rolls, still warm from the oven, and spread, though thinly, with Granny's home-made raspberry jam they were delicious. Mickey is delighted with his book and will send a thank you letter as soon as he has tried out an experiment or two. Ma is in fear and trembling at the very thought. We only got electric lights in the house in 1938 and she still doesn't really trust it!
Kate is also thrilled with her book and she is threatening, sorry, I mean promising, to send you some seeds! They are still growing vegetables in the communal back green and she just loves being down there, grubbing among the carrots and kale.
Now, just in case you are wondering why you are getting this early epistle, it's because I am so revved up that I need to write it down or I shall explode! Ladies, I have met an ecclesiastical Miss Bubb with bells on! It all started because I had promised to meet Kate from school to go and buy new gym shoes for her..............”
….......Meg strolled along the Overgate, reflecting on a fairly packed few hours which had included a comforting talk with Stella, a meeting with senior staff at the College, lunch with her mother and Kate and a couple of refreshing hours with her sister-in-law and the children.
There were more people than usual at the school gate, mothers, grandmothers and aunts waiting to take their charges for the prescribed sandshoes. Meg was welcomed warmly and returned the smiles and greetings, stepping smartly aside to avoid the first rush of released pupils. Kate usually came running if she was being met, so Meg was surprised and then alarmed to see her coming slowly forward, head bowed, her arms crossed in front of her and her classmates surrounding her.
Meg hurried towards her “Kate, what's wrong, honey?” Kate turned a tear-stained face up to her sister but couldn't speak.
“She got the belt, missus, and it wisna fair!” said one of the other children.
“What?” cried Meg, appalled.” She had never had the Lochgelly tawse brought down on her own hands but she had seen its effects on classmates who had incurred the wrath of a teacher and thought the practice barbaric. How could this happen to Kate who was a well behaved and studious child? She gently took hold of Kate's arms and looked at her hands. Her palms and fingers were red and swollen and, to Meg's absolute fury, her right wrist was bruised, a sign that whoever had administered the punishment had broken the rules. “Why did you get the belt, Kittykat?” she asked softly. Kate struggled to answer.
“Sister said she was a thief and a liar, because of the sweeties.” piped up little Denny Murphy who lived in their close. “She's red rotten, Meg!”
Just then a tall nun in full regalia and white cornette swept out of the school and made a beeline for Meg and Kate.
“Ah, Mrs Kelly,” she began coldly, then, noting Meg's ringless left hand, her expression became even less pleasant and there was a distinct sneer in her voice. “Oh I beg your pardon, Miss Kelly! Your daughter has been punished for....”
“That's the bairn's big sister and she's Dr Kelly to you!” Meg recognised the voice of Lizzie Brady, who was among the group still at the gate and hoping for a drama.
“You sort her, Meg!” called another woman. “Gave my Jimmy the belt because she said his hankie was dirty - on the first day back!”
Meg, her arm round Kate's shoulder, looked the nun straight in the eye. “Can you give me one good reason, Sister, why I should not take my sister to the police station and have you charged with assault?”
Sister Ignatius was outraged. “How dare you speak to me like that! I have total authority to punish her as I see fit! This child is, if not a thief, certainly a liar! ”
With difficulty, Meg held on to her temper. “Sister, the rules are clear.” She lifted Kate's poor stricken right hand. “If you hit the wrist it is assault – and I have witnesses.” She gestured towards the women who had come closer. “Take her all the road, Meg!” advised one woman. “We'll back you up!” There was an angry murmur of agreement.
This promising rammy was brought to an end by the arrival of the formidable tweed suited figure of the school's headteacher, Miss McGrory, followed by Sister Marie-Therese.
“Sister Ignatius, Dr Kelly, shall we go inside? I am sure these ladies are anxious to collect their children and be about their business.” This was said with a meaning look in the direction of the women who reluctantly drifted off, speculating about the outcome. “She'll find Meg Kelly's no a soft backie,” opined one. “That's right enough,”agreed another. “though that old bitch is lucky it wasna Bella or the auld wife meeting the bairn. She'd have been on her backend looking for her teeth!”
Sister Ignatius stalked along, complaining bitterly that Meg had spoken to her in a most disrespectful manner. “That is most unlike Meg so she must have had good reason!” snapped Sister Marie-Therese. Meg, still seething, said nothing till they reached the office then told her tale.
“Let me see your hands, Kathleen.” said Miss McGrory. Kate held out her hands. Miss McGrory's lips tightened. “Sister Marie-Therese, will you take Kathleen to the medical room, please?”
The little nun put her hand on Kate's shoulder and steered her off to have the poor sore hands and wrists bathed..
Miss McGrory looked at Sister Ignatius. “Sister, I am sure you know that hitting the wrist constitutes assault but would you like to tell me why Kathleen was belted?”
“She brought in a large box of sweets which she had passed round her classmates! When I questioned her she claimed that they had been a gift from the American Ambassador.” She gave a scornful laugh. “ I did give her the opportunity to tell the truth but she persisted in her lie so I punished her.”
Meg, blessing the impulse which had made her take the Ambassador's note to show Eileen, took it from her handbag and handed it to Miss McGrory. The headteacher read it, handed it to Sister Ignatius and addressed Meg.
“I had no idea that you were wounded in action, Margaret. When did this happen?”
“The bit about the Purple Heart was just a joke. I did an emergency repair to a G.I. who had been a bit too eager to clear a minefield and I stepped in a rabbit hole and sprained my ankle on the way back! The Ambassador was very generous with his gifts. Kate was anxious to treat her friends so I gave her the sweets for them.”
Mrs McGrory looked at her colleague. “Why did you assume that Kathleen was not telling the truth, Sister? Do your pupils normally tell lies?”
Sister Ignatius bristled. “Certainly not! My pupils are truthful and honest!”
“And you are suggesting that mine are not?” asked Mrs McGrory coldly.
Sister Ignatius made no reply.
“Well, Sister, I hope you are not only ready to apologise to Dr Kelly - oh, sorry, Margaret, you are still Major Kelly, of course – who I hope will not take this matter to the police,” Meg signalled her assent.`.. though if she wishes to complain to the Bishop that is a matter for her, but also that you will apologise to Kathleen in the class tomorrow.”
“I, well, this is, um, Major Kelly, I apologise for my error and, um, I shall apologise to your sister in the morning.”
…..”So there we were”, wrote Meg. “A nod being good as a wink, as soon as I had bought Kate's gym shoes and treated her, and several of her classmates, to sarsaparillas in Greenhill's, I hied me down to the Cathedral and made my protest to the Bishop. I think Sister Ignatius's career at St Andrew's School will be shorter than she expected!”
“Good for Meg!” exclaimed Hilda. “But, tell me, Nell, am I ever going to hear the full tale of Miss Bubb?”
“Not today!” returned Nell, “ In case you haven't noticed, the sun has made an appearance and as soon as I deal with the dishes, we are going for a lovely walk to talk of pleasant things.”
Sorry for the long hiatus - life and work!
“Now!” whispered Mary Burnett. Grizel Cochrane's fingers touched the organ keys and Mendelssohn's Wedding March rang out joyfully in the old grey church. Sparing a quick glance, Grizel saw bride and groom leave the vestry and played with a verve she rarely felt.
Mary split her attention between her duties as page-turner and watching the congregation file out. “Promise kept, Grizel!” she whispered a few minutes later. “Time for us to join the party!”
Grizel swept her music into the case and followed Mary out of the now empty church. The bridal procession was already making its way to the nearby reception venue but there was still a fair number of people waiting to walk down. To Grizel's mingled pleasure and embarrassment she was greeted by applause, smiles and muttered compliments.
“It's deserved, Grizel”, murmured Mary, “I've never heard you play so well!”
“ I'm just glad to have got through it without too many fluffs. I only had about five minutes to get to know the instrument before people started to come in!” said the musician. “Dolly deserved the best I could do – and Dunc as well, of course!”
Mary grinned at the afterthought and mused on the unlikely friendship between the Chalet School's reserved music mistress and the ex-Corporal who cheerfully described herself as a skivvy.
Her mind went back to a happy group sitting outside a village pub on a wartime summer's evening …..........
“So, there was Marty,” declaimed Meg, “no backside to his breeks and Ma off to a show of wedding presents! Da being a sailor he could have stitched them perfectly well but we wanted to put off the hiding we knew we were due. Luckily for us he was busy hammering segs into Pat's shoes so we managed to sneak into the house and get ready for bed before he saw us.”
Martin picked up the story. “Next day was Sunday and was there a hullabaloo? I had to wait until Pat came back from 10 o'clock Mass so I could wear his trousers to 11 o'clock. He was about six inches taller than me then and they were miles too big even with the waistband turned over so much my eyes were watering!”
“I was made to go with him as it was my fault,” continued Meg, “and with people laughing and asking if he was wearing long shorts or short longers we were mortified! Still, our humiliation was deemed to be punishment enough so that was one spanking we dodged.”
As the laughter at this sorry tale subsided, Grizel spoke. “Oh Meg, Marty, I know your family doesn't have a great deal of money and you did without things we took for granted but you seem to have had such a lot of fun at home. I do envy you!”
Before either Kelly could reply, the usually taciturn Dolly Skinner spoke. “I know what you mean, Miss Cochrane. We were fed and clothed at the orphanage but there wasn't a lot of fun about. They didn't really like us making friends and would change our bed position or seats in class so we couldn't be beside pals.”
Grizel looked startled, then thoughtful, and later she and Dolly talked. For perhaps the first time, Grizel could unburden herself to someone she liked, who understood and whose childhood had been even bleaker than her own. Dolly's father had died when she was a baby, and her mother had succumbed to overwork and pneumonia before her daughter's fourth birthday.
Their friendship blossomed and was encouraged by the school authorities who had always had concerns about Grizel's lack of really close friends. As Rosalie Dene commented to general agreement, “Mary and I have known Grizel since we were children but we still don't feel we understand her at all.”
It was no surprise when Dolly approached the Heads at Gren's wedding reception.
“You will all be invited, of course, though I know my wedding is in term time and you can't all come,” she said, “but if it was possible for Grizel to play in the church, it would mean so much to Duncan and me.”
Hilda and Nell exchanged smiles. “I suspect Grizel would abscond if we tried to stop her attending your wedding, Dolly!” said Hilda. “Of course, she can be with you and we'll see who can be spared to come with her. It's a long journey to do alone.”
The competition to get to the wedding was fierce but, much to the chagrin of Hilary, Gillian and Rosalie, it was decreed that Mary's timetable made it easiest for her to go. Her delight was only slightly tempered by Grizel's insistence on several rehearsals to ensure that the page turning went smoothly!
Laden with gifts for the happy couple, the duo had travelled to Dundee by train, spending the wedding eve at the home of the Eileen Kelly's parents.. Dunc's family had taken his future wife to their hearts, but Dolly would have a good showing on her side of the church as almost the entire Kelly clan would join several friends from wartime days, including Spud Watson who had been delighted to be asked to give the bride away.
The presents and an array of foodstuffs, including tins of meat and fish, cheese, shortbread, rock buns, sugar and a galvanised washtub and bucket full, respectively, of peeled potatoes and carrots, were loaded on board the Baxter coach. The wedding guests, in high feather, settled down for the journey to the small mining village in West Fife by way of a ferry across the river and a drive through rolling hills which gave way to pit bings and the smell of coal dust in the air.
Meg, Dolly's bridesmaid, had gone to Fife two days earlier but any shyness the Chalet School pair might have felt disappeared quickly amid the cheerful chatter. The famous Auntie Bella seemed to have a historic story or song for every area they passed through and there were reminiscences of weddings past .
“In the old days,” explained Ma Kelly, “ the wedding party was usually in one or other family house, whichever was the bigger. Folk would lend chairs and dishes, bring tea, make a plate of sandwiches or a clootie dumpling to help. Nowadays, with rationing tighter than it was during the War, it's still the same. We've saved what we could and we've had a really good crop of tatties and carrots so we said we'd drop them off at the Institute. Some of the local women will be there seeing to the dinner.”
“Mary, wake up!” Grizel poked her companion. “I asked you if you thought Dolly will like her wedding presents?”
“I'm sure she will, always provided the tea set has survived unchipped! That bed linen you are giving them is pre-war quality!”
“Actually, it's pre-World War 1! It was my mother's and very rarely used. Steppy never goes into the linen cupboard – in fact I'm not sure she knows there's one in the house – so I thought it was the ideal solution. It's so difficult to buy anything really good these days.”
“I hope we get to sit near Auntie Bella at the wedding breakfast – that woman is a living history book! I knew about the General Strike but she just made it so real. Oh, look there's Gren, I didn't see her in the church!”
“They probably sat at the back so it was easier to get in and out.” said Grizel . Gren was leaning on her walking cane and beamed as they approached.
“Hello girls, wasn't the ceremony beautiful? I cried! Grizel, the music was just marvellous, well done! We're staying about ten miles away and Cousin Ninian was kind enough to lend us a car so Dougie's just gone to park it. Ah, there you are, darling, look who I found!” Dougie gave the pair a quick hug, offered Gren his arm and escorted the three ladies into the Miner's Welfare Institute for Dolly and Dunc's wedding reception.
Oops, I thought I had posted this here ages ago - still means you should get another chapter quicker than usual!
“ Ah, the wanderers have returned!” cried Rosalie Dene, as Grizel and Mary came into the staffroom on Monday evening. “Pull up a chair and tell us all!”
Grizel grinned as she accepted a cup of brown liquid from Jeanne de Lachenais. “ Well, the wedding was lovely! Dolly and Dunc were delighted with the wedding gifts and asked us to pass on their thanks. Letters will follow when they get back from honeymoon.”
“We have brought wedding cake which Megan is now carefully slicing and it should appear shortly.” added Mary. “Nell, we have a paper bag with carrot seeds for you, courtesy of Kate Kelly who thinks you will be interested in this variety. It's all explained in the note, apparently.”
“You also have a description, with illustrations, of an electrical experiment that young Mickey carried out from your book.”laughed Grizel. “I gather it was successful apart from the small matter of a scorched coal bunker top. Oh thank you, Megan,” as that worthy entered bearing a plate of thinly sliced rich fruit cake, “The wedding cake looked beautiful but, as Granny Graham said, there was only enough for everyone to get three crumbs and a currant!”
“What are Meg's family like?” asked Hilary Burn.
“Just what you'd expect, only...more so!” said Mary reminiscently.
Soon women were bustling round bringing plates of steak pie, mashed potatoes and vegetables.. Apart from the top table and a long table for all the children, there was no seating plan and to Mary's disappointment Auntie Bella had been claimed by some old acquaintances and was sitting elsewhere.
“That'll be some of the crowd she was with in '26,” said old Agnes Graham, peering over her glasses. “Is that not that Joe Macintosh she was lifted with the Night of the Mounties, Teresa?”
Granny Kelly turned to look but it was Meg's father who answered. “That's the very man, and I'm sure that's Nellie Webster as well!” Seeing Mary's bemused expression, he explained.
“There was a mass meeting in Dundee during the General Strike, people from Angus, Fife and all over. It was peaceful enough, but one hothead shouted that we should march to where the Council was meeting. He was booted off the platform but the police decided on a charge with the horses. I was lucky, I ran up the nearest close, chapped a door and was sitting at the table with my jacket off looking like part of the family by the time the police got to us. But hundreds were rounded up and the people they thought were ringleaders were jailed, Bella, Joe and Nellie among them.”
“She got thirty days and the minute she was out she was away to Fife to support the miners.” chipped in Granny Kelly. “She got lifted a few times over here, once for shouting at Harry Lauder that he was a capitalist lackey and his act was bowfin and an insult to Scotland anyway! You see the way her shoulder is up like that?” Mary nodded.
“That was when the soldiers were sent in to break up the soup kitchens.” said Granny Graham with mingled pride and pain. “The women linked arms and stood in front of them to try to stop them and Bella got a rifle butt smashed down on her collar bone. She was jailed and it was days before they got a doctor to her and by then it was too late to set it right. But, God bless her, nothing dauntons our Bella!”
“Well, except a pair of looms!” countered Granny Kelly with a laugh. “She was the worst weaver I ever come across in nearly sixty years in jute and you know it's only God's mercy that stopped her losing bits of herself before your mother managed to get her into the tailoring, Ness. She did the pattern for Dolly's dress, you know, though Rosie made it, and she altered Meg's.”
Both bride and bridesmaid wore calf length dresses in the fashion necessary in rationing days, Meg's being reworked from the one worn at Gren's wedding and Dolly's created from a bolt of ivory satin that Auntie Bella had acquired from one of her former, and still occasional, employers.
“She managed to get a wee frock for the flower girl out of Meg's and she's enough left to redo it for Kate to wear at Alex and Nora's wedding!” said Stella. “and your sister will look lovely in Meg's frock, Norah, with her bonny red hair.”
“We'll maybe need to make it into a tent if I can't get a house!” laughed Norah. “Our name's down with every factor in the town but so far there's nothing doing!”
The chatter turned to the housing shortage, the plight of the squatters in the now disused army camps and airfields and the good fortune of Dunc and Dolly securing a hospital-owned flat in a converted Victorian house. “It's really modern” enthused Dunc's sister Jenny as she helped clear the plates. “Room and kitchen through-going, scullery and a bathroom with hot water. Everybody's got their own wee cellar and there's even a shed to keep their bikes.”
Just then there came cheers from the children's table.
“That'll be for the ice-cream!” said Jenny impressively. “Mr & Mrs Cabrelli gave them enough for the bairns for a wedding present, really good of them. And here comes our stewed apples and custard.”
The meal and the speeches over, the women attended to the dishes while the men reset the room ready for the dancing and fun. The band was local, cousins and friends of Dunc, and, to her secret delight, Grizel was asked to play with them, the Institute's venerable piano being rolled in for her use.
The happy couple took to the floor as everyone sang.
“Oh, how we danced on the night we were wed
We vowed our true love but a word was not said”
After two rounds of the hall, they split, Dunc to dance with Meg and Dolly with Tam Gellatly, his brother's best man, splitting again again to take the Gellatly parents and the Watsons onto the floor and soon everyone down to the smallest child was waltzing round.
The Grand Old Duke of York, Musical Chairs, Pass the Parcel and Forfeits delighted the children while the dances ranged from Strip the Willow to the Palais Glide. Various people were called on to sing or recite, Dunc's father giving a rousing snap to Joe Corrie's “I Am The Common Man”, an uncle with a fine baritone voice singing “Always”, while Granny Graham , Granny Kelly and Auntie Bella made an impressive trio on “The Collier Laddie” in tribute to their hosts. Meg, at Dolly's request, sang “Till The End of Time” before the happy couple were driven by Dougie to catch their train for the Edinburgh honeymoon which was their wedding gift from Gren's parents.
“The Buchanans are just the same, everybody has to do a party piece.” confided Gren to Grizel as they listened to Kate Kelly's sweet young voice voice singing “ The Rowan Tree”. “I usually just do “The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God” with as much drama as possible!”
Kate's place was taken by Bess McGurk, an old friend from Hexington village dance days. “Oy, Griz!” she roared, “Get your backend over here and play for Maggie McQueen!”
Mary, Meg and Gren exchanged grins as the Chalet School's stern music mistress meekly obeyed this imperious summons, and played the familiar strains of “MacNamara's Band”
“Oh but says I, I’ll join the airmy
I’ll be a member o the wimmen’s core
But I sane foond oot that a wifie sodger
Was worse than all the jobs I’ve had afore!”
In this coal-mining district it had been the women rather than the men who had gone away to the war, to the services, the land or the factories so the chorus was taken up with gusto.
“Ach well, that's the tone lowered!” said Granny Kelly with a mock frown.. “We'll be on to “The Dundee Weaver” and “The Ball o Kirriemuir” if we're not careful.”
“And it'll probably be you that's singing them!” retorted Meg who knew her grandmother's wicked sense of humour well.
All too soon, it was time to leave, with hugs, handshakes and much good will. The Tay Ferries did not run at this late hour so they would have to go round by Perth. Eileen Baxter climbed into the driving seat.
“It's a dawdle!” she said, in answer to Mary asking if she didn't mind driving in the dark. “I did it many a time in the blackout, even when I was expecting. Dad's not so keen on it now and anyway he and Pat are both half canned!”
To the strains of “We're No Awa tae Bide Awa”, they set off, Grizel with small Martina, who had taken a great fancy to 'the piano lady' snuggled on her knee, Mary sitting beside Auntie Bella, ready for another living history lesson.
“Oh, you lucky people, I do wish Dolly had married during the hols so we could all have got there!” said Nell Wilson. “ All the excitement we have had this weekend was having a spoonful of jam on our semolina pudding!”
Meg finds herself in Berlin just before the infamous Blockade. By the way, 'shoags' are swings - many old style playparks had their metal roundabouts and chain metal swing ropes removed along with gates and railings in the early years of WW2.
“Damnit, they cannot do this to me!!” roared Meg Kelly smacking her fist on the table.
“Language, Meg!” said her mother sharply. “And you are flegging the bairns. What's happened?”
“I'm sorry, Ma - and I'm not shouting at you or Tina, Paddywhack.” She smiled at her nephew, who was looking at her in alarm, his spoon halfway to his mouth, and at Kate who looked ready to fly out at whoever had upset her beloved big sister. “Don't look so fierce, Kate, it's just the Army being the flaming Army!”
“What do they want now?” snapped Granny Kelly. “It was bad enough they hung on to you so long after the war finished but all this having you running off to camps and plestering about playing soldiers is a piece of nonsense.”
“It's not a camp this time, Granny, it's Berlin, first three weeks in May!”
“Berlin!” Ma and Granny both looked appalled.
“Oh Meg! You'll miss the Foundry Drive!” wailed Kate. “Can you not ask them to change it?”
“I don't think the RAMC cares that I'll miss going to Oban on a special train, honeybun! I'm more worried about missing my viva. Will the College give me an earlier date? Will they thump - misogynists every single one of them! ” She looked at Kate's disconsolate expression. “Tell you what, if you and Pat have finished your pudding, get your teeth cleaned and tidy yourselves and Tina in five minutes and I might find a copper or two so you can have an ice lolly – after school, mind!”
As the children rushed off to get ready for afternoon school, old Teresa Kelly spoke, “What the hell do they want to send you to Berlin for? The Russians could be marching in any day. Look what they did in Czechoslovakia! The laddie Johnston that worked in the library had his house and business stolen and him and his wife thrown out when the Communists took over!!”
“I don't think the Russians would be daft enough to try to march into the Allied sector of Berlin, Granny, there are far too many troops there.” Meg saw the fear in her grandmother's eyes and strove to reassure her. She knew that this brave old woman, having lost one brother in the Sudan, another in the Boer War, two sons and four nephews in the First World War and a much loved grandson in the Second, feared for her granddaughter. “They are making life difficult, and they'll probably go on doing that, but I'll be safely in a military hospital surrounded by soldiers, tanks, big guns and aeroplanes. I'm less likely to get hurt there than I am coming down the Conshie Brae on a frosty night!”
Talk of Berlin ceased as the children came back to be inspected. Kate and Pat went off happily with their promised coppers, little Tina sat quietly with a picture book waiting for Great-Granny to take her to the recently restored 'shoags' as soon as the dishes were washed.
“I'll get you up the road, Ma.” said Meg as her mother put her coat on. “I should be in for tea, Granny, unless the Bamstick wants to have another greetin meetin about the National Health Service. His latest bleat is that folk from outside the burgh will be entitled to be treated in hospitals that were built for the people of Dundee.”
“Surely they've always had patients from all the airts?” said her grandmother in a puzzled tone.
“Ah yes, but they were only admitted at the say-so of the Heid Polydacuses! Now, any common or garden G.P. will be able to send people to DRI, Maryfield or West Green purely on the grounds that it is the best place for them to be treated. The Old Guard are shocked, appalled and outraged at the very idea!”
“Why do they really want you to go to Berlin, Meg?” asked Maggie Kelly as she walked along the road with her eldest daughter.
“You're too smart for me, Ma!” laughed Meg. “Apparently, they are rebuilding as fast as they can go but in their haste they are getting old bombs going up and old walls coming down at the wrong time. They want to make sure we are up-to-date with the latest practice on battlefield casualties. Could be worse – they sent poor Bobby Gerrard to Palestine last year!”
BFPO mid air
Somewhere over Europe!
Apologies for the shoogly writing but I am sitting in a large vintage US transport aircraft on my way back from Berlin. I didn't get your letter, or any of the others sent by family and friends, until we refuelled in the British zone. Censorship was very tight. Not only did we have to hand over all address books, diaries and photographs before we left Britain, we were allowed to send one postcard only! All it could say was “Arrived safely” and our full first name. The family probably wondered who this 'Margaret' was!
To answer your first question, while I don't think it's either unusual or sinister that Hilda is still having headaches, particularly when she is tired or worried, it would be wise to consult a specialist. Jem Russell and the other San people are excellent doctors but this is not their field!
Do you remember Tommy “Sheets” Silk? He specialised in neurology so would you like me to ask him to recommend your nearest expert? Actually, he is presently in Newcastle but he does visit his parents in Worcester regularly so he might be able to examine Hilda himself. As soon as I get back home I'll drop him a note and ask him to telephone you.
As for your second question, “How fares Berlin?”, all I can say is that I have never been as nervous in my life as I have been for this past three weeks - not during the Blitz, not when we landed in Normandy and not even when we were running for our lives just ahead of the Panzers!
We flew into Gatow which was lucky for us. Our only difficulty was being buzzed by a couple of red star fighters as we came in but others travelling by the road or rail corridors were delayed for ages. One group was shunted into a siding and left for about ten hours. When they didn't turn up as expected it took a flurry of high level diplomatic coming and going to get them released.
The atmosphere is febrile with everyone waiting for something awful to happen. I am told it's not as dangerous as Vienna but it's horribly oppressive and there are all sorts of criminal undercurrents some of them tied up with the political and military situation. I thought I was just going to be repairing people who had been hit by falling masonry or damaged by bombs left over from the last shindig but not so. Last time I treated so many gunshot wounds was on Sword beach!
You will know that these days the British, American and French sectors are to all intents and purposes under joint administration, though the British and the French still do their changing of the guard routine several times a day, bless them. And compared to when I was there just after VE Day the city is a bit better with a lot of clearance of the bomb sites and some rebuilding though the Russian sector is still grim.
The Ivans seem to be really determined to get the Western powers out of Berlin and there are incidents all the time. I was sent over to their sector to treat some very high ranking commissar who had an 'accidental' and very serious gunshot wound. Apparently, there was not a Russian surgeon anywhere handy with the experience to operate and he refused to be treated by German surgeons. They wouldn't demean themselves to ask the Yanks who they see as THE enemy so they requested assistance from the French and British authorities. It caused quite a flap but in the end our lot agreed to send me and a French colonel.
It all had a definite touch of the seriously strange! The interpreter, who twitched even more than I did, insisted that the commissar's handgun had gone off while he was cleaning it. I might have believed it if the bullet hadn't appeared to turn a corner to hit him in the back and if it hadn't come from a standard US Army issue rifle! It was a long job but luckily, we were able to remove it without doing too much more damage, left instructions for his care and breathed hearty sighs of relief when we walked back through the Brandenburg Gate! To give them their due, the Russkies gave us a tin of borscht, one of those little nesting doll babushka things and a bottle of vodka each. We had to give them all to the bomb disposal bods to be checked in case they were booby-trapped so we didn't get the soup but I do have the nesting dolls and the drink! I also managed to snaffle quite a bit of chocolate so the children will be pleased!
Seems we are coming in to land so I'd better sign off. I'm promised a bed for the night and a flight to Leuchars early tomorrow morning, Home at last! Much love, Meg
PS Yes, I think an engagement for Mary is very likely! I only met Roddy briefly at Dolly's wedding but he seemed a decent bloke. If they do decide to stay in Aberdeenshire it will mean I have one of the old gang close enough for a day trip!
This presumes the School was still in Armishire in 1948 based on Carola's statement that she was born in March 1936 and was nearly 15 when she arrived on the island
“Oh, it's lovely to be driving this beautiful old girl down an Armishire country lane again!” carolled Meg Kelly.
“To which beautiful old girl do you refer, Dr Kelly?” asked her companion with a mischievous grin.
“I was referring to this stately shooting-brake, Mrs Buchanan! For one thing, she is a lot easier to control than you – ouch, be careful, you daft besom,” as Gren poked her sharply in the ribs, “you'll have us in the ditch! However, it is good to be driving you around, though you're more sober than you usually were in days of yore!”
“Cheeky! Still, we did have some good times though, didn't we?” returned Gren. “Despite all the bull and the boredom we managed to keep ourselves amused!”
“We did, indeed!” agreed her friend. “Of course, in those days we were young, daft and a long way from home!”
“The Chalet crowd weren't far from home – or at least not from authority, anyway. If Hilda and Nell knew the half of it...........to say nothing of Matey!”
“I think Matey knew a lot more than she ever let on,” laughed Meg. “According to Jesse James, she was a bit of a flamer in her young days! And Nell had her moments.....”
“So did Hilda, if you come to that.” mused Gren. “Do you remember the night she had to be carried out of the Black Swan? Granted, she had turned her ankle, but if she hadn't been determined to put that Yank colonel in his place she wouldn't have been trying to prove she could still do a pirouette! I think it's a bit dull for them all these days. Hilary was saying in her last letter that now that both Mary and Gillian are engaged she has a hard time getting them the length of the cinema far less to even the most respectable dance and Grizel seems to have retreated into her shell again. I don’t understand that woman; she's obviously unhappy with her job so why the heck she doesn't do something about it is beyond me. You would think some of Skinny's gumption would have rubbed off on her!
“It’s not so much a lack of gumption as the inertia of comfort, I think!” said Meg thoughtfully. “Grizel has always had three square meals a day and a comfortable bed to sleep in and she does know that the Chalet School folk care about her. When Dolly Skinner went from the orphanage into service she was kept so hungry that she ate the stale bread she was supposed to throw out for the birds! On her first afternoon off she went into a café which had a Help Wanted card in the window, found the owner struggling to cope with a lunchtime crowd, mucked in and ended up with a job and a shakedown bed under the stairs. Grizel probably won’t move until the proverbial knight on a white charger happens along or someone hands her an attractive job on a plate. Rosalie used to be quite a keen dancer though?”
“Hmm, yes, Rosalie..............” Gren’s voice tailed off.
“What does that cryptic remark mean?”
“I meant to mention it earlier but we got so caught up in other things. It's just that when my parents went to the Savoy for their anniversary lunch last month who should they bump into but Rosalie and....guess who?
“How should I know? She was never short of a dance partner but there was nothing serious that I saw. In fact, the only man she seemed to spend any time..............Gren, you are not telling me that Rosalie was at the Savoy with Spooky Morrell?” gasped Meg.
“The very man! Maman did say that though Rosalie looked startled to see them, and a little embarrassed, she did not pick up any hint of amour – and Maman is very good at that. Spooky, of course, was cool as a cucumber. That man wouldn't bat an eyelid if his trousers fell down while the King was dubbing him knight!”
Meg chuckled. “I wonder what their connection is. We always knew he was Intelligence - and probably he still is - and she did seem to do a lot of typing for him during the war. There was always more to Rosalie than met the eye. I remember how well she frustrated the infamous Miss Bubb’s efforts to find out details of the Chalet School’s finances! Do you think she's still working for Spooky?”
“Who knows? I asked Uncle Jerome but he just shrugged and said he knew nothing. As usual! Still, I am looking forward to seeing everyone if I am not looking forward to doing this wretched talk! When I told them we had finally got permission to take the car to Scotland and would like to call in and see them on the way home I didn't expect to have to give a version of my wartime experiences as a prelude to their Remembrance Services!”
“I don’t know why you are complaining! At Hilda’s behest, I have to talk to the Seniors and to the domestic staff about the National Health Service. I didn’t bother to tell her that Megan and co will know all about it and will have probably already used it. I had a quick check to make sure I was au fait with the system south of the border so I suppose I’ll be fine with most questions even from Special Sixth.”
“What is the difference? I know it's separate but linked.”
“Nothing that much matters, mostly administrative. We followed the Highlands and Islands Service more closely and, of course, Tom Johnston had set up the Emergency Hospital Service during the War. And here we are at Plas Howells! Round to the kitchen?”
“Dr Meg! And Miss Gren!” Megan’s smile was wide and welcoming. “A sight for sore eyes you are! Miss Annersley asked me to bring in tea as soon as you arrived. She is in the library so, Gwladys cariad, put the kettle on then come and show the ladies your new spectacles!”
A blushing Gwladys came forward to show off her plain but useful glasses! “They are wonderful, Dr Meg, I can read labels on the highest tins in the larder and the paper is no bother.” she confided, “and I am on the list to have my adenoids out!”
Meg and Gren complimented Gwladys on her new look, and, promising to come back for a proper chat later, went to seek Hilda Annersley.
“I rest my case!” smirked Meg as she shut the kitchen door.
Sorry, this meanders a bit! HMS Cressy was the wartime (and until 1959) name of the 190 year old Frigate Unicorn which has been in Dundee since 1874 and now resides in Victoria Dock. My father was in both the RNVR and British Legion so a bit of nostalgia crept in......the Frigate is open to the public and still has lovely Pirates Days, Family Ceilidhs and parties!
Hilda welcomed her old friends with delight. “I’ll just ring for tea..” she began.
“It’s on its way!” laughed Gren, making herself comfortable on the upright chair, and placing her walking cane handily over the back. “We came through the kitchen and if I am not mistaken….”
Meg re-opened the door to admit Megan with the tea tray. “Oh Megan, you angel - Welsh cakes!”
“I knew you both like them, Dr Meg, so I saved some currants specially. There’s two each for you and Miss Gren and one each for Miss Annersley and Miss Wilson!” And with that remark she left the room almost, on her way out, bumping into Nell Wilson.
“What were you all giggling about when I came in?” asked Nell when she had embraced the visitors and settled down with a cup of tea and her Welsh cake.
“It was just Megan reminding you and me of our place in the grand scheme of things!” replied Hilda with a smile. She repeated the housekeeper’s remark.
Nell laughed, “Let us be honest, my dear, we all know that Megan is in charge in this building and I can forgive her anything for her Welsh cakes! Now, before I expire from curiosity, tell me, Gren, just how on earth did you manage to persuade the Ministry of Fuel and Power to give you enough petrol to take the brake to Scotland?”
“Agricultural usage!” said Gren proudly.
“Agricultural usage?” queried Hilda in a surprised tone. “I thought you and Dougie had bought a garage?”
“We have but it’s on the outskirts of Glasgow and a lot of our clients are farmers. Where they do have tractors, they have been hammered both during and since the War and we are really busy repairing them. We do quite a bit for the Hydro Board too. They have diggers and buses that are forever breaking down in the most inaccessible parts of the hills. The brake was designed to get around moors and mountain slopes so eventually we got permission to move her. Meg has a book of coupons and a list of the garages en route which sell red fuel. She’s also promised that I can drive for a few miles but just on the flat, the spoilsport!”
“If you think for one minute that I am going to have you double declutching over Shap or Beattock Summit you have another think coming, young lady!” retorted Meg. “Time enough for that kind of adventure when you’ve modified the car as you intend. Still, there’s so little traffic on the road these days that I’m sure we can let you experiment somewhere!”
“Speaking of experiments, Meg,” began Hilda, “would you be happy to give your talk on the National Health Service to the Seniors in the Hall at 2.30? When I told Megan you would talk to the domestic staff about it, she suggested you meet them in their staff room at 3.30 when they have tea, if that is all right with you? Everything is a little earlier today as we are lighting the bonfire at 6o’clock so that the Juniors and Middles can attend. You don’t have to be there but Jo and Madge will be here with some of the little ones.”
“I wouldn’t miss it!” said Meg. “Do you think Megan could spare me a potato to roast? One of the joys of late autumn, almost as much as burnt neep and aipple dookin!”
“Excuse me, but would you mind translating the last part of that sentence into English?” Nell pleaded.
Meg laughed. “We scoop out turnips, or rather what you call swedes, and make faces in them for Halloween lanterns. The lit candle sears the flesh and it’s a very distinctive smell. Dookin for aipples just means bobbing for apples in a pail or tin bath.”
“We had a Halloween Party once and did that, in Tyrol. Our little monkeys managed to cover my face with soot, too!” commented Nell.
“I got coated in treacle at the British Legion Halloween Party on the Cressy last Saturday! The scones were hanging from the spars at different levels and as I was trying to bite into mine my pesky brother and nephew thought it was a good idea to swing the adjacent ones in my direction. I managed to make a mess of my face and hair entirely on my own account but I was splattered from top to toe before I realised what they were doing. Pat said if he could stop laughing long enough he would give them both a leathering for me but, ach, it was laddie-like, no harm done so they got away with it.”
“So having scrambled over a large hedge and crawled under a rickety fence, we found ourselves in a pigsty. Fortunately, the pigs had recently been fed and were in a relaxed mood. It wasn’t exactly the sweetest smelling place I have ever crawled around but by that time we probably smelt a good deal worse than the pigs! Still the joint aroma of us and the pigs seemed to confuse the dogs and we just lay quietly under the sty there until the sergeant called them off and the patrol went on their way. Unfortunately, when we tried to leave we found that the biggest sow had taken a great fancy to Jules and was determined not to let him leave - or even get up! We were trying to pull her off him, she was alternately butting us and lovingly kissing him while other pigs squealed, rousing the farmer who came out, shotgun at the ready. Luckily, he was a patriot so he rescued Jules and took us to the barn. His wife brought food and we were able to make use of the tap to remove the surface dirt at least. But it was the first and, I hope, the last time that a couple of cows have looked at me as if I wasn’t nice to know!
The packed Hall rang with applause and laughter as Gren ended her carefully chosen anecdotes on this humorous note.
Madge Russell stepped forward. “Thank you so much for that wonderful and inspiring talk, Mrs Buchanan. Now, girls, are there any questions?”
A forest of hands waved wildly and Gren was kept busy for several minutes responding to queries about about codes, improvised explosives, her companions and other points of interest.
“Just one last question!” said Madge as the questions became a little repetitive. “Yes, Verity-Anne?”
The little girl with the ringlets said in her silvery voice, “Miss Linton told us that you were tortured but you didn’t tell your torturers anything. Please, how could you be so?”
Knowing how reluctant her friend was to talk about her time in Nazi hands, Meg looked in concern at Gren but she was as composed as the small maiden in front of her.
“That’s a good question, Verity-Anne, but I am not sure that it being brave had anything to do with it. I knew that the longer I could hold out the better chance my colleagues had of getting to safety and that helped. I had seen over many years what the Nazi regime was like, how ruthless and cruel its adherents were, how they had treated my friends and my compatriots. I hated everything they stood for with a burning hatred and that helped. I fainted from fear and pain several times and once or twice managed to do it deliberately and that helped.” She smiled a gentle, rueful smile, “But there were two things above all which stopped me from telling all that I knew. One was the allied bomb which tore down the prison wall and the other was the fellow prisoners who dragged me to safety and delivered me to sanctuary. Make no mistake, everyone has a breaking point and I was just lucky that I was freed before I reached mine.”
As she sipped tea in the study afterward, Gren apologised for the stark and serious note on which she had finished. “I just felt that as the girl had asked an honest question, she deserved an honest answer.”
“Your answer was perfect, my dear,” said Hilda firmly. “It was the truth. It is so much better for the children to know the reality rather than the false heroics which they read in comics and see at the cinema. I hope that when they wear their poppies they will always recall your particular brand of courage.”
Happy New Year, everyone, and may 2015 bring you health, joy and good friends. This is the year that runs up to a couple of other drabbles, A Holiday for Christmas and the Daft Days (sorry, I can't do the links).
Bridge of Earn
My dear wonderful friends,
Thank you so much for the beautiful bouquet! The flowers have brightened up the ward and delighted my fellow patients and the staff. Snow is still lying deep, though neither crisp nor even, so they are doubly welcome as a splash of colour on a dreich afternoon. You will note that I am picking up the language well and dreich is just so descriptive of the kind of leaden sky, lowering, depressing early darkness that we have today. I do hope that the weather is improving in Armishire. It must be so difficult to keep the girls occupied when they can’t let off steam outdoors.
Though the hospital is on the Spartan side, it’s very up-to-date in equipment and methods. I am rather Matron Gordon’s pet because of Dunc and Meg who, in their different roles, seem to be sprinkled with stardust as far as she is concerned. The surgeon, Mr Belvedere (isn’t that a splendid name?), will have both of them assisting at the operation tomorrow and that’s rather comforting. Meg told me that she will be doing the ‘bone harvesting’ and, very apologetically, confessed that she’ll be cutting in one of the few places the Gestapo missed! Oh well, what must be must be! Of course, Meg has been there every time I’ve gone under the knife and Dunc was there for all the important early ones so as Meg said “We know where every misaligned piece of bone is!”
Sorry this is so short but Dunc has said he will post this on his way home and he’s anxious to get back to Dolly and the baby, Much Love, Gren
PS. Grizel, your godson, young Master Duncan Cochrane Gellatly, was sneaked in to see me yesterday. What a lovely baby he is, full of chuckles!
I am not sure when this will get to you but if my tractor lift arrives and the trains are running I shall be able to keep my promise to Gren to let you know how things went as soon as possible!
Anyway, the good news is that Gren has come through the operation and she is, if not exactly comfortable, at least awake, alert and fairly cheerful. It will be some time before we will know how well the bone graft has taken but the toes look healthy and are quite responsive!
Kingston Belvedere’s technique is new and quite radical – he works extremely fast and the assisting surgeon doesn’t get time to breathe - but he has had very good results. Several of his patients have been able to dispense with their canes. I don’t think that is a possibility for Gren unless we can work out some way of repairing her hip joint but if all goes well she should at least be able to put her foot on the ground without pain and with a bit more flexibility.
We are delighted to hear the continuing good news about Gren. Profuse apologies for not writing sooner and I am aware that, though we have sent cards, we do owe you several letters between us!
Life here has been both hectic and worrying. Not only have we been subjected to alternate bursts of heavy rain and howling blizzards which then melted leaving seas of mud everywhere but we have been struck by an epidemic of a mysterious throat infection which has so far defied the best efforts of Jem Russell, Jack Maynard and company to identify it. Hilda and Nell are tearing their hair out and Matey is fit to be tied!
We might have had to cancel the half term break anyway because transport is difficult all over but we certainly could not send children to unsuspecting homes carrying goodness knows what germ. They will have a good weekend of fun though the Juniors and Junior Middles are quarantined and not at all happy about it! Still what cannot be cured and all that. Must close and get on with telephoning the parents to tell them that their darlings will not be home until the Easter hols!
Much love to Gren and your good self, Rosalie
News from here is that Gren is fine and looking forward to getting out of Bridge of Earn and back to Glasgow at the weekend if the weather permits. She is able to sit up now so Dougie is bringing the brake and I am going with them to transfer her formally back to Rottenrow.
I’m sorry that the throat business doesn’t seem to be clearing and that little Margot has been so ill. Please tell Joey and Jack that she and they are in my prayers. I know the San and the local Health people have carried out all appropriate tests from throat swabs to checking the water and milk supplies all to no avail. Keep me informed. I really don’t like ailments which cannot be pinned down and, yes, Hilda, I do know that isn’t good grammar! Love, Meg
Postcard from the Chalet, early April
Meg, catastrophe! The drains are the problem, it will be a long haul and we may have to move! Nell
Postcard from Dunkeld, Easter weekend
Aaaarrrrgghhhh! Of course! Why on earth didn’t I think of that? Good luck with the flitting, Meg
Chalet School, St Briavel’s
I hope you are well and it is good to hear that Gren is making such good progress. It sounds such a simple thing, being able to describe a circlle with your foot without pain, but it has been so long since she could do that it must seem like a miracle.
We are now settling in to our new home on the Island and it does always seem to be said with capital letters, by the way! I must say it is a bit different and I am not at all sure that I like it.
Armishire may not be the most scintillating place in the world but at least one could escape to do some shopping, have a quiet coffee or go to the cinema in Armiford. On a free weekend it was possible to visit London. From here, it would be the ferry to Carnbach, bus to Swansea, train to Cardiff, then change for London and by the time you got there it would be time to come back!
Hilary Burn is keen to have boats and I must say I wouldn’t mind that myself. I was rather good when we were in Tyrol and it could at least give me the illusion that I could escape.
It does seem a bit odd not to have Madge and Jo somewhere at hand though staffroom opinion appears to agree that the Heads like it this way……..
Best wishes, Grizel
Oh, you poor soul! St Briavel’s does sound a bit on the wee side and rather dull in comparison to Armishire but, correct me if I am wrong, wasn’t your last trip to London to visit Gren when she was in King Edward’s? In 1945?
Anyway, Dolly is so looking forward to seeing you in summer and showing off the big handsome boy! He really is a sweetheart, full of smiles and chuckles and Dolly looks so well and happy.
…….. Love, Meg
Dear Hilda and Nell,
How marvellous that you can join us for Goodwood! Maman and Papa will be delighted, and it does fit very neatly between the two weddings. The Marchmont cousins have a wonderful old house, with rooms galore and Aunt Millie is the most hospitable person I know. Although I still have my cane I am finding walking much easier and am thoroughly looking forward to my first proper visit to the races since before the War!
Sadly, we won’t be having Meg with us either for the races or for Mary or Gillian’s nuptials. Of course, she is studying for her final surgeon exams and working fulltime in a busy Casualty department. She hopes to move into one of the flats close to the Infirmary soon, too, so has her hands more than comfortably full at the moment.
What a terrible fright your young runaway gave you, and herself by all accounts! I’m glad she reached safe haven and I hope her reunion with her father is soon and sweet.
With love from Gren PS Dougie send his best wishes!
Dear Nell and Hilda,
……………………………..How very Jo-like! The house wall beginning to lean and her first worry is whether it will over shade her peonies! I hope they can shore up the foundations and pin the wall. It’s a beautiful house and she does love it.
I do feel for them all over young Margot but I can see the wisdom of keeping her in Canada for the winter. It will be good for Josette, too. She made a very good recovery from the scalding but I did always worry that there might be a problem at a later date. Being out of wet and windy west Wales will do none of them any harm!
Oddly enough, the doctor from whom I shall, God willing, inherit the flat is Canadian. It’s a very good thing for me as he has no interest in taking his Utility furniture with him so will sell it to me for a song! Auntie Mary is looking out for a decent bed-settee and then, cue drum roll, I can invite friends to stay!!.......................................... Love Meg
Dear Hilda and Nell,
How lovely that you can both come to bring in the New Year in Dundee! The family are really looking forward to meeting you and have all sorts of plans for your entertainment.
We’re all feeling a bit above ourselves as Kate gave us the shock of our lives at the British Legion Remembrance Concert on Friday. We knew that both she and Mickey were in the massed schools choir and there was a mention that she had a little solo bit. I was there with the Legion, of course, and the rest of the family turned up as usual to support the bairns and hear the bands. You could have knocked us down with a collective feather when the bold Kate stepped forward and sang, of all things, “Nearer My God To thee”, note perfect, word perfect and with the massed choir doing a harmonised humming effect behind her. I didn’t realise I was in tears till Sergeant McGurk passed me his handkerchief to dab my eyes!
It was a minor sensation in the neighbourhood for everyone except Kate whose only interest next morning was to get up to Uncle Bob’s allotment to check on her Brussel sprouts. Don’t be astonished if she wants to talk to you about plants, Nell…………… love, Meg
Just a brief note to let you know our travel plans. There were no sleepers available but we did manage to book seats so we shall be leaving London on the evening of the 30th with our train due to arrive in Dundee West Station at 7.30am on New Year’s Eve. I hope this is not too early for you.
Looking forward, with just a little trepidation, to enjoying a properly Scottish Hogmanay. God bless you, Hilda
Apologies for the long delay - real life intruding! Nell and Hilda's Hogmanay adventures can be found in The Daft Days (one of these days I'll work out how to do proper links.....) And for those who wonder, yes, Dundee was the home of Toblerone for more than a decade! The Keillor sweetie factory was in the centre of town and walking past the entrance and smelling the boiling toffee and chocolate was a delicious torture!
“Well, we have had some strange moments at the beginning of term before but this one takes the biscuit!”
“Really, Nell, I should have a slang fine box in here for your personal use!” said Hilda Annersley with a mock frown at her friend and co-Head. “But you are right, of course: Carola’s unplanned arrival in certainly unique in the annals of the Chalet School. I do hope we can keep it from the girls but I am not so sure we can keep the staff from finding out.”
“We must just do our best and you know we can rely on Biddy and co to keep quiet about it. More to the point at this moment, we are invited to join the staff for coffee to tell them of our Scottish New Year adventures.” Nell grinned wickedly. “I think that the unexpurgated version will distract them very adequately from questions about Carola!”
Hilda looked thoughtful then smiled. “I think you might be right for once and these might also help!” She brandished two long yellow triangular objects.
“Oh, we’re not going to waste those on the staff are we?” said Nell plaintively. “They were presents!”
“A little chocolate deprivation will do you no harm, Miss Wilson!” replied Hilda tartly as they made their way to the staffroom. “It will make up for some recent excessive consumption!”
“Look who’s talking!” muttered Nell, as she gleefully prepared to tell all!
“Ooh, Toblerone!” shrieked Hilary Burn when the two Heads appeared bearing gifts. “Where on earth did you get those? I don’t think I have seen any since before the War! You must have no sweet coupons left!”
“There was no injury to our ration books at all!” Hilda’s smile was suspiciously smug as she settled into her armchair and accepted a cup of coffee. “It just so happens that these were made in the Keillor factory where Meg’s cousin works. The employees have an opportunity, on a rota basis, to buy the imperfect stock off coupon. Addie very kindly presented them to us as a leaving gift.”
“Addie?” said Matey, thoughtfully, “Is she the cousin who went to Spain to fight for the Republicans and had to escape over the Pyrenees?”
“No, that’s Agnes.” replied Nell. “Addie is the one who was in ENSA. She was wounded when the Germans strafed their lorry in 1944. She’s made a full recovery, thank goodness, and still dances in amateur productions.”
“So, cherie, tell us all! How is our dear Meg, and did you enjoy your little holiday?”
“Meg is very well, Jeanne, and sends her love to you all. She is working hard for her final steps to being a fully-fledged surgeon though she did have a few days off when we were there and we had a wonderful time. The hospitality was almost overwhelming.” Hilda smiled. “When I was trying to rouse myself to get ready for yet another party, Maggie, Meg’s mother, told me of a French nobleman who visited a Scottish Castle last century. After several days of celebrations in his honour, he said to his host “My Lord, your hospitality borders on brutality!”
“Yes,” agreed Nell, as the laughter subsidised, “and I don’t know if it’s Scots in general or Meg’s relations in particular but it was all very musical. Even a sedate afternoon tea with her sister-in-law’s parents finished with us all doing the Hokey-Cokey!”
“That I would have liked to see!” said Rosalie.
Hilda grinned wickedly. “Well, I think I shall always regret not being there to witness Miss Wilson’s celebrated conga line on New Year’s morning!”
“You were not in any fit state to witness anything by that time!” retorted Nell, her voice almost drowned out by the demands of the staff for enlightenment.
More laughter followed the explanations and the various other tales of their adventures.
“In other words, a good time was had by all!” said Grizel wiping her eyes. “What’s Meg’s flat like? She said it wasn’t big enough to swing a cat!”
“It is small but very cosy and just about a hundred yards from the Infirmary. Young Kate pops in regularly to dust and sweep, take sheets to the laundry and generally keep it tidy. That arrangement is to compensate Kate who wanted to follow her siblings into the paper or milk rounds they all had as soon as they were old enough. According to Maggie, despite the fact that Meg had gone out delivering papers aged 11, she had ‘forty tartan fleepies’ at the very idea that her precious Kittykat could be going out in the cold and dark of a winter morning to do the same!”
“That doesn’t surprise me!” chipped in Grizel. “I recall Martin telling us the drama of Kate’s birth one evening years ago. You’ll remember the details better than I will, Rosalie!”
“Oh yes!” replied the secretary, “Kate arrived early and Meg came home for lunch to find her mother in some distress. The midwife, or howdie as she called her, lived nearby so Meg called out to her from the window and sent Stella upstairs to her grandmother with little Mickey. Mrs Kelly was very ill and when Kate was born the midwife thrust her into Meg’s hands telling her to ‘baptise it and wash it for the undertaker.’ Meg was a second year medic at the time and refused to accept that her baby sister was dead. She began to blow on her nose and mouth and rub her heart area. Whatever was blocking the baby’s airways was coughed up and she began to cry. Meg christened her Kathleen Rose after two of the aunts, bathed her and by the time the crisis was over, the baby was dressed and ready to be fed. I believe Mrs Kelly took some time to fully recover and Meg and her grandmother had most of the care of the baby for some months. She’s been Meg’s darling ever since!”
“The feeling’s mutual, too,” commented Nell. “Big Pat said to me that Kate thinks the sun only bothers to rise in the morning for the privilege of shining on Meg so she’s quite happy to earn her pocket money looking after her sister’s flat! She is a bright child, though. It isn’t every day you can have an intelligent conversation on Mendelian inheritance in plants with a 13 year old! You would be delighted with her, Rhyll, for she can do the practical stuff too. She spends a lot of time at her uncle’s allotment and they produce lovely vegetables.”
“She would be a boon and a blessing,” replied Rhyll Everett, who sometimes found a pupil’s lack of enthusiasm for gardening very trying. “I don’t suppose there is any chance of her coming to the Chalet School?”
“We did explore that possibility,” confided Hilda. “I, very tentatively, raised the subject of a full scholarship with Maggie Kelly. She was very polite, and I believe that she did appreciate the offer, but sending a child away to school was just something they could not and would not contemplate!”
Nell laughed ruefully. “We had decided on a two-pronged attack and so I spoke to Meg. She was even less inclined to consider the proposal than her mother was. She was kind enough to say that she believed we did a very good job for the girls entrusted to our care. She then added that as far as she was concerned sending girls or boys away from home for schooling was sheer barbarism!”
Meg’s frankness was met with a mixture of laughter from those who knew her and a little indignation from the others to whom she was just a name.
“That’s very Meg!” said Rosalie, remembering occasions in the war years when her friend had challenged authority, “She was never afraid to speak her mind – as Miss Bubb could tell you!”
“That’s very true,” agreed Nell. “She’s also very happy to be home with the family. She has been invited to apply for posts at various hospitals in other cities but she won’t even consider them as she loves the work that she is doing where she is. The only fly in her ointment is that despite her best efforts she is still on the reserve list. The Army seem determined to hang on to her.”
“That’s no surprise to me!” said Matey drily. “Jesse James predicted before Meg was even demobbed that they would hang on to her until she reaches the upper age limit. The peacetime Army doesn’t attract the top medical talent and they won’t let go of Meg’s combination of innate ability, medical knowledge and battlefield experience without a struggle. Let’s just hope for her sake that we don’t get involved in another war.”
Hilda, rising to take her leave, smiled round at her staff. “On that cheerful thought we’ll bid you ladies goodnight!”
“One thing,” said Nell stifling a yawn as she opened her bedroom door, “between your encounter with the Polish spirit and my escapades with the constabulary, I think we gave them enough to think about to stop them wondering about Carola!”
I've always wondered what people thought when Grizel suddenly disappeared.............
Thank you so much for the lovely photographs of Eleanor Dorothy’s christening. Wee Duncan looked splendid, so sweet, bright and mischievous. Is he still enjoying being a big brother? It’s a pity that our ‘Easter’ holiday is so short and I must make a duty visit to see Steppy. I am so looking forward to seeing you all in the summer, marvelling at how much my godson has grown and making the acquaintance of young Miss Gellatly.
I’m so pleased you managed to have the ceremony before Gren’s operation so she was able to hold her little goddaughter at the font. Meg wrote that the latest bone graft was looking good but it would be some time before they could be sure it had taken. Poor Gren, I’ve lost count of how many operations she has had now.
Life here carries on as usual though the recent bitter cold has been a trial. Plas Howell could be chilly in the winter but this draughty relic is an icebox - we were all putting on extra clothes to go to bed! Of course, the Middles had to have an adventure, Did I remember to tell you that Biddy O’Ryan had come back from Australia to teach History? I can’t say I ever took to the girl. She was a little pest at school but then Nell Wilson was by way of being her guardian and she got away with a lot. She is as ‘lively’ as ever (bumptious is nearer the mark!). She also still has that irritating habit of dropping into cod Irish at odd intervals.
Anyway, she decided to take her charges for a walk which involved them coming down a steep and icy slope. What was only to be expected happened, the girls and Biddy slid and slithered, landing in bushes and against posts, and two of them even came down on hands and knees, to the ruin of their stockings. I happened to be in the vicinity when they arrived back and a more disreputable bunch you never saw, bruised, battered and torn!
Bill’s reaction was predictable, she thought it funny and only to be expected from the irrepressible Biddy. If it had happened to my walk it would have been, “Really, Grizel, where’s your common sense?” Matey would probably have expected me to pay for the torn hosiery!
I have a couple of new piano pupils, neither a star. One of them, Carola Johnstone, has the promise of a really fine voice but, sadly, her musicality fails to reach her fingers! She would be more usefully employed having singing lessons but for some reason it has been decided that must wait until she’s seventeen. No-one asked my opinion so I didn’t venture it………….
Well, I suppose I must go and do some work. The Heads have decided that something must be done about the standard of the School’s German. It would be good to think that this is because we might soon return to Austria but that is not a likely prospect so I shall be stuck on this wretched island for a good while yet.
I hope the weather doesn’t stop you getting to Meg’s party which, if I know the Kellys, will be a wonderful evening!
Much love to you all and please give Duncan and Eleanor a big hug each from Auntie Grizel.
Thank you for your letter. We are all well, Eleanor is putting on weight and we are beginning to get stories! Wee Duncan is good with her, keeps showing her his books and telling her what the pictures are.
It sounds like you are not any happier in your place. I wish you had taken up that interview in Edinburgh. You could have got a lovely flat in the New Town and we would have seen you more often. You should try and get another job.
The weather is better here and we have landed lucky for the Doc’s Fellowship party. I was not looking forward to trying to get me, Wee Duncan and the baby into the sidecar but Dr Stewart has offered us a lift there and back! Dunc thinks he is sweet on Meg so he is trying to get into her good books! Some hopes!
It will be a good night. With the War they had no party when she graduated and you know she refuses to have anything for her birthday nowadays. They are going to make a real splash this time!
Dunc sends his best and Wee Duncan and Eleanor send kisses, all the best, Dolly.
Many thanks for all your cards, your good wishes and the absolutely beautiful bouquet! You really are wonderful and the flowers also had another effect of which more later.
I was very lucky that my parents managed to get the day off work to come with me and it was one of those cold but sunny mornings so we all enjoyed the train journey over the bridges. The Diploma ceremony was impressive and very nerve-wracking. Edinburgh always tries to intimidate you with its history but I kept calm by reminding myself that my MBChB is from a much older university! I was the only woman in the group and, of course, the official Surgeons Dinner takes place in a Club which is strictly men only. I didn’t mind at all as Prof Fairlie took us for high tea in the North British Hotel and then drove us home, meaning we crossed on both ferries too!
The Infirmary went a bit daft. When I went into Casualty next morning there was a huge banner above the door saying “Congratulations, Miss Kelly” and they had made a giant card which was signed by all the hospital staff and seemingly every patient who wasn’t in nappies or a coma!
Matron is too funny for words. This formidable lady has known me, called me Meg, and treated me with the mild disdain (and not so mild when I was walking the wards!) of the efficient matron since I was a plookie-faced fourteen year old with a Saturday job washing the pots in the Nurses Home canteen. Now she almost curtseys and it’s “Yes, Miss Kelly” and “Of course, Miss Kelly” and “Nurse! Get Miss Kelly a cup of tea!” I’ll enjoy it while it lasts which I suspect won’t be long……
The family threw a spectacular party for me. I knew they were planning something but I didn’t realise the scale until I was walked across the road to St David’s Hall. It was bedecked with flags, banners and fairy lights, there was more food than I’ve seen at one time since Gren’s wedding and my cousin’s band was there to play for the dancing. Don’t ask me how many people were there but with family, friends and work colleagues there must have been well over a hundred. Some of the old gang, Gren, Dougie, Dolly, Dunc, and unexpectedly, Robbie and Mary with her sister Kitty were there but the rest of you were much missed!
The photograph is me cutting the huge cake with the ‘assistance’ of Paddy, Tina and little Sandra. We try not to ask Eileen how she manages to get her hands on things like icing sugar or butter but I did want to know she got something of that size cooked. “Simple”, she says, “I just went into Kidd’s bake house and asked if I could borrow their largest tin for Dr Meg’s celebration cake. Not only did they provide the tin, they donated quantities of flour, sugar and dried fruit, mixed and baked it on site, and helped me ice it with all their professional equipment!” When I went in to thank them I discovered that most of them had been under my care at some point and I had reset the manager’s leg when he had a motorbike accident!
Oh, about the flowers! Kate being Kate, she wanted to know what some of the more unusual blooms were called so off she went to the florist to check. They were so impressed with her enthusiasm they offered her a job on Friday evenings making up buttonholes and posies for Saturday weddings. They wanted her to do deliveries on Saturday morning but that’s when she’s at the allotment so she passed that on to Mickey. Both of them are trying to save as much as they can because we have been invited to join Gren and Dougie when they visit the family home in Normandy in July! My experience of that part of France is anything but cheerful so it will be good to see all the places Gren has talked of so fondly!
Much love, Meg
PS Had to let you know I just received a letter from RAMC congratulating me on my FRCS and inviting me to report to Aldershot on Saturday 6th May for bi-annual training………….aargghhh!
I did mean to write earlier to congratulate you on becoming a fully-fledged surgeon but our good wishes are no less heartfelt for being late! Jack and I wish you a very long, happy and fulfilling career.
Life here has been its usual busy self. We have had German measles in our midst, both here and at the school. I did feel rather guilty about it because Jack had brought the girls over here just a few days before Stephen developed the rash though they didn’t actually see him. Con had had a bilious attack –Matey had the cheek to imply that I had fed them unsuitably rich food at half term, if you please – and Jack thought a boat trip and a couple of hours at home would do her good. Still, none of the children was really ill, either here or at St Briavel’s, but it was all very tiresome.
The girls are hard at it getting ready for the Sale and I am trying to organise the family packing for our trip to Canada. I am so longing to see my Margot. Both Jem and Madge have assured me that she is much healthier than she has ever been but it has been such a long time. My activities are beginning to worry poor old Rufus who has taken to sprawling over my feet every time I sit down! We shall miss him while we are away, of course, but I know that Dick and Molly will take the most loving care of him.
Must tell you, Carola, my ‘accidental ward’, caused a minor sensation at school the other day by mistaking cod liver oil for olive oil and having the class cook doughnuts in it! It will be a lovely story for a book one day!
Affectionately yours, Jo
Dear Rosalie, what on earth has happened? I’ve just had a postcard from Dolly telling me that Grizel has gone to New Zealand!!! For good!! This is so sudden – she was coming to stay with the Gellatlys for most of August and Dolly is more upset than I have ever known her. Her writing is usually so careful and neat and this was barely legible. Let me know what’s going on, please? Love, Meg
Sorry for the long delay but another bit of Meg in Normandy should appear over the weekend. And I know Miss Nalder was Phyll in Oberland - not to mention mysteriously still unmarried - but she did revert to Grace later on in the series!
Meg Kelly watched the sleek yacht manoeuvre its way out of its harbour berth on its way to open water. “You know,” she mused, “Jeanne de Lachenais is extraordinary. Normally, she is the epitome of French chic but she is leaping around with those ropes like a hen on a het girdle!”
Her companions laughed. “But, of course, ma chère!” replied Julie Berné. “She spent most of her childhood summers with her grandparents near Ouistreham and learned to sail there. Your young Mickey is in safe hands.”
“He hasn’t had much sailing experience though he is a sea cadet,” said his sister tolerantly, “but, having heard tales of her exploits in the Brecon Beacons, he is totally dazzled by Jeanne so he’ll be obeying her every command. He also thinks Gren is wonderful and having her taking a turn to steer has made his day.”
“It is so good that Vicki feels able to do this and that you sanctioned it, Meg.” sighed Louise Hardinger-Grenville, shading her eyes with her hand as she looked wistfully at the yacht, now in open waters. “She loves sea sailing and it has been so long since she has been able to sail from Honfleur. Dougie has taken her out on Loch Lomond but I think he was too nervous to let her do anything but sit still!”
“He is still a bag of jangling nerve ends, I can tell you,” said Meg with a grin, “but I did manage to persuade him it was good for her, which it is, of course! It wouldn’t do for me, though – I get seasick on the Fifie.”
“Are you not a sailor’s daughter, Meg?” teased Julie.
“Yes, but sadly I am the one of his children who didn’t inherit his sea legs! Still, Dougie will have plenty to keep his mind occupied. It was a brainwave to suggest that he accompanied Marie Christine and the children to the Plage, Louise!”
“Yes, your Kate is a good child, as are Nicole and little Gilles, but an extra pair of eyes, not to mention a strong right hand, is always useful when young Raoul is about. He is feeling very sorry for himself at the moment as his father has banned him from sailing until further notice.”
“Oh pauvre petit!” said the soft-hearted Julie.
“Pas du tout!” snapped the young man’s great aunt. “It serves the little monkey right! He decided to act the fool last time they were out, tangled himself in the sheets and ended up in the water – he could have drowned. To make matters worse, Big Raoul was racing Arluin Berger at the time and those two have been rivals since they were boys so young Raoul is very unpopular.”
“Well, I don’t suppose he can get up to much mischief helping Kate to collect seaweed and foreshore plants. How she imagines we’re going to get the stuff home I don’t know - but never mind that, Julie, do give us the cuttings on your Swiss adventure!”
“Oh yes, please!” added Louise. “I know they have always hoped to return to the Alps, and I heard that Jem Russell was hoping to buy a small sanatorium somewhere above Interlaken but Hilda told us that they couldn’t find suitable premises for a finishing school at anything like a reasonable price!”
“This is so, but then we had the most extraordinary luck. Frieda Mensch, I beg her pardon, Frieda von Ahlen offered to virtually give us a chalet which she had inherited from her aunt. You will recall that it was an aunt in Switzerland to whom Gottfried took Nell and the girls when they had to flee from the Nazis?”
“Ah yes, Aunt Anna! Didn’t she live a good bit nearer the Austrian border? I know Joey said that once they had dodged the frontier guards it was less than an hour’s walk to her chalet, exhausted though they all were,” said Meg.
“Yes, she did,” agreed Julie, “but she must have moved to the Oberland after the War, perhaps to be near grown-up children? I don’t know all the details but the chalet at Welsen is very large and would have been more than adequate for the original numbers planned. You have heard that we have had to build an annexe already to house all the girls?”
“Yes, and that augurs well for the venture.” Louise paused as a waiter arrived with fresh coffees. “Thank you, Jacques, that will be all for the moment – unless you wish a petit gateau?” She looked at her companions who both shook their head. “But how do you feel about leaving the main Chalet School and all your friends?”
“I shall miss Jeanne, of course, and some of the other staff and girls but, between ourselves, I am not at all unhappy to leave the Island! I enjoyed living in Armishire, one had various friends around the village, there was a town nearby, and, though they are of no great height, the Welsh mountains provide some challenging climbs. St Briavels is quite pretty but windy and damp, one can only leave by the ferry and Carnbach may have its charms but it is no metropolis!”
“Shades of Grizel!” laughed Meg. “So did you volunteer or were you pushed?”
“We were all made aware of the posts available but Jeanne felt that, as Nell was going to Welsen, she should remain to support Hilda. She is Senior Mistress, as you know. As it happens, Nell and I are the only current staff members to volunteer though we will be joined by two former colleagues, Grace Nalder, who will teach PT, deportment and music appreciation and Gertrude Ryder who will be Matron. For English we shall have a Miss Norton and the school secretary is to be Gill Culver, who you may remember, Meg, when she was a pupil?”
“Indeed I do, bright lass, friendly with Gay Lambert and Jacynth Hardy. It sounds like a good team, Julie, though it’s difficult to imagine the Chalet School without you or Nell! Poor Hilda will be bereft! ”
“Yes, they have been close friends through some very difficult times but, as you know, the plan has always been to return to the Alps and the hope is that we may open a Swiss Branch of the school proper. I was very keen to join, not just for the adventure or even the Alps but my parents have retired to the Grenoble area so I shall see them more often and more easily.”
“Did you never think of applying for a teaching job in France after the War?” At Meg’s enquiry, Julie paused for a moment then spoke thoughtfully.
“During the War, when we were in England and France was under Occupation, I prayed for my country’s liberation. I so longed to return to La Belle France and I hoped never to leave her again. Having no word of my people for those years was so painful, and the first letter I received after Paris was liberated I still carry with me. Jeanne and I could not wait to get back in 1945. Of course, it was still chaotic, things felt strange, we thought this was temporary but…”, she sighed deeply, “I still love France but I feel I will forever be a visitor.”
“I know exactly what you mean, Julie! Edwin and I always thought we would retire to Honfleur. Our little house here we bought with that in mind - close to the family estate, an attractive place with artists and musicians, not far from Le Havre - but now I think it will remain our holiday home. It is not so much that we did not suffer the hardships of the occupation years, thought there is that, but that we didn’t have to make the accommodations.”
“Accommodations?” queried Meg.
“All the compromises, all the little daily humiliations, the suspicion of friends and neighbours, the shame of helplessness.” It was Julie who answered. “Some collaborated willingly, others acquiesced because there was nothing else they could do, a few resisted openly or secretly. It’s not given to everyone to be heroic but many feel that they should have been, and some pretend that they were. According to my family, it was they who were most keen to punish those they believed to be collaborators!”
“Yes!” added Louise with a touch of bitterness. “My brother Gilles had to be rescued by the British Army when a mob of tardy patriots threatened to set his house alight because he sold cider and brandy to the Germans. What else could he do? He had his workers to think of as well as his own family and his relationship with the Boche was very useful at times for the work that Olivier and Raoul were doing. But, the Occupation has left a mark on France which will take a long time to fade………..
Still, enough of old history! You do think that the main school will follow you to Switzerland, Julie?”
“It looks likely. We have always run with the Sanatorium and they are talking about their main work being in Switzerland in future.”
“I think that is a wise move on their part though how long their focus can be TB even there, I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, Meg?” Louise was interested. “Do you expect a cure soon?”
“I wouldn’t say soon, and I am not sure I would even say a cure, but though streptomycin hasn’t been as universally effective as we hoped it has shown the possibilities. I have read some really good papers on combinations of drugs which are being tried. To my mind, prevention is the key. The massive slum clearance there has been since the War has cleared some of the worst overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions which were a breeding ground for the bacilli and the following up of contacts is much more organised. We are actively looking for cases, too. Whatever ailment brings a patient to Casualty, we treat that then we have a thorough listen to their chest. The slightest rasp or waver and they are down to the chest clinic for sputum tests and chest X-Rays, which can be something of a surprise when they have only come in with a sprained ankle!”
Julie chuckled. “I have heard that there has been discussion about making vaccination compulsory for schoolchildren. Do you think this will be useful?”
“It’s not a 100% guarantee but it’s a very useful tool. I made sure all the youngsters in our family were vaccinated when we ran a test programme at home. A sore arm for a few days is a lot better than a slow death gasping for every breath! So I wish Jem and co every success in their efforts - and I do like the idea of having friends living in Switzerland! ”
Even when I read the wartime books as a child, I felt that the Austrian connection would make the authorities keep a discreet eye on the Chalet School throughout the War. And there were still pretty rigid currency controls in place when the various moves to Switzerland were made.....
“Say what you will, though, there is definitely something strange about this whole Swiss set-up!”
Jeanne and Julie had just left to drive back to the de Lachennais summer home, the children were playing hide and seek in the rambling old d’Alençon home under the watchful eye of Mickey, and their elders were in the big salon relaxing over postprandial coffee and Calvados.
“What on earth are you talking about, Meg?” The Swiss adventure had been mentioned at dinner but only in terms of mountains and music so Gren was looking puzzled.
“This story of Frieda von Ahlen’s aunt leaving her a chalet which she then passed over to the Chalet School for a song! Julie suggested that the aunt might have moved to the Oberland to be near adult children and I’m sure I’ve heard Gottfried mention cousins in Switzerland so why not leave it to them?”
“You know, I did wonder about that!” Louise looked up from the magazine she was browsing. “A family dispute, perhaps?”
“Possible, I suppose, but why to Frieda and not to Gottfried or Bernhilda or to all three of them?”
“Maybe she did and they decided that the Chalet School would make better use of it than they could although it does seem odd to dispose of a property that way – unless they are filthy rich, of course!” This was Dougie’s contribution.
“That they are not!” Meg averred firmly. “I hear from Gisela fairly regularly and though Gottfried’s practice is doing well – American medicine seems to be a licence to print money – in her last letter she was bewailing the cost of university study for the children. Bernhilda has several children, too, and then there is Frieda herself.”
“Of course, the Vienna incident!” exclaimed Gren. “Could it have to do with that?”
“The Vienna incident? Oh, yes, of course, a strange business!” said Dougie. Louise and the other family members looked interested
Meg sighed. “It was a bit of a shock when Bruno von Ahlen came back from war service and was no longer practising medicine. The next we heard he was working in a bank in London and he is now, I believe, in Innsbruck. However, when I was in Berlin in ’48, a French surgeon and I had to operate on a Russian commissar in their sector. It was a nerve-wracking experience so when we got back to base we sat and drank a bottle of wine between us.
To cut a long story short, he was insisting that Vienna had been much worse than Berlin, I happened to mention Bruno’s name and he told me the tale. Poor Bruno was framed by an undiscovered Nazi who was in with the Yanks. He was accused of illegal activities and struck off the British and Austrian medical registers. Colonel Duchamps was delighted to tell me that the Nazi’s past had come to light some time later when his house was burgled and the thieves dropped papers that implicated him in unspeakable war crimes. He was tried and sentenced to death but whether the sentence was carried out or not I don’t know. I'm not sure how it would explain the chalet business though!”
“A flim flam! Without doubt, a flim flam!” The unexpected interruption and fist thump on the arm of his chair came from the head of the d’Alençon family, the formidable Monsieur Gilles who, though in his eighties, was still firmly in charge of the business.
Gren was first to recover. “What do you mean by a flim flam, Oncle Gilles?
“Simple, my child, the British government has very strict controls on money leaving the country. This I know well because we have to fill in endless forms to ensure we are paid for our products though we have been exporting to Britain since my grandfather’s time! Naturally, the banks have devised ways to get round this, some of them actually legal.
Those dealing with the business for your friends will have arranged for the purchase of a property by a Swiss citizen who has papers with whatever name is required. Soon a death certificate and the will leaving the property to this Frieda will be produced and the authorities will not question her generous decision to transfer ownership to the proprietors of a pension for young ladies. A most respectable undertaking by a well-known and reputable school which will employ local people, buy local produce and add a certain cachet to the surrounding area, why should they not welcome this with open arms?”
“I just cannot imagine Hilda Annersley or Nell Wilson getting involved with spivs!” protested Meg
“Oh, these things are not done by the types one finds in the back streets, my Meg, this is not Apache work!” said Monsieur Gilles with a smile. “You said that Frieda’s husband, this Bruno, works in a bank, he will have a network, Sir James Russell will know people, favours are exchanged, small articles of great value can cross borders – it is business! But now, my friends, I must bid you adieu and seek my bed. I have promised to take your charming and intelligent Kate round the orchards early tomorrow morning so she can examine the different varieties of apple we use. Dormez bien, mes enfants!
When M and Mme d’Alençon had gone to seek their rest, Gren turned to her father who had been sitting quietly and saying nothing.
“Papa, you did not look in the least surprised when Oncle Gilles was speaking! Is this all likely or even possible?”
The Hon. Edwin Hardinger-Grenville smiled at his daughter. “Not only possible but quite common, I am afraid. Restrictions may be necessary but those who want to circumvent them will always find a way.”
His wife interrupted him, “But, the Chalet School, Ned? Hilda, Nell?”
“It may surprise you, my dear, to know that the Chalet School has come into the War Office’s purview more than once. Its Austrian background meant that it was under observation throughout the hostilities and they still seem to have some, shall we say, unusual connections? Interestingly, though, the last time a question was raised we were told very firmly that we were not to bother our pretty little heads about the matter, that our elders and betters knew all about it and it was, if not exactly on the side of the angels, at least in the interests of the United Kingdom and the Crown. And now, my dear, I think we should collect young Mickey and make our way back to town before I become any more indiscreet.”
Later as Meg was saying good night to Gren and Dougie she mused on the evening's events.
“You know, before we set off I was worried that Mickey and Kate might find it all very strange, wouldn’t like the food, would find their school French wasn’t up to communicating with people and that they would be homesick.” Meg shook her head. “Now Mickey has managed to inveigle himself into helping at the Citroen garage and Monsieur Gilles has offered to give Kate a summer job as soon as she is old enough. They are both chattering away like natives and exchanging rude local expressions with Nicole and Raoul – I heard Nicole tell her brother to “Awa an bile yer heid, ye wee bauchle!” this afternoon.”
“They are having great fun, Meg!” laughed Gren, “and you are, too, are you not?”
“Oh, I am, I am, of course! But you must admit it’s a bit of a surprise to find that we might have been consorting with an international spy ring all these years!”
Erm, so for the delay in updating. Meg still being a Reserve officer she would almost certainly have been called up when the Army had Korea, Malaya and any number of other colonial problems to deal with.
Re: A Kind of Peace U/D 13th February 2016
Postby shesings » Sun Aug 07, 2016 3:56 pm
Again apologies for the delay in updating. :oops: As Meg was still on the reserve list, she would have certainly been required to serve during the Korean War, though not necessarily in Korea, the British Army being heavily committed in Malaya, Egypt, East Africa and various other hot spots. The Hospital Ship HMS Maine did have to be towed into harbour by the Americans. Although she was, as Meg says, a rust bucket, she did carry thousands of wounded from Korea to hospital in Japan. The operation came from a TV doctor programme I saw years ago so may be total rubbish. Uckers is the RN version of Ludo, by the way!
“Oh, as I gaed up a field o neeps
A wasp ran up the leg o my breeks
And it widnae come doon for weeks an weeks
At the Muckin o Geordie’s byre!”
“I didn’t understand a word of that, Meg, so, drawing on past experience, I suspect it was very rude!” Acting Lt-Colonel Robert Jermyn, RAMC Reserve, grinned at his colleague as they both scrubbed up.
“That one is nearly respectable!” retorted Meg. “If this wretched boat doesn’t stop going up and down you’ll be hearing Kafoozalum and The Ball of Kirriemuir!”
“Promises, promises!” chuckled the QARNNS Theatre Sister Beth Sharpe. “Once you start repairing that poor lad’s chest you’ll forget you are on a ship. I have your measure, Major Kelly!”
Meg pulled a face at both her companions. “Yes, so let’s get on with it. Do you want me on the tubes, Bobby?”
“Not with the state of this lad’s chest, my dear! I specialise in disorders of the stomach these days. You’re the one who insists on working in a Casualty Department in a government hospital so I’ll do the anaesthesia while you try to remove whatever foreign body is causing all this trouble!”
In the cramped operating theatre Meg divided her attention between the patient and the x-ray of his chest. “The field team did a great job of getting all twelve bullets out of him and they didn’t report any they recovered as damaged so what this is......jeeze! Bobby, Beth, come here, Wally, take over the tubes, please!”
The experienced naval medic calmly took over control of the anaesthesia and the continual checking of the patient’s vital signs. Bobby and Caro took the instruments holding back the edges of the wound and both gasped as they saw the sliver of bone, the length and breadth of a delicate embroidery needle, its point penetrating the pulmonary vein.
“Tough one, Meg!” whispered Bobby, “If it splinters, he’s a goner, if it’s through the wall.....”
Meg took the tiny instrument from the nurse and with a swift silent prayer gently pulled the bone. For a long moment it seemed to stick, then it slowly slid out. All three looked for a tell-tale bright red seep but there was none. Meg exhaled in relief. “Right, let’s clean him up, sew him up and wheel the next one in! And we’ll get him x-rayed again in the morning – I want to know where that skelf came from.”
It was just after 9pm when Meg, turning down all offers of a drink or game of Uckers, returned to her tiny cabin to catch up on her neglected post.
October the something
Somewhere at sea!
Thank you for your letter and the photographs of your new domain. Switzerland looks as spectacular as I expected and what a bonny and bright set of young ladies you have! I am pleased you are settling in well, that the teething troubles are just the ones expected and that you coped with your usual calm efficiency. The building is beautiful and how generous of Frieda and her family. I always had the impression that their Aunt Anna lived nearer the Austrian border but who could blame her for moving to such a lovely spot in the Oberland?
My apologies for not replying right away but life has been hectic in this neighbourhood though it might, or might not, be about to get a bit calmer. Having shuttled backwards and forwards between Korea and Japan on His Majesty’s Hospital Ship Rust Bucket for what seems like forever – we lost a propeller in the Shimonoseki Straits a couple of weeks ago and had to be towed to port by a couple of American tugs, oh the humiliation - relief is in sight. When we dock in Japan I shall accompany my patients to the Commonwealth Hospital in Kure where I should remain until my six month sentence is over!
I did volunteer for frontline duty (anything to get off this floating death trap!) but that was nixed – yes, I am aware that is an Americanism but it’s hard to avoid with so many Yanks around – so Kure it is. One bonus, an old wartime pal, Caro Lacey, is senior theatre sister so she can show me the ropes. I think the high-ups were persuaded to move me when I was violently seasick at a wardroom cocktail party. As we were tied up alongside at Pusan at the time I think they got the message that I’m not one of nature’s sailors!
Thank you for your prayers about the Stella situation. Ma’s letters are very brief and she avoids the subject and Stella has only sent me one postcard inviting me to her wedding in the Registry Office on 28th December. Of course, I won’t be home then and I have to admit I cannot say with certainty what I would do if I were. Like young Kate, I would be torn between my duty to God and my love for my sister. Eileen, bless her, is keeping me informed and her brothers are doing a bit of investigating after our bold boy said he worked in the legal department of a major international company. That was after he claimed what he did in the War was still classified! Pat says if he didn’t wangle a 4F he probably spent his entire service doing jankers at Catterick!
It is not just that he is divorced. We all know of hasty wartime marriages that were disasters and if he were a decent bloke in these circumstances, my parents would not have been happy but would have made the best of it. I just cannot believe that my precious Stella, my sweet, bright, clever, beautiful, sensible Star, is not only going to marry outside the church but marry someone into whose eyes I would not bother to spit if his lashes were on fire!
Now that I have that bit of spleen out of the way, I hear that your departure from St Briavel’s doesn’t seem to have made life any more peaceful there! Rosalie wrote to me about her journey with this wild young Aussie that’s been wished onto the School and it was hilarious. How lovely of the Maynards and Russells to treat her to a trip to Canada and she’ll see Joey’s twins before the rest of you do!
I had a lovely card from Hilary thanking me for the wedding present. She’ll be a sore miss at St Briavel’s, but she seems to be very happy and I like what I’ve heard about Phil Graves.
Oh, Bobby Jermyn wishes to be remembered to you. Poor Bobby, he spends most of his time worrying that he is losing lucrative patients to his brother while he’s here. I tease him about being Harley Street, he teases me about treating the great unwashed but we have worked well together. He is uncomfortable that he was hastily given temporary acting rank of Lieutenant-Colonel when they realised that otherwise I would have been the senior RAMC officer on board....... equality has still a long way to go!
With love and prayers, Meg
Meg did get fairly close to the action, with the 28th British Commonwealth Brigade, and sounds as if she might have met Hawkeye along the way, Beecharmer....
“Oh I wish I was back in Kure, with no loud bangs and lots of hot showers!”
“Shut up and pass me a no.5, Caro. This last little basket is going to have to be delicately teased – ah, got you, you wee beggar. How’s the vitals, corporal?”
“Holding steady, ma’am!”
“Good, I’ll just do a wee bit shewin here – and a wee bit there - then can you finish him, Caro, while I change my gloves? Anyone know how many more we’ve got? Oh, for God sake!” A huge explosion shook the hut. “Didn’t somebody tell us we weren’t going to be doing big battles anymore?”
“I think they forgot to tell the Chinese, Meg!” Ron Bridges, the big Canadian surgeon at the next table chipped in. “When he wheeled this one in, Trig said there were two P1s and five P2s. Anyway, they lie, you know that!”
“I know, they told me that I was going to spend the rest of my reserve time in a modern hospital with loads of medicine, sterile equipment, comfortable rooms, flush toilets and lots of hot water. Damnit, I hardly got time to change my drawers!”
“Well, if you ever want help with that, Meg.........”
Meg grinned. “You should choose your moments more carefully, Major Bridges! OK, next up! Dear heaven, no wonder the Yanks call this meatball surgery. And you’d think they’d let kids finish school before they sent them out to be target practice for the Chinese artillery.” She was working swiftly and efficiently as she spoke.
“He’s a civvie, ma’am. Out trying to find some wood for the stove, he said, and strayed into the firing line.”
“And sadly, by the look of it, our firing line. Ah well, let’s see what we can do for you, my poor wee lambie!”
By the time the last casualty was treated and they were in the mess tent it was dark, bitterly cold and the conflict noises had faded.
“What I love about being with Canadians is their maple syrup – I could easily get addicted!” proclaimed Meg as she lavished the sweet stickiness on a stack of pancakes.
Caro Lacey laughed, “By the look of what you’ve slapped on there, you’re an addict already. Do you want to go to see the film tonight? It’s ‘Show Boat’!”
“Ooh yes, Howard Keel! I could do with seeing a good musical!”
It was snowing as Meg, Caro and two Canadian nurses walked briskly back to the hut they shared, arguing about how the film they had seen compared with an earlier version.
“It was a bit too pretty for me,” said Meg, “and, though William Warfield is good, he’s not a patch on Paul Robeson!”
“Robeson - he’s one of the Communists we are fighting against!” came the shocked voice of the younger Canadian, Diane Hall.
“As the land of the free has confiscated his passport, I’m pretty sure he’s not camped on Hill 355 nursing a Goryonov, Diane! Besides, the North Korean regime has very little resemblance to what Marx envisaged...”
“Oh no, Meg, life is too short for one of your political lectures.” Caro Lacey punched her friend in the shoulder. “Don’t encourage her, girls, she can talk on the subject for hours! Let's just have a hot drink and read our mail in peace!”
Meg propped herself up on her pillows, a blanket round her shoulders and sipped her cocoa as she read her first letter, a short epistle from her mother.
“My darling Meg,
We are all so glad to hear that they have moved you to a big hospital and well away from the action. It’s the best news we’ve had for a long time. All we hear from Korea is hand to hand fighting for various hills that have numbers instead of names and peace talks going nowhere.
We are all well in ourselves at home, and Norah is blooming, but other things are still difficult. Your father and I are not very chief at the moment. I have told him that I will not turn my back on my lassie and I shall be there to see her married and he can please himself.
Please look after yourself, my precious lass. We all pray for you – please pray for us, Love, Ma”
Meg bit her lip. Unlike many of their neighbours and friends the Kelly children had rarely heard their parents quarrel and any disagreements were usually sorted before bedtime. She picked up her next letter.
I was so pleased to hear from Nell that you have been posted to a big hospital in a safe area. This must be a great relief to you and to your family. Your poor mother has quite enough to worry about at the moment with the concern over Stella and you are all in my thoughts and prayers.”
“Ah well, I was posted into a safe area, Hilda my dear,” thought Meg “but the North Koreans had other ideas.”
“I am so sorry not to have written sooner but life has been even busier than usual. I did realise that Nell’s departure for Switzerland would mean more work for me but I did not expect it to be quite so complicated.
Term started sadly with the death of Elfie Woodward’s stepmother. Fortunately, a cousin has been able to come and take over housekeeping for Mr Woodward and the boys so Elfie is with us again, is happily Games Prefect, and will finish her school career here.
We are all immensely grateful and thankful that Mollie Bettany came through her operation for Graves Disease and is making a slow but definite recovery. Madge Bettany flew over to be with her brother. She brought the twins so we have seen Kevin and Kester at last! They are lovely babies and she assured us that Joey and all the family, including her new twins, are thriving in Canada.
I know Rosalie told you about Peggy Burnett disappearing into an unexpected pit and the discovery of our ornamental pond and strange tunnels. She also, I think, told you about our mischievous young Australian. The two things came together quite dramatically when we had an unexpected flood caused by the little monkey stuffing a discarded scarecrow into the overflow. Poor Michael Christie had to wade in bitterly cold water on a very chilly afternoon to find the root of the trouble and his knees turned blue. All I had to give him to dry himself when he got out was my handkerchief and he looked so absurd trying to dry his feet with my wisp of cotton cambric. I managed not to laugh but it was a struggle!
Now we are in the midst of rehearsals for the Christmas play and I am looking forward to my trip to Switzerland to see Nell and discuss future developments, of which more later.
Yours affectionately, Hilda”
Meg smiled, a little intrigued by the last sentence, then turned with some trepidation to the letter addressed in her sister-in-law’s distinctive script. She had begged Eileen to keep her fully informed but even so.......
“...............The situation here is still a mess. Stella declares that she will marry this Hendrie character come what may and in despite of parents, priests, archbishops or Pope. Everyone agrees that he is a complete creep and that Stella is far too good for him, of course, but whether folk are going or not going to the wedding is causing ructions.
Your Ma and Da are barely speaking and you could cut the atmosphere in the house with a knife. Mickey is refusing to go, and probably just as well as you know what a temper he has - he might end up headering the groom! Kate got into trouble, at school this time, when Sister Mary Ignatia told her must choose between her love for Jesus Christ and her love for her sister and, Kate being Kate, said she chose her sister! She got five days detention but is not daunted.”
“Bless you, my loyal wee Kittykat, but, Stella, Stella, I really hope you find that this man is worth all this pain!” Meg sighed, wiped her eyes and found her place again.
“Granny Kelly says it’s all a matter of sunshine and she and Granny Graham are both going to let Stella know that they’ll be there when it all falls apart, as it almost certainly will. To the surprise of some, Auntie Bella refuses to go, but I suspect his attitude, not just to us but often to Star, has outraged all her suffragette sensibilities.
Pat is going because he is her oldest brother and says that not to go would be a betrayal so I will go with him. You know how devout Norah’s family is (all those nuns!) so she and Alex are not going. She is very upset because she and Star have been friends since they were at school and that is not a good thing in her condition.
My brothers are still trying to find out more about his employment. Tam tells me that Hendrie might or might not work in a legal department but he is not an advocate, solicitor or clerk and he appears not to have any law qualification in Scotland at all. Vince’s firm has very good contacts in the business world, particularly in the new branch factories, but he has not been able to trace him either. By the way, they are both enjoying doing a bit of sleuthing – makes a change from conveyancing and tax management, I suppose!
In better news, the children are all thriving and send hugs and kisses to Auntie Meg.
Take care of yourself, woman, and oh how I wish you were here!...............
“You and me both, Eileen,” thought Meg, as she slipped to her knees to say her night prayers, her heart and mind 5,000 miles away.
“Evening, ladies, are you coming to our shindig tonight?”
Meg smiled at the young RAAMC Lieutenant. “The Anzacs always throw a great party, Rick, and we wouldn’t miss it for the world, would we, girls?” The group of nurses walking with her from the big Kure hospital to their quarters agreed with acclamations.
Rick White stroked his chin thoughtfully and decided another shave might not be a bad idea. There were some very attractive young women around and that Scottie doctor had a twinkle in her eye. With Christmas spirit in the air, not to mention in hospital issue tumblers, well.....?
“Is it me, Caroline, or are doctors getting younger?” asked Meg as they walked upstairs to their rooms.
“We’re getting older, Meg, though you don’t seem to do it as fast as the rest of us. And you are beginning to limp a bit – painful?”
“More of a pulling and a fair bit of itching! That was a long stand this afternoon – four hours and intense, too.”
“Well, I don’t think you should have been back to work so soon. You wouldn’t have let one of your patients do it! It’s only a week since the accident and just three days since we were flown back. I’ll dress it after you’ve had a shower. Half an hour?”
“It’s a deal! And I have some lovely Swiss chocolates to share that have cost my friend an absolute fortune to send by airmail!”
Meg lay on her bed reading Nell’s letter smiling at the doings of the young ladies of the Chalet School’s finishing branch ranging from the St Nicholas celebrations and an electrical failure on the train to the pantomime.
“.........I must confess, I did feel a little guilty at having rather manoeuvred them into a second performance. It was, however, just the spur they needed to take the production from being a simple event to amuse themselves to something they would be proud to show to outsiders and I am certainly proud of them.
There were some very witty parts in the script but, hopeless reprobate that I am, the piece I found most amusing was set to the tune of “The Campbells Are Coming”. Although, as I found on second hearing, their lyrics were very clever, when they sang it at the School all I could hear were those scatological verses you sang one wartime evening when we had looked upon the wine when it was red!”
Meg was still smiling at this fond memory when a rap on the door heralded the arrival of Sister Lacey armed with her supplies.
“You’ve good healing flesh, Meg, I will say. Even where Bobby had to stitch – and, you know, he is a very neat stitcher - I doubt if there will be much scarring.”
“Bobby needs to be good at stitching! He has to satisfy the aesthetic tastes of wealthy clients who would demand a refund if they had an untidy scar! Luckily, my scars are not going to be on view to the public.”
She began to laugh. “But you do have to see the funny side. Poor Bobby has been trying to remove my underwear since 1942 and when he finally succeeded, it was only so he could pick shards of glass and filament out of my backside! Ouch!”
“Sorry, that cut really is in a nasty place. A fraction of an inch lower and it could have been very serious. So you and he were never.........?”
“Good grief, no! We went to the pictures a couple of times but he wasn’t my type even when he was single! His wife’s a sweet woman, by the way, daughter of a baronet and very suitable for his society role!”
“Right, that’s you done but if they start playing the Can Can at the party, I would advise you not to start doing high kicks!”
“Why can’t I get properly heroic wounds?” Meg groaned as she slowly got up. “In Germany I step in a rabbit hole and sprain my ankle, in Korea I get blasted in the bum by an exploding bedside lamp!”
“If memory serves me”, said Caro sternly, “the rabbit hole was in a minefield where you went to stop a dogface bleeding to death and you were Mentioned in Dispatches for it. Battler Warrington and Butch Schneider were furious that you didn’t get the Military Cross they’d recommended.”
“I didn’t know that!”
Caro smirked! “Butch and I were very good friends! And you’ve 15 minutes to get ready before our Antipodean cousins set the standard for the Christmas parties to come!”
The party was a lively affair but was still in full swing when Meg slipped away. She usually enjoyed this kind of relaxation from her stressful work but dancing anything more active than a waltz was uncomfortable, sitting was worse, alcohol was totally forbidden to her at the moment, the music and chatter made it impossible to have any conversation. Adroitly diverting the amorous Rick White’s attentions to a pretty physiotherapist from New Zealand, she waved to Caro and left.
Back in her room, she had another look at the Christmas card from her parents, smiled fondly at Kate’s underlined “Wish you were here!” and sighed to see that there was no signature from Stella. Less than a week until the wedding and her heart ached at the thought of the turmoil at home. She picked up a letter from Gren which had come by the long sea mail, hoping that her friend would bring her some cheer.
“........We had a short trip to Englandshire last month and managed to have afternoon tea with Hilda Annersley who was visiting her cousins in Gloucester. She was looking well, if a little tired. I think running the School without Nell has been harder than she expected and the worry over Molly Bettany wasn’t helping.
I don’t know if she’s told you about their new Australian pupil. It seems that Rosalie Dene had some choice words to say about her from the get-go and they had another contretemps over the little madam’s disinclination to obey rules about which stairs to use.
According to one of the maids who told her mother who told her neighbour who told her friend who told Mrs Christie, for whom she cleans, who told Hilda, (I hope that’s clear!), the child thought Rosalie was a pushover, literally, and was very surprised to be easily repulsed, firmly grasped, marched to the correct stairs and told she stayed there until she decided to go up and down. I was tempted to tell Hilda that her secretary and several other members of her staff had taken instruction in unarmed combat at Hexington but thought better of it! It was after that odd episode when Rosalie was found out for the count in the drive and someone suggested training in self-defence might be useful. I remember Grizel was very good, and so was Hilary, but Rosalie, for all her slightly fragile appearance, was the star pupil. Anyway, if - and it is still if - Rosalie is involved in some way with what my father calls The Dead Letter Box Brigade, I suppose it behoves us to be careful what we say!”
A sudden rap at the door startled her. Who on earth would be calling at midnight?
“Come in!” she called and her shy and rather nervous batwoman poked her head round the door.
“Message from the Colonel, ma’am, he wants you to report to him at 0700 hours tomorrow morning, no this morning I mean. What time do you want to be called, ma’am?”
“I don’t want to be called at all!” Meg smiled at the girl. “No need for both of us to be up before dawn, my alarm clock will do nicely. Good night.”
Meg stifled a yawn as she knocked on the C.O.’s door. She hadn’t wasted sleeping time speculating about why the CO wanted to see her but she hoped he wasn’t going to stop her working.
“Ah, good morning, Major Kelly, I am sorry to say we are going to lose you!”
“The Army has decided that you would be more usefully employed in Millbank preparing the next wave of regulars and reservists for what they are going to meet here. Sergeant Gibson has your papers and you are due to report to QAMH at 0900 on the 8th of January. Your travel was rather tricky – we’ve nothing flying west before the 28th at the earliest – but the Americans have a medivac going from Tokyo to Walter Reed tomorrow morning. As they were only going to be able to spare one doctor for the flight they are very pleased to take you. There’s a nurse team and the Sister in charge will take care of your own honourable wound! ” His lips twitched and, in spite of herself, Meg’s did the same. “They have said they will transport you to Britain as soon as possible which means you should be there in time to have a few days leave. I have a meeting with my opposite number in Tokyo this afternoon and the chopper will be leaving at 1130. I’ll see you then. Thank you, Major.”
Meg saluted and left the room, her mind reeling. It barely registered when Sergeant Gibson handed over her orders and travel warrants and she was still in something of a daze when she walked into her room. Private Milton was carefully and efficiently packing up clothes, toiletries and books.
“All right, Betty, how did you know I was going?” Meg’s tone was resigned.
“Sergeant Gibson said, ma’am, and I thought I should......sorry, was that wrong?”
“Not at all. It just reminded me of World War 2 when my batwoman always knew what was happening at least twenty minutes before I did. No, don’t pack the chocolates, you can have what Sister Lacey and I left.”
“Are you sure, ma’am? They look very expensive!”
“I’m sure! I’ll let you finish the packing while I go and break it to my colleagues that I am deserting them.”
“Oh, I think they know, ma’am! I’m told the senior surgeon was swearing and Sister Lacey wasn’t happy either!”
Caro Lacey wasn’t pleased but was philosophical. “That’s the Army for you! I’ll miss you, Meg, but they are a good crowd at Millbank and you’ll be fine!”
Meg was at the helicopter in good time and watched as her kit was stowed. There was no sign of the CO but it was his privilege to be last and Meg was just about to climb aboard when she heard her name being called. Private Milton was racing toward her with a blue envelope in her hand. Meg’s heart skipped several beats. Was this Army telegram just early Christmas greetings from the family or was it bad news? She took it from the breathless girl, acknowledging her salute and returning her shy farewell.
Once fastened into her seat, she ripped open the envelope. The words danced before her eyes then she gasped as they came into focus.
“Wedding off STOP Letter follows STOP..Pat.”
Why the wedding didn't happen!
Eileen Kelly hugged her sister-in-law warmly. “Look what’s blew in for Hogmanay, and three shades whiter than milk! Come in and get some breakfast and tell me properly how you got here!”
Meg smiled as she followed her good sister into the big kitchen.
“We were just supposed to refuel in Guam but we got stuck there for hours trying to keep the patients cool, no air conditioning, outside temperature in the mid 80s! Oh, thank you, I’ve been dying for a proper cup of tea and a morning roll or three! We'd three more fuelling stops and reached Washington late on Christmas Day. They'd arranged to get me on a flight on the 28th from outside Boston to Edzell so I made myself useful for the next couple of days. I didn’t call because the lines and telephonists were tied up with patients phoning home – they give them free long distance calls over Christmas – and there didn’t seem much point really since I had no idea when I’d arrive. We were due in Edzell early yesterday but we were grounded by a blizzard in Keflavik so it was about 7 o’clock when we landed. I was totally wabbit so just phoned to let you know where I was, had a night’s sleep and got a lift down this morning. Now, tell me what has happened!”
“Well,” said Eileen, who had returned to expertly rolling pastry and topping the row of meat filled pie dishes on the table, “it all started with your father!”
“Da? What did he do?”
“Calm down – and stop stealing the pastry trimmings, you’re worse than the bairns!”
“Where are the bairns? It’s a bit quiet!”
“Mum’s looking after Sandra and Nicol and Dad has taken Paddy and Tina to hear his latest ideas for The Ruin!” Tam Baxter’s purchase of a fire damaged house and surrounding land out the Perth Road puzzled his family but was a constant source of entertainment and interest to his older grandchildren. Eileen quickly put the pies in the oven and came back to the table, wiping it clean before she sat down.
“Anyway, your Da has been very upset so he got from Kate what shift Stella was on and met her last Friday outside the Infirmary. He said he was sorry he couldn’t be at her wedding but he wished her happiness and wanted to pay for the reception. Give Star her due, she did realise how hurt he was and that he would even be more hurt if she didn’t take the money. Between ourselves, I suspect she was very glad of it - she seems to have been paying for a lot.
So off she went to tell the bold boyo the good news. He had taken furnished rooms in Strathmartine Road - ‘no point renting unfurnished when we will be buying our own place and will want to furnish it properly’ was the tale. Of course, she had a key so in she walked - and there he was with a woman!”
Meg winced. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, my poor Star! In flagrante?”
“That would have been bad enough but it turns out this lady was his lawfully wedded wife from whom he is not divorced, or even separated, and no divorce proceedings are pending! Although they might be now, right enough, if the woman has any sense.”
Meg buried her face in her hands and gave vent to some very colourful expletives, “If I ever get my hands on him I swear I will take his sacred life, the conniving, double-dealing....... how dare he treat my wee sister like that, I will kill him!”
“There’s a queue! If your father, brothers or cousins find him there will be murder done. Actually, if my lot get hold of him, it’ll be the same! They’ve always been fond of Stella, even more so since Nicol was born.” Eileen had developed pre-eclampsia in her last pregnancy and it was thanks to Stella’s experience and skill that mother and baby had survived.
“What did she do?”
“Well – and we only know through Kate, Star won’t talk to anyone else - Star and the wife were both screaming at him, he was trying to tell the wife that it was something he’d got into by accident, he wasn’t going through with it and trying to tell Star that it was all a misunderstanding, he was divorcing his wife but she was hysterical, refusing to accept it. You can imagine how well that went! Stella pulled off her engagement ring and stotted him on the nose with it, grabbed her belongings and left as the wife was belting him over the head with a tea tray.
She walked down town, went into Kidd’s, cancelled wedding breakfast and cake then went round to the registrar and cancelled the marriage. The banns were how the wife found out, by the way! They live the other side of Perth but apparently a friend brought her children to see G.L.Wilson’s grotto and, like me, she always has a wee look at the banns in the registrar’s window. He has an unusual middle name, Cyrus or Sirius or the like, so she mentioned it to the wife and the fat was in the fire – and thank God’s good grace for that, before we were into bigamy!
She has locked herself in the flat and Kate is the only one who gets in though we’ve all tried. Your mother sends food with Kate, the bairn keeps the place tidy and seems to be a comfort though she doesn’t think Stella has shed a tear. There’s not a problem with work - she was due two weeks holiday for the wedding and as the shifts worked she was off over the weekend anyway so...... Pat was talking about going up for the Bells. He is sure that she wouldn’t keep the door shut on a first foot, especially as it’s your flat!”
“Dear God, what a mess! She’ll be heartbroken and mortified, too, and feeling so shamed, my poor precious girl!”
“Oh the fiat has gone forth that anyone who does the “Telt you!” or “What were you thinking about?” line will face the wrath of the combined Kelly and Graham women and would you willingly fall out with all of them at the same time? Any one on her own would put the fear of God into Sugar Ray Robinson!”
In spite of everything, Meg laughed. “That’s true!”
“And talking of tough women - Da and Pat went to the rooms but, of course, the bird had flown. However, the landlady had overheard everything, probably ear to the keyhole, and she saw both Stella and the wife storming out. About ten minutes later, Mr Hendrie appeared carrying a suitcase, a cut on his nose and the start of a black eye, and told her that his fiancée had found a more suitable flat and could he have the deposit back minus the rent due, please. Of course, this epitome of panloaf respectability knew it was flannel, so hauled the case off him, smacking him in a delicate place in the process, said she wanted the rent now and the deposit would go back to the lady that paid it. He coughed up, the big saftie, and she gave Da the deposit, saying if there were to be ‘proceedings’ she would be happy to testify.”
“I like this woman! But we all saw through this basket – why didn’t out clever sensible Star?”
“Maybe that was the problem! Sensible Star, the one who always keeps her head, takes hold, settles disputes, your mother’s mainstay all through the War, tailoring her career ambitions to the best interests of the family. Maybe she just needed some Stella-centred time!”
“But she’s always had lots of decent boyfriends! And she loves her job and she’s very good at it!”
“Yes, but...” Eileen paused. This wasn’t the moment to tell Meg that Stella had longed to be a doctor but had felt obliged to choose a more direct, and more economical, way into medicine. And there might never be a time to tell her that it wasn’t always easy being Meg Kelly’s wee sister, or brother for that matter, in a community where her brilliant successes were such a source of local pride. Luckily, there was a distraction.
“Why on earth are you fidgeting like that – have you brought back flechs?”
Meg explained about her accident.
“Do you need it dressed?” Eileen was more concerned than amused.
“If I get into my flat, I’ll get Stella to dress it!”
“Well, that little Austin outside is for your use and the keys are on the dresser.” She hugged Meg tight. “You are probably the only one who can help her right now so I’ll be praying for you both! Keep us informed and we’ll keep mum just now!”
“Will do – and thanks for everything, as usual!”
Meg parked the car outside her door and looked at her flat, noting that the curtains were still closed. Her heart ached for her beloved sister sitting in the dark brooding. She knocked on the door but there was no answer. She put her key in the lock and realised that it had been snecked.
“Go away, Kate!” Stella’s voice was harsh. “I told you not to come back today!”
“You might have told Kate that but you didn’t tell me! Can I get into my house, please?”
“Meg? Meg?? Meg!” The door was flung open. “Oh, Megsy, Megsy!” And weeping bitterly, Stella flung herself into her sister’s arms.
Em, sorry about this but I forgot to add this chapter in here which meant I left Staella's tory haning in the air!
Chapter 16 b
Meg swept her sister into the flat firmly closing the door, to the acute disappointment of the next door neighbour who, on seeing Meg get out of the car, had decided this was the right moment to give her brass door knob and letter box their Hogmanay polish.
She sat Stella down on the sofa and held her close until the sobs began to subside. Meg took out her handkerchief and wiped the tears from Star’s face.
Stella gulped, “Oh, Megsy, I’ve been such a damn fool! How could I have been so taken in by him?”
“You weren’t a fool, Star, you were in love, you believed he was too – and maybe he was. Maybe his marriage is a sham but he hasn’t been able to end it.”
“Well, it probably is now but from what that poor woman said it wasn’t! They have two small children, one just a baby, and were about to move into a council house. When he was telling me he couldn’t see me because he was very busy at work he was at home playing the good husband and father.
Oh God, I should have seen the signs! It’s not as if he was my first boyfriend – Da always teased that he didn’t bother asking my lads for their name as it would be a different boy next week. Beyond the fact that everyone who cared about me, even my loyal wee Kate, loathed the very sight of him, I should have been suspicious that he always avoided telling me where he worked and that he told me nothing of his family background except that his parents were dead. Apparently they are not, by the way, as Jean was threatening him with what his mother was going to say about it all! That seemed to frighten him more than the tea tray!”
“If his mother’s anything like ours, he had something to frighten him!”
“That’s the worst thing of all, Meg, what I’ve done to Ma and Da and the rest of the family. I know it’s caused the only serious argument our parents have ever had. You should have seen Da when he came to meet me to offer me the money for my wedding! He’d got away from work early and changed into his good suit. He was so dignified and sad that I wanted to throw my arms round him but I was too proud and stubborn. And I’m so ashamed that I took his money because even then I wasn’t sure that Peter would pay for the reception. I was the one who paid the deposit for that and the rooms. I gave it to Kate to give back to him. God, what an idiot I am! Will they ever forgive me?”
Meg gave her sister a gentle shake. “Don’t be a daft lassie, you must know you’ll be welcomed with open arms. We are all hurt because you’ve been hurt but you are ours and we love you. And you won’t get a hard time from any of us, either. Eileen tells me that the Grannies and Aunties have threatened to horsewhip anyone who looks squint at you!”
Stella giggled, “I can just see them! Hardest thing is going to be going back to work, though. As Kate was too young and I knew Eileen really didn’t want to be party to it though, bless them, she and Pat were coming, I asked Jenny Gilroy to be my best maid. She agreed but wasn’t enthusiastic – oh, why didn’t that get through to me? Everybody I respect, my family, my friends, my workmates, could all see that he was a chancer and a rotter, why not me? Do you know, I am not even sure who was going to be our other witness? He said an old army pal but whether he was ever in the army.....Oh Stella, Stella, you fool! How I’m ever going to face them all?”
“Well, I have to go and work in London for the next three months. If you want, I’m sure I could get you a post in one of the maternity hospitals there – they are always desperate for good staff. It wouldn’t need to be for long, just till you were ready to come home.”
Stella looked at her sister with a rueful smile.
“It’s a kind thought, Meg, but you do realise that folk would assume I had left town to hide my shame and have the baby adopted.”
Meg was startled. “But you’re not...?”
“Of course not! I’m a midwife, Meg, I do know about the birds and the bees! I’d love to say that folk aren’t keeping us so they can please themselves what they think but we are both in in a profession where it’s not just our medical reputation that matters. You are so adept at keeping your private life private that I am not even sure that you know about it but I don’t want my good name dragged through the mud any more than it has been!”
Meg grinned at her sister, “Our Sensible Star! Eileen was right, you are the one in the family who holds everything together. I’ll try to be a bit more help when I get back! Now how about food, then we can get the cleaning done?”
“There’s not a lot to do. Kate’s kept the place like a new pin and she was down before daylight this morning to change the bed and get the sheets to the bagwash. I was a real besom to her this morning and told that poor good bairn I didn’t want to see her until the 2nd and that I was going to my bed at 10 o’clock!”
Meg put the soup brought down by Kate in a pan to warm.
“You would have been wakened at midnight! Pat was going to be on the doorstep at the Bells and he was sure you would open the door.”
“He was right! I would have felt guilty if I hadn’t let your first foot in!”
“Well, we can tell him he’s not needed. Ma and Da don’t know I am home, Pat and Eileen won't tell them, then you and I will be on their doorstep at midnight!”
“Oh, Meg, no, I can’t........”
“Yes, you can! You’ve said you feel really guilty about what you’ve put them through. It’s their first New Year in their new house so what better gift can you give them? Now, have your soup then you can dress my wound.”
“Your wound? What happened?”
Meg explained. Stella stared at her sister then went into peals of laughter.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Meg!” she said struggling to control her giggles. “I know it’s not funny, it was and is very painful, you lost blood - I thought you were a bit peeliewallie – but it’s just that here we‘ve all been worrying about you out there among the bombs and the mortars and you have to go and get assaulted by a light bulb.......let me have a look.”
It was a couple of minutes to twelve when the Kelly sisters reached the street where their parents’ neat little terraced house stood.
“Bit of a change from the Overgate, isn’t it? A bath in the house, big kitchen, central heating, washhouse across the street and just look at that view! Do you think we’ll hear the Steeple Bells from here?”
“Might do but we’ll see the rocket anyway! And there it goes! Happy New Year, Meg!” They hugged then turned and rang the bell.
They heard their father’s steps and his “An early first foot in our new house, what rare!” He opened the door and his jaw dropped. He pulled his daughters into his arms and into the house, shouting, “Maggie, Maggie, our lassies are home! Oh Happy New Year, my darling girls, what a party we are going to have!”
“....So, after all, Hilda, we did have a good New Year. Of course, Stella still has her sad moments but we met some of her nursing friends and they were very good, just said they were looking forward to her return from holiday, and didn’t mention the other business at all.
I’m glad to hear that Molly continues to do well but it will be a slow business. It’s unfortunate that Peggy will have to miss the rest of her year in the Oberland but she wouldn’t be happy if she had to worry about how her mother was coping and it sounds as if the Quadrant takes some looking after with all those rooms!
I am travelling down to London tomorrow and staying with Louise and Edwyn for a couple of nights before I report to Millbank. If I manage to get a long weekend at some point I shall try to get to St Briavel’s to see you all. The RAMC should let me go home in March but if they decide to extend my service I might even get to your Sale!
My half-filled suitcase is reminding me that I still have packing to finish so, as young Mickey says, I shall have to love you and leave you! Take care, Meg.”
Not a proper update but a rejigging because I forgot to add the last chapter. The death of King George VI was one of the most vivid memories of my schoolchild life, even more so than the subsequent Coronation.
Thank you for your letter and I am delighted to hear that the main Chalet School will be moving to Switzerland – it always seemed wrong to have you and Hilda in different countries! My lips are sealed, of course, until you give me leave but I shall look forward to hearing more about the arrangements.
The atmosphere in London, and probably the rest of Britain, is both strange and strained with the shock of the King’s death still very raw. I don’t know how much you have heard or read but Wednesday was bizarre! We were given the news around 11am and the Deputy Chief, for reasons best known to himself, decided that we required an immediate and full air raid drill! Quite why he thought the Russians were likely to attack at that precise moment goodness only knows but we had to get our poor sick and wounded patients down to a very dismal and ill lit cellar. Still, one good thing has come out of it as they have realised that the shelters have been scandalously neglected since the War and necessary repairs will be carried out. Actually, we are more in danger from fire than the Red Army as the hospital electrics could also do with an overhaul!
I am still staying with Louise and Edwyn, the influx of reservists having caused a shortage of officer accommodation at the hospital and we were asked to live elsewhere if we could. Travelling back to the flat on Wednesday evening was eerie to say the least, the streets darker and quieter than usual with shops, theatres, cinemas and pubs closed. The only business being conducted was by the newsboys and they didn’t have to shout as there were crowds around all of them anxious for the latest special edition. The BBC in its wisdom had decided not to broadcast at all apart from short bulletins at usual news times! That wasn’t really a good idea as people were in a state of shock and needed reassurance.
I am as shocked as everyone else at the news, of course, and very sad for the widowed Queen who is our Colonel-in-Chief, but I am not totally astonished. Louise and I went to the cinema to see “The Lavender Hill Mob” on Saturday afternoon and Pathe News showed a film of the King at the airport to see Princess Elizabeth off on her trip to Africa. He looked so ill that I was very surprised his doctors had allowed him to make the trip. Our Big Chief being part of the Royal medical team, we have heard that his doctors chose not to tell him how serious his condition was and, naturally, he would not want to say goodbye to his daughter until the last possible moment. Poor young lassie, I don’t envy the life she has come home to one little bit.
On a happier note, I bumped into one of your girls the other day! St Thomas’s had a particularly complicated shooting injury and requested our assistance so I was detailed to go. They asked if I would mind having some of their aspiring surgeons as observers and, of course, I agreed. When I greeted the six of them, five responded with “Good morning, Major” and the sixth said “Hello, Dr Meg”! Dr Dorothy Brentham, no less, looking well and, I am reliably informed, a first class surgeon in the making! Certainly, when it was her turn to assist she was calm, confident and skilled.
We had dinner together and talked of the Chalet School. She knew you were in Switzerland and spoke very fondly of you. I got an interesting description of your night in the mountain hut at Fulpmes! She would like to specialise in orthopaedics but feels that as a woman she will find it difficult to get a training place and she is undoubtedly right. As it happens, with Gren in mind, I have been chatting to a few people who are doing important work on hip replacement so I do know some influential people in the field. I shall see what I can do but it’s still a sair fecht!
News from home is good, Norah is keeping well and being very carefully monitored by Stella whose letters are short but cheerful. Granny Kelly is recovering from her influenza and has decided, thank goodness, that she will give up the Overgate garret and live with my parents. Kate was persuaded to enter for the Leng Gold Medal and is through to the final which will be held during the Music Festival. She’s the first one of us to go for Gold - the poor child probably had her arm twisted by Greta McGillivray, an old classmate of mine who is head of the Music Department. Whenever we meet she tells me very firmly that my wee sister should be aiming for the Academy of Music instead of ‘just a science degree’. You must meet her on your next visit - I am sure you would have a very stimulating conversation!
It looks as though I shall get home at the end of March if not before so probably my trip to St Briavel’s will not happen. Our Health Authority, aided by the local MPs, has been kicking up a fuss about losing me for so long, particularly as several other local medics have been recalled to the colours. Mr Strachey still has good contacts in the War Office and has been making the case as has Edwyn. He has had to be circumspect, naturally, but between them they seem to have convinced the brass hats that my own hospital needs me. Hurray!
Oh sorry, I haven’t thanked you for the sweets which were delicious though you really shouldn’t go to all that expense just for me. Shall we ever get sugar and sweets off ration again, I wonder?
My very best respects
Thank you for your letter, the documents and the chocolates. You really shouldn’t be spending all that money on me though they were delicious and I must admit to feeling that I deserve a treat!
I do like the revised plans for the three Chalet buildings, particularly my own annexe. What a boon that Rosalie’s old college friend at the Embassy could recommend a good firm to do the work and at such a reasonable cost. I can understand Rosalie’s wish to make her own quarters more of a little home and it means that Jeanne and I shall be more comfortable, too!
There is good news from Guernsey. I telephoned Janey last evening and she told me Julie is recovering steadily, though she still tires easily. Peter thinks she will be well enough to come to school next term though we shall have to take great care to see she does not overtax her strength. Whether she will go to Welsen as planned or stay in the school proper either here or in the Oberland, we shall have to wait and see.
I still wish most heartily that we had not accepted Diana Skelton as a pupil. The prefects appear to have handled the outbreak of casual rudeness very well. I do not know anything officially, or even unofficially for once, but whatever they did has certainly shocked some of our more heedless girls back to their senses. I am not so sure about Diana and one or two of her followers. My imagination might be running away with me but Diana seems to be walking around in a state of cold anger, the type that lasts. I do hope I am wrong.
On a happier note, our enterprising damsels have been nothing if not ambitious in their choice of theme for the Sale, having chosen “The Crown of Success”! They have all sorts of plans for it including colour washing a floor or two and I am sure it will be a splendid affair.
Oh, how I miss you, my dear, and how I wish you were within instant consultation distance! I did not expect to be proved right about Diana so quickly. She and another girl have wrecked Bride’s study! I was too angry to deal with them tonight and much will depend on whether Diana shows any genuine remorse. I do not want to expel her, particularly as it would mean the other girl, Marion Tovey, would also have to go and I suspect she has not been an altogether willing participant. Pray for me, as I know you do every night – God will know my need!
Much love, Hilda
This was originally in LGM's Day Girls section but the plot bunnies attacked so it fits in here..........
“We really shall have to do something to mark the occasion. It is an event that none of the girls will have known before and we were in Austria last time and missed it, by about ten days if I remember correctly.”
She glanced across at her companion and realised her words had made no impression whatsoever!
“Are you listening to me, Nell? Nell!” Hilda reached over and tapped her co-head sharply on the knee.
“Ouch! What on earth was that for?”
Hilda groaned. “Your English is getting worse. I am trying to consult you on an important matter and you had your head buried in a magazine!”
“Not ‘a magazine’ , Hilda, this is ‘Nature’ and there is the most fascinating article about two Cambridge scientists who have discovered a structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid, apparently it is a double-helix and it could be.....” She tailed off as she realised that Hilda’s eyes had glazed over. “All right, I surrender, what is the vital matter you wish to discuss?”
“The Coronation, of course! It’s only weeks away, you know.”
“Actually, I didn’t know. I thought they had postponed it when Queen Mary died?”
“Well, they didn’t and now we shall have to decide what to do to celebrate. It’s going to be televised in England but probably not in Switzerland.”
“Considering they only broadcast for one hour per day, five days a week, and we are not in the reception area, it wouldn’t be much use to us if they did! What do you have in mind?”
“That’s the problem, I have no idea!”
“What suddenly put it into your head, anyway?”
“Meg Kelly’s letter, which is on the top of the correspondence on your desk!”
“Meg Kelly, of all people, is getting excited about the Coronation?” said Nell in an astonished tone, as she picked up the sheets covered in Meg’s distinctive and surprisingly legible handwriting.
Hilda chuckled. “I think exasperated is nearer the mark! The Army appears to be asking her to do a great deal she would prefer not to do.”
Nell scanned Meg’s letter. “So I see!”
She read aloud, “I had to go to London to stand around doing nothing in particular at Queen Mary’s funeral. Fortunately, several dinners and other pointless pre-Coronation events which were in the diary were cancelled because of court mourning. I did manage to escape being in London for the Coronation because I have to be on the platform with the Lord Provost taking the salute at the city’s Coronation Parade but there were several requests that I could not refuse, luckily none further away than Edinburgh. It’s one thing when they haul me away from my hospital to operate on wounded men but being expected to leave my patients to make a show of myself because I am, much against my will, a reserve lieutenant colonel who happens to be a woman is too much!”
She laughed. “Poor Meg, how she does dislike her status and I can’t say I blame her. Matey always said they would hang on to her as long as possible and she would have been able to resign when she was 35 if they hadn’t promoted her.”
But this doesn’t help us to decide what we are going to do........”
2nd June 1953
“Land of hope and glory
Mother of the free
How shall we extol thee
Who are born of thee?”
As the pure young voices rang through the Hall, Hilda Annersley felt her eyes prickle. She glanced at her watch. At this precise time, behind a golden screen in London’s Westminster Abbey, the Archbishop of Canterbury was anointing the young Queen prior to placing on her head St Edward’s Crown, the very heavy crown which was only used for coronations.
As the anthem finished, applause rang out from the assembled visitors, mostly members of the British community who lived on the Platz. Hilda rose and addressed them in her deep beautiful voice.
“Thank you for joining our service of thanksgiving for our young Queen and joining with us in wishing her a long and happy reign. Please now make your way to the dining room where Karen and her staff have prepared a traditional British luncheon.”
The guests made their way to the dining room pausing to admire the red, white and blue bunting, rosettes and paper flower arrangements.
“These are just beautiful, Hilda!” said Joey, “but how on earth did you manage to get all the materials?”
“Ah, that was thanks to Rosalie’s friend who works in the Embassy. We would not have been able to be so very lavish without her help. We are being very careful with them, of course, as most of it has to go back for a big garden party they are having soon.”
Rosalie, walking a few paces behind, smiled inwardly. She didn’t think for one moment that the Head would really mind the source of the decorations but it would be just as well if she was not moved to enquire why her secretary was able to summon such largesse from Uncle Sam!
“I am looking forward to lunch”, declaimed Jo at that point. “Karen and Anna have been discussing it for weeks and it is going to be a real British meal!”
Later in the staff room, Nancy Wilmot chuckled. “Say what you will, if for nothing else the girls will remember today for the least appetising lunch they ever had in Switzerland! Why on earth did Anna resort to her wartime cookbook?”
“I think it was pure devilment!” grinned Biddy O’Ryan. “Sure, she couldn’t possibly have thought that Brown Windsor soup, cottage pie and tinned peas followed by blancmange was a meal fit to celebrate a Queen!”
Meg's reference to bombing post boxes reflects the controversy in Scotland over the Queen's official designation. Pillar boxes bearing EIIR were vandalised and the new pillarbox at Inch in Edinburgh blown up early in 1953. This is why pillar boxes in Scotland just have the Scottish crown on them. Most of the events in Meg's letter have their roots in reality although the potato incident was actually a very shoogly tramcar!
3rd June, 1953
Hilda is writing our formal acceptance of your mother’s invitation to visit during the summer holidays – and we are very much looking forward to it - but I thought I should tell you the tale of our Coronation celebrations as it was all your fault that we had them at all!
Our guests were mainly the British community but we had a few local people, of course, much intrigued by the entire proceedings. Tristan Denny had arranged some patriotic and national songs, the girls sang really beautifully, Rosalie’s useful friend at the Embassy had supplied us with red, white and blue bunting, crepe paper and gaudy wall wreaths and the first part of the proceedings went very well.
Then there was the much anticipated special British lunch prepared by Karen with assistance from Jo’s Anna. The staff were hoping for cream of tomato soup, roast beef & Yorkshire pud with all the veg and either apple pie and custard or a sherry trifle. Being presented with Brown Windsor soup (ugh!), cottage pie with tinned peas and a very insipid blancmange was something of a disappointment.
Oddly enough, the local folk and many of the pupils enjoyed it! One of my girls was heard to say that it was a lovely change from all the foreign muck served at Welsen and young Jo Scott was ecstatic! She has heard about these dishes from her mother but when they were in England Maisie didn’t manage to seek them out. Thankfully, once the visitors were gone and the pupils were in bed, Hilda broke out the sherry. Various other bottles appeared from somewhere so the Queen’s health was well and truly toasted! I had rather a headache this morning but that was probably the blancmange disagreeing with me!
Must dash, Gill expected me along to deal with the mail about half an hour ago! Love, Nell
3rd June 1953
Dear Nell and Hilda,
Thank you for your letter and all your news. I am sorry this reply is later than I intended it to be but life has been its usual hectic and crowded self. It is good to know that both Swiss Chalet School branches continue to thrive.
First news is that Gren’s hip operation went well. It was basically just a tidy up but early indications are that she will have freer movement and less discomfort. Recent developments in hip replacement surgery look promising so perhaps soon we’ll finally get rid of the cromach, not that she uses it much these days unless she is tired.
I trust your Coronation celebrations went well and that the girls enjoyed a day of fun and feasting? Sadly my plan for escaping the army by being convicted of treason failed when Ma absolutely forbade me to go around blowing up post boxes on the grounds that I would be destroying people’s birthday cards and postal orders!
Still, all in all, it was an interesting experience. Some of the street decorations, notably in the poorer parts of the city, were spectacular, as were those in the factories and mills. If you are able to visit in August you shall see the coloured photographs that Mickey took. They are on display at Boots already and are being very much admired though as the cameras, film and developing all cost a fortune I don’t see there being a mad rush by the lieges to trade in their old box Brownies! Mickey is quite sad that he had to hand the machine back.
Kate still has her florist job and helped make some lovely table arrangements and floral wreaths for hotels and organisations. She also covered herself with glory at the schools concert in the Caird Hall. She was one of the four soloists, one from each of the Academies, in the elaborate orchestrated finale of Songs of the Four Countries. Unfortunately, the boy who was to sing the last solo had a violent nosebleed about ten minutes before they were due to go on so it was young Kate who had to step forward again and launch into ‘Cam Ye By Athol’. She really gave it her all and brought the house down. As you know, I think that the only good thing the Stewarts ever did for Scotland was leave but even I was just about ready to go and lay siege to Carlisle!
It was all immensely cheering for Granny Kelly, of course. She is quietly pleased to have outlived Queen Mary and it was the fourth Coronation for her and for Granny Graham so they regaled us with tales of the events during the last three - including Auntie Bella’s various arrests! Thankfully, her only protest this time was to put a picture of Mahatma Ghandi in her window.
The elder Baxters invited the family – and it seemed like all the neighbours in their street! – to watch the ceremony on their television set so I took Ma and both Grans down in the car. As they do, they insisted on taking ‘a few bits for the dinner and a cup of tea’. In addition to the usual cold meat, fruit cake, tablet and so on GK had peeled several stone of potatoes which had to be transported, in the jelly pan full of water, on her lap. Despite my best efforts to find a route that minimised braes and abrupt turns, water escaped! I had to stand in Ella’s kitchen wrapped in a bath towel while she kindly pressed my uniform dry so that I could look halfway respectable as I inspected the cadets then stood on the platform with all the dignitaries!
The day ended with fireworks and that was really funny! The display was set up on the Coup, the reclaimed land by the river, so we took all the youngsters apart from Nicol and baby Maureen to Magdalen Green to watch. Promptly at 10.15pm, the display started and it was utterly breathtaking! What seemed like thousands of rockets, Catherine wheels, Roman candles and other colourful and noisy folderols framed a huge ER. Then it all went quiet and dark – and stayed that way! Apparently the timing of the display had gone haywire and we got fifteen minutes of fireworks in just over 30 seconds. Luckily everyone was in good humour and we all agreed it was great while it lasted!
In another development, Peter Hendrie reappeared, fortunately not anywhere near Stella! My cousin George – and thank goodness it was George and not Rab or Mickey or we would have had blood on the walls – spotted him in the Continental dance hall. It caters to the serious dancing crowd and Dod and a couple of his friends are regulars there.
Anyway, he saw the gentleman chatting to a young woman he knew by sight so he just wandered over and introduced himself as Stella’s cousin. By all reports Hendrie went very pale and was starting to bluster when the young lady said “Is this the (extremely rude word) that let Staff Nurse Kelly down?” and landed Hendrie such a slap in the face that Dod says he felt it himself! The manager came over to see what was happening, heard the tale and informed Hendrie that not only was he barred from the Continental but he could consider himself barred from every other dance hall in the town! Their photographer took his picture then George and friends escorted Hendrie downstairs and sent him on his way with some warnings, probably very lurid, about what would happen if he was seen in the town again!
Stella took the news quite calmly. It turns out that the woman he was attempting to charm works in the wages office at the DRI so Star was able to talk to her and it seems they had a good laugh about it. Eleanor’s a war widow, was little more than a girl when her husband was killed. She and George have struck up a friendship and Auntie Rose has hopes so we shall see!
I was interested and intrigued to hear from Joey the somewhat convoluted tale of her unofficial goddaughter from Kenya. It’s not a place I would want to be at the moment. When I was down in London we had a couple of nasty cases flown in, one who had falling into a Kikuyu man trap and one who had stepped on one of our unmarked landmines. The senior QA who accompanied them over said it was going to get a lot worse before it finished and she was not at all convinced that the authorities, the farmers or even the rebel leaders realise just how serious it is and how long it might last. I do hope your pupil’s parents do not come to any harm.
Must rush as I am on duty in about ten minutes, hope you can make it in August, love, Meg
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.